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A campfire is a useful fire that is lit when storing outdoors . It is mainly used to warm the body, dry clothes, cook food, boil water, drive away insects and predators, signal emergency situations and socialize.

The most important forms of campfire are the tipi fire with its variants survival and hunter fire as a multi-purpose fire, the star, pit and tunnel pit fire as a cooking fire and the smoke fire as a signal fire to rescue from dangerous situations. The celebratory fires include the pile cone, pagoda and stack fire.


Fire has been used by hominids for around two million years ( Chesowanya , Zhoukoudian ), but formal fireplaces with built-in clay or stone have only been documented since the Middle Stone Age .

Campfire in tent camps

As a source of thermal radiation , the campfire is usually the central meeting and gathering point in tent camps . In the evenings, people meet there for socializing. You sit on the ground, on logs or on seats. Usually you first build a pyramid or a pile of firewood that is supposed to burn for a long time. This is lit with a small tipi fire. If the fire blazes properly, it is fed as needed with the firewood collected during the day, which is nearby. After burning, you push the remaining stumps together until the embers have gone out and only ashes remain.

Functions of the campfire

Campfires can serve different functions. They are used to warm the body, to dry wet clothes, to prepare food, to preserve food by smoking, to boil ( sterilize ) drinking water, to obtain drinking water by distilling , to drive away insects, to scare off wild animals , warming while sleeping, asking for help and socializing.

After the three properties of fire: heat , light and smoke campfire can be divided into three groups, namely: heat fire , beacon and smoke fire . Among the heat fires are multipurpose , heat , cooking and sleeping fire to the lighthouses guarding and fixed fire and the smoke fires the rescue fire .

Multipurpose fire

Most fires have multiple tasks such as warming the body, drying clothes, lighting the surroundings, cooking food, boiling (sterilizing) water for use as drinking water.

Heat fire

Heat fires are used to warm the body and dry wet clothes.

Cooking fire

Cooking fire between rocking stones

Food is cooked, fried or grilled or water is boiled over the cooking fire. In the simplest of applications, a piece of meat is fried on a hot stone or on a stick, or a saucepan is simply placed on the fire. Food can also be wrapped in aluminum foil and placed directly on the fire. Or they are wrapped in a herb coat and buried under the fire and cooked. Pots are often hung in a height-adjustable manner (stick in two forks, tripod with chain) or placed on a grid. In the Middle Ages, three-legged pots, so-called grapes , were used, which could be placed directly in the fire because of their three legs.

Special forms of cooking fire are earth oven , field oven and grill .

Sleep fire

Sleep fire is used to keep the body warm during the night, especially when it is wet and cold.

Watch fire

Guard fires are small fires to keep warm and illuminate the area.

Celebratory fire

Festfires are big bonfires to celebrate. To the festival fires in the German area includes carnival fire, Walpurgisfeuer (April 30 Walpurgis Night), Easter fire (in the Easter Vigil ), Bonfires (June 24 for summer solstice ), Alpine Fire (August 1 to the Swiss national holiday) and Martin Fire (Nov. 11 following the Saint Martin's parade).


Signal lights are used to transmit signals. Smoke signals are used during the day and the bright glow of the fire at night. Smoke signals are generated by placing wet leaves on the fire. If the fire is now additionally covered with a tarpaulin at intervals, simple signals can be transmitted. See din fire .

Types of campfire

Heat fire

Tipi fire

The tipi or pyramid fire consists of a core of tinder and easily inflammable material, around which dry thin twigs and branches are set up in a tent like the tent poles of a tipi (hence the name). The tip-shaped design makes it easier to ignite the fire, as the oxygen can easily get through the cracks to the tinder and flame material. A tipi fire has a bowl-shaped structure. Highly flammable fuels (flammable materials) such as paper, cardboard and straw in the middle, moderately flammable fuels such as dry twigs and thin branches around the outside. If the fire really lights up, you can also use flame-retardant fuels such as thick or wet branches and logs. A small opening is left free on one side for lighting.

Tipi fire on platform (survival fire)

A prerequisite for a tipi fire is a dry floor, as the fire is initially directly on the floor. To avoid this, you first build a platform from a layer of straight branches lying close together. This creates an insulation layer that protects the initial fire from the moisture and cold of the ground. In the event of severe frost or snow, the platform should consist of several layers stacked crosswise for better insulation.

The tipi fire on the platform is often used to light other types of campfires.

