Thursday, March 10, 2011

Campfire 101

Campfire 101 by Ray Robinson

Camping is a wonderful activity to share and enjoy with your family. With camping there are many traditions. One of these is the campfire. A campfire can easily become the center of any family camping trip. It becomes the focal and gathering point for the family to sit around and share stories, ideas, and reminisce about the past. Gathering around the campfire is a great opportunity for communication with your family away from the hustle and bustle of everyday demands.

A campfire also provides many benefits beyond a meeting place. It is a source of warmth on cool days and nights. The need for this will depend on where you decide to camp. It provides a means of cooking. Whether you use pots and pans or a Dutch oven, there is something special about cooking your meals out doors. Finally, a campfire is a source of light as the day gives way to night. Darkness, of course, is something that everyone deals with when camping in the great outdoors.

This article is not an attempt to convince anyone that what is mentioned is the best choice; the components mentioned are only what this author has found to be beneficial or necessary for making sure a campfire can be quickly, easily and successfully started.

When planning a camping trip where you expect to have a campfire, there are three different categories of items that you need to consider taking when going planning for your adventure. In order to build a campfire you need to have a method to provide a flame, material to ignite and start the campfire, and finally material to keep it fueled.

Providing a flame….

Although it is quite possible to start a fire using some very old, traditional methods such as rubbing sticks together or striking two rocks together, in modern times, there are many inexpensive, easily attainable ways of creating flames. The two most basic methods that I would recommend are matches or a lighter.

Matches are very cheap and can be found at any kind of store. When camping, any match will work from the cardboard book matches to stick matches that range from a inch in length to the foot long fire place matches. As long as you have the match and the surface to strike it against, anybody can create a flame.

There are some things to consider that might lead you to buy specialty matches. Depending on the climate that you are camping in you may want to consider waterproof matches. These matches are usually incased in a thin layer of wax that protect the wood stem and the match head from moisture. Another kind of match to consider is the ‘strike anywhere’ match. These matches are made to be struck against just about any surface and ignite a flame. This is good to have if you have a knack for losing the box that your matches may come in. No matter where you camp you should be able to find a surface that these will strike a flame against.

Lighters are also an affordable and easy to find mechanism for creating a flame. From the 99 cent 4-pack of Bic lighters that can be picked up a most stores to the slightly more expensive butane fueled lighters, an individual has a wide choice depending on their preference. Although any lighter will do, it has been this author’s experience that a butane base lighter provide as hotter flame that tends to light a fire quicker. However, the cheap, throw away, plastic lighters will work just fine.

You need kindling….

Once you have determined how you will create the initial flame to start your campfire, the next item you need to consider is kindling. Kindling is defined as “material that can be readily ignited, used in starting a fire.” A better explanation is that it is material that starts to burn very quickly and allows the flame to spread.

When determining what to use as kindling, keep in mind that you want something that 1) you can have a good amount of or 2) something that will ignite quickly and burn long enough for the campfire to really start burning well. If you have something that burns quickly, you will need to provide a constant supply of the material until the slower burning material that is the base fuel for the fire starts burning. However there are now alternatives that ignite quickly and burn slowly that are good alternatives for kindling.

Materials that you may have around your house that fall in the first category of quickly igniting and burning are simple materials such as paper, cardboard, and any small strips of wood. One example of wood that this author has used for kindling is paint stirring sticks. Newspaper is a good example of something that most people have that could be easily carried as a kindling source. If you use this material be sure of two things: 1) that the material doesn’t contain anything that may be toxic when it burns, such as tape or paint on it and 2) that you have plenty of it as this material tends to burn faster then the time it takes for the base fuel you use to start burning.

A good alternative to the materials described above is finding or making a category of kindling known as solid fire starters. Solid fire starters are normally made of natural material, but constructed in a way that allows them to ignite quickly but burn slowly. With a few good fire starters you have an opportunity to create a base flame for your campfire that will provide enough flame and heat for your base fuel to start.

Although there are many, many options for fire starters on the market, this author has experience with two inexpensive brands and types that have proven successful. One is Wade Quick-Fire Fire Starters. These ignite quickly and burn very slowly. The one disadvantage to these is that each starter is wrapped in clear plastic that you burn along with the starter. Although the plastic is small, depending on your personal beliefs you may not wish to use these.

The other fire starter that works well from experience is made by Rutland. The product is named Safe Lite Fire Start Squares. These are constructed from compressed wood and other flammable material and are one inch squares that ignite quickly and burn for up to 10 minutes. The heat put off by these small squares allows for most base fuel for you campfire to begin burning before they are exhausted. The author highly recommends this fire starter.

Don’t forget the fuel….

The final component for any good campfire is fuel, which in reality is wood. There are many different kinds of woods in the world and each of them has their own qualities when it comes to burning. No attempt to explore the different woods and their properties will be made here, but keep in mind that some burn faster and some burn slower. The kind of wood that you may have access too will depend on the region you live in. Depending on where you are camping, you may be able to purchase wood near or in the camping area, but the author recommends gathering and preparing you own wood and taking it with you. Purchasing your fire wood at the camping area tends to be slightly expensive when trying to have enough for even one evening of camping.

Preparation of your wood for burning is important for a good and successful campfire. One thing to do is split the wood before burning. By splitting the wood, the internal areas of the wood are exposed and tend to be drier and burn easier then the exposed bark of the tree. Another important thing to do with your wood is keep it dry. Wet wood does not burn. If you are keeping wood in your camp site and the environment is wet, be sure to have something to cover the wood such as a tarp.

Campfires are a great tradition when it comes to camping. They provide a great addition for any family camping trip and you should consider having one as part of your own camping adventure. In conclusion, the author doesn’t claim that the information provided is the best information out there, but from experience, the basics presented here are things to consider for a successful and enjoyable campfire.