Whether you’re in the backyard or out in the sticks, starting a fire doesn’t have to be a painful process.
There are countless ways to get your fire pit going, from the extreme survivalist DIY approach to the simplicity of a propane-fueled backyard fire pit. Of course, there are also a lot of methods in between. And this list is going to zero in on the easiest options out there and how to get the most out of them.
Sit back, relax, and get ready for a pain-free fire pit experience. Whether you’re heading out on the trail or preparing for a summer barbeque, these fire pit tups will get your fire started in no time. One of the big things to keep in mind is that preparation is key.
Think through what your goals are and make sure you have all the right materials on hand. And of course, always consider safety measures and be ready to put out your fire pit at any time.
Before You Start: Fire Pit Safety
The first step to a worry-free fire pit experience is to make sure to keep safety in mind the whole time. It can be surprisingly easy to get caught up in the fun and forget about common fire safety rules. But the quickest way to ruin a night around the fire pit is with a bad injury or a dangerous experience.
If you’re using a gas-fueled fire pit in particular, be careful to read any safety labeling and make sure there aren’t gas leaks or broken valves before you start. You should also be careful about flammable liquids around a fire pit. Whether unrelated liquids like bug spray, or accelerants like lighter fluid, care must be taken with flammable material around an open fire.
You should not use accelerants with a gas-powered fire and if you use them with a wood-burning fire, apply them sparingly and make sure the container is far away when you actually start your fire. Finally, you should always be ready to extinguish a fire. If you’re at home, you should have a fire extinguisher in the house.
Consider storing one outside for the fire pit as well, either in the shed or garage, so that it’s closer. Out in the woods, you should have water or sand on hand to smother the fire when needed. Some fire pits can also be extinguished with a dome or lid that cuts off airflow to the fire.
5 Ways to Start a Fire Pit
So let’s dig into a few different ways to start a fire pit. Some of these are going to require special equipment and setup. Those are listed first. So if you’re reading this as you stand over an unlit fire, maybe skip ahead to the later suggestions.
Another thing to consider is how you’re using the fire. Some of these options are going to be better for cooking, while others are ideal for providing warmth. Consider your goals before starting your fire. And remember: always keep fire safety in mind.
1. Remote Ignition
The ultimate in easy fire start-up, a remote ignition system can be installed in most backyard fire pits, but you should check local regulations and confer with your home owner’s association before installing one. Amazing simple to use, remote-controlled ignition systems make any natural gas or propane set up even more convenient.
This is a great idea for those who plan on using their backyard fire put often. Most remote ignition systems also have important safety features, such as a flame sensor that will turn off the gas if the flame goes out. Still, you should keep an eye on your fire pit while it’s lit, especially if you’re using gas or propane.
One thing to keep in mind is that gas-fueled fire pits, whether remote-controlled or otherwise, won’t be a great option for cooking. You can probably make s’mores on them, but a gas fire pit is not ideal for more extensive cooking.
2. Gas-Fueled Fire Pits
Let’s talk more about gas-fueled fire pits. In addition to considering remote-controlled ignition systems, you’ll need to be choosing between natural gas, butane, and propane if you want to go with a gas-fueled fire. Deciding between these three fuel sources can be tricky, but there are a few main things to consider.
Propane and butane are similar and will both be stored in tanks that you can change out and refill. Natural gas on the other hand, which is mostly methane, will need to be connected to your fire pit from a natural gas line. One consideration is that natural gas is the cheapest of the three options per BTU, but keep in mind it comes with some more extensive setup.
Other than that, propane performs better than butane in cold weather and stores more easily. You won’t see much butane available these days but it’s popular in some regions. Whichever kind of fuel you choose, gas fire pits can be a great option for keeping you warm, lighting up an outdoor party, and more.
They’re very easy to use and can make entertaining easy. If you want something more portable you’re going to need a propane or butane set up but for camping, there’s an even more portable option than a full gas-powered fire pit: the burner pipe.
3. Using a Burner Pipe
A stainless-steel burner pipe can be used to light a fire quickly, without tinder, or in damp conditions. There are many different forms of burner pipe available on the market, so look out for camping-specific products if you’re planning to take one out into the wilderness.
Some are designed with extra safety features to prevent wildfires or are designed for easy portability. The way it works is that you build a fire as if you’re going to light it in a traditional way. If you don’t know how to do this, don’t worry, we’re about to cover that in the next section!
Next, place the log-lighter below your firewood, where you’d normally put tinder and kindling. Then you can light the fire in the same way you would a gas-fueled fire pit. Turn on the gas valve slowly, light it with a long-handled lighter, and wait for your logs to light.
The big difference here is that you should turn off a burner pipe as soon as your logs are lit. Remember, the gas isn’t there to be the main fule, just get you started. This is a great option for a more portable way to use gas to get your outdoor fire pit started.
4. Traditional Tinder & Kindling Fires
As you can probably tell, gas is a lot easier to use than traditional firewood, tinder, and kindling setup. That said, there are some surprisingly easy ways to light a wood-burning fire pit as well. It all starts with gathering the right materials and getting things set up correctly. You can save a lot of time and effort by thinking through how you build a fire before getting started.
