How To

Top 5 Must-Have Outdoor Gear Pieces for Camping and Backpacking

Top 5 Must-Have Outdoor Gear Pieces for Camping and Backpacking 0

Here are 5 must-have items to make your camping or backpacking trip a little more comfortable and/or safe, courtesy of Kilimanjaro Gear expert Connor. He should know...he's spent hundreds of nights camping and many days backpacking!

Here's Connor:

Everybody has a few pieces of favorite gear. Some people have favorite tools, others have favorite dishes, still others have favorite clothes. For me, I have five favorite pieces of outdoor gear I have used time and time again. They never let me down and I never leave home for the backcountry without them.

1. Inflatable Pillow 

In all my years of adventuring outdoors, this has been the best purchase I’ve ever made, hands down. For the first three years of camping and backpacking, I did without a pillow, resorting to balling up a jacket or using my backpack as a pillow. Both resulted in a restless night's sleep, as the jacket would flatten out and the backpack would create odd pressure points on my neck.

I finally gave in and purchased the 2.4 ounce Hyperlite camp pillow by Cocoon for only $30. I now refuse to camp without it as it allows me to have a much more restful sleep to be ready for the next day’s activities. Pick yours up at a REI near you or use the link here.

2. Goal Zero Solar Battery Pack

The Goal Zero Venture 30 pack is an amazing, waterproof, battery pack with a built in flashlight, USB cord, and battery level indicator. I take this pack with me everywhere I go to charge my phone and camera batteries.

The battery alone works perfectly for trips lasting 1-3 days. For longer trips I can bring the included solar panel to charge the battery during the day, to allow me to charge my devices overnight.

Not only is it fantastic for camping and backpacking; it also works well for traveling or power outages. I have taken it on every trip I have been on for the last 3 years. Pick one up here

3. The LumaVine 

This is an amazing piece of gear. The LumaVine is lightweight, lasts long periods of time, quickly charges, and is versatile. This little lantern is a must-have for any camping or backpacking trip. No more fumbling with turning your headlamp into a lantern against a jug of water, or just putting up with no light.

I personally turn the lantern on its low setting and keep it in my tent at night so when I need to grab anything, light is already there and I don’t need to fumble with a headlamp (it makes for great night photography tent pictures as well). I also keep one in the trunk of my car attached to the inside of the hatchback so I have light while organizing gear for an early morning or late night climb. There are many possibilities with this little lantern and at 2 for $24.99, there’s no reason to not pick up a pair today. Click here for more info.

4. Down Slippers 

Ahhh, nothing like arriving at your campsite and taking your boots off after a full day trekking in them. Wait, what do I put on now? Just wear socks? Flip flops? Barefoot? How about an incredibly comfy, warm pair of down slippers?

I picked a pair of these up two years ago and never leave the house without them. They are incredibly warm, have a durable underfoot to stay warm in the snow and comfortable on prickly ground.

I personally own the Baffin Base Camp Slippers which are compact, lightweight, and pack down small. You can pick up a pair for only $30 here.


5. Flint Stick 

Last but not least, a piece of gear I never leave home without is a flint stick. There have been multiple times where I have been let down by wet matches and empty lighters and my reserve flint stick saves the day (or night I should say).

Flint sticks are lightweight, long lasting, virtually indestructible, and extremely cheap so there should be no reason not to own one. You also get some extra man (or woman) points for starting a fire with one of these. They can be difficult to use without practice, however, so definitely practice starting a fire with a flint stick before you REALLY need it. I have recently picked up the Survival Spark which has a built-in compass and whistle. At only $6.75, it’s too good of a deal to pass up. Find more info here.

  • Andy Somerville
5 Tips For Better Nighttime Outdoor Photos

5 Tips For Better Nighttime Outdoor Photos 0

Here are 5 how to tips for taking better nighttime photos in the great outdoors, courtesy of Kilimanjaro Gear expert Connor. He should know...he's taken thousands of nighttime photos in every outdoor setting you can imagine. 

Illuminating a dark desert road in Joshua Tree, CA

Here's Connor:

Nighttime photography can be challenging. It's usually cold, it's dark (of course), and it takes patience and practice to perfect. It's worth it though. A well-composed nighttime photo can be spectacular.

