While many use camping as a grounding method to break away from the comforts of urban life, there is usually a limit to how much comfort we’re willing to sacrifice.
Keeping warm by the fireside has proven itself over the test of time as the best method to brave cold nights in the wilderness.
While many travelers will know the tricks to get a campfire started, the real challenge is keeping it going through the night.
To pull this off, a campfire requires a good foundation, a ventilation system, and a prioritization of dry and hardy woods.
In this guide, we’ll give you all of the essential steps and helpful tips to keep that flame burning all night long.
How Long Should a Campfire Last?
While this is a question that depends on your camping requirements, it is standard to desire a campfire that lasts for around 12 hours.
This time frame allows you time to relax, cook, talk, and laugh around the campfire before retiring for the evening- alongside providing warmth until sunrise.
While it is critical to make sure that your campfire doesn’t burn too short, it is of larger global interest to make sure that it doesn’t burn for too long either.
Maintaining a rigorous safety protocol for shutting your fire down and completely expelling it in the morning is an essential skill for experienced and casual campers alike.
Forest fires are incredibly persistent, and some fires can smolder under peat moss or forest leaves in the snow for months before catching ablaze.
With this in mind, it’s vital to remember to pour water on the campfire once you are done using it. If no water is available, stir dirt or sand into its embers until all of the material is cool.
A good limerick to remember: ‘if it’s too hot to touch, it’s too hot to leave!’
Why Can’t I Keep my Campfire Going?
- After a few chewy smores, you fall asleep cozy in your sleeping bag, illuminated in a warm orange glow…
- As the night grows on, you find yourself getting colder in your sleep. Strange…
- Brrr! You awake in the early morning freezing cold in the darkness!
Trust me, there’s absolutely nothing more hindering a camping trip than spending hours building the perfect fire… only to have underprepared for the night’s duration.
In this section, we’ve listed a few of the main reasons why your campfire keeps going out (or just isn’t burning for as long as desired).
There is an old rule of thumb that an inch of firewood burns for approximately two hours.
Keep in mind that once your piece of wood hits 6 inches in thickness, the rule changes to roughly an inch per hour.
While this is a good yardstick for measuring the run time of your campfire, there are many factors that can impact the burn time that you will get out of the wood.
Larger pieces of wood are generally encouraged for producing a strong, long-lasting fire.
However, it is really important that the base/center of the fire (where all the pretty glowing stuff is) is hot enough to sustain it. If it’s not, the fire will continue to extinguish as it cannot burn through the log.
If the wood that you are using is wet or soft, it is bound to burn much faster than wood that is dry and hardy.
Because of this, try to keep an eye peeled for classic hardwoods such as ash, oak, maple, cherry, birch, pine, or hickory.
How Do You Make a Long-Lasting Campfire?
So now that we’ve gone over some of the basics, how do we actually build and keep a campfire that will stay lit throughout the night?
The first step is to put some rocks inside the area you want to make a campfire.
While this seems counterintuitive (rocks don’t burn, right?), the rocks actually help to produce heat and keep the base of the fire warm throughout the night.
The next thing to keep in mind is ventilation, as this is what fuels your flame.
As you are arranging the rocks for your brand new campfire, make sure there is space between them so that airflow can access the bottom of the fire and keep it nice and fed.
Now, let’s talk about the structure of the fire.
There are several different structural methods for keeping a fire self-perpetuating, though today we will touch on the two most common and consistent methods: The self-feeding fire, and the tipi method.
Before going any further- the self-feed fire requires an axe, so skip to the next method if you’re traveling light!
A self-feeding fire is achieved by creating two propped-up ramps that intersect at the base of your flame.
You can then load these ramps up with large logs, meaning that as the fire burns throughout the night, the logs will automatically stoke themselves into the center of the flames. Magic!
The tipi is a bit less hands-on, though may require more work going forwards before bedtime.
This classic campfire form is achieved by creating a tipi-like cone around the radius of the stone circle, with all of the wood-tips meeting in the middle.
This design allows for steady airflow and allows for the upper parts of the wood to gradually fall into the flame throughout the night.
Extra Tips to Keep that Campfire Burning
- Once you’ve got your fire burning, don’t keep piling wood on top of it. Doing so will only make you burn through your wood supply much too quickly
- Once burning, let the fire slowly pack down to a pile of coals. From here, it gets very hot and makes it easy for new logs to ignite from the heat of the embers
- Once you can’t see any more flames, it’s a good idea to put more wood on ASAP
- Generally, keep your fires small enough to heat your dinner and evening. The only exception for piling up a large fire might be to light up your area, as creating a big wood stack results in a fire that is bright and tall
- Lastly, always gather extra kindling before lighting your fire. It may seem annoying at the time, but there is nothing worse than trying to get a fire started at 3AM with no spare firewood
And there you have it: The essential components of how to keep your campfire burning all night long.
Once you’ve mastered the base, ventilation, wood-securing, and structure of your campfire, there are plenty of inventive and creative ways you can develop to keep your flame strong.
May the fire be with you.