Every campsite requires fire. You need to keep it lit to regulate your temperature at night. You also need it to cook. And for the most part, campfires don’t require much maintenance. Once you get one started, it will maintain going with minimal effort. But what if your fire keeps going out? Are there any factors that could contribute to such an occurrence? Well, yes, quite a few factors might be responsible for ruining your fire.
These are the reasons why your campfire keeps going out:
- There is not sufficient air flow. Build it in the shape of a teepee.
- The wood is moist; stick to seasoned wood which had fallen months ago.
- You are using wood which is too thick; start with thin sticks.
- The air is too humid. Keep away from water sources such as rivers, seas, and lakes.
- You are using softwood instead of hardwood; try oak or Madrone instead.
1. Insufficient Air Flow
You need firewood and heat to get a fire going. But to maintain it, there must be sufficient air flow. If your campfire keeps going out, then it could be because it isn’t getting enough air.
When a fire starts, it consumes oxygen, and the resulting heat causes air to escape from the top. Therefore, it is crucial that you do some maintenance.
Think about what happens when you try to start a fire, and it keeps resisting. You eventually blow on it. That should tell you how vital air and oxygen are to the life of a campfire.
To make sure your campfire is adequately ventilated, like many others, I suggest that you build it in the shape of a teepee (the form which resembles a tent or a cone).
This structure would allow air to flow through all directions, and most importantly – to the bottom. The area closed to the ground is the fire’s core and should be ventilated as efficiently as possible.
Avoid building a campfire in a pile shape; it would probably suffocate it. Also, do not overload the bonfire with timber. As I will explain later, you should add the logs gradually. For last, pick an area that is adequately ventilated.
Make sure that you understand the wind’s direction and act, respectively. For instance, if you are camping next to a hill and the wind is coming from the east, you should build your fire in a way the mount faces to your west. Based on the same logic, avoid camping inside dense forests, shelters, etc.
2. Too Much Moisture
It is possible to start a fire with wet wood. A proper fire obviously requires dry lumber. But if you use a lot of kindling and tinder and provide sufficient airflow, you can generate enough heat to light even wet wood.
However, keeping wet wood burning is a far more difficult task, and your fire will keep going out or threatening to go out unless you maintain it. But expect the job to consume a lot of time, effort, and wood. You are better off bringing your own dry lumber.
Use only dry wood to start the fire. Prioritize seasoned wood that has been left to dry for weeks, months, and years. Avoid wood from freshly cut trees. They can only produce smoky fires, and you don’t want that.
Personally, I’ve been suffered from smoky bonfires quite a lot in the past. Eventually, I’ve decided to write an in-depth article where I described all the reasons I could find on why your campfire smokes too much.
I have spent more than two days to write all the solutions I could find to that problem and even explained why the smoke might be harmful to your lungs.
More importantly, you need to keep plenty of seasoned wood on hand to feed the fire. Once a flame begins to cool, larger pieces of wood will only stifle it. A log of seasoned wood every so often will do wonders for the health of your campfire.
If you have no choice but to use damp timber, I highly suggest you read the article I’ve written on how to light wet firewood. I’ve gathered there more than five years of experience and provided with some unique solutions to make it work.
I’ve also explained there how to use inflammable materials to lit it and what types might be harmful to your health. If you wish to avoid that, take a look at the following video which describes how to find dry wood in the rain.
3. Your Firewood Features The Wrong Size
Every tutorial about making campfires that you encounter always encourages the use of small sticks when starting a fire. So clearly, the size of your firewood matters. If your chosen wood is too thick, you will have a hard time igniting it.
Even if you get the fire going, it has a high chance of going out, unless of course, you keep feeding it with small tinder and kindling and smaller pieces of wood.
Firewood of any size will burn, but with thick wood, it takes a lot of time and patience to nurture a fire strong enough to sustain itself. Of course, you can’t convince amateur campers of this fact until they experience it.
They usually presume that by starting a fire using the most massive logs around, they can keep it going without their direct intervention.
If you want your fire to keep burning, make sure you start out by feeding it small pieces of wood (according to trails). Any form of tinder and kindling you have will do, be it paper or twine. In the beginning, your only objective should be to get the fire started.
Once the fire starts, begin feeding it thicker pieces of wood. Keep increasing the size as the flame grows in strength until you have enough thick logs at its heart.
You shouldn’t start or tend to fire with thick wood. But once it gets hot enough, thick lumber is perfect for keeping your campfire going throughout the night.
Don’t forget to use kindling. People think that kindling is only suitable for starting and maintaining a fire. But kindling can be used to give a dying fire new life.
Just add it to the base of your campfire. Keep feeding the fire until it is burning hot enough for you to add larger pieces of wood. Nevertheless, there are a few ways to lit thick logs properly.
In fact, you could build yourself a self-feeding fire which would burn for hours this way. I’ve described all the different ways to so in the article called how to make a campfire burn all night. This simple guide could do magic to your camping experience; it most certainly did to mine.
4. Exaggerated Humidity
People who go camping for the first time tend to presume that rain and snow are their biggest enemies out in the wild. But that is only partially true. Poor weather could flood the campsite and reduce the wood to such a soggy mess that you have no real hope of igniting it.