Knowing how to properly capture photographs in the dark can make nighttime photography much more enjoyable (and quicker). Follow these simple tricks and you’ll be amazed how much your photographs will improve.

1. Use a Tripod 

Having a stable platform to mount your camera on is a must. Any slight movement (even a gentle breeze) can shake or vibrate your camera, resulting in a blurry photo. For the best results, it is important to use a heavier, more stable tripod.

In my experience though, heavier tripods are harder to transport, more expensive, and difficult to lug around while camping or backpacking. After testing various tripods, I’ve found the best compromise between weight and stability to be the Joby GorillaPod. It's relatively lightweight, yet stable on uneven ground. And you can wrap the legs around rocks, fence posts or branches to adapt to ground conditions in the outdoors. 

A blurry shot - the result of a cheapo tripod that couldn't withstand the Alpine winds. This ruined photo pains me to this day!


2. Try a Wide Angle Lens 

Choosing the right lens for nighttime photography is incredibly important. It can make or break the shot. I’ve met several photographers who use slower lenses with fields of view that are around 85mm.

When using lenses of this field of view, you can’t quite capture the grandness of the night sky. I’ve found the best focal length for night photography to be between 12mm and 24mm. You can even pick up a couple cheap wide angle lenses strictly for nighttime photography for around $250.

If you are just taking photos at night and not necessarily of the sky, moving up to a 50mm should suit your needs.

3. Use a Flashlight or Headlamp

Add extra style points to your composition by using a flashlight or headlamp to illuminate some of the foreground in a shot. I usually try this when I have trees, rocks, tent, or a subject I want to illuminate against the night sky.

Be careful to use a low power setting on your light to illuminate the foreground as adding too much light can create an overexposed image. I personally use the Kilimanjaro Headlamp for lower power situations and the Kilimanjaro CREE XP-L 1000 lumen flashlight for situations that need more lighting power.

4. Set a High Aperture

  • This is critical when capturing foreground objects as well as background objects (like in the images above). Setting a high aperture will allow the camera to focus on the stars as well as the subjects in the foreground.

  • One caveat: a higher aperture will create a darker image so you will have to increase your ISO to about 6400 or take a longer exposure (possibly 1-2 minutes depending on the lighting). The more you shoot longer exposures, the more you will dial in your settings to capture a particular shot.

    5. Try These Tips and Tricks

    Use a shutter release remote to control your shutter without touching the camera, rather, a remote. This prevents the camera from shaking and causing a blurry image and allows you to take long exposures that can last hours. 

    If you can’t use a shutter remote, use the self-timer. I personally do not own a shutter remote and want to carry the extra weight of one when backpacking. Instead, I use the camera’s built-in self-timer for 2 seconds. Once I press the shutter button, the camera has two seconds to stop shaking from me pushing he button. This method has yet to let me down (it’s cheaper too)

    When lining up your shot, crank your ISO to ¾ full power (If your camera goes to 100,000 ISO, go to 75,000) and shoot a 1-second exposure. This photo will be incredibly noisy, blurry and unusable but it allows you to frame up your shot without having to take multiple 30-second exposures just to get your shot aligned. 


     The night sky in Kings Canyon National Park, CA

    I hope these tips help you the next time you decide to go night shooting. The first few times will be learning experiences, so don't go except any once-in-a-lifetime shots for a while.

    With practice and experimentation, you'll soon be able to choose what you want to shoot, take a sample shot, and line up your real shot in under 3 minutes. Be patient. Photography is just as much about the experience as it is the shot. And bonus - you'll be outdoors while you're learning!

    Happy shooting.


    • Andy Somerville
    • Tags: How to
    How to Climb Mt. Whitney

    How to Climb Mt. Whitney 0

    Mt. Whitney is a bucket list climb for hardcore and newbie climbers and hikers alike. Tall as Whitney is, the summit is within reach for well-prepared mountaineers.

    Kilimanjaro gear expert Connor has summitted Whitney in winter and summer conditions. Read on for his insider advice and preparation guide to a safe and successful Mt. Whitney summit!

