How To Start A Bonfire

Is a campfire allowed on your campsite and how do you get it going? Do you have to go without a fire when you’re out and about if you’ve forgotten your lighter and matches? We have put together valuable tips and tricks for you on everything to do with fire. With them you are well prepared for the next campfire evening!

Is there anything better than a campfire at the end of a long hike, while camping or meeting friends at a nearby river or lake? A warming campfire is also part of a successful outdoor adventure. In order to protect yourself and your environment, however, you should strictly observe the following rules when making a fire.

When and where is it allowed to make a fire?

The legal situation for making a fire is inconsistent and differs from state to state – by the way, similar to wild camping in North America and Canada.

Open fire regulations

In america, the landscape law regulates the legal situation to start a fire for each state individually. In particular, open fire in nature is a source of danger that should not be underestimated. Since carelessly lit campfires in dry soils and forests often become the source of forest fires, you should always inform yourself in advance about the current security situation in your state and your community.

bonfire at campground

It is generally forbidden to make a fire in the following areas (attention: violations can result in severe penalties!):

  • nature reserves
  • National parks and nature reserves
  • in public places or on agricultural land

Please inform yourself beforehand from the national park, the municipality or the police!

In addition, the following rules apply:

  • Keep a minimum distance of 328 feet from the edge of the forest for campfires or barbecues (this also applies to torches and camping stoves).
  • Making a fire in the forest is only permitted with the written approval of the responsible forest authority or national park.
  • The smoke development must not be disruptive or even harmful for any neighbors.
  • Use only approved material. These include, for example, dry and unpainted wood or wood briquettes.
  • You can light a fire on private property with the consent of the owner – this also applies to rented apartments and properties. Please note any special regulations in your rental agreement and in the house rules.
  • Campfire in your own garden: Basically, you are allowed to make a fire and barbecue on your own property. Here too, neighborhood protection and air pollution control regulations must be observed. The following applies: Find out from your local authority which regulations on open fires in the garden currently apply.

This is how you do a bonfire right

Starting a campfire quickly and skilfully is not that easy at first. With the following tips and the right know-how, it will definitely work with a little practice.

The choice of fireplace

Make sure that there is no combustible material within a radius of at least three meters (including upwards). The soil should be relatively solid so that the fire does not sink in and start a root fire. Also, it is never wrong to put earth or stones around the fire. This can also be useful if you are using a fire bowl.

campsite layout


It’s best to collect tinder, kindling and fuel in advance so that the fire doesn’t go out again in between. Very easily combustible materials such as dry needles, leaves, thistles or thin wood chips are suitable as tinder. Spruce twigs are best for firing up – if they are not available in the area, use other thin twigs. To keep the fire going for a longer period of time, you need twigs and branches of various thicknesses. When choosing the right wood for your fire, it is particularly important that it is dry.

Stratify fire

In addition to choosing the right fuel, the right structure of the campfire will help you to be successful: As the bottom layer, you pile up what you have collected as tinder. Around this pile you build a pyramid from thin branches and other wood – thin branches come in, thick ones out. Leave a hole on one side, here you light the fire in the next step.

campfire types
campfire types

Light a fire

This is where your lighter, matches or fire steel come into play. Fire steel has the advantage that it always works, lighter and matches are easier to use. Shield the fire well from the wind and hold the lighter as close as possible to the tinder. As soon as the material has caught fire, you blow slowly and evenly into the pyramid from below – not directly into the flames, but into the embers! Now continue to heat the fire and make sure that the thicker branches are also burning. Put more wood around the fire – don’t wait too long for it to go out again.

How to start a campfire

Size of campfire

Don’t keep your fire too big so it doesn’t get out of control, but also not too small so it doesn’t go out. Over time you will get the right feeling for it.

