How to build the perfect campfire

By: Michael Borg, Photography by: Matt Fehlberg

With the chilly winter nights creeping up, it’s time to take a crash course in lighting the perfect campfire.

How to build the perfect campfire
Safe successful fires don’t just happen on accident. Fire is worthy of your respect and, therefore, a little forethought

Relaxing by a nice warm campfire is, perhaps, the most enjoyable part of a camping trip, and we all know there’s no shortage of tummy rumbles when you fry a few snags up over red-hot coals. Yep, a cracking campfire is a pretty important part of any camping trip.

It’s the place where family and friends can congregate and solve the world’s problems, one drink at a time. It’s the place where the kids (including the big kids) can roast a few tasty marshmallows on a stick, and it can be a real lifesaver on a cold winter’s night, too.

So, with all that in mind, it makes pretty good sense to learn the art of building a cracking campfire, doesn’t it? If you’re new to the camping scene, or even just a self-confessed hopeless fire starter, it’s time to relax and read on, as we give you a crash course in building the ultimate campfire; one that’ll be the envy of everyone on your next trip. Here’s how it’s done...


Safe successful fires don’t just happen on accident. Fire is worthy of your respect and, therefore, a little forethought.


A fire is like a living, breathing thing. It needs oxygen, fuel and heat to live. Plus, it needs to be nursed to good health right from the beginning, so the more prepared you are, the easier it will be. To start with, you’ll need to gather some super easy to ignite material, which is called tinder.

This can be things like dried leaves, wood shavings or cotton wool. The idea of tinder is to burn long enough to ignite your kindling, which should be made up of average-sized dry twigs or splinters of wood. The key is to start off with the small stuff and gradually increase the stick size to fuel logs, which don’t have to be much thicker than your forearm to keep it going well.


Before you light your fire, have a good selection of wood on standby so you can nurse it to full strength.

Some types of timber burn better than others but, let’s face it, we aren’t always spoilt for choice when it comes to finding firewood around camp; it’s usually a grab-what-you-can kinda deal. In saying that, knowing what to look for really helps. While it sounds simple, the most important rule to remember is no matter what type of tree it comes from, it should be dead and dry, which is known as ‘seasoned’. The drier it is, the better it’ll burn. If you’re not sure if it’ll burn or not, a general rule of thumb is if the wood makes a snapping sound when it breaks, it’ll burn!

The next observation to make is the difference between hardwood and softwood. This is actually determined by the species of tree, but for the purposes of a campfire, we refer to the density of wood, more specifically how much weight it has. In general, hardwood has more wood matter in it than softwood and, therefore, it’ll burn hotter for longer, which is exactly what you want to keep the troops warm or a fire to cook with. So if it’s a dry, heavy bit of log you’re on to a winner!

Softwood on the other hand tends to burn faster and cooler, but it’s usually easier to light up making it great kindling to get a fire started. It’s also perfect to boil the billy over for a quick roadside stop. Pine, spruce, and willow are commonly found examples of softwoods, but if you don’t know your trees that well, you can tell the difference by simply feeling how heavy it is.

For cooking, avoid softwoods and highly resinous woods like pine or juniper. Not only do they burn cooler and inconsistently, but they give off very potent resin smell which doesn’t work well with food, and some varieties can even be toxic. Go for something like oak or a gum variety, which burns well and imparts a nice smoky flavour that’s not too strong!


Always choose the rocks for your campfire carefully, as some types are known to explode when they get too hot. There are two main reasons why this occurs. Firstly, if the rock contains moisture inside, the moisture turns to steam when heated up which pressurises the rock. Secondly, layered rocks like sandstone or limestone are more likely to split or explode because of the weaker bonds between their layers.

So, as a general rule, stick with granite, marble or slate, and steer clear of super smooth rocks, which is a tell-tale sign that they’re from a river and contain high amounts of moisture. In fact, any river rocks should be out of the question for that reason.


1. Clear a space around your fire by removing any branches, leaves or twigs that could catch light with at least a 2-3m radius.

2. Dig a 30cm pit or trench to house the fire and prevent embers from flying out.

3. Create a border around the fire using large solid rocks.

4. Never use dirt to extinguish a fire,  always use water and pour a steady, generous stream.

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