Building a Traditional Wood Fire
The first step is to gather the proper materials. Ideally, you want to have this done long before you actually need to use a fire pit. However, in the right environment, you may be able to source these materials pretty quickly. Keep in mind, different states, parks, and regions have regulations about sourcing firewood from the woods around, or bringing in your own.
Make sure you know the local codes and regulations around firewood before you begin. You’ll need three main types of fuel. The pieces of firewood itself, which will be logs or larger pieces of slab wood. Then, you’ll need kindling, which is small sticks, twigs, and other wood pieces, up to about a 1” diameter.
Finally, you need tinder, which will be dry grass, dry leaves, very small pieces of wood or wood shavings, or even items like balled-up paper or cotton balls. There are two main ways to build a fire. With both, you want to start by piling tinder in the center of your fire pit.
You want a good-sized pile. The more tinder you have, the easier the fire will be to light. Just make sure it’s lightly piled and not packed in in order to maintain enough airflow. Then you can stack kindling on top of that, sort of in a pyramid shape, using smaller pieces first. Now, you can either light the kindling first and add logs as it gets going, or you can set up the logs on top.
Lighting Your Fire
Most people with a lot of fire-starting experience will start the fire here and then add firewood. It can be easier, though, to start out with some firewood already stacked up. If you’re going to add your firewood in advance, make sure it’s high enough off the kindling to let the air reach it and yet close enough that it can catch the flames from the burning tinder and kindling.
You want to arrange the logs wither in a “teepee” shape, with logs leaned together above the pile of kindling, or a “log cabin” shape. In the “log cabin,” you lay logs in a Crisscross pattern around and above the pile of tinder and kindling.
Make sure some of the logs cover the center of the fire where your tinder will be lit! Remember, fire burns from the bottom up, so you want each successive size of wood on top of the smaller pieces. And again, airflow is important.
With either shape, you want to have gaps between the large logs and lots of space beneath them. Then, reach into this space with a long-handled lighter or long-stemmed match and light the tinder at the center. If you’ve built the fire correctly, the kindling will catch from there, and then the logs.
5. Faster Fire-Starters for a Wood-Burning Fire Pit
Okay, take a deep breath! While this sounds like a lot, starting a traditional wood fire is not all that difficult. And it’s easier than ever now that three are tools like starter logs, lighter fluid, and seasoned firewood available. One very popular fast-burning option for tinder is to use pinecones.
You can find your own: make sure they are completely dry, and look for broad, fanned-out scales. Or, you can buy pinecone firestarters from outfitters and hardware stores. You can also play around with the type of wood you use to get better results. In particular, look into using “fatwood” for kindling.
Fatwood is made of split pine stumps with a ver thigh resin content. So, when dried, they provide especially flammable kindling and can keep a fire going quite easily. Just having a little fatwood on hand can make starting a wood fire much, much easier.
The final factor to consider if you’re trying to make starting a traditional wood fire simpler and easier is moisture content. Obviously, you want to use dry firewood. But in particular, try to get firewood that’s been seasoned in a kiln. Seasoned firewood is much drier than anything you’ll find on your own and is a lot easier to light and keep lit.
Additional DIY Fire Starters
In addition to the traditional tinder options, like dry leaves, pine needles, and small twigs, there are a few other materials you can use for a quicker and easier fire starter. One really popular alternative tinder option is dryer lint! Everyone has some around and it works really well to get a fire started quickly.
You can also use bark shavings and birch bark in particular is very flammable. Or, try using wood shavings to start a fire quickly and easily. If you use these options, however, please be very careful about containing your fire. Wood shavings can blow away easily and they’re very flammable, so have a bucket of water on hand and pay attention to where your tinder is and what it’s doing.
How to Put Out a Fire Safely
As you can see, fire safety is an integral part of making fire puts simple and easy. The same is true when it comes time to end the night and put out your fire. Gas fire pits are pretty straightforward. You just need to make sure the gas is entirely turned off.
If you’re burning wood though, especially out in the sticks, you need to be very careful about putting out your fire. The risk of wildfire will depend greatly on where you are, the season, and the surrounding conditions, but really fires can get out of hand anywhere at any time.
This is why Smokey the Bear became so well known to campers. So how do you put out a fire safely? The best option is to wait until it burns down to embers on its own. There’s less risk of collapsing logs shooting sparks or hot embers out this way, but it also means you’re not wasting firewood by dousing it in water.
If you need to stop a fire earlier though, just pour water or sand over top and mix it with the dirt until everything is smothered. If you still see smoke, your fire is not out.
Starting a fire pit doesn’t have to be an all-day event. With a couple of simple tips in mind, you can be the hero of your next family camping trip and stay sane while doing it. In particular, using more flammable materials like wood shavings or “fatwood” can cut down on the time it takes to light your fire pit significantly while still maintaining the traditional campfire feel.
Still, for backyard entertaining and similar applications, a gas fire pit can deliver what you want.
Bonus tip: Consider using “trick” birthday candles as an easy-to-use fire starter like in this video.