Tips for making a campfire without a lighter

The campfire is already layered, the anticipation of the food to be grilled or the warming coffee in the early morning hours increases and then that: the matches are at home. With a few tricks you can still get your fire going without the usual aids such as lighter or matches.

fire without a lighter

Start the fire with a burning glass

With this method, the sun has to shine, but then it works without problems: You hold a magnifying glass (this can be a magnifying glass or the bottom of a glass bottle) in the light so that the bundled light beam is directed onto the tinder pile. The material starts to burn after a short time.

To strike fire

To literally strike a fire, you need fire steel or flint stones. However, you usually have to bring both with you. Alternatively, you can try hitting a knife blade on a normal stone, as sparks can also arise here. This method is made easier if you have a piece of dry or charred (cotton) wool with you. This picks up sparks easily and the sparks are not lost again immediately.

Make a fire with a battery and steel wool / aluminum

Even if it is relatively unlikely that you will have a (preferably 9 volt) battery and steel wool with you on tour if you forgot your lighter, we would still like to introduce you to this variant: You need a battery and preferably steel wool or one Piece of aluminum. Now hold the steel wool or the aluminum strip on both poles of the battery. If the aluminum starts to burn, you hold it to the tinder until the fire is kindled.

Make a fire in the wind

The top priority is: If the wind is very strong or if there is even an official weather warning, refrain from lighting a fire! On the other hand, it is normal for a light breeze to blow and it is the rule, except in places that are particularly sheltered from the wind.

Check the wind direction before lighting the fire. In this way, no unforeseen flying sparks happen and you know from which direction to light the fire so that it does not go out again immediately. It is best to sit in front of the fireplace in such a way that you shield it from the wind and ignite the fire from the windward side – this gives the fire fresh air that it needs to spread. Tip: Birch bark is a suitable fuel in moderate winds, as it burns well and cannot be extinguished so quickly by the wind.

How to start a fire without a lighter or match

Make a fire when it rains

With a little practice, you can make a fire even when it rains. Note, however, that using wet wood can produce a lot of smoke or fume.

When it comes to making a fire when it rains, it is important that your tinder and fuel are dry. You need the dry material to be able to ignite a basic fire – once it burns, the fire does not affect the fire after prolonged rain. If you can’t find thin, dry twigs, you can split a thick piece of wood and use the dry splinters. If spruces grow in your area, you will often find dry spruce branches on the lower levels, as the trees become very dense towards the top.

Extinguish fire correctly

Before leaving the campsite, make sure that the fire has either burned down or that you have put it out completely. Otherwise there is a risk that the fire will unintentionally re-ignite, for example due to the wind. The best thing to do is to put out the fire with sand or water if it is still glowing or smoking. This also applies if you lit the fire in a brazier, as sparks can jump out here too.

tent and campfire

Tips on making a fire with children

Especially for children, a trip to the countryside with a campfire at the end is pure adventure feeling! It goes without saying that most of the children want to take part directly. It is difficult to state a general age from which a child is allowed to make a fire, as a lot depends on the individual maturity and temperament of the child. If you take note of a few basic points together, there is basically nothing against a relaxed evening around the campfire with family:

  • Regardless of age, every child can help to collect dry leaves and branches – after all, there is no fire without fuel.
  • The sun is shining? Wonderful – together you can also leave the lighter aside and try to light the fire with a magnifying glass (see above “Lighting the fire with a magnifying glass”).
  • Synthetic fibers such as polyester or fleece burn more easily than cotton: Easily inflammable textiles have no place on the fireplace and therefore also on your children’s body – at least as long as you make a fire together!
  • Establish rules: You can only stand or sit by the fire – running and playing are prohibited!
  • It also makes sense to use earth or stones to build up the fire. So the children know how close they can get to the fire.
  • Bring your favorite recipes for stick bread & Co., an outdoor day in nature makes you really hungry.


Getting a campfire going takes a little routine. But once you’ve tried it a few times, you know what to look out for so that the fire burns properly but also in a controlled manner. As beautiful as campfires are – please inform yourself in advance about the current regulations so that you do not cause unwanted damage. In addition, the same applies as always when you are out and about: leave the space as you found it. Then others can also use it and you protect nature.

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