Start Smart: Build The Perfect Campfire

Four steps to a lights-every-time blaze

Fire is luxury (think s'mores). Fire is food (think busted stove). And fire is survival (think hypothermia). But starting a fire is not always easy. To get your flames crackling fast, memorize these tips-provided campfires are permitted (check park regulations), the posted fire danger level is low, and wood is abundant.

Select a site If there's no established fire ring, leave no trace of your fire: Build it on a flat-topped mound of gravel or sand 3 to 5 inches high. Collect mound material from an already disturbed area, such as ground ripped up by fallen trees or a dry streambed. Don't build a fire upwind from your tent, and make sure the tent is out of flying-ember range. If it's raining or windy, rig a tarp, build a lean-to, or build the fire under the shelter of a cliff or dense tree canopy.

Gather fuel Collect materials that are already on the ground from a wide area around camp. You'll need dead wood (it should be dry enough to snap), tinder (dry needles, thin twigs, paper, or wood shavings), kindling (finger-sized sticks), and limbs no thicker than your wrist (so they'll burn completely).

Build it to burn Place tinder in a small pile and stack kindling around it. Leave gaps to allow air circulation and an opening to insert more tinder if needed.

Ignite Use waterproof matches or a lighter to start the bottom of the tinder pile, creating a chimney effect. Protect the flames from wind, but blow gently on them to fan the fire. As the kindling bursts into flame, place larger pieces of wood on the fire in a tepee or log-cabin shape to permit airflow. In an emergency, put a small amount of white gas on the wood just before lighting to ignite hard-to-burn or wet wood.

LNT: Extinguish a fire thoroughly with water. When no embers are smoldering, scatter the ashes and return the mound soil to its original place.