    Connor taking his final steps to the Mt. Whitney Summit

    Here's Connor:

    Ah, Mt. Whitney, a mountain that towers just over 14,500 ft over the Eastern Sierras and the high desert below. A mountain that is stunningly majestic and beautiful, yet challenging and potentially deadly as well.

    Thousands of climbers attempt Whitney’s summit each year, however many fail due to unforeseen circumstances, unpreparedness, or altitude sickness. When planned right, and with a little luck on your side, Mt. Whitney makes for an unforgettable experience.

    Two Routes to the Top

    There are two main routes to climb and two seasons you can attempt Mt. Whitney.

    The first and most popular way is via the main Whitney Portal Trail to the 99 switchbacks during the non-winter season. During this peak demand season,  you'll have to compete with thousands of other people in a climbing permit lottery.

    The National Forestry Service issues 60 overnight permits and 100 day-hiker permits each day during the popular climbing season. For more information on Mt. Whitney permits, click here.

    If you are newer to climbing, backpacking, and hiking, this route option may be the best choice for you as the level of technical difficulty is quite low. However, the distance and elevation gain is definitely challenging.

    The less popular (and more technically exciting option in my opinion) is during the winter season up the Mountaineer’s Route. This route, and season, is the one we chose intentionally to expose ourselves to more of a true alpine environment and to avoid the crowds.

    However, this route does require more alpine experience and technical equipment. You will need ice axes, crampons, ropes and anchors (optional) and an array of other winter climbing and camping gear (read up on my winter camping tips here).

    If you're up to the challenge, keep reading, and maybe you too can add the Mt. Whitney notch to your belt.


    Sunrise between Upper Boy Scout Lake and Iceberg Lake – 12,000 ft.

    The Mountaineer's Route

    Once you have the gear needed and experience necessary to climb the Mountaineer’s Route (MR), what's next? When should you plan the climb? Where should you start? What can you expect? How long does it take?

    These are all questions I had when considering climbing Mt. Whitney. The first thing to consider is the time of year you plan on climbing. If you plan on doing the MR during the non-winter season, you will need to apply for the same permit as you would the main trail which unfortunately means that you will be subject to a lottery (another reason I climbed Mt. Whitney during the winter).

    During the winter, or anytime between November 1st and May 1st, you don't need to apply for the lottery permit. Instead, to get a permit, you can simply fill one out at the unmanned permit post at the Lone Pine Ranger Station.

    The best time of the year for winter climbing up Mt. Whitney is between the months of February and May as previous snowfall will provide decent coverage of rocks, trees, and debris (Early winter climbing is not recommended as many rocks and debris will be exposed and icy making traveling very difficult and dangerous).

    Permits and Weather Permitting

    So now you have your dates and permits set, the next consideration is weather. Will you be climbing in the midst of a snowstorm or gale force winds (winds atop Mt. Whitney have been recorded to hit over 100mph)? Hopefully not! You'll have to rely on forecasts to make sure your weather window is clear of any major storms. Weather can change very quickly at altitude. Be prepared for cold weather, windy conditions, and check avalanche hazard areas as well. 

    During winter, the Whitney Portal Road that leads up to the trailhead may be closed depending on snow conditions. This can happen after large amounts of snowfall, so it is a good idea to check ahead and call the ranger station to confirm.

    If the road is closed, you will need to begin your climb from the gate, adding another 4 grueling miles to the already 16-mile trip. When we took on our winter summit bid, luckily for my partner and me, the road was open and we were able to park in the parking lot just beneath the trailhead.

    Taking that First Step

    After determining the gear you need and nailing down your climbing dates and weather window, it’s finally time to start the adventure! To get to the trailhead, you will need to take Highway 395 into Lone Pine, CA. The address of the trailhead is “Whitney Portal Rd, Lone Pine, CA 93545.”

    Once you are at the trailhead, it all begins to feel surreal – you are actually doing it! You are climbing Mt. Whitney!!

    Take the North Fork Lone Pine Creek Trail leading off towards the right.     

    For the first mile, you will be following the main Whitney Portal trail up a gradual incline until you reach a fork in the trail with a sign reading “Mt. Whitney Trail” and “North Fork Lone Pine Creek.”