Tipi fire with windbreaker (hunter fire)

The tipi fire with windbreaker consists of a tipi fire around which two thick branches / logs are placed so that they form a pointed V. If possible, the tip of the V points in the opposite wind direction, so that the wind is deflected by the thick branches / logs. A pot can be placed on the corner where the two branches / logs meet.

Cooking fire

Ground-level cooking fire

Star fire

The star fire consists of several logs laid flat, all of which meet at one end in a star shape at a central point. This point is the focus of the fire. If a small tipi fire is lit in the focal point, a pot can be placed directly on the ends of the logs. When the ends of a log have burned down, the rest of the log is pushed forward a little into the middle of the fire. In this way you can control the cooking temperature and duration very well. The star fire is economical in its consumption of wood and is also suitable as a guard fire.

Tipi fire with secondary embers

At the tipi fire with secondary embers, a large tipi fire is lit first. When enough embers have accumulated after a while, they are pushed into a pile next to the fireplace. In this way you can cook in the embers of the fire without the blazing flames burning your food. Because of the keyhole-like shape of the round fireplace and the embers that are pushed together in a rectangular shape, this type of cooking fire is also known as a keyhole fire.

Cooking fire with stones

Stone Pit Fire (Imu)

In the stone pit fire, a large, shallow pit is dug in which a large tipi fire is lit. If it burns properly, you put numerous Wacker (fist-sized stones) into the pit so that they are heated. If the Wacker are hot, they are lifted out of the pit with the help of poles and pushed together in a heap. On this pile of hot stones you put your food wrapped in banana leaves or aluminum foil and cover the entire pile first with leaves and then with earth. This creates an oven in which the food is cooked. When these are done, they are excavated from the pile of earth and leaves. Since this method of cooking comes from the Polynesians , the great pit fire is also called Polynesian fire. The large pit fire is called Imu or Umu in Polynesian , and the dish cooked in it, usually a whole pig, kālua.

Cairn fire (huatia)

With a cairn fire, a large fire is lit under a pile of bricks (fist-sized stones) that form a kind of oven, which heats the bricks. Then you partially remove the pile and roast meat on the hot stones. Then you place leaves on the stones, put the seared meat and the rest of the vegetables etc. on them and cover everything first with leaves and then with earth. The cooking time is around 1½ hours. The cairn fire comes from Peru and is called Watia (sp. Huatia) in Quechua , and the dish cooked in it is called Pachamanca .

Underground cooking fires

Pit fire (soldier fire)

The pit fire is an underground campfire. For this purpose, a pit is dug with a folding spade , the hand or a digging stick (a stick used for digging that is gentle on the hands), in which a tipi fire is lit on a platform. The disadvantage of the pit fire is the lack of oxygen supply, since the flames of the fire quickly use up the oxygen in the pit and, due to the warm air rising from the pit, only little oxygen can flow into the pit. Therefore, there is only moderate or no burning in deep, narrow pits.

Pit fire and tunnel pit fire are often used by the military , as the open fire is hidden by the pit.

Tunnel pit fire (Dakota fire)

The disadvantage of poor air supply in a pit fire can be avoided by digging a second pit right next to the first and connecting both pits with a tunnel. The first pit serves as a fireplace. The second pit is used solely to supply fresh air. Since this type of fire originates from the Dakota Indians from the North American prairie , the tunnel pit fire is also called the Dakota fire.

Above-ground cooking fires

Stick fire (stick torch)

In the case of a stick bundle fire, a large number of wooden sticks / branches of the same length is collected and tied at one end with flexible willow branches , spruce roots or cords. This end is placed on the floor. At the upper end, small branches are pushed as wedges between the billets so that the billets do not lie against one another, but are separated by air gaps. The gaps between the sticks are used to supply oxygen. The top of the bundle of sticks is set on fire. A saucepan can then be placed on this. The stick bundle fire is a cooking fire for wet and boggy soils or knee-high snow. The stick bundle fire is known as the Swedish stick torch (swe. Svensk Stockfackla, eng. Swedish stick torch), Swedish torch or Swedish fire.

Cracked log fire (block torch)

In a split log fire, a block of wood is first split into four logs with an ax. These are put upright again together, with sufficient distance between all logs. The gaps between the standing logs are used to supply oxygen. It is important that each log stands firmly on the ground so that the construction remains stable. The gap between the logs is then loosely filled with dry sticks and the tinder placed on top, which is lit. Then you wait until the inner edges of the logs burn properly. If this is the case, you can optionally remove the not yet burned sticks, which improves the oxygen supply. In the middle of the block of wood, which is composed of four logs, a chimney is created, the chimney effect of which improves the supply of oxygen. As a result, the fire in the middle of the block burns particularly intensely. On top of the four logs, you put two sticks parallel to each other, on which you then put the pot to cook. The split log fire is, like the stick bundle fire, a cooking fire for wet and boggy soils or knee-high snow. The split log torch is known as the Swedish block torch (swe. Svensk Blockfackla, eng. Swedish log torch), Swedish torch or Swedish fire .

