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How to light a campfire

Glamping just isn’t Glamping without your very own campfire and here at Cosy Under Canvas there’s a private fire pit for you to enjoy right in front of your dome.

Fire seems to have a magnetic, hypnotic power that attracts us, giving us a connection with nature and a focal point to huddle around in the evenings. It’s a source of heat, a fuel for cooking – as well as being an important tool for survival.

So, prepare yourself for Glamping and learn the best way to light a fire – even if it’s just so you can toast marshmallows!

Place your fire

The spot for your fire should be away from trees, brush, overhanging branches and anything that could potentially catch flame and spread.

Fire-in-a-great

Build your fire on a gravel, dirt or sand surface, shielded away from potential wind and weather.

If you’ve a grassy surface, cut out a square of turf out and roll it up. Building the fire on the ground underneath will keep the grass from getting scorched and mean you can repair the grass when the fire’s cooled.

To help protect the fire from the weather, it helps to dig a slight shallow or pit and surround it with rocks. The rocks stop the fire spreading and help absorb and reflect the heat.

 

Get the right fuel

You’ll ideally need three types of fuel for your fire: Tinder, Kindling and Wood:

Tinder

Every good campfire starts with good tinder – something that catches fire easily, but burns fast.

Dry leaves, dry bark, wood shavings, paper, dry grass or moss, and some fluffy fungi make for good tinder.

If the weather’s bad you’ll need to work a bit harder (wet tinder doesn’t catch fire so well), but even in heavy rain or snow, you’ll still be able to find dry wood inside standing, dead trees and branches. Birch trees in particular, yields paper-like bark that, even when wet, often makes an excellent tinder.

If you’re the well-prepared type, you can bring your own tinder in the form of dryer lint or homemade char cloth.

Kindling

Tinder burns fast, so you’ll need something with more substance to keep your flame going. You can’t move directly to big logs – you’ll just smother your new flame, and that’s where kindling comes in.

Kindling usually consists of small twigs and branches. You’re ideally looking for something that’s about the width of a pencil. Like tinder, kindling needs to be dry or else it won’t burn easily.

If the weather’s bad, you can produce kindling from the dry center of dead trees and branches.

Wood

Wood is what keeps your fire hot and burning. You don’t have to go for the huge logs you use in a fireplace – if you go too big, it’s going to take a long time for the wood to catch fire. Look for branches that are about as wide as your wrist or your forearm – at least until the fire is burning strongly.

Aim for a manageable length and split larger logs into fourths. This helps expose the dry center to the flames while creating more exposed
angles from which fire can catch. Round logs coated in wet bark will be reluctant to light and burn.

Chopped-logs

When gathering wood for a fire, remember dry wood burns the best. If the area is damp, check the interior of logs, under ledges, and other places that are protected from damp.

Unlike tinder and kindling, once the fire’s established, fuel wood can be a little damp. The fire will dry it out, but it’s still not ideal and you’ll get a lot of smoke.

 

Build your fire

So you’ve got your raw materials but how do you make sure they successfully light?

There are lots of ways to lay your fire, but we’d suggest one of the two most common types:

Teepee Fire Lay

This is basically a pyramid shape. Start with your tinder pile in the centre of your fireplace, and then form a teepee with your smaller kindling.

Leave an opening in your teepee on the side the wind is blowing against. This allow you to light the tinder, and ensure that your fire gets the air it needs.

Sitting-around-a-campfire

Add additional layers of kindling to the teepee, working your way up to pencil sized twigs, and then create a larger teepee structure around your kindling with your logs.

When you light the fire, the flames are directed upward from the tinder, lighting the kindling and then the wood. The structure will eventually fall, and then you can just add more logs.

Lean-to Fire Lay

Stick a long piece of kindling into the ground at about a 30-degree angle – the end of the stick should be pointing into the wind. Place your tinder under the stick and place some small pieces of kindling around your tinder nest.

Prop small pieces of kindling against the stick stuck in the ground and then add another layer with larger pieces of kindling.

 

Lighting up

When you’re ready to light your fire, position yourself between the wind and your fire, to act as a windbreak to make sure wind doesn’t blow out your fire before it holds,

Light the upwind side of your tinder so the wind blows the flame into the fuel.

If you’re using a match, hold it in place – don’t just toss it on the tinder or you’ll use up a lot of matches.

If you’ve not got a lighter or match to hand, don’t despair, there are lots of other ways to start a fire…

Flint & steel

A flint is a great standby on a camping trip in case your matches get wet, but you can get a spark from putting steel to a piece of flint whatever the weather.

