River Cottage Australia

How To Build a Perfect Winter Campfire

Nothing beats an evening sitting by a warm campfire under the stars. This step-by-step guide from Paul West will provide you with all the must-know information on how to create a cosy and safe winter campfire.

WHAT IS IT? There is an art to building a great winter fire. Paul will explain the essential info and safety tips.

WHY DO IT? Just because it’s cold outside doesn’t mean you need to lock yourself indoors. Build an outdoor fire to toast marshmallows or cook your meal with friends.

An open campfire is a great way to enjoy the outdoors but if it is not constructed, used and extinguished correctly it can also easily cause a bushfire.

Before you light a fire:
• To reduce a fire risks always check the weather conditions in your camping area. Do not light or maintain a campfire on dry, windy days.
• Do no light or maintain a campfire when the Fire Danger Rating is very high, severe, extreme or catastrophic.
• Do not light a campfire during a Total Fire Ban. When a TFB is declared it is illegal to do anything that is likely to start a fire, which includes cooking outside using an open fire. You could be fined up to $25,000 or jailed for 12 months or both if you ignore the TFB.

Tips for building your campfire safely:
• Build your campfire in a safe location that is clear of flammable vegetation such as long grass and spinifex.
• Use a built fireplace where provided or dig a 30 centimetre deep trench to house the fire and prevent embers from flying out. Otherwise you can create a border around the fire using large rocks.
• Light the campfire in a cleared area. Remove branches, leaves and twigs from the ground and above the flames to create a clearing of three metres around the fire.
• Never use flammable liquid or fuel such as petrol or diesel on a fire even when you are trying to get it started

Looking after your campfire:
• Keep your fire just big enough for cooking and keeping warm
• Put your fire out properly with water not soil.
• Children and pets should be supervised at all times when near a fire.
• Use only fallen dead wood. Branches or leaves from living trees damages the environment and can cause high levels of smoke
• Keep a bucket of water nearby.


1. Gather Tinder: Tinder catches the initial spark from the ignition source and transfers it to the kindling. If the kindling is damp or wet, the tinder must burn long enough to dry out the kindling. Tinder can include dead dry plants and grasses, lint, dry moss, wood shavings, paper, dry needles from coniferous trees or fire starters.

2. Gather Kindling: Kindling needs a large surface to volume ratio and more bulk than tinder so it can ignite easily, produce sustained concentrated heat and flame, and light the main fuel source. Good sources include dry twigs and wood pieces, cardboard, as well as large pieces of wood cut into small pieces. Softwoods/conifers/evergreens have leaves in the shape of needles. They burn quickly and very hot, and they also contain flammable resins, which burn hotter and help with starting a fire. Because of this, they're often used for kindling as well, since they're easier to ignite than hardwoods. You will know if you are using a wood with resin because it crackles and pops while burning.

3. Chop Wood: If you need to split small pieces of wood into smaller pieces for kindling, try holding the wood you want to split parallel to the axe, with the top of the stick touching the axe blade. Both your hands are near the bottom of the axe handle: one holding the axe, and the other holding the stick. With the stick touching the axe blade where you want it to split, swing both the stick and the axe together to hit the chopping block. When the axe splits the stick, give it a twist to finish splitting the stick into two pieces. Otherwise use a splitting maul which is essentially a thicker, more wedge-shaped axe made for splitting hardwood along the grain, with a blunt sledge-hammer edge on the back of the splitting blade. These are typically somewhat heavier than an axe, usually by several pounds, and the weight of the maul makes the job easier.

4. Select your fuel sources: Good fuels for sustained burning include dry wood that is between 2.5 cm to 12.5 cm in diametre, dried animal dung and coal. Green or wet fuel can be used, but only once the fire is established because it will burn more slowly than dry fuel. Hardwoods have broad flat leaves and they don't catch fire as easily as softwoods. Once they do, however, they burn for a longer period of time and give off more heat.

5. Building the Fire: Clear a circular area about 1.2 m in diametre for a standard campfire. Build a ring of rocks or dig a fire pit that's several inches deep using a shovel or hand trowel. Constructing a ring of stones will insulate the fire. Pile kindling loosely in your fire ring or fire pit. You want your kindling close enough to ignite but spaced enough for good air circulation. Place your tinder on the pile of kindling. Light the fire with matches or a lighter and gradually add more kindling. Slowly blow air on the igniting fire to build heat and intensity. Add firewood starting with the smallest sized pieces and working your way up toward large pieces. Build a tepee. Arrange the tinder and a few sticks of kindling in the shape of a cone, and light them at the centre. The outside logs will fall inward and feed the fire. The construct a “log cabin”. Stack layers in alternating directions to form 4 walls in the shape of a square. Leave enough room for a tepee structure in the centre, and make sure that air can circulate between the logs in your "cabin" walls. The "chimney effect" will suck air in through the bottom and let it exit through top as strong flame. This arrangement is best for cooking food, because the square shape creates uniform heat. You can also place food on top of the stack for a while if you use larger, green pieces of wood at the top.

• Matches or a lighter
• Tinder material
• Kindling
• Wood (both hardwood and softwood)
• Axe
• Splitting maul
• Rocks to enclose the fire
• Newspaper
• Something to cook on the open fire

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1 comment
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Posted by Rebecca2526Report
I adore a good crackling fire especially if your outdoors in the winter season. This is a great read on how to build a perfect fire outdoors.