Building a Fire Pit
Building a Fire Pit 101
By Jason Knight
Understanding how to build a fire pit with safety and utility in mind is an important wilderness skill. From keeping warm in cold weather to cooking food and providing light, proper fire pit construction is important to make the most of your outdoor experiences. Three important concepts are outlined below: safety considerations, fundamentals of construction, and useful accessories/tips.
Safety Considerations When Building a Fire Pit
- Select a flat spot away from trees, shrubs, dry grasses, and anything else that could burn
- Also note any prevailing winds and select a location protected from the wind, to keep coals from being blown out of the fire pit
- Stay clear of overhanging branches and avoid tree roots in the ground that could catch fire
- Clear away any flammable debris (leaves, sticks, pine needles, etc…) for at least ten feet around the fire pit
- Build a fire pit on top of gravel, sand, or bare soil
- Keep a bucket of water or pile of dirt nearby to put out the fire
Fundamentals of Fire Pit Construction
- Determine the size of the pit based on your intended uses (Is the primary use creating light, keeping warm, or cooking food? How many people will be utilizing the fire?) A two-foot diameter is often sufficient for one to three people, 3-4 feet for larger groups
- Dig a bowl-shaped depression that is three to eight inches deep at the center (this helps protect and concentrate coals, allowing your fire to burn bright and hot with less smoke)
- Use stones to make a fire ring (this also helps protect and concentrate your fire) Caution: do not use rocks that have been submerged in water, as they can explode when heated. A stone fire pit also retains and radiates heat.
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Useful Accessories and Tips
- Incorporate a Heat Reflector: You can utilize a natural feature such as a large rock or embankment as a "heat reflector" to keep heat from escaping your fire pit area and further protect the fire from wind. Heat reflectors can also be created by building a small wall out of stones or logs.
- Designate a cooking area within your fire pit: You can shape your fire ring to have a small bump out for cooking food. Coals can be pulled into this spot to cook over, while your main fire can continue to burn providing light and warmth. Coals cook food far more effectively than flame.
- Drying Wood: Wet wood can be stacked around your fire pit in an "eagle nest" shape. Be sure to monitor wood being dried in this manner so that they do not catch on fire.
- Wood Selection: Small branches from softwoods provide the best kindling for starting a fire, though once your fire is established, seasoned hardwoods will burn hotter and brighter with less smoke. Examples of hardwoods include oaks, maples, and cherries. Also, be sure your wood is dead and dry. Wet or green (live) wood either burns very smoky or often does not burn at all.
Building a fire pit in the wilderness is often a rewarding experience. Now you're ready to enjoy a great night around the campfire!
Build a Masonry Fire Pit
About the Author: Jason Knight is the Director at Alderleaf Wilderness College. He has been teaching wilderness skills for over twenty years. Learn more about Jason Knight.
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