5 Tips to Make a Fire Burn Hotter When you Need it To

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Maybe you are doing some campfire cooking, or maybe you are roughing it in cold conditions. Either way, there are times when you would love to be able to make your fire burn hotter! What are ways that you can amp up the heat of your campfire?

You can make a fire burn hotter by blowing more oxygen to the base of the fire using a bellows. In addition, you can cut your firewood into smaller pieces rather than using larger logs. This allows for more spaces between the wood where more oxygen can get through and help feed the fire and there is also more surface area to burn. Beginning with a teepee shape will help make a hotter fire as the empty space at the base is perfect for pulling in plenty of oxygen, giving you a hotter burn.

If you are sitting around a campfire wondering how you can heat up your burn, read on for more details!

1. Get More Oxygen in Your Fire

I envision someone stumbling across this article as they sit around their poorly performing campfire, trying to figure out how to get heat NOW. That is why I am starting with this tip as these are steps you can take immediately with the materials you have on hand to heat up your fire!

If you are already at your campsite with a stack of wood for the weekend, there are already many things out of your control when it comes to getting as hot of a fire as possible, but there is one huge component that you still have control over: oxygen.

A surefire way to get more heat is to add more oxygen to the base of your campfire. What you need is some kind of bellows that will blow air into your fire, and luckily, there are several ways to do this.

Use a Campfire Bellows

This is one of those tips that seems like it won’t be helpful if you aren’t somewhere that you can go purchase one right now, but keep reading because it is such a simple tool, you could be able to come up with a diy version from things you have onsite.

Pocket Bellows collapsible tube bellows

A Campfire Bellows is simply a collapsible tube made of stainless steel. It has one end with a smaller diameter and one with a slightly larger diameter. After you telescope out the bellows, you simply put the smaller end at the base of the fire and blow. The smaller end helps to concentrate the air coming out into a smaller, more powerful blast.

I own one called the Epiphany Pocket Bellows and you can see it on Amazon here.

But what if you don’t have a Campfire Bellows on hand? It is so simple, you could improvise one. Do you have a pipe of some kind? Any non-flammable tube would work, as long as you use it safely. Some even use hollow sticks. Be sure the material won’t melt or put off noxious gasses. Make sure it is long enough that your face won’t be too close to the fire and get burned. Also, whether you use a bellows you purchase or a diy one, make sure that you blow into it, pull your mouth from the bellows and pull away to take your next breath. Be careful to not breathe in through the tube, or breathe close enough to the fire to get too much smoke in your lungs.

Woman using a campfire bellows to blow into a camp fire.

Use a Blower

You may not have purchased a Campfire Bellows yet, and you may not have a pipe or similar item hanging around the campsite that you can use to stoke your fire. But, something that you might have on hand is some kind of blower, like an air mattress pump!

If you have an air mattress pump and have a cord that will make it reach the fire, you are in luck because it is incredibly efficient at getting tons of oxygen into your fire. Have a battery powered one? Even easier! Just point it at the base of the fire, turn it on, and feel your fire heat up fast.

Watch briargoatkilla demonstrate below.

Just be careful to not try this on a fire that hasn’t been burning very long. A fire that isn’t well-established yet could easily get blown out with a pump blowing on it.

A leaf blower will give you the same effect, but on a much larger scale! If you have an established fire, including one that has been burning enough to have died down a little, but there are hot embers, a leaf blower will get your fire rolling! In fact, if it is really dry or you don’t have a large enough area for a big fire, don’t even attempt it!

Mark McMillan demonstrates this below.

2. Choose the Right Sized Logs

A big stump sized log will burn for a long time on a fire, but if you are looking for more heat quick, you are going to have to go smaller. If you have an axe or hatchet on hand, this is another way you can build a hotter fire asap.

Surface area and how readily and hot something burns are related. Use smaller pieces of firewood and you will get a hotter fire. Watch this cool video from the 40’s posted by markdcatlin that demonstrates this perfectly (I can almost hear the ticking of the reel to reel projector).