    Follow the Fork

    You will choose the steep route up “North Fork Lone Pine Creek.” You'll know you're going the correct way almost immediately as the trail quickly becomes significantly steeper and more rugged.

    As you continue up, you will reach the creek. Be sure to traverse to the left side of the creek as the right side become too steep and turns into a large cliff.

    Be careful in this area as snow bridges across the creek have been known to collapse and send climbers into the creek below. During our climb, two other climbers were swept down into the creek by an avalanche just an hour after we had passed through.

    (Pro Tip: If traveling during freeze/thaw conditions, start your climb before sunrise or after sunset to avoid potential avalanches).

    As you continue on, you will reach Lower Boy Scout Lake. This a great pitstop to rest, refill your water supply, and grab a snack before making the next push to Upper Boy Scout Lake. 

    Ridge on his way to Upper Boy Scout Lake


    Lakeside Camping

    Many climbers decide to camp at Upper Boy Scout Lake for the night as the elevation is lower (11,350 ft). Some also choose to make their summit bid from here without all the heavy camping equipment.

    There are three main areas you can camp. The two most popular are Upper Boy Scout Lake (11,350 ft) and Iceberg Lake (Directly under the Mt. Whitney Chute and Mt. Whitney itself at 12,620 ft.

    My partner and I were planning on camping at Iceberg until we spoke with an individual who has climbed Whitney numerous times. He told us about a plateau between Upper Boy Scout Lake and Iceberg Lake. It's a lesser known location to camp but serves as a great starting point for summit day. This obvious plateau sits around 12,000 ft in elevation directly above Upper Boy Scout Lake.

    When setting up camp, be sure you know the wind forecast and prepare in advanced. My partner and I were faced with 50+ mph winds the morning we were packing to head down the mountain. We had to build a wind wall the day we set camp which prevented our gear from blowing off the mountain during the intense wind.


    Base camp dwarfed by Mt. Whitney above during early morning light.

    Summit Day

    This is it. The final push to the top; the reason you climbed Whitney. Everybody climbs differently. I am a firm believer in early morning starts to avoid any afternoon wind, storms, and snow/ice thaw that can cause avalanches.

    My partner and I started our morning at 3:30 AM, packed, had a small, light breakfast and headed up at 4:30 AM. From basecamp, we made our way to Iceberg Lake within an hour. The sky became a lighter shade of blue and dawn was upon us.

    Chute for the Summit

    From the base of Iceberg Lake, you can see the massive chute that you will be climbing for the next couple of hours. As you make your way up the chute, you will quickly realize how painful each step is. The oxygen levels at this point have many people turning around. Those who don’t turn around are moving quite slowly.

    Smiling helps the pain, and the view doesn't hurt either

     At the top of the chute, you will come to a spot called “The Notch.” At this point, you can go directly left and up class 3 terrain so-called the “Final 400” (ropes are optional on the final 400, however many teams my partner and I observed were using them. We decided to not bring a rope to save weight, however, looking back, I wish we had).

    Ridge topping out at the Final 400

    There is also a traverse around and up to the right of the Final 400. This way is class 2 climbing, however, a fall on either route can be fatal. For more information on the final two route options, click here.

    Once atop either the Final 400 or the Traverse, you’ve made it! You now stand on top of the highest mountain in the continental United States. Sit back, refuel, enjoy the spectacular views, explore the summit hut, and take a picture at the Mt. Whitney summit sign; you earned it.

    Summit Hut – Mt. Whitney 14,503 ft

    What Goes Up Must Come Down

    Crazy to think that once you summit, you're you're only halfway done with your journey. Be extra cautious on your descent as most injuries and accidents occur on the way down.

    Most people go down the same way they came up. This is the most direct and comfortable route as the climber is familiar with the territory. Once down the Final 400 and beneath the chute, you can choose to camp another night and finish the descent in the morning or push through.

    My partner and I chose to stay another night and break camp in the morning. This allowed us to enjoy the views one more night, recap on our summit, and be extra sharp the following day.

    Once back at the trailhead, take a dip in the ice-cold river and enjoy a hot meal at the Mt. Whitney Restaurant back in Lone Pine. Congratulations!


