Fires for Warmth

Fires for Warmth

When discussing different types of fires, generally they can be broken down into two main categories: campfires for cooking and/or boiling water and campfires for warmth and psychological comfort. Although any type of campfire can potentially be utilized to accomplish both of these tasks, there are common characteristics to certain types of campfire designs that can maximize efficiency towards one or both goals. Whereas a good cooking campfire is designed to produce hot embers needed for cooking evenly, building a campfire to provide heat is more focused around building up the flames and using a reflector to concentrate the heat.

Contrary to popular belief, campfires intended to warm the body or provide psychological comfort should be kept small unless there are many people to warm, in which case, it may be prudent to weigh the benefits of creating several smaller fires. If a fire is made too large and is only needed to heat a few people, it will burn large amounts of fuel and require constant foraging trips to find more kindling and fuel sources which can result in expending energy unnecessarily. A smaller fire is easier to maintain, requires less fuel, reduces the possibility of becoming out of control and burning its surroundings and can provide just as much warmth as a larger campfire if it’s constructed properly.

Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind when constructing a campfire intended to provide warmth is how the heat emanating from the campfire will be reflected. An open campfire emits heat in all direction. Because of this, only individuals or objects with in a very close proximity will be warmed. With the use of a reflector, whether it’s a natural object or constructed, the heat can be focused directly on one area making it much easier to stay warm. Reflectors will also assist in drawing the smoke away from individuals and towards the reflector as smoke is attracted to the nearest large object. Examples of heat reflectors could include large stones or boulders, or using logs to construct one. A commonly used constructed reflector consists of driving 2-4 pieces of wood (depending on the size of the campfire) into the ground at a 45?-50? angle. Once these posts are securely in place, begin stacking up smaller pieces of wood against the posts to build up a reflector wall. Take care to ensure the wood comprising the “wall” isn’t so close to the flame so as to combust after prolonged exposure to the fire. If available, it’s best to use unseasoned (also known as green wood) that hasn’t been fully aged and weathered, to avoid the wood from bursting into flames.

Another method of creating a reflector wall is to drive 4 posts into the ground, 2 posts on either end spaced a few inches apart. Place logs in the space between both end posts and lay the logs through these spaces. Continue to stack up logs until the wall has reached its desired height. This method works more effectively than creating a slanted wall but also requires more effort to locate logs that are consistent in size and length to fit between the posts properly.

After the reflector wall has been created, use more green wood or stones to create a perimeter around the camp fire leading up to the reflector wall. The reflector wall method can be used in conjunction with nearly any type of campfire design. Various types of constructed campfire reflectors are pictured below.

Log Cabin Fire

The log cabin fire is a good beginner campfire as it’s easy to make and to maintain. Begin by constructing a small a-frame or teepee in the center of your fire pit. Build a miniature log cabin using small or medium-sized fuel around the a-frame or teepee. The size of wood will be determined by the desired size of the fire. Lay the logs toward the center as you build the cabin. Take care to leave sufficient space for proper ventilation. At this point, the fire can be ignited and maintained as needed. Take care when adding new fuel to carefully place the fuel pieces into the fire as opposed to carelessly tossing it in. This type of fire will produce an abundance of coals which can also be used to cook with.

Teepee Fire

The Teepee fire is arguably the most efficient camp fire possible, it lights easily and burns well. The large amount of air entering the heart of the fire allows the fire to burn easily and without much maintenance. Always start with the “Teepee”, and then make it into any fire if intended for specific use such as cooking. To begin, place a thin branch (approximately 1cm diameter) into the ground as above,
pack tinder and kindling tightly around the base, taking great care to ensure all tinder/kindling is fully dried. Next, lay the fuel over your kindling like a teepee. Then, build up the fire using progressively thicker twigs as you build outwards, making sure there’s a gap where the fire can actually be ignited. Before the fire is lit, make sure there’s a good supply of small logs and thicker wood to hand, as the thin wood burns very quickly. For maintenance after the fire is blazing, continue to add more and more larger pieces as the fire burns taking care not to suffocate the fire.


To maximize warmth from a campfire, it’s ideal to use a reflector of some sort. Reflectors can be naturally occurring such as a large rock or boulder or constructed using materials provided by nature. A good reflector will concentrate the heat emanating from a campfire to a specific direction. The size of the reflector will be dependent on the size of the campfire and can be adjusted as needed. When the campsite is no longer needed, the reflector can be deconstructed and the fuel can be taken for the next campsite or carefully dispersed back into nature.

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