Obviously you aren’t dealing with cubes and shavings at your campfire, but you get the idea. The more surface area your fuel has, the higher the temp (to a point) and the easier it will ignite.

More modest sized pieces of firewood will go up more quickly and burn hotter. Just know that the consequence of this will be that you burn through your wood more quickly, as well. If you understand that and are just needing more heat, then this is a great way to get it.

If you bought firewood, it may not be cut small enough to give you this quick heat as wood is commonly sold in 16″ lengths with a 6″ face. This could be cut down to a 3″ face to get you more surface area and a hotter (but quicker) fire.

3. Build the Right Shape of Campfire

The reason that there are “shapes” for campfires to start with is an attempt to design a fire that will burn how you need it to burn. If you want a longer lasting slow burner that puts off a stable amount of heat, you will want to build a different fire than if you want one that burns hot and quick.

What is being manipulated is how much oxygen is being pulled into the fire and how as well as how much or how fast the fuel (wood) is introduced into the flames.

For building a hot fire, you can’t go wrong with a traditional teepee shape. This type of fire capitalizes on the fact that there is empty space, or a void, at the base of the fire. Oxygen is pulled into this area and gets it burning hot and fast.

The heated oxygen rises exits out of the top of the fire. Because the oxygen is rising up the “chimney” in the campfire, a void of air is left at the base, creating low air pressure. Naturally, air rushes in from around the fire into this low-pressure area, feeding the fire.

This all happens as a constant flow of air getting sucked into and out of the top of the teepee, fanning the flames and giving you a hot fire!

Earlier this summer, I used a digital infrared thermometer to test the heat of my campfire in different spots. I had built a fairly small teepee shape and when pointed at the base it maxed out my thermometer which reads up to 1400 degrees Fahrenheit!

Read more about that test here.

There are other styles of campfire that offer you different benefits, such as the “log cabin” or “platform fire” that give you lower, but consistent heat, but for a hot fire, the teepee is the way to go. To see other types of campfires, check out this article from Paddling.com.

5. Start with the Right Wood

This tip is useful to an extent. If you are already sitting around your campfire wondering how you can make it hotter, chances are you already have your pile of firewood ready to go and don’t have much control over the species of wood you’re burning. If that is the case, just remember this for next time.

But, if you haven’t acquired your firewood yet, this one is for you so keep reading!

When looking at what species of wood to burn, most campers look to hardwoods and only use softwoods for kindling or, at least, very sparingly. This is because the denser hardwoods can put off heat for a much longer period of time, as in hours more, than less dense softwoods.

Ends of a woodpile

Nearly every site about firewood you will find suggests hardwoods, and normally this is the way to go. But, this post is about putting out HEAT, not stretching out the length of your burn. Because of that, you need to look to softwoods.

The fibers of the less dense softwoods aren’t packed in as tightly which allows for more air to reach the fibers more quickly. We already know that more oxygen means a hotter fire, so the ease at which air can get to this fuel makes it burn hotter, BUT it also means it burns more quickly.

You will be tearing through your wood pile much more quickly by burning softwoods, but if you are going for heat, softwoods are the way to go. Some softwood species you could burn for quick heat are:

  • Pine
  • Juniper
  • Fir
  • Redwood
  • Spruce
  • Cedar
  • Buckeye
  • Poplar

Unless you have a huge wood pile for a weekend, it is still probably best to secure a variety of hardwoods and softwoods for your camp. You can use the softwoods to start the fire and when you need a heat boost, and then burn the hardwoods the rest of the time to conserve your pile of fuel.

5. Build a Better Fire Ring

Sometimes you don’t need to make a campfire hotter, you just need to conserve the heat that is coming off of it! This is where a fire reflector comes in handy.

When a campfire is burning, the infrared heat radiation is traveling away from the fire in every direction. If you have enough people at your fire where they are sitting all of the way around it, that is only fair. But, if you have a smaller camp you can concentrate yourself and your campers on one side and build a simple fire reflection wall to keep you more toasty.