Sleep fire

Fire bed

The so-called fire bed consists of a burned down fire in a fireplace that is as long as a person. The embers of this fire are covered with earth so that one can lie down without being burned. The remaining heat then acts like a large hot water bottle. The fire bed is a sleeping fire for cool, but not too cold nights.

Trunk trough fire

Two human-length tree trunks are placed next to each other at the trunk fire. In the groove between the tree trunks, a large fire is lit that burns all night because it is fed by the wood from the two tree trunks. The heat of the fire can be better used if you also have a heat-reflecting wall behind you, which reflects the heat of the fire back on you. The trunk fire is a sleep fire for cold, but frost-free nights.

Trunk pile fire (rakovalkea)

In the trunk pile fire, four posts are dug into the ground to hold a pile of two human-length tree trunks. You should therefore make sure that the posts are firmly rammed into the ground so as not to be hit by a rolling tree trunk. Branches and sticks are placed between the tree trunks, which are then set on fire. Since the fire feeds on the wood of the tree trunks, it lasts all night. The main pile fire has the advantage that the sleeper can sleep on a pedestal or bed that is thermally insulated from the floor. The trunk pile fire is a sleeping fire for frosty nights. It is used by Finns and Siberians , which is why it is also known as the Finnish and Siberian fire. In Finnish it is called Rakovalkea.


Stake cone fire

In the case of a cone fire, a large pile is first driven into the ground. Then logs are placed diagonally in a circle on the stake so that a cone is created. This process is repeated until the cone made of logs has reached a sufficient height. Because the pile is driven into the ground, this type of campfire is very stable. However, there is always the danger that a high-piled fire will tip over and endanger the audience.

Pagoda fire

In the case of the pagoda fire, two logs that are lying apart are stacked crosswise. As the stacking height increases, the two logs move closer to each other in each layer, creating a tower with a tapering height and a square floor plan. This tower is somewhat reminiscent of a pagoda , which gave the fire its name.

Stack fire

In a stack fire, the logs are placed close together and stacked crosswise, so that a dense pile of wood is created.

Rescue fire

Smoke fire

A smoke fire is a large tipi fire over which wet leaves are placed, creating steam (evaporating water) and smoke (burning branches). With the help of a blanket you can collect the smoke and let it escape suddenly. An elongated cloud of smoke is just as easily recognizable for search planes and helicopters. The smoke fire is more suitable for broad daylight, as the smoke is barely visible at night.


Design use
Multipurpose fire
• Tipi fire Standard fire
• Tipi fire on deck Standard fire in wet, cold, frost and snow
• Tipi fire with wind breaker Standard fire in wind
ground-level cooking fire
• Star fire Cooking fire for several people
• Tipi fire with secondary embers Cooking fire for several people
Cooking fire with stones
• Stone pit fire Cooking fire for several people with cooking stones
• Cairn fire Cooking fire for several people with cooking stones
underground cooking fire
• Pit fire Invisible cooking fire
• Tunnel pit fire Invisible, well-burning cooking fire
Above-ground cooking fires
• Bundle fire Cooking fire in wet conditions, mud and snow
• Cleft log fire Cooking fire in wet conditions, mud and snow
Sleep fire
• Fire bed Sleep fires for cool nights
• Trunk fire Sleep fire for cold nights
• Main pile fire Sleeping fire for frosty nights
Celebratory fire
• Stake cone fire Celebratory fire
• Pagoda fire Celebratory fire
• Stacking fire Celebratory fire
Rescue fire
• smoke fire Life fire during the day
• Beacon Life fire at night

Starting a campfire

Have the fuse and tinder ready

Ignition materials such as matches, lighter or fire steel and tinder, such as B. cotton balls should be carried with you at all times so that you have them ready when you need them.

Choice of fireplace

The first step in creating a fireplace is choosing the location. The fireplace should be laid out in such a way that there is no fire hazard for the surrounding area due to burning, smoldering, smoldering or flying sparks. Therefore, a fireplace should be set up as far away from trees as possible (flying sparks) on an area cleared of litter (smoldering fires) . If there is a risk of forest fire, you have to refrain from lighting a fire, since even the smallest sparks are enough to start a fire.