    Ridge and Connor after a successful summit day. Dinner and bed is calling. Base camp 12,000ft.
    • Andy Somerville
    • Tags: How to
    How To Build A Perfect Campfire - Part 2

    How To Build A Perfect Campfire - Part 2 0

    You can build and enjoy a warm and wonderful campfire. In Part 1, Kilimanjaro Gear expert Connor gave you how-to tips for building a roaring campfire in dry conditions.

    In Part 2, Connor gives you the 411 on starting a campfire in damp or snowy conditions. Yes, it can be done - read on to learn how!

    So you know how to make a basic campfire in dry conditions with dry tinder, kindling and logs. Great job!  The outdoors is notorious for unpredictable weather though, especially at higher elevations. You may head out from a dry campsite in the morning and return to a damp or snowy one in the afternoon.

    If all you have to use is wet kindling, tinder and logs, building a fire is much more difficult. That makes finding dry fuel essential for building a campfire in the rain or snow.

    There is no “one way” to start a fire in wet conditions. Often a combination of knowledge and skills come into play, depending on the environment and weather you have to work with.

    First and foremost, always carry or have access to an axe, hatchet, or at least a knife. One of these tools can be the difference between building a fire or freezing. Check out some of our quality knives and hatchets here

    Regardless of the particular situation, your most important skill is the know-how required to locate dry wood. 

    Finding Dry Wood On the Ground

    If it has just begun to rain/snow, you can usually find dry wood in areas that are covered (under pine needles, logs, trees, rock formations, etc). In these types of conditions, it can be relatively easy to still locate dry wood. Don’t wait until you need to make a fire to search for dry wood.

    If you are hiking, keep your eyes open for possible areas where dry wood might be located. Even a handful of dry kindling and tinder can make it much easier to start the fire making process.

    Finding Dry Wood Off the Ground

    If conditions have been wet for more than a day or two, don't waste time looking for dry wood on the ground. Instead, look for standing dead trees, as they don’t absorb moisture as easily as live trees.
    If there are branches on the dead tree, break them off and split them with your knife or hatchet. Look for branches that are 3 to 6 inches in diameter. Note that the bark on the branch may be wet, but dry wood may be just below the outer surface.
    (Pro Tip: In windy, wet conditions, many trees will have a “wet side” and a “dry side”. Locate the dry side of a tree and split a dead branch from that side if possible.)

    DIY Tinder and Kindling

    If you were able to harvest dry logs by splitting branches but can't find dry tinder and kindling, you can make your own. Use your hatchet or knife to split a log in halves, then quarters, then eighths, etc. until you have small size sticks for kindling.
    Once you have a decent amount of kindling, take one of your kindling pieces and carve off wood shavings to make tinder. Once you have your tinder, kindling, and firewood ready, you'll need to build a platform to create a dry space between the fire and the wet ground. This step is essential for the flame to generate enough heat to burn and grow.
    You can build a platform out of rocks if they're readily available and not too wet. I've had the most success making a wood platform out of dry logs I gather. I place them on the ground with the dry side facing the sky. Then I add kindling and tinder on top of the logs, building an upside-down fire of sorts. Sounds crazy, but it works. Check out this photo of what an upside-down fire looks like.

    Practice is Preparation

    There you have it!  Although this post is an instructional guide on how to create a fire in wet conditions, applying these instructions to real-life situations will be difficult at first.

    Every time you go outdoors and make a campfire, put your skills to the test. Practice splitting and shaving wood in dry conditions to create your own tinder and kindling instead of using pine needles on the ground or other easily accessible tinder.

    Also, imagine if it were raining and attempt to locate dead standing trees where you can search for usable firewood in the case of wet conditions. Practicing these techniques in easier conditions will set you up for success when those skills are absolutely necessary.

    Now get outdoors, be safe, and have fun!

    • Andy Somerville
    How To Take Great Outdoor Photos

    How To Take Great Outdoor Photos 0

    Here are 5 how to tips for taking better photos of the great outdoors courtesy of Kilimanjaro Gear expert Connor. He should know...he's taken thousands of photos in every outdoor setting you can imagine. 

