Best tips and tricks to get a roaring fire going

Even if you’re not a master of the outdoors, building a fire is quite easy and a very practical skill to have in your back pocket. From gathering your kindling and firewood to lighting everything ablaze, we’ll walk you through the process of building a fire step-by-step. So next time you’re in need of some heat or a way to toast your s’mores, rest assured that we’ve got your back.

Things You Should Know

  • Collect dry, brittle pieces of tinder, kindling, and large logs and branches to feed your fire.
  • Stack your wood in the middle of a clear, dry surface and place rocks around the perimeter to contain the fire.
  • Light your fire using matches, a lighter, or a piece of steel and flint.
Part 1
Part 1 of 4:

Gathering Firewood

  1. Buy pre-cut firewood to save yourself time. Pre-cut firewood is the ideal option for making a fire at home, and it’s also a safe bet for starting a fire outdoors. Having ready-to-use firewood will spare you the time, effort, and uncertainty of searching for usable firewood in the surrounding area. This is especially a good idea if your campsite doesn’t allow you to collect wood from the surrounding area.[1]

    Camping tip: If you are visiting a national park and campground, find out beforehand if they prohibit the use of outside firewood and sell their own pre-cut logs on site, or if they forbid the gathering of firewood on their land.

  2. Use artificial fire logs for a purely decorative fire. Manufactured logs combine sawdust and paraffin wax for an easy-to-light, clean-burning fire. These logs are great because you can light them without any starting material, and they leave very little mess behind. However, they don’t create the same heat as a regular, wood-burning fire would.[2]
    • You can use artificial fire logs in both indoor fireplaces and outdoor fire pits.
  3. Tinder is an easy-to-light material that helps to start your fire. Things like dry grass, leaves, shredded tree bark, or newspaper are all ideal choices. If you’re in a bit of a pinch, tortilla chips make great tinder.[3]

    Tip: Some stores sell pre-made tinder. Another option is to make your own tinder ahead of time by breaking up larger pieces of wood.

  4. Kindling is material that burns easily when it comes into contact with burning tinder but is difficult to light on its own. Things like small sticks, twigs, and medium-sized pieces of bark make great kindling. Just make sure that the items are completely dry before putting them in your fire.[4]
    • Cut large pieces of wood into smaller pieces with an axe or knife to create kindling.
  5. Fuelwood consists of logs that will burn longer and keep your fire alive. Look for dry, brittle wood ranging in size from large branches to thick logs. Use these to top off your fire as needed while it burns. Different types of wood burn at different speeds and have different properties. For example:[5]
    • Hardwood, like oak and maple, will take longer to start burning but burn for a long time.
    • Softwood, like pine and cedar, burns fast and will likely crack and pop while burning because of the resins inside.
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Part 2
Part 2 of 4:

Creating a Fire Structure

  1. Choose a spot that is at least 6 feet (1.8 m) away from trees, bushes, and low-hanging branches. Clear the area of dry leaves, twigs, or other items that could ignite and cause the fire to spread. Make sure the fire spot is on dry ground.[6]
    • Some campsites have designated areas or pre-made fire pits where you can build your fire.
    • Build a circle of large rocks measuring about 3 feet (0.91 m) or 4 feet (1.2 m) in diameter to mark where you’re building the fire.
    • Never build a fire anywhere within 6 feet (1.8 m) of your shelter or tent if you’re sleeping outdoors.
    • Soak the ground around your fire with water to help prevent it from spreading.
  2. Place the tinder material at the center of your fire bed. Next, place kindling on top of it in a crisscross pattern so that the pieces form a square grid. Lay the fuelwood on the very top in the same crisscross pattern.[7]

    Tip: Be sure to leave gaps between the burnable materials when you stack them to allow for airflow so that oxygen can feed your fire.

  3. Bunch your tinder material into a ball that is approximately 4 inches (10 cm) in diameter. Stack pieces of kindling together in a teepee-like shape around the tinder, with an opening on one side. Lean pieces of fuelwood against each other to form a frame around the tinder and kindling, leaving a gap in the same spot that you did for the kindling.[8]
    • The gap in the side of the teepee allows oxygen to get in and feed the flames.

    Note: This is an alternative to building a crisscross fire structure. Don't do both!

  4. Place your tinder material in the middle of the fire site. Then, hold your kindling upright to form a teepee around the tinder in the center. Place two pieces of fuelwood on either side of the teepee, then lay two more pieces across them perpendicularly to form a square frame around the teepee. Add 2 or 3 more layers of fuelwood to the “log cabin.”[9]
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Part 3
Part 3 of 4:

Lighting the Fire

  1. Use a lighter or matches to set the tinder ablaze. The simplest way to light your fire is by using simple fire starters like a lighter, torch, or some matches. Carefully hold the flame to a piece of tinder at the center of your pile of wood until it starts to burn.[10]
    • Always have a bucket of water, hose, or fire extinguisher at the ready in case the flame gets out of control.
    • Gently blow on the lit tinder to help the flame grow.
    • For the best results, light the tinder from several sides to ensure that it burns properly.
  2. Using a flint and steel set is an excellent alternative to lighters and matches. Hold the steel and flint close to the tinder pile at the center of your fire bed. Strike the steel against the flint several times to send sparks toward the tinder until it ignites.[11]
    • Flint and steel sets are available at hardware stores, sports stores, wilderness supply stores, or online.
  3. Dig a groove into a flat piece of softwood with a pocket knife or another sharp tool. Using a stick or small branch, plow up and down the groove to create friction and heat. After a few minutes, the heat will intensify and ignite the wood particles created by the plowing motion.[12]
    • Use things like pens, metal skewers, and nails if you don’t have a knife.
    • If you don’t have any metal tools, a smooth, sharp stick will also work.
  4. There’s no need to add your entire supply of wood at once to keep your fire burning. When you notice the flames starting to die down and you just have hot coals remaining, pile 1 or 2 more pieces of fuelwood on top and a bit of tinder to help get the flames going.[13]
    • Avoid adding more than 2 small logs at a time. If you add more, you risk the possibility of sparks flying out and catching on something outside of your fire site.
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Part 4
Part 4 of 4:

Extinguishing Your Fire

  1. It takes a while to fully extinguish a fire, and it’s dangerous to leave a fire that’s still smoldering unattended. Have a general idea of when you’ll be leaving or going to bed so that you have plenty of time to properly put out the fire.

