Perhaps the most iconic skill of dads camping with their kids is the ability to start a fire. While there are many products you can buy to increase your chances (including old fashioned lighter fluid), it always impresses your kids when you can do it with the wood around you and with just one match.
The key to any good fire is lots and lots of kindling. While it takes time getting it split thin (especially when it’s cold and wet out), it’s a classic example of patience and time spent up front saves you a lot of time in the long run. In this video segment Alex was using wood that was out in the rain for days on end (in this case we bought chopped wood in town as there wasn’t going to be much at the altitude we were camping). Chopping off the wet wood exterior reveals a dryer interior that’s perfect for kindling when split small enough.
As for fire structure, you’ll see a tepee in the middle with a log cabin style around the outside. About a month after filming this, we found an article in the September issue of Men’s Health entitled, “Build The Perfect Campfire”. It shows the tepee/cabin structure as well and has some great illustrations. And just in case it doesn’t work, it’s always a good idea to carry along a fire starter in your camping equipment!
As for your kids, one of the earliest thrills a younger camper can have is lighting the fire. It ranks up there in rites of passage as a child measures themselves against their dad. Once you’ve taught you preschool child a healthy respect for fire (I used to rope off an area around the fire or wood burning stove), you can then teach them how to strike the match and get it going. As they age, let them build the structure and then move on to splitting kindling and eventually chopping the wood.