How to start a summer bonfire

By Arran Wallace

The bringer of warmth, cooker of meat, and provider of a romantic atmosphere in a log cabin, fire has held a special and primal place in our hearts ever since early humans learned how to make ti and control it—marking a dramatic shift in human habits. It also ushered in a new era for man kind, the reduced risk from uncooked food and ability to stay warm in colder climates, among many others.

Given its historical importance to human life, it is surprising how few people actually know how to start a bonfire. We rely so heavily on modern appliances to warm ourselves and our food that we've forgotten one of the most important basic skills a human can have.

That's why we've put together this guide on how to safely start a bonfire this summer...and all year round, for that matter! When you head out on your next glamping getaway and want to start a bonfire to roast marshmallows or tell ghost stories, you'll know how to do so safely—protecting you, your fellow glampers, and the natural setting that surrounds you.

Step 1: Prepare the pit

Nonflammable surface? Check. Small pit for embers to fall into? Check. Perimeter of stones? Check.
Photo courtesy of Silver City Resort.

The first thing you'll need to do is choose a good location for your fire. It needs to be on bare earth, sand, or gravel—anywhere that can't catch fire itself. (Dry or dead grass is an absolute no-no.) Visualize an eight-foot safety perimeter, and clear any flammable materials within that area. If you're in a wooded area, make sure there are no low-hanging branches or vines that the flames could reach. Ideally, the fire should have open sky above it, so that smoke doesn't rise up into any branches nor affect any nests or animals up in the trees.

Once you've chosen your spot, start to dig out a pit that is a few inches deep, which will prevent the fire from spreading. As the wood turns into embers, they will fall into the pit rather then spread outwards. A perimeter of rocks also stops the spread of embers and ashes, especially in windy areas. It's also a good idea to have extinguishing materials nearby in case you need to put the fire out quickly in an emergency.

Step 2: Collect and arrange materials

From left to right, you'll see tinder, kindling, and firewood.
Photo courtesy of REI.

What you'll need

There are three main materials you will need to start your bonfire:

  • Tinder: Dry pieces of thin material that catch fire and burn very quickly. Good examples include straw, dry grass and leaves, newspaper, cotton balls, and even cattail reeds.

  • Kindling: Bigger pieces of flammable materials that catch fire quickly but burn slower than tinder. Good examples include twigs, thin branches, pine cones, and tightly-rolled newspaper.

  • Firewood: A standard log, about the length of one's forearm, and what most people envision when you picture a fire. These burn slowly and provide warmth for a long period of time.

Once you have these three things, you light the tinder, which is used to light the kindling, and then use the kindling to light the firewood. Try to collect twice as much as you think you'll need, because there's nothing worse than running out of materials before your fire is ready.

How to lay the fire

Once you have your tinder, kindling, and firewood, you can begin to arrange the materials, which must be done in a specific way, otherwise known as a fire lay. As an homage to glamping, we're going to go with the tipi fire lay, although there are many variations you can choose from.

This is a tipi fire lay, with tinder surrounded by kindling, leaving space to access the tinder.
Photo courtesy of Outdoor Life.
  1. Collect your tinder into a bundle, and place it in the middle of the fire pit.

  2. Use three or four twigs or sticks to form a tipi structure that contains the tinder bundle.

  3. Continue adding to the tipi structure, all while leaving a small opening upwind so you can access the tinder inside. Make sure to build upwards rather than outwards and leave spaces between the sticks for air to move freely.

  4. If you have a couple of small or thin pieces of firewood, you can add these, too, as long as their weight does not compromise the structure.

How to light the fire

Take your lighter or matches, and carefully light the tinder inside through the opening you left upwind. By leaving it upwind, this ensures that the wind pushes the flames through the tinder bundle. You may have to blow carefully to encourage the tinder to catch fire. If done correctly, the tinder will light the kindling, creating a quickly burning fire. At this point, you can slowly add the firewood, being careful not to suffocate the flames. As the anonymous quote says, "A fire is like a child; you must look after it carefully in the beginning so that it can look after you later."

Step 3: Safely extinguishing the fire

As the woman extinguishes the fire, note how she is upwind to avoid the smoke blowing in her face.
Photo courtesy of REI.

Now for the easy part! Remember that container of water you carefully prepared before lighting the fire? Take it and pour it slowly on top of the fire until the hissing stops. Don't stand directly above the fire to avoid breathing in the smoke.

Once you've done this, use a stick and stir the ashes into the dirt, which may reveal embers that weren't extinguished by the water. Put these out with more water, or simply stamp them into the ground with your foot. Make sure you're wearing shoes with thick soles, though!

If there are any sizable sticks or logs left, scrape away the surface to check they are not still burning. Finally, give everything the palm test: Hold your palms up to the embers and logs. If you can't feel any heat radiating off them, it is safe to leave.

