How to Bank a Fire on a Camping Trip

People around campfire at night

If you’re a beginner to camping, you might not know what banking a fire means or even heard the phrase before!

To make it simple and straightforward: banking a fire means keeping the coals hot to start the fire again later.

The most common way of banking a fire is surrounding it with stones and optionally, putting wood on top of it (like a large stump). This accomplishes a few things:

  • It shields the fire starting from wind
  • Prevents fire from spreading
  • Most importantly: it keeps the ash and coals hot longer so the fire can be started again with ease

It’s an essential part of camping, so much so that most campgrounds already have a fire pit ready go.

That means that you probably won’t need to do this, but it doesn’t hurt to know why it’s a thing.

Surrounding your campfire with stones is the most common method of containing a fire. Naturally, you don’t want to make the circle too large or too small.

The stones don’t need to be large, but too small and they won’t do a great job of shielding the fire or containing it, for that matter.

So you’ve banked the fire, how do you start it?

After banking a fire and going to sleep, you’ll most likely awake to a bed of coal and ashes that doesn’t look so hot.

If your banking was successful though, there’s a pleasant surprise waiting for you underneath all of it: hot coals and embers

How to start a fire from the coals

  1. Fan away the ash using a hat (or even blowing it away will do the trick) to reveal them, along with some tinder ready to place on it.
  2. Any light, dry material will make for good tinder in this situation (pine needles, leaves etc.)
  3. After a couple of minutes it should ignite on its own and you can feed it with smaller sticks if you want to build it back up again.

It’s a really useful method that also saves a lot of hassle when you don’t want to spend more time than necessary starting fires.

Important fire safety tips to remember

Always check with the campground to see if fires are allowed, and if so under any particular conditions. Oftentimes, fires are banned due to drought or not allowed to be on the ground.

It can be a real bummer to go camping without a fire since it’s such a core part of the experience. Everyone likes smores!

It’s also important to keep your fire to a manageable size. You don’t have to worry about it getting out of hand and can always throw a fresh log onto it when needed.

Also, make sure your fire isn’t too close to your tents or other parts of the campsite. It’s almost like some kind of rule that someone trips around it or knocks a piece off every time I go camping it seems like.

By separating its location, you eliminate a possible tripping hazard as well as making sure your camping gear doesn’t get a nice melt to it.

Lastly, don’t rely on fire starters to get a fire going. We all have a story or two of this hilariously backfiring when someone gets a little too excited with it!

So banking is like storing it for later?

Correct. Often overnight so you have one ready to go in the morning.

You will definitely impress your friends and family with your new found knowledge. It’s great knowledge that will come in handy on your next camping trip.

Remember, those hot coals and embers will last a long time if you cover them properly! That’s really the key to all of this.

Don’t forget about being safe while you do all of this. Follow the safety rules above and you’ll have a great time!

Need tips on building a campfire? Check out this article from REI.

Campfire Tips and Tricks

How do you keep a fire burning all night?

In the situation that you’re not trying to bank a fire, doing the opposite is pretty simple: use large pieces of wood. Preferably 6-8 of them should do the job.

Think of it this way, when you’re sitting aroudn a campfire, part of keeping it going past the first 30 minutes to an hour is adding more wood to it. By adding sufficiently large pieces, they burn much slower and typically not as fast (unless the fire is REALLY going.)

Is it safe to leave a campfire burning overnight?

Outside of survival situations, it’s often a better idea to not leave a fire burning overnight. I realize it seems contradictory with the advice I gave above, but it’s important to know.

The reason you don’t want to leave a campfire going overnight is the risk of it getting out of hand while you’re sleeping. It could easily spread to surrounding brush or even your campsite, only waking you once it’s out of control.

This is why having someone watch the fire at all times is important.


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