You can use a flint and steel set, or improvise using quartzite and a steel blade. The idea is to scrape the steel hard down the flint which will create hot sparks. Catch the sparks in tinder and blow on it to start a flame.

Lighting-with-a-flint

Rather than relying on tinder to catch the sparks, you might find char useful. Char is cloth that has been turned into charcoal. It catches a spark and keeps it smoldering without bursting into flames – giving you a better opportunity to transfer it to your tinder and blow on it to start a flame.

Magnifying glass

Using a lens to start a fire is pretty easy, providing the sun is shining strongly. Any lense will do the trick, a magnifying glass, eyeglasses, or binocular lenses all work.

Angle the lens towards the sun in order to focus the beam into as small an area as possible. Put your tinder nest under this spot and you’ll soon have yourself a fire.

There are few strange, but effective lens-based methods to start a fire as well if a magnifying glass isn’t to hand:

  • By filling a balloon with water, you can transform these ordinary objects into fire creating lenses. Tie off the end and make it as spherical as possible. Squeeze the balloon to find a shape that gives you a sharp circle of light. Balloons both have a shorter focal length than an ordinary lens so you’ll need to hold them 1 to 2 inches from your tinder.
  • You can actually make fire from a piece of ice. You’ll need clear ice about 4cm thick shaped into a lense shape. Polish it smooth with the heat from your hands and then use it just like a magnifying glass. Focus the beam of light on your tinder nest and watch as you make fire from ice!
  • If you’ve got a coke can, the curved bottom can also work if polished to a shine. Strangely, rubbing chocolate or toothpaste on the bottom works beautifully in bringing up a shine. After polishing the bottom of your can, you’ll have a parabolic mirror. Sunlight will reflect off the bottom of the can, forming a single focal point.

Battery

If you find yourself in the strange situation where you don’t have matches, but you have a battery and some steel wool, there’s another way of lighting a fire. A 9-volt battery will work best but any battery will do,

Stretch out the steel wool into a strip and rub the battery’s contacts down the wool. The wool will begin to glow and burn. Gently blow on it and transfer the burning wool to your tinder nest. Be quick though as the wool’s flame will go out quickly

Wood

Probably the oldest way of starting a fire, but probably also the most difficult, so you’ll need to be feeling confident (or desperate) and have lots of time and patience.

Most important is the type of wood. It needs to be capable of creating an ember under friction and so needs to be bone dry. Cottonwood, juniper, aspen, willow, cedar, cypress, and walnut are best for the job.

Perfect-fire

There are a few different techniques you can use, but all aim to create sufficient friction between two pieces of wood to create a glowing ember that can start a flame:

  • The hand drill method is the most straightforward but the trickiest – taking a fair amount of effort. Take a flat piece of wood and make a small depression in it. Find a second piece of wood about 60cm long to use as a spindle and insert it into the depression. Marinating a downward pressure, roll the spindle between your hands, running them quickly down the spindle. As an ember forms tap it into your tinder nest to create the flame and gently blow on it to build it up.
  • Alternatively, you can use a fire plough. This time, cut a groove in a flat piece of wood to make a track for your spindle. Put your tinder at the end of the groove so you’ll push the embers you’re creating into it and then simply rub the tip of the spindle up and down the groove. Once you catch an ember, blow the nest gently and get the fire going.
  • The bow drill is similar to the hand drill, but in addition to the spindle and flat wood, you’ll also need a socket and a bow. The socket is a stone or piece of wood used to put pressure on the top of the spindle as you’re turning it with the bow. Find a piece of flexible wood that has a slight curve for the bow. The string can be anything: a shoelace, rope or string – just find something that won’t break. String up your bow and catch the spindle in a loop of the bow string. Place one end of the spindle in the depression in the flat wood and apply pressure on the other end with your socket. Start sawing back and forth with the bow and your spindle should be rotate quickly. Keep sawing until you create an ember.

 

Building higher

Once your fire is lit, you’ll need to add wood to keep it going strongly. Remember to leave space between pieces of wood for air to flow and feed the fire

Build up, not out – creating a higher pile of wood rather than a flatter pile will help it burn better.

Campfire-cooking

If you want to test out your fire-making skills, all of our luxurious domes have their own private fire pit – perfect for campfire cooking, or just cosying up around in one of our traditional Welsh Blankets. Book your stay now.