Campfire Structures: Different Types and How to Build Them

Updated August 26, 2021
Blazing Bonfire on the Beach at Sunset

There are several different types of campfire structures, and some are more suited to certain tasks than others. Whether you're cooking, entertaining, or just trying to create some warmth, knowing which campfire structure is best is key to your success.

Why There Are Different Campfire Structures

When you're setting up camp, any old fire won't do. Different campfire structures -- also known as campfire lays -- serve different purposes. Do you need a large fire for a large group, or is the setting more intimate? How quickly do you need the fire? You can eat, cook, and entertain fireside if you know the steps to laying the tinder, kindling, and fuelwood for your fire of choice. Then all you have to do is figure out how to light it!

Before You Start

Before you get started building your campfire structure, you'll want to make sure it's safe to build where and how you want to. Here are a few tips:

  • Build as small as you can. Don't build a larger fire than you need. Small fires are obviously easier to contain. Do the bare minimum for your cooking, heating, and lighting needs.
  • Keep in mind what you're using for the pit. Gravel or sand is best.
  • Make sure there's nothing within 10 feet of the fire that could go up in flames. That means no wood or organic debris. This will help ensure that sparks don't go flying and set something on fire that shouldn't be.
  • Don't build your fire too close to your tent or any trees, either.
  • If you're going to have a fire, make sure you have the materials you need (a bucket, water, sand, a shovel, etc.), to put that fire out completely, too.

Three Ingredients

To build a fire, you'll need tinder, kindling, and fuelwood. Tinder is fluffy and dry. Think of wood shavings. Kindling is larger, but still pretty small. Think splinters, very small twigs, etc. Of course, you'll need to make sure it's dry or it won't burn. Fuelwood is the largest ingredient in a campfire structure, but it's still not big. Don't take "Drop another log on the fire" literally -- they're not that big! Fuelwood should be no larger than your forearm.

Different campfire structures

TeePees Aren't Just for Housing

They're also for food and heat when you're talking campfire structures. This is a basic structure that's easy to light. The beginning of this fire actually does look like a teepee, hence the name. This is an excellent structure for cooking, since it gets going fairly quickly and heats evenly once it's started.

  1. Start with three or four sticks to house the kindling in the center.
  2. Around that, you'll place smaller twigs, leaving an opening on the upwind side of the structure so you'll be able to light it later. Don't forget to leave enough space between the sticks to let air through, since fire needs air to burn.
  3. Two more layers are left: put a few more sticks into the ground around the outside of the first teepee, creating another larger one.
  4. Then place small fuelwood against that.

Now, you're ready to light the fire!

As for Log Cabins …

They're not just for shelter either. This fire structure works well for cooking, especially if you only need a small fire, but it's also a great option if you're entertaining and relaxing, and don't want to have to do much to maintain your fire; the structure ensures that the fire keeps going for a long time without adding additional fuel.

  1. Start with a teepee structure.
  2. Box it in with small fuelwood pieces, but don't forget to leave that space you left in the upwind area of the original teepee structure so you can light it later.
  3. Around this structure, lay more of the smaller, shorter pieces, but keep the shape of the cabin.
  4. Light, and enjoy.

Council Fires for Large Crowds

The Council campfire structure is a true crowd pleaser. Once it gets going, you don't even have to add more wood to keep it going. It'll supply all the light and heat you need in a large camping group. You'll need larger pieces of wood for this one, unlike in the teepee and log cabin styles, and this one takes a bit more planning to pull off. These campfire structures are pretty sturdy structures that start with large logs and work their way down into progressively smaller logs, finally ending with the teepee structure on top. The Campfire Dude recommends building Council campfires this way:

  • Layer One: Four logs, 5 to 6 inches in diameter, about 3 feet long, laid out in a square shape with 4 inches of space between logs at the corners.
  • Layer Two: Six logs of the same width and length as the first layer, placed across the base.
  • Layer Three: They're getting smaller now -- you need logs that are about 4 inches wide, and 2 1/2 feet long. Place them all across Layer Two.
  • Layer Four: Three inches wide, 2 feet long, followed perpendicularly by Layer Five, made up of logs of the same size.
  • Layers Five through Eight: These are done in the same pattern as Layer Four, but the first two layers of logs should be 2 inches wide and 2 feet long; the second two layers should be 1 inch wide (split) and 18 inches long.

Fill empty space within the campfire structure with split kindling.

Remember that teepee structure? Build another on top of that last layer. Add outward layers to the teepee structure, again leaving a space to light it as you did with the simple teepee campfire structure.

Putting It Out

When it's time to put the fire out, it's fairly simple to do. If you've prepared completely, you'll have a bucket of water and a shovel nearby. Pour water on the flames and stir with the shovel. Pour more water in and repeat. Make sure all the embers have died down. You wouldn't want to be responsible for a wildfire, so be cautious and responsible when it comes to exterminating your campfire. You may find putting out the fire to be much easier than lighting it!

Campfire Structures: Different Types and How to Build Them