    Here's Connor:

    Being outdoors is great. The beauty, adventure and the sights you get to personally witness are the things that draw us to the outdoors.

    It's only natural to want to capture some of the best scenes for our memory books. Yet often the photos we take don't come close to capturing the true scale, color and magic of a special moment.

    Why don't your photos do justice to the experience you're trying to relive? It can be a number of things. Most of the time it isn't the camera you're holding that's holding you back - it's the operator (a.k.a you).

    Never fear, though. A few simple tips can take your photos from bad to badass, even with a lower-end camera.



    1.  Use the Manual Setting

    Most new photographers make the mistake of letting the camera do all the work for them by using the auto or preprogrammed modes.  In doing so, they don’t control the camera, they let the camera control them.

    If you want to show off your creativity, you need to be in control of your tools. When a camera is in Auto mode, the camera analyses the scene and makes the decisions on lighting, depth of field, speed, and focus. 

    That's all well and good unless what you envision in your head isn't what the camera “envisioned.” In Manual mode, you can manipulate the amount of light the camera takes in, how fast you want the camera to shoot and how shallow the depth of field is.

    Shooting in manual mode and getting your settings right is a bit complex at first. With patience and practice, you'll learn the difference between ISO, shutter speed, and aperture. And as you experiment with these settings you'll see your photos dramatically improve. For more info on ISO, shutter speed, and aperture click here.


    2. Shoot During the Golden Hour 

    Any photographer will tell you that the best times to shoot outdoors is at sunrise and sunset. These are the "golden hours" when the sun produces vibrant oranges, reds, and yellows that complement the blues and greens found in the shadows.

    Many people will simply point and shoot photos in the middle of the day, when light is harsh and direct. This creates overbright highlights and extremely dark shadows. No Bueno.

    If you must shoot during the day, shoot in the shadows or on overcast and cloudy days. The clouds will act as a natural diffuser and even out the light for you. But when you get the chance, try shooting within an hour after the sun has risen or the hour before the sun sets.


    3. Add Scale to Your Landscapes 

    Sweeping, dramatic landscapes are tempting photo subjects. Trouble is, your landscape photos won't translate the scale of the vista without a reference point.

    Here's the fix: add a person to the mix and have them stand far away from the camera. The farther away your subject stands, the more dramatic the photo will feel.

    Of course, you still want your subject to be close enough to be visible. If you don’t have a human handy, you can also use a tent, car or bike to set the scale.

    (Pro Tip - have your subject wear a jacket in a contrasting color to the surrounding landscape. This will make it easier for the viewer to spot the subject while adding a nice color element to your photo).


    4. Use a Polarizer 

    Although not absolutely necessary, a polarizing filter is a great tool to help cut through haze and reflections. And it can add deeper blues and richer color tones to your photos.

    Most polarizers attach to the front of your lens, so you will need to know what size lens you have before purchasing a filter. They also add a layer of additional protection to your lens by blocking dust and debris and avoiding scratches. It’s much less painful to replace a $60 polarizer than a $600 lens. For a list of the top polarizers for your camera, click here.

    5. Add Depth to Your Photos 

    It's easy to just snap a photo of a beautiful landscape without giving much thought to your foreground, midground, and background. Upgrade your photos by adding depth.  Be conscientious of where your horizon line is and how the background and foreground play into the shot.

    For example, if you are taking a photo at the beach, take note where you are lining up the sand (foreground), water (midground), and sky (background) in the frame. Play with how much of each of these elements appear in your photos and you'll see how the outcome varies.

    In the photo below, notice the blurred out rock in the foreground, eyes of the climber in the midground, and spotter/belayer in the background. All these combined give a photo “depth.”

    That's it. Now grab your camera, get outside and try some of these tips. Let me know how it goes.

    Don't forget to post your photos and tag us on Instagram #kilimanjarogear



    • Andy Somerville
    How To Build A Perfect Campfire - Part 1

    How To Build A Perfect Campfire - Part 1 0

    You can build and enjoy a warm and wonderful campfire! Kilimanjaro Gear expert Connor has the how-to tips you need be anointed Grand Zen Firemaster of your campsite.  

