Not all campfires are created equal. Some provide roaring flames fit for campfire tales. Others deliver ideal conditions for delicious, evenly-cooked meals. And some others protect you from weather patterns that would spoil your otherwise perfect camping trip.
From the simple to the complex, there’s a campfire for every purpose. No matter the goal, these are the best campfires to keep you going through your adventures.
Whether you’re looking to elevate your fire skills, keep warm through the night, or master your favorite camping recipes, there’s a best choice for your fire. No matter your objectives, these are the best, most robust campfires for every purpose.
Best for: Cooking
Pros: Easy to build; delivers a steady, controlled burn
Cons: Relatively short-term burn compared to other campfires
The teepee is one of the easiest, most reliable campfires, making it a great option for beginners. It’s aptly named for its conical teepee-like shape, wide at the bottom with a pointed apex. The spacious base of the teepee allows for the flow of oxygen, which promotes a steady burn. A stable, consistent burn like this is what you want for cooking or boiling water. It evenly heats your food, much like a stovetop. And the vertical shape of the fire makes it suitable for smaller camps with limited space or fuel supply. Since the teepee relies primarily on dry kindling or smaller campfire logs, it likely won’t burn more than 1-2 hours, which can be a drawback for some. But if you’re short on time, it can work in your favor. If you prefer a longer burn, try to use campfire logs at least 16 inches long and two inches thick. Teepee campfires are easy to maintain as well. All you have to do is add more kindling or firewood to keep that baby roaring.
How to Build a Teepee Campfire
- Start by placing a small-to-medium pile of tinder in the middle of your campfire ring/pit.
- Grab a tall piece of dry kindling and place it vertically in the center of your tinder pile. If possible, press the kindling into the ground so it can stand up on its own.
- Add the rest of your kindling to the fire by placing individual pieces vertically around the centerpiece so that the tops touch. By the time you’re done, the kindling should resemble a teepee. Make sure to leave some gaps between the pieces of kindling.
- Reach through one of the gaps with your firestarter and light the tinder pile. When the tinder is lit, the flames should reach up toward the kindling and spread.
- As the fire grows, add fuel by stacking more kindling on top of your base layer.
The Log Cabin
Best for: Staying warm, using up extra firewood
Pros: Easy to build; burns for a long time
Cons: Requires a substantial amount of fuel
The log cabin (also known as the “criss-cross fire” or “parallel fire”) is a good campfire for those long, chilly nights. It’s named for its familiar log cabin shape; many people liken it to a stack of lincoln logs or Jenga. It’s another popular choice for campers, as it’s easy to maintain and delivers a long-lasting burn. A larger fire requires more firewood, but the consistent burn allows you to budget your fuel without sacrificing comfort. There might be better options for cooking, as the heat strength can burn food (though some campers prefer that). But the structure of the log cabin provides maximum airflow, making it a great fire if you have mixed kindling or want a hotter, more sustained campfire.
How to Build a Log Cabin Campfire
- Start by placing a medium pile of tinder in the middle of your campfire ring/pit.
- Grab two medium-to-large firewood logs and lie them down horizontally in your pit. They should be parallel to each other, about a foot apart.
- Now grab two more pieces of firewood, stacking them onto your base layer. They should be facing the alternate direction (perpendicular), the same distance apart.
- Repeat steps two and three until you have a stack at least six inches tall.
- For added fuel, place a small pile of kindling vertically in the open center square.
- Reach between the base and second layers and light the tinder pile. Watch the flames slowly spread and take hold.
- If the cabin begins to collapse, you can add firewood or kindling for additional fuel.
The Upside-Down Pyramid
Best for: Cooking, snow camping
Pros: Delivers a hot, long-lasting burn; requires minimal maintenance
Cons: Can take a little longer to get going; requires more firewood than some other fires
The upside-down pyramid (also known as a “platform fire”) is one of the best campfires for cooking. It’s similar to the log cabin but with a close-stitch design. For the best results, you’ll want to use your largest firewood for the base, stacked with smaller pieces. Unlike most campfires, the upside-down is lit from the top, working its way down to the base (hence the name). This design gives you a hot, flat surface to place your pots and pans for cooking. As it burns, it creates a generous supply of embers, for a stable source of fuel evenly to cook those hot meals. Be warned, the upside-down pyramid burns hot, and since the flames rest on the top of the fire, you might need to take a few steps back to avoid injury. But it’s a reliable source of blazing light and heat that keeps going through the night. This fire is also great for winter camping in the snow. Since it burns from the top down, it’s less likely that the wet snow will prematurely extinguish the fire.