    Tip: If you have to leave your fire site at a certain time, set an alarm on your phone for 20 minutes prior to remind you.

  2. Tilt a bucket of water over the fire and distribute drops and small splashes of water onto the embers. Do this gently and gradually. A watering can, large water bottle, or another container will also serve to distribute water slowly over your fire site.
    • Let your fire burn out completely before pouring water over it. If you see mostly white ash and no flames, your fire is likely burned out for the most part.[14]

    Avoid dousing your fire with water, which will ruin the fire site if you want to use it in the near future.

  3. Make sure that all the embers in your fireplace get wet by turning them over as you sprinkle water on them. Use a stick or metal shovel to stir them. Be thorough and continue stirring until the fire is extinguished completely.[15]
  4. Place your hand near the base of your fire site to make sure it feels cool. If you do not feel any heat emerging from the ground, it’s probably fully extinguished. Also, check to see if there’s any steam coming from the pile and listen for any hissing noises. These are both signs that there may still be some burning embers left.[16]
    • Do not place your hand directly on the ashes or embers to test if they’re still hot. Instead, let your hand hover a couple of inches above the fire site.
    • If you see any steam or hear any hissing, continue to pour water onto the fire and stir the ashes until the heat and steam are completely gone.
    • If you don't plan on using the fire site again, dump water over it.
    • If there’s a lot of ashes built up in your fire pit, wait until they’re completely cooled off before sweeping them into a trash bag and throwing them out.
    • If you’re staying at a campsite, there usually won’t be any rules stating you have to clean out the fire pit before leaving.
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Expert Advice

Keep these tips in mind when you're starting a campfire.

  • Gather enough kindling to keep your fire lit. To keep a fire going for 24 hours, you need a pile of kindling that's the size of a Volkswagen Beetle. Then, to be safe, double that.
  • Use a variety of dry materials if you don't have enough sticks. If you're worried about running out of kindling, use things like leaves, pine needles, and dry bark to keep the fire going until you can get more sticks.
  • Be strategic with how you feed the fire. To maintain the size and safety of your fire, use smaller sticks when the fire is smaller, then add bigger sticks as the fire goes.
Outdoor Education Expert

Community Q&A

  • Question
    Are plastic substances safe to burn?
    Community Answer
    Community Answer
    No. Burned plastic substances are often toxic to inhale and can cause damage and/or explosions.
  • Question
    Why does the wood need to be stacked in a pyramid shape?
    Community Answer
    Community Answer
    Flames burn upward, so when you build a pyramid, the fire will burn up the stick and be less likely to go out from lack of a fuel source.
  • Question
    What's the easiest way to build a fire?
    Community Answer
    Community Answer
    Layers. Start it with kindling, start adding twigs, then move onto a bigger structure. The classic way is a pyramid, and personally I think it to be best.


  • Don't light fires indoors or in extremely dry weather conditions as you could accidentally create a much bigger fire in the surrounding area.
  • Always have a bucket of water, fire extinguisher, or hose nearby ready to put out the fire in case things get out of control.
  • Never leave a burning fire unattended. Even if there are no flames, make sure the fire site is completely cool and no longer steaming before leaving.

About This Article

Josh Goldbach
Co-authored by:
Outdoor Education Expert
This article was co-authored by Josh Goldbach and by wikiHow staff writer, Ali Garbacz, B.A.. Josh Goldbach is an Outdoor Education Expert and the Executive Director of Bold Earth Adventures. Bold Earth leads adventure travel camps for teenagers all over the world. With almost 15 years of experience, Josh specializes in outdoor adventure trips for teens both in the United States and internationally. Josh earned his B.A. in Psychology from Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida. He’s also trained as a wilderness first responder, a Leave No Trace master educator, and a Level 5 Swiftwater rescue technician. This article has been viewed 2,689,362 times.
16 votes - 68%
Co-authors: 240
Updated: December 5, 2023
Views: 2,689,362
Article SummaryX

To build a fire, start by finding a clear, dry surface. Choose a spot that is at least 6 feet (1.8 meters) away from any trees or bushes. Next, clear the area of dry leaves, twigs, or other items that could ignite and cause the fire to spread. Before you build the fire, make sure you have a plan to put the fire out with water, dirt, or sand. To build a fire, first gather three types of materials: tinder (dry material like shredded bark, leaves, and grass), kindling (small sticks and branches), and fuel wood (larger logs). Make a ball of the tinder material and place it in the center of the area you want to make a fire. Then, stack your kindling around it in the form of a teepee. Alternatively, you can stack the kindling on top of the tinder in a criss-cross pattern. Leave a gap on one side so you're able to easily light the tinder. Once you’ve made the basic structure, lean pieces of fuel wood against each other over the tinder and kindling. Now you’re ready to light your fire. Use a lighter or matches to light the tinder. The tinder should light quickly, but it might help to light it on multiple sides so your fire burns evenly. If the fire isn’t catching, try gently blowing on it to help it spread, since fire needs oxygen to burn. Once the tinder is lit, it should light the kindling, which should burn for long enough that the fuel wood will catch as well. To learn how to start a fire without a lighter or matches, scroll down!

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