Fire gave rise to mankind.
Without fire we’d still crawl into caves at night, afraid of what lurks out in the dark.
Fire gives us warmth, light and let’s us cook delicious steaks and grilled potatoes.
Dare I say that without fire we’d all be a depressed bunch of mushroom eaters.
With all our sparkling toys like LED lights, electric stoves and warm water heaters we take heat for granted. But what if it’s not?
Why Build A Fire?
Once you’re somewhere cold and wet you’ll quickly realize that fire is something that has to be earned. Things don’t just start to burn.
To build, start and maintain a fire is a skill any outdoors-man and survivor needs to master before you heed into the wild. It’s the most basic way to bring a little bit of civilization into the woods and comfort and security to your bones.
You’ll want to know how to start a fire because:
Warmth: It’s not fun to freeze your love apples off.
Cooking: Prepare food to make it safe, digestible and tasty.
Water: If you forgot to bring a LifeStraw a fire is the most basic way to purify water.
Light: Save those precious batteries. A campfire illuminates your whole campsite.
Safety: Fire scares off many wild animals and can lead search and rescue teams to your location.
You’ll also be able to see your wife sneaking out of your tent to your neighbors tent.
Comfort: Let’s face it… most fires get built for the cozy effect. The crackling flames dancing in the wind, with a beer and a long haired fellow playing guitar.
Many of our best memories are made with friends and family around a campfire.
So let’s start to get these flames crackin’ eh?
What You Need To Start A Fire
To start your fire you need exactly four things:
Something that already burns, creates hot sparks or can somehow else ignite your tinder.
Examples include lighters, magnesium fire starters, flint and steel or a flame thrower.
Because wood doesn’t ignite as easily as you’d think you’ll need tinder.
Anything that burns easily works well. You can forage dry leaves from the forest or use paper and clothes when starting your own “I am a hobo, I need a fire in a barrel” project.
There is “survival tinder” you can buy online. But hands down the best tinder I can think of are Vaseline soaked cotton balls.
Take two dozen cotton balls, soak them in Vaseline and zip them up in a plastic bag. Each cotton ball will give you a six inch high flame for up to one minute once ignited.
Beats the shit out of dry leaves I tell you.
To burn wet or damp forest wood you need some serious heat. The water has to evaporate first because the wood will catch on fire.
Instead of trying to burn a feet long log you split the wood with your survival knife into many small pieces that catch fire easily. This is called batoning.
Finger length size works well but you can also work with whatever you find like small branches, twigs, dead saplings or dry bush.
Wood or fuel:
Once you got your fire going you’re ready to add wood or any other fuel have.
Make sure to collect enough wood before you start your fire. Once it’s burned out you’ll have to start over from the beginning.
Got everything you need? Good. Next you’ll learn how to build a fire pit.
How To Build A Fire Pit
You can’t just start a fire anywhere.
Where and how you start you fire will make all the difference between getting cozy in a few minutes or working for hours and the damn thing still won’t burn.
1. First, you have to find and prepare the right location for your fire:
Find a place that is sheltered from wind but allows some air flow.
A clearing in between trees is a good place. An exposed hill is a bad place (too much wind will blow your fire out), your tent is a bad place too (not enough air flow to keep your fire going).
Make sure you to check which direction the wind blows so you won’t make a smokestack out of your campsite.
2. Second, you want to build a foundation for your fire:
When it’s very windy you can either dig a small hole (no more than half a feet deep) and start your fire in there or create a wind barrier by laying rocks around your fire.
If the ground is very cold or damp it will be hard to ignite your fire. The ground will literally steal your fires heat. In that case build a foundation out of dry rocks on which you can start the fire.
3. Third, now it’s time to build your wood tepee:
Put a big log in the middle of your fire pit as a backbone.
Then arrange the tinder around the base of the log and nestle your kindling in a mesh like structure over your tinder.
Don’t cover your tinder completely. You want it to be able to “breathe”. Last lean more wood logs and branches on your backbone log in the form of an Indian tepee.
Once you’re done, that’s it. Congratulations! You’re ready to start burning the forest down.
The Best Way To Start Your Fire
Now how do you actually ignite your campfire?
Take your heat source and ignite the tinder. If you’ve done everything right that should be it.
If your tinder burns down without setting the kindling on flame you’ve either not used enough tinder, your kindling is too wet (or big) or your fire is not compact enough.
Add more tinder, place everything closer together and try again until it works.
When you can’t apply your heat source directly to the tinder under your wood pile (like flint and steel or a bow drill) use two piles of tinder. One below your wood tepee and another next to your fire.
Ignite the outside tinder first and then push it next to the other tinder inside your wood tepee.
A Million Ways To Start A Fire
I am sure you’ve been flabbergasted by all the fire making articles around the web lately.
Ten new ways to start a fire, with only ice, a spoon and a wolf pelt! Amazing!
There are about a million ways to start a fire once you understand the underlying chemical principle of exothermic reactions.
Every chemistry undergrad knows how to burn concrete, ignite steel or create a bonfire with nothing but water and an old mobile phone battery.
But why am I telling you this?
The truth is that you’re far better off to learn how to use one or two fire starting methods and become proficient in them.
The best way to start a fire is to use a lighter (get a Zippo if you can) or a knife with a fire rod.
Lighters are great for the short term while fire rods are great for longer trips where you want to start many fires.
I’ve read an article today about starting a fire with brake fluid and chlorine.
Apart from the fact that’d you probably create a mini Auschwitz that way… if you’re in a place with cars (like a garage) or places that stock chlorine (like a hardware store) you could probably find a lighter within two minutes.
Most manual fire making methods are way harder than you’d think. Making a fire with a bow drill or the back of a shiny surface can take hours.
And let’s be real here:
If you’ve lost your lighter, your knife AND your fire starter, how good are the chances you haven’t lost your magnifying glass and got enough sun to get a fire going?
Do yourself a favor and stay with the basics.
Always carry around a lighter (or two), the best survival knife you can afford, Vaseline soaked cotton balls for tinder and a fire starter and you’ll be all set.