In the unlikely event you don't have any or enough water on-hand, the extinguishing process is pretty similar. You'll use dirt or sand to cover the embers instead, which will deprive them of oxygen and stop the fire. Be careful not to fully cover the fire, as this could create extremely high temperatures under the dirt or sand that could reignite later. Once the flames have been extinguished, use a stick to mix the embers around in the dirt/ or sand to check that there isn't anything still glowing and then give it the aforementioned palm test.

One final tip

A camper strikes a flint and steel to create sparks, which land on the char cloth below.
Photo courtesy of Twin Eagles Wilderness School.

How to create a spark with no lighter or matches

Perhaps you left your lighter at home or it's run out of lighter fluid. Maybe you fell into a creek earlier, and now your matches are sodden and useless. In order to be prepared for every possible scenario, make sure you tuck some flint, steel, and char cloth in your backpack before you head out into the wilderness.

The steel is a C-shaped piece of tempered steel; the char cloth is a piece of sooty linen that has been burned in a low-oxygen environment, which catches fire easily and burns slowly; and the flint is a hard gray rock with a sharp edge. All of these can be found in any camping supply store. What's more? This old-school method of starting fires will impress your friends, won't run out of gas, and can't break. (You can still lose the materials, though, so be careful!)

The idea is to strike the steel against the sharp edge of the flint to create a spark, setting the char cloth aflame, which can then be transferred to your bundle of tinder. From this point, you can continue as described above, blowing the nascent flames carefully until your fire is blazing away.

Hot Tip: If weather conditions are windy, you may have to hold the char cloth on top of the flint, so that the sparks don't have to travel very far.

Another (easier) option is to invest in a ferro rod, short for ferrocerium rod, which is a small rod made from a compound of iron and cerium. Striking against it with a blade will produce a shower of sparks, similar to the ones created by 4th of July sparklers.

For those who prefer a visual, this video will show you how to create a spark with these materials:


Want to find somewhere to practice your skills? Check out all of these cabins with fireplaces, and don't forget to pack your flint!

How to help keep our beaches clean all year round

By Arran Wallace

Who doesn't love going to the beach? These areas of natural beauty, where land meets sea, provide hours of fun for adults, kids, and dogs alike. It's painful to see, however, the amount of trash left behind after a busy Saturday at the beach, knowing that the ocean will end up being the final resting place for all types of waste. In fact, 6.5 million tons of litter end up in the ocean each year—half of which are plastic products that will take hundreds of years to break down.

Marine and beach pollution come from a number of different sources, not just littering, including sewage, ocean mining, oil spills, agricultural runoff, toxic chemicals, air pollutants, and maritime transportation. Of this list, one thing we can easily and quickly change, though, is where and how we get rid of our trash, in order to help save our beaches, oceans, and marine life.

Check out our how-to guide on how to help keep our beaches clean all year round.

At the beach

The best reusable water bottles, as reviewed by Your Best Digs.

Reusable containers

One way to prevent the amount of trash left behind on the beach is to think carefully about what you take there in the first place. Avoid bringing unnecessary items to reduce the risk of leaving them behind, unintentionally or not. Invest in reusable water bottles that can be used for lots of different activities, and use Tupperware containers to carry your food instead of tinfoil or plastic wrap.

Some trash is bound to be produced by your trip to the beach, but sometimes the local beach doesn’t have adequate waste disposal and recycling services, so pack a trash bag with you to make sure you throw everything away, and easily hold onto it until you find somewhere to dispose of it properly.

Portable ash trays

Another major cause of water pollution comes from cigarette butts. Putting cigarettes out in the sand and leaving them there increases the likelihood that they'll blow into the sea, where they release toxins and pollutants, as well as generally adversely affect water quality and marine life.

A test conducted found that just one cigarette butt releases enough toxins to kill over 50% of the fish exposed to it for 24 hours. Moreover, their physical similarity to insects mean fish will consume them, and since they're unable to digest them, they will stay in their stomachs forever.

Avoiding all of this is as simple as investing in a portable ashtray, which you can then empty into the garbage when you dispose of all your other waste.

Peanut, the poor turtle deformed by a six-pack ring.

Avoid bringing and using plastic

Most people have probably seen the video of that poor sea turtle that had a straw removed from its nose, and six-pack rings are yet another way our drinking habits can negatively impact the lives of sea turtles. You can still enjoy your beer, but make sure to properly dispose of the rings and cut them up just in case.

If you find yourself at a beach bar, remember to turn down a straw if you're offered one. We were perfectly capable of drinking before 1888—the year when straws were invented—so we can easily give the turtles a break. Insist on being served in a glass, not a plastic cup, and enjoy your drink at the bar, with the shade and music, rather than taking it back to the sand.

Be careful with open flames

Everyone enjoys a good beach bonfire, but not everyone likes to see a beach cluttered with old fire pits that are blowing ash everywhere. If you do decide to have one, put the fire out thoroughly with water, and cover the embers with sand to prevent them from spreading. Once any rocks you've used are cool to the touch, move them back to their original locations, and fill the hole with sand. It's that simple, and now, the beach is ready for someone else to enjoy!