    So you have all the backpacking or camping essentials. You've been outfitted with all the proper gear. You've determined what color puff jacket you want to wear. You spent hours plotting out your first camping trip.

    You're finally ready, you hit the road, arrive and set up camp. You pitch your tent in the most picturesque location, stow your gear and set up chairs around the fire ring.

    As dusk sets in, it's time to build your first campfire.  But the fire is more like a never-ending smoke plume that isn’t generating any flame, much less heat.

    What’s going on? Without getting too scientific, fire is the chemical reaction of three main components to create a burn – heat, fuel, and oxygen. When you mix the three together, voilà, you have a campfire.

    Many people trying to make a campfire make the simple mistake of adding too much fuel (wood) which, in turn, deprives the flame (heat) from breathing (oxygen) – creating the mass plumes of smoke that seems to follow you wherever you go.    

    Here are my how-to tips for building a perfect campfire, every time: 

    1. Build a Fire Ring

      If possible, use an existing fire ring if one has been built. The ring walls should be large enough to contain the fire but not so large to risk toppling over into the fire. About 8-12 inches will suffice for your standard size campfire. If there's no pre-installed ring, gather rocks and build one, or dig one about 6" deep by 36" in diameter.

      2. Gather Wood

      A successful fire starts out with gathering the right fuel. Three kinds of fuel actually: tinder, kindling, and wood.   

      Tinder is the smallest and first pieces you will be burning. Tinder is anything such as tiny twigs, dried pine needles, leaves, or things that burn easily such as paper. A good rule of thumb is tinder should be no larger than the diameter of your pinky finger.

      Get a nice loose pile of tinder built and light it in multiple spots. Tinder burns quick so plenty of kindling needs to be at the ready to increase the size of your fire.
      Kindling is the second component of the fire making process. Kindling can be anything up to the size of your wrist and is usually small tree branches and larger twigs found on the ground.

      It can be tempting to throw larger pieces of wood on the fire at this point. Hold off though. You need to allow time for the bed of coals beneath the fire to grow and for the heat to intensify. Continue to add kindling as the fire grows larger. Avoid using pinecones or kindling with large amount of sap or bark on it as these usually create larger amount of smoke.

        Logs are the third and final stage of the fire making process. It is here where you can add logs from the size of you arm to the size of your thigh depending on how large you want the fire.

        The type of logs you use will also depend on how quickly the fire will burn. Pine is normally easy to ignite and does not need much heat to burn however, it burns quickly.

        By contrast, Oak needs a lot of heat to burn without smoking.  Once lit, though, Oak can burn for a very long time, reducing the amount of wood you will need to gather.

        3. Build the Fire

        Once you have all the necessary fuel, knowing how to place the wood in the fire ring for adequate airflow will increase your chances of having a warm campfire.

        The two most popular log shapes are the “teepee” and the “log cabin.” The tee-pee is my personal favorite as it uses less wood and allows me to have more control over the size of the fire. 

        To build the teepee, make a small pile of tinder in the center of the fire ring. Then, grab three medium sized pieces of kindling or some of your smallest logs and balance them together in the shape of a teepee over the small pile of tinder. Ignite the tinder.

        To build the log cabin, space out two logs 8-12 inches apart from each other. Then stack two more logs perpendicular the the first two logs; creating a # shape. Repeat this process until the desired log height is reached. Once completed, fill in the center of the log cabin with tinder and kindling and ignite.

        4. Extinguish the Fire

        Once you decide to cash in for the night or break camp, you are going to need to put out your fire as well as all remaining embers. Simply pour water on the fire and mix the water with the ashes.

        If water is unavailable, smother the fire thoroughly with dirt and sand, mix the dirt with the ashes, and repeat until no heat is radiating from the fire. Many forest fires have been started due to untended campfires and campfires that were not extinguished properly. Before leaving the campfire, be certain all embers and hot charcoals are extinguished.

        There you have it! 4 easy steps to building your very own campfire. Building a campfire is just like many other skills in which the more you practice, the better you get. You will soon find yourself able to create campfires quickly and with little effort; even in the snow and rain (more on that in Part 2)

        Now get outside and get camping!




        • Andy Somerville