Using Rocks

One easy way to build a simple fire reflector is with stones or rocks. On the side of the campfire opposite from where you are sitting, which should also be opposite of where you will be sleeping, place a few taller rocks around the firepit.

Ideally, these rocks would be large and have a smooth face that you point in toward the fire. But, if you don’t have access to those or no way to pick them up, less massive stones and rocks can be used and piled up higher on one side of the pit forming a wall on one side. If the rocks slip or don’t stay put, clay can be put between them to help them stick into place.

Now, when the infrared heat waves travel away from the fire, some that would normally escape into the wilderness will hit the rock reflection wall and bounce back toward you are your camp, bumping up the temps for you a few degrees.

Watch The American Backpacker explain this in video below.

The rock doesn’t reflect all of the heat and some is absorbed. However, this isn’t all bad because if the fire cools down in the night, the rocks will emit the heat the heat that they absorbed. If you are close enough or don’t have enough wind to carry it off, this could also work in your favor.

While researching this topic, I came across a super handy article from Practical Primitive about using smaller stones to warm you in your sleeping bag all night long. You can read more about that here.

One word of caution, stone or rock that has water inside, such as if there are cracks in the stone with a little water in it, NEVER put them near your fire. The water inside the rock can boil and make your rocks explode, which can be both scary and really dangerous. Don’t use rocks near a water source for this.

If you want to level up your stone reflection wall even more, check out this video from the IntenseAngler that shows how to build a rock reflection wall that also helps keep the smoke out of your faces. Bonus!

Using Wood or Other Materials

Let’s say that you are at a camp where you don’t have access to rock, but you do have an ample supply of logs. You can still use the same concept to conserve more of the heat from your fire. Wood won’t reflect and later absorb heat as well as stone, but it is better than nothing!

Gather several poles or long logs, the longer the better. Pull out your shortest one and then your fattest one. Pound two long stakes in the ground the height that you want your wall and wide enough apart to accommodate your fattest pole or log. Pound two more stakes in the same width apart, and far enough away from the first two stakes that your shortest pole can fit within both sets of stakes.

Build your wall by putting your longest pole on the ground within the stakes. Put your next-longest one on top of that, and continue in this fashion until you have a wall made of wood.

Plan on building your wall a couple of feet away from your fire. You can use any type of wood for this and also, the wood can be in any condition. Just know that wet wood will last longer and dry or rotten wood will eventually start burning. Know that could happen and be prepared for if it does by not having a tent or anything you don’t want to catch on fire near the wall.

Read more about how to do this in from Outdoor Life magazine here.

Or, watch the video below from West Texas Preppers that shows you how it’s done!

Mylar blankets and sheets of corrugated metal could also be used to build a fire reflection wall, if you are lucky enough to have these on hand at your campsite.

Watch the video below to learn how to make a portable heat reflector that you can take on your next camping trip!

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Related Questions

How To Easily Start a Fire?

Do you struggle to get a teepee shaped campfire burning without the kindling falling down? Try the 6-pack in a box method!

Keep the carriers from 6-packs of beverages in your laundry room and fill each hole with dryer lint. Before you leave to camp, grab a small cardboard box that your 6-pack will just fit inside.

When you are ready to light your fire have your first logs ready because it will start fast! Start your 6-pack in a box and then use it as a support to build your teepee on. It will go up hot and fast, easily starting your wood on fire.

Get the full directions and see pictures of it in action in our article about it here.

What is the Hottest Part of the Fire?

We talked a lot about heat in this article, so you may be wondering what the hottest part of the campfire is. I put this to the test with an infrared digital thermometer in this post. What I found was the base of the teepee where there was less wood fuel but more oxygen was the hottest part of the fire.

Because the teepee acts as a “chimney,” pulling oxygen into the base when the already heated air in the campfire rushes up and out the top, the area with the fresh and constant supply of oxygen in the fire burns the hottest.

See the temperatures of all parts of the fire with photos in our article here.