How to Build an Upside-Down Pyramid Campfire
- Start by placing three to four pieces of firewood horizontally inside your campfire ring/pit. They should be touching, or almost touching, all facing the same direction.
- Grab three to four more pieces of firewood and stack them onto that base layer, facing the alternate direction (perpendicular).
- Repeat steps two and three until you have at least three-to-four layers of firewood.
- Place a medium pile of tinder in the middle of the top layer, surrounded by several pieces of kindling. Alternatively, you can build a kindling teepee with a small pile of tinder inside of it.
- Light the tinder and kindling and watch the flames slowly work their way down each layer.
- If you need to add more firewood, place them horizontally on the top layer or vertically along the side walls.
Best for: Staying warm, low firewood supply, limited space
Pros: Easy to build; requires minimal fuel and maintenance
Cons: It can take a little longer to get going
The star campfire was made famous by Native Americans and, subsequently, old western films. The star is named for its clear star shape, also likened to the spokes of a wheel. The star is one of the easiest campfires to build, making it a great option for beginners or campers in a hurry. The simple design allows you to create whatever size campfire you want, depending on your space, time, and fuel supply. It relies heavily on unbroken firewood logs, but you can make a more crude version with leftover kindling. The star’s versatile shape provides a slow, steady burn that’s simple to maintain and fun to watch. Like the upside-down campfire, the star can take a little longer to get going. But it uses fuel efficiently and provides a prolonged burn for warming your space.
How to Build a Star Campfire
- Start by building a small-to-medium teepee of tinder and kindling in the middle of your campfire ring/pit.
- Surround the teepee with as many firewood logs as possible, evenly spacing them around the perimeter of the teepee. Each firewood log should be perpendicular to your teepee so that one end touches the teepee and the other end faces out.
- Light the tinder and kindling teepee, so the flames spread to the firewood logs. You can speed up the lighting process by lighting the ends of each firewood log.
- Keep the fire burning by occasionally pushing the logs closer to the center as they burn down.
- You can also build a more basic version of the star by simply crisscrossing several pieces of kindling (in a star shape), adding a pile of tinder to the center, and lighting the tinder.
- If you plan on cooking with this campfire, it helps to dig a small trench underneath the center hub of the star. That way, you can collect a nice, controlled pile of embers for more even cooking.
Best for: Staying warm in inclement weather
Pros: Low maintenance, protective in windy conditions
Cons: Not the best campfire for cooking
The lean-to is best known as a shelter that protects you from the weather. The campfire is no different (but please, don’t attempt to sleep in it). The lean-to is the best campfire for lousy weather conditions. The lean-to’s design provides a natural windbreaker, protecting your precious flames from gusts of wind or rain that would otherwise extinguish it or scatter embers. This is the ideal fire camping in the wind, rain, snow, or other unpleasant conditions. It’s relatively easy to build, and even easier to maintain. If you can tell which way the wind is blowing, try to direct your lean-to away from the wind so it flows over the top of the fire. The lean-to is also a great choice if you’re new to building fires, low on firewood, or in a hurry to get that baby going.
How to Build a Lean-To Campfire
- Place a large firewood log horizontally in the center of your campfire pit/ring.
- Build a few small piles of tinder along the length of the log, where it touches the ground.
- Place several pieces of kindling perpendicular along the log’s length to cover the tinder piles. One edge of the kindling should be touching the log, with the other edge resting on the ground. They should be leaning down and away from the log.
- Light the tinder piles from both sides of your log, so the flames spread out over the kindling. Eventually, the flame will spread across the firewood log for an even more robust fire.
- Add kindling and smaller campfire logs to the lean-to for a longer burn.
- You can build an even more robust lean-to by swapping the large firewood log for a second lean-to wall of tinder, connecting them at the top (sort of like a teepee).
No matter what your purpose, choose your campfire wisely. It’s surprisingly easy for a fire to get out of hand, despite your best intentions. A good camper will always follow fire safety guidelines and practices. Check out our guide on campfire safety for everything you need to know about building, maintaining, and extinguishing fires responsibly.