Updated: May 27
Hmmmmm. So research tells me that building and enjoying a campfire has hidden benefits—especially for men. Who knew?
So the story goes something like this, when our ancestors gathered together for mealtimes, this led to conversations and further planning and discussions about the future, which led to the creation and development of new tools to make living more convenient and easy. But the most important thing that came from campfire gathering times was that it led to the development of stronger social pacts.
Evolution, of course, brings us to today, modern day 2020.
Today, for many people, campfire isn't nearly as important. However, the legacy of campfire endures. Mr. Christopher D. Lynn, an anthropologist at the University of Alabama explains:
“Those groups more successful at keeping the fire going would have had an advantage over groups that didn’t. A strong case can be made that this created a selective evolutionary pressure for people who can chill out by a fire, which puts them in the mood and position to learn from storytelling and to act cooperatively, rather than independently.”
Would you believe that Mr. Lynn sat 226 adults down in front of a video of a campfire, some silent and some with crackling sounds. The adults who saw and heard the flames experienced a 5 percent drop in blood pressure. As expected, the longer the adults sat in front of the campfire, the more relaxed they became.
No big newsflash here - sitting around a campfire is most definitely calming; for both men and women.
While my partner Jeff and I have certainly spent some exceptional quality time in our stone garden making and enjoying campfires over the last two years living here in Eureka Springs, with a global health crisis turning up the collective temperature on stress and anxiety, we have found this frequent activity to be even more important for us.
Please allow me to explain further...
If the benefits of experiencing a campfire begins first with the gathering of the wood. It's no wonder Paul Bunyan was a huge, manly guy.
It turns out that history tells us that the skill of chopping trees was expected of the men in the village or town and that makes sense but let's uncover why this was so beneficial.
According to a study performed by Ben Trumble, chopping firewood boosts testosterone levels even more than competing at sports.
The results of his study have shifted science’s understanding of the manliest of hormones - testosterone.
"The acute spike in testosterone increases the muscle's ability to take in blood sugar, which, in turn, enhances soccer performance and reaction times. It turns out the same is true for tree chopping. If you're better able to pull blood sugar into your muscle tissue, and better able to use that energy, you'll be able to chop more trees," Trumble says.
By focusing so much on the role of testosterone in aggression and competition, we have missed out on the importance of testosterone in a variety of other tasks.
In his study, Trumble compared saliva samples of men from Tsimane, Bolivia before and after a game of soccer and before and after cutting down trees to clear land for farming and firewood. Testosterone levels increased after both activities, but more so after swinging an axe: a 30 percent increase in testosterone after soccer, compared to 48 percent for chopping.
Basically, the larger spikes in testosterone enhance muscle performance, and increase men’s ability to chop trees, resulting in more food production.
Ten million American men suffer from low testosterone. Help yourself out (ahem!) outside! Building a blaze has never felt more enticing to you now, right? Thought so. Good for you.
Here’s how to make it happen like a pro.
CHOOSING THE BEST FIREWOOD TO BURN
When it comes to choosing the best firewood to burn, the drier your wood the better. Wet wood tends to smoke and can be very challenging to ignite. To make a kickin' fire, you’ll (ideally) need three different types of wood:
Tinder: Tiny pieces of wood, dried moss, dried leaves, or needles which are used to start the fire.
Kindling: Small pieces of chopped wood or small sticks to help shape the fire.
Fuel: This is where the bulk of the fire’s energy comes from; larger pieces of wood or logs to sustain the fire for a long time.
For those at campgrounds, State parks that allow camping and other publicly managed camping areas, it's best to buy or gather firewood near the park site itself, as this tends to come from the region (and lessens the risk of you spreading any infectious bugs or diseases from other regions). Check with the park ranger in advance before bringing wood in. Note: wood pallets and planks used in construction are often coated in toxic chemicals that are not meant to be burned. Some even have a fireproofing agent.
Many campgrounds offer firewood onsite.
In the back-country, you’ll want to collect fallen branches from the ground. Do not cut live branches — this will damage the tree and they’re too wet to burn, anyways. Go for fallen branches that are about three inches in diameter or thinner.
You want your wood to be piled close enough for a concentration of heat, but you also need enough space for oxygen to enter the fire (so that the fire can burn and breathe). Every campfire should have a structure — this is much more efficient than simply chucking wood onto the floor and crossing your fingers that it will burn.
