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How to build the perfect campfire at the cottage

how to build a campfire

Whether you grew up spending summers at the lake or you’re brand new to cottaging, there are certain activities that go hand-in-hand with a cottage weekend. And you can’t get much more “cottage” than embracing the glow of a crackling campfire at the end of a relaxing day.

With the help of our very own Cottage Coach, here’s how to build a campfire that’s sure to be a cottage classic. So apply your Off! Deep Woods Insect Repellent to help PREtect you from those pesky mosquitoes, and let’s head out to the fire pit. Pretection is the best prevention from mosquitoes.

Which type of campfire is ideal for the cottage?

At the cottage, the two main campfire structures that people favour are the “cone” and the “log cabin.” The cone, also referred to as the “tepee,” sits on a circular base of kindling, and the logs lean into each other, forming a conical shape. The wide, open base lets in plenty of oxygen, so it’s a great technique when you’re in a hurry to get warm. It also burns through logs more quickly than other types of campfires, but you can easily replace them by laying more against the structure as they burn.

The “log cabin” structure gets its name for its square-like shape. To build it, stack two logs parallel to each other on the bottom, and then stack two more on top of them, this time perpendicular. Repeat that pattern as if you were building drafty cabin walls. We often prefer the log cabin structure because it burns slower and more steadily, so it’s perfect for a relaxing evening with family and friends—and for roasting a perfectly golden s’more.

Cottage Coach Tip: Be sure to use thicker wood on the bottom and thinner logs on top so that your structure doesn’t topple.

What type of wood burns best?

The answer to that question will always be “dry,” but if you’re chopping down trees on your property and using some of the wood for campfires, you might want to be aware of each tree’s attributes. Maple and oak are harder woods, so they produce hot, slow-burning fires. Birch, on the other hand, is softer and burns quickly, but it gives off a brighter glow. Ash is another wood that burns slowly and steadily, and it’s usually easy to split. Pine is also easy to split and cure, but its sap pockets can lead to sparks, along with that lovely campfire crackle.

What other materials do you need?

To get your campfire going, you should have both tinder and kindling on hand. The two are similar, in that they burn more easily than wood, but tinder is the easiest-burning material in your campfire recipe. You can use anything from dry leaves and dryer lint to crumpled paper or a commercial fire starter—just make sure it’s totally dry. Broken-up bits of candle wax are another solid option.

Kindling, on the other hand, is actual wood that’s smaller than your typical firewood. Small branches, slices of bark, or twigs—again, so long as they’re totally dry—are good sources.

From there, you’ll simply need a lighter or matches. And don’t be the cottager who douses the campfire in gas before lighting it. With a well-constructed fire, there’s no need for the extra risk, and you likely look better with eyebrows.

The rest of what you bring to the fire is up to you, whether it’s a bag of marshmallows to roast, your favourite ghost story, or an acoustic guitar for a singalong (assuming everyone’s on board and your neighbours aren’t too close). And definitely bring your Off! Deep Woods Insect Repellent so your evening doesn’t get cut short by annoying mosquitoes.

Cottage Coach Tip: Waterproof matches can save you from fire-starting frustration during a humid evening.

How to build your campfire

If you’re renting a cottage or staying at a campsite, there should already be a safe fire pit or ring in place. But if you’re roughing it, choose an area without any dry brush nearby or branches overhead. A single errant spark can do a ton of damage.

Once you’ve found a safe place, you can either build a bed of tinder as a base, or you can begin stacking your logs. If you’re using the log cabin structure, you may find it easiest to stack the logs and then place your tinder and kindling inside them.

Cottage Coach Tip: If you have an axe, you’ll always have kindling. A small piece of firewood can be split into a dozen strips.

From there, simply light the tinder at the base, and blow on it gently to give it some extra oxygen. Be ready to add more tinder or kindling until the larger logs begin burning, and you may need to fan the flames. Once the wood is burning steadily, sit back and enjoy the warm glow of your handiwork. The perfect s’more awaits!

Want to embrace all of the classic cottage activities this summer? Make the most of your time outside with Off! Deep Woods Insect Repellent. Pretection is the best prevention from mosquitoes.

Photo credit: FXQuadro/Shutterstock