Most of us are perfectly fine cooking inside our RV, however, there is a certain rustic element missing from that experience. Cooking over a campfire can give you the full camping experience.
To build your fire, you will need wood, matches (or not—back to that later) and tinder (starter) for the fire. You’ll also need, and this is the most important part—a fire pit where the fire will be far enough away from any gas or propane (i.e. your RV or tow vehicle) and where the fire can remain contained.
With any standard fire pit in a campground, make sure there is at least ten feet of complete clearance all around the campfire. You should clear all grasses, brush, and twigs so your pit becomes surrounded only by dirt.
If you need to build a temporary fire pit, scroll to the bottom, however, please do this only under extreme circumstances, for example, if you’re Liam Neeson and you’re being pestered by a pack of wolves.
Get Organized First
There is nothing more frustrating than getting on your hands and knees, puffing to keep your fire going only to realize that you have no kindling readily available to keep those budding young flames expanding. To prevent this, put the following piles in an easy to reach position.
Pile A – firestarter (pine needles; fine kindling)
Pile B – small twigs (aka kindling)
Pile C – slightly larger kindling
Pile D – bigger wood
Pile E – This isn’t so much a pile, but you should always have a bucket of water handy.
Natural products such as pine needles, fine brush and undergrowth are great for fire starters. However, you can use petroleum products, provided it is something small that isn’t going to make your lovely fire (let alone the food you may be sizzling on the fire) smell like an auto repair shop.
Petroleum isn’t just a liquid or a gas, it also comes in a semi-solid form like Vaseline. Don’t glob Vaseline onto the tinder; use it sparingly on cotton balls or on small pieces of paper towel.
It’s very common to start a fire using newspaper or some pile of paper… like your ex-spouse’s tax returns. However, unless the paper is contained (as in rolled up), any small breeze can take a lit piece of newsprint and send it way further than you want it to go, this is no good and not safe, so be wary.
Tent Your Start: Build a Teepee
One element a fire needs to thrive is oxygen. You’ll need to allow your fire to breathe, especially in the beginning. To allow this, build a tepee (without the bison skin canvas) from your kindling.
You’ll want to make the teepee small. You don’t need to build a tepee big enough to house a family, this isn’t Burning Man, it’s a campfire. Around a foot high at its tepee peak is perfectly fine. After you’ve built the teepee, place your tinder in the center, then surround the tinder with your tepee.
Create most of your fire wigwam’s sides with dry twigs. On the side where the breeze is coming in build up a denser set of twigs. You certainly can put a larger log to block, but be sure it’s not blocking everything. The opening to light the fire inside your tepee will be on the opposite side of the breeze’s entrance.
Start the Fire
To start your fire, you’ll need some sort of spark. Two rocks can work, but that’s awfully difficult and you’ll need a current or former boy scout to figure it out.
Ideally, you will have a metal fire stick, like a Ferro rod, to get sparks into the tepee. You’ll need another metal object, like a good survival knife, to rub down on the rod while moving the rod toward you, thereby pushing sparks into the tepee.
Or, if you want to make it simple, just have matches handy. Wooden ones are best. Use the matchbox to light your match (Don’t use your zipper no matter how fun that can be. After all, matches break and fire falls in funny places.)
With your lit match, light as many convenient and easily flammable spots inside your tepee as you can before you set the rest of the match inside the budding fire. Tossing a match toward your tepee is rarely effective and it’s potentially dangerous.
Keep The Fire Burning
You may need to get down on your knees and slowly breathe onto the budding fire to get a good flame going. Once the tepee is lit, SLOWLY start to build up the fire.
Use the same size twigs make sure the fire is getting enough air. Build up with slightly bigger twigs, so on and so on. Don’t get your little fire on its way only to choke it off by immediately throwing a big log on it. Patience is the key to building a good fire. The fire will grow and create healthy embers so you can cook some fine meat or make s’mores on it.
Building a Fire Pit
As discussed, fires need to be set so flames or embers cannot easily jump the area and set the campground ablaze. Most campgrounds will have designated fire pits pre-built to their specifications. Preserve our forests and use these pits, please.
Frankly, there is no recommendation to build your own, but here’s what you should do if you find yourself in a rare, emergency type situation.
It’s ideal to have a good hoe or manual tiller to break up the dirt and a good camp shovel to scoop it up once the dirt’s broken down. You should make a circular shape, no bigger than three feet across, and dig a disc shape (deeper in the middle).
Make the pit deep enough that embers won’t be able to easily escape yet shallow enough you won’t end up with hot embers a foot deep that’ll be warm enough to launch a new fire for hours. Digging about six inches down is fine. If you dig deeper, there is still no reason you need to fill the hole with fire.
If you have any questions or concerns, leave a comment below!