Campfires are an essential part of the camping experience.
Whether you’re looking to brew up a restorative cuppa or simply keep your mates warm, a successfully built campfire can help lift spirits and provide some much needed hot grub.
I’ll be the first one to admit that I’m not the best fire starter. Despite having spent my formative camping years with the Scouts, I never really picked up the necessary tricks needed to build a fire from scratch. The good news is that I’ve not let that get me down and it’s also not stopped me from keeping warm when Dad and I are out on our camping trips. For longer trips, where we’re committed to cooking ‘real’ meals (like our recent trip to France) we’ll bring along a gas cooker, like the Campingaz Camping Chef Folding Stove. But for more rugged adventures, where we’re intent on roughing it, we’ll leave the gas at home and invest in more traditional fire starting techniques.
Building and starting your own fires has been made infinitely more easier thanks to a handful of (relatively) affordable innovations that make whipping up a fire both easy, safe and practical:
Collecting Your Fuel
When camping in late Winter/Spring it’s really important that you get your campsite set up early in the afternoon, especially if you want to commit to collecting firewood for later on. Whilst used carrier bags will do the trick when collecting sticks, sometimes it’s better to take a dedicated dry bag (this 30l monster from Overboard is a good choice) so that you can carry as much as possible without risking it getting wet later on.
As far as fuel goes, it’s useful to have a decent knife on you to whittle down kindling and scratch up some tinder, my Kershaw Leek Knife has been a go-to for some time now. Top tip: pay attention to what wood you’re picking. Learning the difference between wood types and how they burn will transform how useful your fires are; whilst the locals might appreciate to attempting to remove Japanese knotweed in their neighbouring forests, it’ll leave a lot to be desired from your blaze.
Starting Your Fire
If you were planning on simply knocking together a fire on your next camping trip with nothing but a couple of sticks, you’re likely struggle a little. There are two extremely portable gadgets that I never camp without and they’ve undoubtedly made the fire-starting process easier and quicker: no more reliance on nasty fuels or frantically rubbing together two sticks – at least not when you have the Gentlemen’s Hardware Fire Starter Tool with you. You might have seen Bear Grylls use something similar on his shows and it’s as efficient as he makes it look!
Once you’ve got a spark to your tinder you’ll need to ensure that it has enough airflow to take to your kindling. Whilst generations of fire-builders have leaned in close to their fires (and lost eyebrows as a result), smarter campers will use something like the Pocket Bellow Collapsible Fire Tool from Outdoor Gear. This telescopic tube might look like a car-radio aerial, but its rust resistant brass alloy and fireproof construction makes it an invaluable piece of gear that will get your fires blazing within minutes.
Open Fire or Closed Fire?
What kind of fire you choose to light will depend on what you’re using it for and how many people you’re with. When you’re in a large group looking to all benefit from the warmth (and maybe toast a few marshmallows) then a large open fire is the right choice for you. When I go camping with friends I always make sure to bring my Campfire Defender: a great tool for both safety and practicality. This ultra-insulated blanket is a controlled way of extinguishing your fire or keeping it safely burning over night for use in the morning.
If you’re camping in a small group and are planning on using your fire to cook on rather than keep warm by, then there are a couple of great wood-burning stove options open to you. The BioLite Camp Stove is a great piece of gear that I’ve mentioned before, it can charge your phone and had some great attachments for cooking on too. If you’d prefer som ething a little simpler then the Solo Stove Campfire is the one for you. At just over £100 from Amazon, it’s not exactly cheap but it’s nifty design makes it easy to get a fire going, bringing you that much closer to your next hot meal.
Starting fires has got that much easier thanks to these handy innovations – please get in touch if you think I’ve missed something out or you’ve got your own recommendation to make…