Lean-To Fire – How to Build This Campfire Favorite

by | Sep 29, 2020 | Fire Building

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Is there any better feeling than sitting under the stars next to a warm crackling flame? Well, we certainly don’t think so. Building a fire isn’t just a good skill to know, it’s absolutely essential. Today, we’re going to cover the lean-to fire and how to build it.

What is a Lean-To Fire?

The lean-to fire is named for its unique structure which uses a single log as its foundation. The log is both used to shield smaller kindling from wind, and as an anchor to lean larger kindling against. 

When built correctly, the lean-to fire creates the perfect environment for a flame to grow. With protection from two sides against wind, the smaller kindling will quickly light the larger kindling that is directly above it. 

When to Use the Lean-To Method

You should use the lean-to method whenever you’re trying to build fire outdoors. Whether you’re in nature, or in your own backyard, it’s by far one of the quickest and most efficient ways to get your fire going quickly.

The lean-to fire is also ideal for when weather conditions are less than perfect. Especially if you’re trying to build a fire on an extremely windy day. As we previously mentioned, the lean-to structure provides incredible protection for smaller kindling at the most important stage. 

It’s also a good idea to use a lean-to fire when you aren’t very confident in your bushcraft or fire building skills. It doesn’t take a lot of effort on your part and doesn’t require a lot of materials. Plus, you can use the lean-to fire as your ignition fire. Once the fire is going, you can easily turn it into any number of other structures.

Materials Used

The first thing you need to find is a large log or branch that can be used as the foundation for your lean-to fire. The size of the log or stick you use as the anchor, will dictate how big your fire will be, and the size of kindling you need to collect.

Once you have your log, you’ll need to find smaller branches or pieces of wood that can be used as the la kindling. It’s best to collect dry wood that is 1.5 to 2 times the length of the diameter of your log. This will allow for a good size cavern for the smaller kindling to burn.

Next, gather smaller kindling. Small branches and twigs work to find if that’s all you have, but you really want to go for dry bark, leaves, paper, or anything else that will catch fire quickly. The trick is to have it light quickly, but not burn out too fast, because you still need your larger kindling to catch fire as well.

Lastly, get your tinder and fire starter. If you have a lighter, you don’t really need any tinder, because you can light the smaller kindling directly. Lighting tinder works just as well. 

How to Build a Lean-To Fire

Building a lean-to fire doesn’t take much work on your end. It’s extremely intuitive, but we decided to outline six steps that will have your flame roaring in no time. Here’s everything you need to know about building a lean-to fire.

Step 1: Scope and Gather

Regardless of the type of fire you’re building, you’ll need to find the perfect location and gather all your materials before getting started. Avoid locations with too much dry tinder, or any other materials that can easily catch fire. The last thing you want is for your fire to get out of hand.

Look for a cleared out area that has a nice and dry dirt floor. Once you pick your spot, gather all the materials you’ll need, and keep them close by.

Step 2: Build a Platform

This is a crucial step that most beginners tend to overlook. You should always build a platform for your fire, rather than just starting it on the ground. A fire platform helps keep your flame from burning out before the larger kindling and fuel catch fire.

You can easily build a platform with your smaller kindling. Take a few sticks or branches that you’ve collected, and lay them on the ground where you intend to build your lean-to fire. Keep the platform flat, so that the tinder and smaller kindling doesn’t roll away.

Step 3: Lay Your Log

This part is easy. Take your log, or whatever large piece of wood that you’re using, and simply lay it adjacent to the platform you’ve built. The idea here is to use this log as the anchor for your fire. So, try to position the log so that it blocks the elements, and keeps your tinder and smaller kindling safe.

For example, if it’s extremely windy, position the log so that it absorbs the impact of the wind, so your fire is safe. If it’s raining, try to angle the log so that it creates an overhang for your fire.

Step 4: Lay Your Tinder and Smaller Kindling

Now that your log is in place, it’s time to carefully place your tinder and smaller kindling right up against your log. This will shield your initial flame from the elements, and keep it going until your fire begins to grow. 

Step 5: Lean the Kindle

Take your larger kindling, such as branches or split wood, and angle it so that it leans up against your anchor log. There are really two ways to go about this.

The first is the traditional lean-to method, where the larger tinder leans up against log, covering your tinder and smaller kindling. The second method is to take your larger kindling, and create two bunches. Lean each bunch against the anchor log so that they intersect, leaving your smaller kindling and tinder exposed.

Step 6: Light Your Fire

With everything in place, it’s time to light your fire. Unless you have a lighter, or flame that is already burning, start by creating a spark to light your tinder. Once your tinder is lit, quickly place it into the smaller kindling under the lean-to structure.

If you have a flame already, or a lighter, you can directly light your smaller kindling. 

Once lit, it’s important to watch the fire to ensure that the flame grows large enough to light the larger, leaning kindling. It will take a while for your log to catch fire, so continue feeding the flame with kindling until it does.

Advantages of a Lean-To Fire

There are a few different advantages to building a lean-to fire. First, and perhaps most importantly, is the reliability. No matter what curveball nature throws your way, the lean-to fire is well equipped to handle it. Since the structure is designed to protect the flame in its most vulnerable state, the lean-to fire is the most reliable fire building method. 

The lean-to fire also lights quickly and efficiently. Which makes it perfect for getting a fire going fast in emergency situations. Even though they light quickly, the lean-to still produces sufficient heat, and serves as the perfect building block for larger fires.

Disadvantages of the Lean-To Method

While there aren’t a lot of disadvantages to building a lean-to fire, there are some things you should be aware of. There’s no question that it’s a great method to build a fire quickly, but that doesn’t always work in your favor.

The lean-to fire doesn’t always provide sufficient heat to keep you warm, or even make a great fire for you to cook over. What it does do is provide you with the foundation for other fire building methods.

Brian Segal

As an outdoor enthusiast, I was drawn to bushcraft at a young age. I constantly find myself trying to learn and improve on my survival skills, and enjoy writing about everything I discover to help pass along to others.

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