There’s Only 1 Wrong Way to Build a Campfire

I went camping with friends this weekend, and dug up an old cliché.

        It was pre-dinner. We brought brats. My friend’s husband went to start the fire.

        “Woah. You’re a tepee fire starter?” I was shocked.

        “What? You’re from the log cabin camp?”

        Isn’t the whole world?

        My dad taught me how to start a fire when I was ten. There was no “two schools of thought” on the matter. He told me to set the kindling across the newspaper, and then use progressively larger sticks to build up the formation, switching directions like I was building a log cabin.  Then he would hand me the barbecue lighter and tell me to start a flame in every cell in the crisscrossed structure.

        It wasn’t until I ventured away from our campground, and watched my friends’ families start campfires, that I realized there was another, just as accepted method of fire starting.

        The tepee method seemed crazy to me. First, leaning the sticks of wood against each other looks less structurally sound. People really have to concentrate to make sure it doesn’t topple before they get to the point of lighting the kindling underneath. Second, I truly believe the log cabin framework lends itself to the most optimal oxygen to fuel ratio. The wood creates square barriers to lock in heat, while still being open enough to give oxygen the ability to boost the flame. In the tepee formation, everything looks too exposed.

        This debate: Log cabin vs.Tepee, is as played out and tired as the chicken and the egg or the LeBron James vs. Michael Jordan debate. We know that both are able to start a fire successfully, so what’s the point of even bringing it up?

        Well, as I was sitting watching my friend stick paper towels around his wobbly, tepee structure (and only silently judging, because I’m not about to vocally interfere with someone who’s starting a fire to make my dinner), I wondered if the type of fire you build reveals anything about your personality. Nothing concrete, just general observations—like astrological traits.

        I started to compare my dad to my friend’s husband. Both are business finance brains. Analytical. Organized. My dad is highly competitive and plan oriented, my friend more easygoing and flexible. My dad prefers sweet foods to savory; my friend would take savory over sweet any day.  My dad was born in America, my friend in Australia. That was all I could come up with, and none of those things revealed enough information for me to feel confident in jumping to generalizations.

        But then, I was thrown a real curveball.       

        My other friend chimed in, “I just throw all the sticks in a pile on top of paper towels and light bug spray to get it started.”

        WUT. No structure, no rules, no preset plan.

        This realization forced me to confront the major flaw in my research strategy. I was establishing the wrong binary. I was pitting the two different building techniques against each other, without even realizing that picking a technique in the first place bonds us together as fire builders.

Because, apparently, there are people who don’t subscribe to either.

So let’s cut each other a break, and start judging those people. They seem insane.

And just for the record: Though I hate to admit when I’m wrong (put “tends to be bad at admitting fault” in the log cabin fire builder column), the evidence seems to be stacked against us die hard cabin builders.


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