Collecting firewood

Before lighting a fire, you should first collect enough firewood so that you do not suddenly have to look for firewood after the fire is lit so that the fire does not go out. Standing deadwood is most suitable for firewood, as this is the driest wood. Living green wood contains water, lying dead wood is mostly damp and modern. If you don't find any standing dead wood, you take standing green wood. You can recognize dry wood by the fact that it cracks clearly when it breaks. If it rains, you should be firewood with a tarpaulin ( tarp ) or large bark covering pieces to keep it dry.

Cleaning the fireplace

Remove litter from the floor of the fireplace in order to prevent possible smoldering fires. If the wind is strong, dig a pit with a digging stick or build a windbreak.

Building a platform

If the ground is damp or cold, it is essential to build a platform made of firewood to protect the fire from damp or cold ground. In severe frost, the insulating fire platform can consist of several layers of crosswise layered firewood. Instead of wood you can also use pieces of bark. Birch bark is particularly suitable for this because of its essential oils .

Laying on tinder and sticks

Dry twigs, shavings and tinder are then placed on the fire platform. Natural tinder sponge , cut birch bark , dry grass (hay), straw , dried moss , resinified wood shavings ( pine shavings ), cattails and seeds of cotton , poplar , thistle and dandelion . Cotton wool, tampons, paper, cardboard and charred cotton are used as artificial tinder. Simple cotton balls that can be rubbed with petroleum jelly are cheap and practical.

Lighting the tinder

There are several methods of starting a fire. The most practical is it with matches and lighters , in stronger winds with storm woods and storm lighters . The simplest and safest method, which also works in extreme wetness and frost, is lighting with fire steel and a knife. To do this, hold the knife with the cutting edge up to protect the cutting edge of the blade. Then you hold the fire steel from below on the back of the knife and pull the fire steel backwards firmly on the back of the knife until sparks fly that ignite the tinder. Conversely, if you pull the knife forward on the fire steel, there is a risk that the tinder will be blown away by the breeze released by the knife movement. If the tinder is glowing, blow it carefully until the tinder flares up. The blowing adds oxygen to the fire. The tinder then inflames the twigs and wood chips until the fire flares up. If the fire blazes, you add wood as required, initially the thin pieces, later the thicker ones.

Extinguishing the fire

Combustion triangle; one of the three sides must be removed to put out the fire.

The fire is extinguished by pouring or pouring sand, earth, snow or water on it. Depending on the extinguishing agent, the fire is separated from the oxygen supply or the temperature of the fuel is suddenly reduced below the ignition temperature . Then you check whether any pieces of wood are still glowing. This is covered with earth.

Enclosure of the fireplace

Stone circle

To prevent the fire from spreading, you can enclose it with stones or a low earth wall, whereby stones from rivers and other bodies of water as well as stones that show a slate structure should be avoided, because such stones can crack in the heat and splinters flying around turn into dangerous projectiles. Outside the stone circle, combustible material should be removed.

If the fire is to be set up on a meadow, turf can be cut out and turned upside down. When leaving the storage area, the fireplace can be covered with the sod again after it has cooled down so that it is no longer recognizable.


flying sparks
  • Do not set up a campfire in an area at risk of fire (ground, side clearance, height clearance).
  • Do not moor on rocks (they can jump).
  • Camp fires must never be unattended.
  • Open flames are prohibited if there is a risk of forest fire.
  • Keep flammable materials away (clothing, blankets, sleeping bags, tents).
  • Pay attention to flying sparks (wind gusts).
  • When leaving the storage area, the fire must have gone out and must not contain any glowing parts.

In individual countries, special laws and regulations apply to open fires. In North Rhine-Westphalia, for example, Section 47 of the State Forestry Act prohibits any open fire or the use of barbecue equipment in the forest and on all areas less than one hundred meters from the edge of the forest. Exceptions apply only to special fireplaces that have been approved by the forest authority. If there are children nearby, the duty of supervision requires a high level of care and caution.

If a fire is to be abandoned before it has burned down completely, it must be extinguished with water or by covering it with sand. When extinguishing water, one should think about breaking stones. Successful deletion must be verified.

Videos on building campfires

The following YouTube videos are all in English. However, you don't need any language skills to understand it, as everything is shown clearly.

Web links

Commons : Campfire  album with pictures, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Campfire  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Christian Jasper: Legally secure in child and youth work . Springer, Wiesbaden 2019, ISBN 978-3-658-26086-6 , pp. 220 .