Burning your trash is also a bad idea—not only is it illegal in many places, but a low-temperature fire, such as a bonfire, also doesn't destroy trash. Instead, it turns it into tiny soot and ash particles that contain toxins, which are then blown into the air, spread around, and deposited into the sea, in addition to the surrounding soil and vegetation.

Volunteers at a beach clean-up organized by Ocean Conservancy.

Participate in beach clean-ups

The next time you're headed to the beach, why not set aside 30 minutes of your trip for a fun, group beach clean-up? You and your friends can go to different areas of the beach, maximizing the amount of beach you cover. You can even make it a competition, with a prize for the most trash collected.

On your own? No problem! Click here to check for organized ocean clean-ups near you. Ocean Conservancy is dedicated to reaching the goal of having trash-free oceans, and they have loads of information on how you can organize a clean-up yourself and what you will need before, during, and afterwards.

In 2015, volunteers in San Diego removed 197,788 pieces of trash, weighing 9,825 pounds, from their beaches. If that's how much trash was removed from San Diego alone, imagine how much trash could be removed from all of our beaches!

Away from the beach

Thinkbeforeyouflush.org, a website dedicated to raising awareness about the damage caused by the things we flush down the toilet

Although it's a great start, eliminating ocean pollution is not as simple as just disposing of our trash correctly and picking up what others have left. All waterways lead to the ocean, so garbage and waste products can make their way into the oceans via garbage disposals and sewage pipes.

We must be conscious of how we dispose of our waste at all times, especially of what we flush. In 2017, more than 5,000 wet wipes were found in a small area of the Thames River, which is just one example of a commonly flushed item that doesn't break down. Other examples include cotton balls, dental floss, pet litter, oils, and medicines, all of which have been flushed down the drain, into local rivers, and, eventually, the ocean.

While it's important for all of us as individuals to take action, we cannot exempt local businesses and global corporations from doing their part, too. Wherever possible, use the services of companies that have the best policies towards packing and plastic usage, and don't be afraid to tell your local café if you think they are being particularly wasteful. If dealing with an international chain, an online petition or letter and interaction via social media are powerful tools. Finally, remember to educate others, as only together can we hope to make a change.


Don't forget to check out some of our other blogs for tips and guides on a whole range of subjects!

Spring cleaning: The art of decluttering

By Eleanor Stanesby

The time has come for some spring cleaning—the (often dreaded) organization of all of the papers you hid in a drawer for the past year, the items of clothing you no longer wear, and a deep clean of every part of the house. While this means focusing on the jobs that may have been neglected over winter, the goal is to make your living space feel more open and airy, paralleling the ambiance that this season brings. Meanwhile, decluttering will not only help you enhance your living space, but also your mental space, leaving you feeling satisfied and more at ease.

With these top tips, you'll be spring cleaning in no time, and you never know...you may even begin to enjoy it—or at least the end result!

1. Form a plan

Make a checklist to help you divide and conquer the house; these smaller goals will make you feel a less overwhelmed. With a big task, like spring cleaning, it can be difficult to know where to start, so writing things down can make you see things much more clearly.

If you don't want to create your own checklist, try a free, downloadable template that will help you organize your cleaning process. Want something a little more technological? There are even apps that can help you prepare!

Photo of a spring cleaning checklist from Page Flutter.

2. Stock up on supplies

Doublecheck that you have all of the cleaning supplies you'll need before you begin. There's nothing worse than getting halfway through and having to run to the store to buy replacements. It will hinder your progress and may demotivate you from wanting to continue cleaning when you get back home.

3. Play some music

No one wants to clean in silence! Music releases a chemical in the brain called dopamine, which plays a key role in keeping you motivated. An upbeat playlist is going to get you in the mood to clean and make time go much faster. If you can't find a playlist you like, you can try a podcast or the radio instead—or even just turn on the TV for some background noise to keep you company.

Photo from Best Life.

4. Learn to compartmentalize

Try not to think of everything you have yet to clean; break it down into bite-size pieces and just focus on one room at a time. Be sure to make your checklist for each room specific, as there are going to be different things you'll want to do, based on each room's contents and size. After each room is decluttered and cleaned, each one after that is going to seem so much easier, especially when you are able to look back at your progress.

5. Always declutter first

No matter which room you decide to start with, it's a must to begin with decluttering. Trying to clean around bits of paper here and random clothes there is only going to slow the process down. Try a systematic way to breakdown all of the items you find into four categories: put away, give away, storage, and trash.

Photo from Bestlifeonline.

6. Work from top to bottom

When it comes to cleaning, starting from the top of the room and working your way down is ideal. Dust falls naturally falls, so this will save you from doubling your workload and having to sweep or vacuum the floors a second time.

Our favorite cleaning tips

Photo from EllimanInsider.
  • Windows: Polishing the windows will make the room feel brighter.

  • Walls: Wipe down the walls to bring their true color back.

  • Vacuum: Move furniture, and vacuum ceilings—this household appliance will be your best friend!

  • Dust: Stock up on furniture polish to make the place shine.


Want to expand this project to the garden? Check out our tips for gardening in the most effective and sustainable way!