How to make a fire when you’re hiking (with pictures and step-by-step instructions)

How to make a campfire firewood tent book

We LOVE sitting by a campfire and sometimes you really need a fire – to dry your clothes or keep warm. It’s actually easy to make a fire if you know how to do it. Watch this quick video or follow the photos and instructions below. And if you find this blog post helpful, feel free to share it on social media. Your enthusiasm inspires us to create more useful content that will help you stay safe and comfortable in the outdoors 😉

Safety first!

As a responsible hikers we want to leave no trace. So we only make a fire at campsites where it is allowed. You don’t need to make a fire to purify water or to cook food.

You should always avoid making a fire when it is forbidden – there are enough forest fires, please don’t start one.

If you do need to make a fire outside official campsites (for instance to dry your clothes or stay warm) – please make sure you don’t leave any traces of it behind.

Create a fire pit, make sure to put out the fire before leaving the campsite or going to sleep. Extinguish it with water and bury the remains of the fire so you leave no trace.

What you need?

How to make a campfire with firestarter, knife, matches, firewood

To get a fire going you need:

  1. Different sizes of firewood, sticks and kindling
  2. A knife
  3. Some firestarter
  4. Matches or lighter

Step 1: Get firewood

How to make a campfire axe firewood
How to make a campfire axe firewood

If you are at a campsite that has firewood and an axe, carefully chop the wood. Big logs don’t burn – you need to chop your wood down to smaller pieces.

As a responsible hiker you want to keep your fires as small as possible to conserve firewood and stay safe.

I usually try to chop my firewood down to pieces that are small enough to break apart later with my knife – that’s about 3-4 cm centimetres in diameter or about 1-1.5 inches.

If you are at a campsite that doesn’t have wood or there’s no axe to chop it down to smaller sizes, you need to gather firewood. Don’t break off branches from trees. Look for dry branches that have fallen down on the ground.

If you have no way of breaking the wood down to smaller pieces just collect different sizes of branches. Avoid anything that is so big and thick you can’t break it in half easily. Pick up plenty of small sticks and branches so you have enough kindling to get the fire going.

Using firestarter

How to make a campfire matches firestarter
How to make a campfire matches firestarter

You should keep your matches and fire starter in completely waterproof packaging. We pack them in small plastic bags which we put in a separate plastic zip-bag so that the matches and fire starter stay dry even if the backpack gets drenched in the rain, a water bottle fails and pours its contents into the bag (which has happened A LOT) or the bag falls into a stream and is submerged under water. By the way, a tampon is also a great fire starter when you break it apart a little bit 😉

Step 2: Create sticks from your chopped wood

How to make a campfire knife kindling

Take two pieces of chopped firewood. Place your knife on top of one and gently but firmly use the other piece of firewood to hit down on the knife. Keep splitting the pieces as they get thinner and thinner. The thinner you get them, the better. Break some of the sticks in half.

Step 3: Make kindling

How to make a campfire knife kindling

Kindling are easily combustible small sticks or twigs used for starting a fire. You need lots of it. This is one of the main issues we see in campsites when people are trying to light fires – they don’t have any kindling or they don’t have enough.

We usually make a bunch. If some kindling is left over, we just take it with us to the next campsite. But you do need quite a bit to get a fire going – especially when it is windy or raining.

Step 4: Create a “log house”

How to make a campfire log house kindling

Some people prefer to create a teepee. In our experience, the “log house” method is better – especially in rainy or windy conditions.

What you have to do is simple. Use the chopped wood to create a “log house” structure. Put some sticks upright in one of the corners (fire likes to travel upwards). And put the kindling in the middle.

If you have fire starter, place that on the kindling and then sprinkle some kindling on top of it.

Make sure you don’t fill the whole space with sticks and kindling – that leaves no air for the fire.

How to make a campfire

If you decide to use the “teepee method”, put some wood down on the ground first to create a base for your kindling, place the kindling in the middle and the fire starter in the middle of the kindling.

Step 5: Light the fire

How to make a campfire log house kindling

Light the fire starter or your kindling with a match. If it’s windy, try to figure out where the wind is coming from and block the wind with your body or use your gear (for instance, rain poncho) as a windscreen.

This part is tricky when it’s wet or very windy but just keep calm and try to get the kindling to catch fire.

Once your fire starter and kindling are burning, use some of the sticks you broke in half to slowly feed the fire and make it grow. Add kindling if necessary. But avoid adding too much wood at once – that can put the fire out.

If there is no wind you might need to create some by blowing on the fire or waving something to provide enough oxygen for the fire to get going.

If you decided to use the “teepee method” your campfire will look more like this picture below.

How to make a campfire

Step 6: Enjoy the fire (but keep an eye on it)

Now that your fire is going, enjoy it. Keep adding a little wood now and then but always be mindful not to use too much. You should also avoid pitching your tent or tarp too close to the fire – occasionally sparks can fly quite a distance, especially if the wind picks up.

How to make a campfire firewood tent book murakami

PS These pictures were made in the wonderful island of Hiiumaa, off the Western coast of Estonia. The islands and their economy was hit especially hard due to the covid-19 coronavirus. The crisis is over and we encourage you to visit all the wonderful islands in Western Estonia. For more information, please go to the Visit Estonia website.

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