Whether it be the smoky infusion to a tender steak or the warmth and glow to people around it, enjoying a night under the stars next to the warmth of a fire is the ultimate experience.
But we haven’t always shared this notion. Back in 2011 during our Big Lap, it wasn’t until four months into our trip in the Kimberley that we shared our first fire. Coincidentally we’d met up with the Content team of sister magazine Camper, and together we forged our way to a back corner of Mount Barnett Station on Manning Gorge for a very enjoyable evening, sharing that first fire and wild yarns from our trip — and having five bodies scavenge for wood was certainly better than two!
It was just the kick start we needed to re-engage with the enjoyment a campfire adds. Here’s our hot tips on campfire success.
Common sense goes a long way when building a fire. Clear at least 10m around the fire base of flammable material such as dry leaves and allow a good distance from tents and vehicles. Consider where the wind is blowing as you don’t want to smoke out your lodgings or those of your mates.
Ideally, you’ll use an existing fire pit, or an area where fire has been made before, and avoid areas with overhanging branches, close to trees or exposed roots. A firepit below the ground protects the surrounding landscape from flying sparks.
A campfire needs a solid foundation that will support larger timber as the fire grows without collapsing and snuffing the fire. We like to start with two solid pieces of hardwood timber facing each other. This is the foundation of the fire. Dry kindling is added between these two pieces. Fire starters are the easy choice. They burn for a while giving your small twigs and bigger pieces every chance of lighting. However, you may find you can get away without it when the conditions are right. Dry pine needles with their high oil content work well.
Slowly add smaller twigs and sticks in a criss-cross pattern to allow for good airflow. You can progressively lay larger timber across the foundation pieces, and this will allow plenty of airflow without smothering the flame. Soft wood like pine burns quickly, while gums have more staying power.
It’s helpful to pick up timber throughout the day. If you have a ute or roof rack with spare capacity, you’re at an advantage, even more-so if you have a chainsaw (petrol or electric) as you can trim to the appropriate lengths in the field away from the campsite where noise may be limited. Often, you’ll find a large log nearby and drag it to the fire and progressively feed it through.
Try to avoid doing this late in the day after your first happy hour beverage, as you’ll lose the motivation to do anything other than bend your elbow. Then there’s the safety aspect.
Portable Fire Pits
If you like the idea of a comfort fire, but not the effort required, consider an enclosed fire pit. With a limited draught, this style of campfire burns less wood. And being enclosed, there’s less risk of sparks and it doesn’t drop ash to the ground. And with an extendable chimney you can enjoy it under your annexe and funnel the smoke away.
Put It Out
Fireplaces are often used as dumping pits for all sorts of rubbish from tin cans, broken glass and more. Not all campers are as considerate as others when it comes to cleaning up. Then there’s the effort involved in dousing the fire.
Simply spading dirt over the coals is unlikely to put it out. In fact, a fire can stay hot underground for days if not extinguished properly. Reserve your grey water for putting out the fire. Give the ground a good soaking and then cover it with dirt. And never step on or drive over a pool of ash.
Well, that’s our hot tips on campfire success!