5 Ways to Lay a Fire that Every Backpacker Should Know

You are in the woods by yourself and want to make a small but warm fire. Or maybe you are with a large group and need to make a huge, long-lasting fire.  Or maybe you want to make a fire but there isn’t that much wood around…

There are many types of outdoor situations you might find yourself in, and there is a best way to lay a fire for each of them.  Here are 5 ways to lay a fire and what they are best for.


1) Teepee Fire Lay

tipi fire lay

How to Lay the Fire: Put some tinder on the ground.  Then you build a teepee configuration around it.  Start your teepee with your smallest sticks and work up to your larger sticks.  Once your teepee is built, use a match or lighter to light the tinder.  You’ll have to keep adding kindling to the fire until you’ve got a solid bed of embers.  After that, you’ll be able to easily keep the fire going and add your fuelwood.

Pros:  Very easy

Cons: Requires a lot of fuel

When to Use: For making small fires in situations where you’ve got a lot of kindling wood

Tips: When building the teepee, remember to leave a little gap in the teepee so you can light the tinder!  Use TINY sticks when starting your teepee.


2) Lean-To/A-Frame Fire Lay

The lean-to fire lay keeps the tinder and lower-levels of kindling dry.

Lean-to fire lay, made on a very windy day

The A-frame fire lay

The A-frame fire lay, made during a light rain

How to Lay the Fire: Get a big rock or log.  Prop kindling against it to make a lean-to or A-frame construction.  Alternatively, you can dig a pit.  Prop the kindling against the edge of the pit.

Using your tinder, build a small teepee underneath the lean-to or A-frame you just built. The small fire will light the kindling above it. Add more kindling and fuel wood before the flames completely burn through your construction.

Pros: Good for rainy and windy situations

Cons: It restricts airflow, so may not light very easily.

When to Use:  When it is rainy or windy. The configuration will prevent the wind from getting in and also keep rain from getting to the tinder and lower kindling. Read How to Make a Fire in the Rain

Tips: If the ground is wet, put a layer of sticks flat on the ground.  This will create a platform to keep your tinder away from the wet ground.

If it is raining hard, you’ll have to keep adding kindling/fuel on top so the lean-to doesn’t collapse and get exposed to the rain!


3) Log Cabin Fire Lay

log cabin campfire

How to Lay the Fire: To make this fire, you first make a teepee fire configuration.  Then you surround the teepee with a “fence” by stacking kindling sticks on top of each other.  The idea is that fence will fall in on the teepee, creating a self-feeding fire.

Pros:  Once built, it requires less effort to maintain.

Cons: Takes longer to build.

When to Use: When you don’t want to pay much attention to your fire


4) Star Fire/Cross Fire

cross fire lay

How to Lay the Fire: Start by making a small teepee fire.  Instead of laying your fuelwood across the fire, you just put the ends of the fuelwood into the fire.

Pros: Uses very little firewood

Cons: Fire might go out; makes just a small fire

When to Use: When you don’t have much wood


5) Council Fire (aka Upside Down Fire aka Pyramid Fire)

council fire

How to Lay the Fire: Get a lot of fuelwood. Put one layer of fuelwood down in a layer, then add another layer in the opposite direction.  Repeat.  As the stack grows, the fuelwood should get smaller.  The top layers should be composed of kindling.

To get the council fire going, build a teepee fire on top. When the teepee burns down, it should light your kindling which will then burn down to light your fuelwood.

Pros: Makes a big, long-lasting fire

Cons: Requires a lot of wood

When to Use: When you have a large group and want to make a huge, long-lasting fire. The council fire is also good when the ground is wet because it keeps the tinder and kindling off the ground.

Tip: Don’t use in places where there’s a high risk of forest fires!!! Since the fire is taller, even a small gust of wind could send lots of sparks flying.



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