The ability to build a fire is the paradigmatic survival skill. Whatever else you’ve done to prepare for emergency situations, if you can’t build a fire you might as well give up and die. Well, maybe it’s not quite that bad.
Like a lot of things in life, the key to building a fire is being prepared. You need to practice, and you need to make it a habit of taking what you need to start the fire.
Ingredients for Firebuilding
- Fire needs three things: Fuel, oxygen, and heat.
- Fuel: to start, you need kindling (the tiniest pieces of fuel that start the fire) and tinder (larger pieces that really get it going. Build your fire around larger fuel like logs.
- Oxygen: lay out your kindling and tinder in a loose stack so it all gets a good flow of air. Don’t lay sticks in a compact bundle.
- Heat: to avoid wasting heat, build your fire against a back log. It’ll slowly heat to the ignition point and reflect heat in your direction.
Make it as Easy as Possible
Keep an everyday carry bag with you at all times. At the very least, carry what you need in your pockets.
- The easiest way to light a fire is with a lighter. Matches can get wet, or a wind might make them useless. By all means, keep matches, but not just matches.
- A striker (flint and steel) is a good backup, but the lighter is your first line of attack.
- You can use dry grass, bark, leaves, or tiny twigs for kindling, but only if it’s dry. Keep some newspaper or phone-book pages in a plastic baggie in your EDC bag. It’s light, and it makes it much easier to start a fire — keeping some with you at all times is a no-brainer.
- Cotton balls soaked with vaseline or grease make a great starter. If you pack them in your EDC bag, make sure they’re in a leak-proof container.
- Find the driest tinder you can. Look for areas exposed to the sun, like South-facing slopes (or North-facing if you’re South of the equator). They dry out faster. West-facing slopes generally get more heat than East-facing.
- Prepare your kindling and tinder before you light the fire, so it’ll be on hand as needed.
- Build your fire around or near a log. The log will take longer to heat to the ignition point, and you don’t want all the heat just vanishing into the atmosphere — it should go into the log, so build it close.
- Use rock walls or large boulders as a reflector.
- Be aware of the prevailing wind. Build your fire so that the smoke will blow away from you. Set new tinder on the downwind side of the fire — it’ll light easier.
Firebuilding Do’s and Don’ts
- Don’t build a fire in high winds — it might spread.
- Don’t leave the fire unattended.
- Do isolate the fire from flammable materials. You can use a fire ring, or simply clear the ground around the fire.
- Do put the fire out completely before you leave camp.
- Do leave a stack of tinder ready nearby. If you or another traveler comes by later, it’ll make firebuilding that much easier next time.
Disclaimer: Don’t trust me — firebuilding is your responsibility, so you need to learn how to do it yourself. If you get hurt or destroy property, just remember I’m not the one who lit your fire. 😉
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1 thought on “How to Build A Fire”
I sure wish I would have read articles like this when I was about 12 years old. I had to learn to make a fire when I started camping by trial and error, although I am quite proficient at it now, it sure was frustrating learning!