Remember to start your fire with tinder (the thinnest, most brittle pieces), followed by kindling. Once the tinder is lit, continue to add kindling to keep it lit. Once you have a hearty blaze on the kindling, you can add fuel to keep it going. If you add fuel (the big logs) too soon, you’ll extinguish your fire
HOW TO START A STAR FIRE:
Criss-cross pieces of kindling over your tinder to make this starburst shaped campfire. It’s like a teepeee, but in a pile rather than standing upright.
STARTING A CAMPFIRE
When making a campfire, if you try to burn a large piece of firewood directly, you’ll likely just scorch it and fail. First, you need to create a small pile of tinder to use as a starter. Using waterproof matches or a lighter, ignite the tinder and blow gently onto the flame. Add more kindling and firewood onto the fire as it builds.
Birch tree bark and cattail fluff are two things you might be able to find at your campsite that are easy to ignite for starting a fire. Tip: you might consider bringing a couple of lint balls (from your clothes drier) or cotton balls from home, which also work great.
As the fire burns, slowly add firewood to the pile that is burning. If you add too many at once, you risk smothering the fire and it could go out too quickly.
Important: Don’t use your campfire as a trash bin. Only burn pure paper and wood — and keep in mind that many pieces of paper (like box wrappers) are coated in plastic. Cans, plastic, and pieces of aluminum foil belong in the recycling bin or trash can. Using your fire as your trash can is a rookie mistake.
LEARNING HOW TO MAKE A FIRE
IS INVALUABLE KNOWLEDGE
Gather The first task is to find wood. If you’ve already got rounds or split logs, skip to the next step. Otherwise, start by following the four Ds: dispersed, dead, down, dinky. Get away from a campsite and look for small pieces of dry wood that are already on the ground. Emphasis on the dry.
Prepare Proper preparation prevents piss poor performance. To build a successful fire—i.e., one that stays lit—begin with the right ingredients: tinder, like newspaper, fire starter or wood shavings; a progression of kindling, from pinky-thick to wrist-circumference; bigger pieces of wood. Use a hatchet or axe to split logs into smaller pieces, getting a testosterone boost while you’re at it. For finger-sized stuff, use a knife. Rest it into the top of a piece of wood and hammer on it with the hatchet head, forcing the blade through the wood. Construct The smallest pieces at the bottom and lots of air space throughout. Lay the tinder down first. Loosely pile the pinky-sized kindling around it—horizontally or vertically—ensuring there’s some overlap and that you have room to get a match or lighter into the tinder. Add a few more, progressively larger, pieces of kindling. Light A fire striker works in a pinch. But in most instances, it’s just as simple to use a match or lighter, bringing flame against the tinder in several spots on all sides. Let the fire build, adding more kindling pieces as needed, laying them on top of the flames carefully to ensure lots of airflow. Once wrist-sized pieces have red hot coals, add bigger logs and rounds.
Done! Now, sit back, zone out and feel like a man.
Enjoy And Be Safe
Please. Please remember after you’ve finished, be sure to clean your fire up and put it out completely (cool to the touch.) Whether or not you know how to build a campfire, you should already know that they can spark uncontrolled fires and cause devastation. Some campgrounds or parks do not permit campfires at all, or forbid them during the dry season. It takes just one ember to cause a forest fire, so never build them if there’s a fire ban. Check with the local ranger station, camp host, or a park visitor center for information on fire bans and fire safety.
Check for branches and dry bush. Before you light your fire, check to see if there are any piles of dry brush or wood nearby. Never build a campfire too close to a wooden structure or under trees with low-hanging branches.
Always build your campfire in a fire pit or ring, when available. Placing stones in a ring or using a dedicated fire pit helps contain the fire and keep it safe. Building it on sand or gravel is better and less damaging than on soil.
Never leave a fire unattended. Pour water onto the campfire and sift the ashes to extinguish the fire before you leave. There should be no glowing embers.
Of almost equal importance to obeying a burn ban is making sure that you never leave your campfire unattended. Don’t expect your campsite neighbor to keep an eye out on your campfire. Don’t expect your 10-year-old son to manage your fire. If you build it, take responsibility for it, monitor it and make sure it’s completely out by the time you go to bed or leave your campsite.
Get outside and do something more primitive than Netflix and more unplugged than Instagram. Build a campfire to experience rejuvenation and restoration and increase your testosterone while you're at it. Now is the perfect time to build your campfire muscle.