But even if the rain and the snow are absent, the humidity can still make your camping experience a nightmare. If a location is humid, it means that there is a lot of moisture vapor in the air.
And even if you can’t see it, that moisture can infuse your wood and make the maintenance of fire difficult. Anyone can protect their campfire from the rain.
But humidity is a little more complicated. If you have never gone camping before, then you might fail to account for it, which means that you could spend an entire night trying to figure out why your fire keeps going out, unaware that the moisture in the air is to blame.
To avoid this issue, you first have to pick the right location for your campfire. Humidity is most severe on areas closed to water sources. While you won’t be noticing that during the day, water tends to evaporate from lakes, rivers, and seas during the night.
When the tide reaches the maximum, the waves get even closed to your fire and humidity elevates. Hence, you should avoid these areas if you fire keeps going out; keep yourself as far from water sources as possible.
Moisture could also come from the ground itself if it’s wet. In a case it was recently rainy, I suggest that you build your fire on a rocky ground which doesn’t absorb water as the soil does.
Believe it or not, water might even evaporate from the clothes you are wearing if they are soaked with water.
It is true that campfire would keep you warm, although it is essential that you change your damp clothing if you plan on stepping next to the flame. This factor becomes more crucial when you are camping in a group of people, surrounding the fire.
5. You Are Using The Wrong Type of Wood
Hardwood is perfect for maintaining campfire. People tend to gravitate towards softwood like pine because it burns instantly, whereas hardwood is so difficult to light.
But softwood is only useful for starting a fire. It burns down too quickly, so it will only encourage your campfire to extinguish that much quicker (also according to this source). Hardwood burns for more extended periods. It will keep your fire going with minimal involvement from you.
So it is better to stick to hardwood, but which type would work best? From my experience, you should stick to either oak or Madrone. What I like about oak is that it generates a lot of heat.
According to this source, if you plan on buying it beforehand, take into consideration that this type is quite expensive. Nevertheless, in my opinion, it is entirely worth it.
If you are out in the wild, the most common type would probably be the white oak; it should be easy to recognize. Another well-known hardwood is Madrone.
In terms of bonfires, this one would probably burn cleaner and wouldn’t produce these obnoxious sparks. Once the fire fades, you would probably be able to enjoy the coals left behind for cooking.
In fact, I’ve dedicated a whole article just on that matter, where I described six essential steps on how to make a campfire for cooking. For your convenience, I’ve separated three types of cooks (short, medium, and long), and explained how to build a bonfire for each one.
Where Should I Build The Fire to Keep it Lit?
To build a proper campfire and to keep it lit, it isn’t enough for you to merely follow the basic rules of gathering tinder and firewood and the like; location also matters.
Now, naturally, there are quite several disagreements regarding this issue. However, there are some areas where most people agree, for instance:
Pits & Rings
Make sure you follow the rules of your campsite, especially when it comes to building fires in the rings and pits provided. They have been designated for a reason, so use them.
Holes are particularly useful for defending against wind and rain and any other weather elements that might conspire to kill your campfire. Also, when you circle your fire with rocks, I highly recommend that you pick the right ones.
If you choose stones which are smooth nor had been closed to water sources for an extended period, they might pop up once heat elevates. I’ve elaborated on that phenomenon on a different article on how to avoid exploding campfire rocks.
I’ve spent more than eight hours listing the exact type of stones you should avoid. More importantly, I put there the precise kinds you should use (including pictures).
Early on, I mentioned how wind might be on your favor if your fire is suffocated and tends to go out. Nevertheless, this requirement should be balanced since too much wind might compromise the combustion process.
Make sure that your chosen location is adequately protected from the wind. Sure, you could build a windscreen, but that takes time and money.
Just use what nature has already provided. Find a location with some trees and rocks. Anything tall enough to keep the wind away from your fire will do.
Some people struggle to keep their campfire going because they have chosen to set up camp on flat open grounds where they are vulnerable to all the elements. Let nature work for you. Even if a clump of thick bushes is all you have to work with, it is better than nothing.
The Right Position
While rocks and trees are excellent protection against the wind, do not get too close. Despite what you might think, stones are susceptible to fire. Expose a cave wall to significant levels of heat, and it will begin to crack.
You don’t want rocks raining down on you or your tent. So keep a few feet away. This is also an issue of air circulation. When positioning your campfire, professionals will encourage you to take the movement of the wind into account.
For instance, for campers on the Northern Hemisphere, because prevailing winds are westerly, your campfire should be on the east of your tent (according to this source).
That being said, it is possible to hem yourself in with so many natural windscreens, be it rocks or caves that your fire suffers due to poor air circulation.
There are several reasons why your fire keeps going out as you go camping. It could be because you build the campfire wrong, use the wrong wood, or choose an inappropriate site for your bonfire.
Make sure the flame is ventilated by avoiding a pile shape. Instead, you better create a teepee (a cone shape). Essure that the wood you are using is dry and that the air above the fire is not too humid.
When it comes to the firewood itself; avoid using softwoods like pine. It would be consumed rapidly, and you won’t be able to benefit much from it.
I hope my article had provided you a deeper sight on the topic. If you have any questions – let me know all about them by leaving a comment below!