Written by 3:21 am Survival

How Do You Start a Fire?

a man trying to start a fire using a tree bark and a flint on a rocky ground.

You may have remembered when The Prodigy said “I’m a firestarter”; well, with this article, anyone can be one too! On this page, we’ll be giving you all of the tips you’ll need to start a fire and keep the fire going in any survival situation.

After this article, you’ll need no more advice for starting a fire, as you’ll be a pro. We’ll make you all into expert fire starters, giving you the easiest hints and tips in fire starting so you can ensure you get the fire going. Any pro fire starter will check they’ve got everything they need for kindling fire, so we’ll show you the easiest methods of starting a fire in any weather conditions.

No matter what your purpose, to keep warm, cook food, or just to tell scary stories around the camp fire, this article guide will be the ultimate preparation for your camping trip. Roast marshmallows and keep up your body temperature to your heart’s content, this survival kit will see all sorts of people through any emergency situations where you need to pile on the wood logs to make your fire start.

Choose a Site

a camp fire, dusk with orange skies, burning logs on a campfire.

It may be hard to get into the groove of selecting an outdoors spot to start your fire. Whether you’re in a situation where survival is paramount, or you’re just getting a good fire structure going for your friends while camping, if you start a fire in the wrong place – things can go a hell of a lot worse than you’d have thought, and it can happen very quickly.

In order to avoid getting an accident on your hands from just trying to cook some food, you’ll need to ensure that the place of your fire is perfect.

Before you start a fire, you’ll need to spot some key things in order to make sure you center the fire bed somewhere safe and effective, allowing for the easiest method of getting the groove into your flames.

You need your fire to be at least 6 feet away from plant material, and you need to make sure there’s nothing around that can inadvertently spark material, such as leaves. Bare ground is key when starting your fire.

Once you’ve got an adequate bare ground with little soil or vegetation, the process of securing this surface couldn’t be easier. Something you’ll have to do to finish the job now is build a ring of rocks around your fire to ensure no contact occurs with debris.

Choose Your Materials

pine tree wood cut into pieces ready to be used to start fire.

 

It might be ideal to start your fire with a match or lighter, but realistically you can start a fire without these items.

It’d be advisable, first of all, to carry a lighter, matches, fire starter, and a survival backpack if possible. Here’s the different components of a fire that you’ll need to consider:

Tinder: this consists of small, lightweight materials that can help you start a fire. This could be cardboard, wood shavings, light paper, or even leaves or dry bark. Bring your own homemade tinder where possible.

Kindling: this consists of medium-sized materials, the next layer up, that will light easily when in contact with burning tinder. Look for small twigs, large pieces of bark, or other types of material. Twigs and branches need to be about an eight-and-a-half inches in diameter. Anything with too large a diameter will not light as quickly.

Wood logs: these pieces of wood are crucial for keeping fire burning for long periods. Without use of a decent fuelwood, it’s unlikely that your fire will burn long enough to keep the whole campfire crew warm. Fuelwood can vary in size depending on the pieces that are available to you, but generally fuelwood pieces should be around 1-5 inches in diameter.

It’s also worth noting that you can use different pieces of wood or bark for different purposes. A hardwood piece will take longer to start burning, but this piece will also last a lot longer. This means you can tailor your use of firewood to your camping needs.

Different Types of Campfire

There are a few different types of campfire that you can choose depending on your needs. Each will come with their own pros and cons, and specific uses.

Whether you plan to make a fire through using flint and steel, or you’ve got more adventurous options up your sleeve, here are two key fire setups that will help you.

Log Cabin Fire

If you’re looking for a fire that you can use for a sustained burn in any place, without actually putting in too much effort or using a tricky method or too many items, the log cabin fire is for you.

By stacking thick logs in an easy method, so these logs fall into one another as they burn – but still leaving a place for the air to flow through the coals – you can create a warm fire that burns more slowly than the teepee.

How to create:

  1. Place two parallel logs and stack two more on top in a perpendicular fashion
  2. Continue to stack logs in this method to the desired height
  3. Place kindling at the top in the centre of the firebed, and ignite the coals

Tepee, or Teepee, Fire

The teepee fire is a classic looking campfire. if you’re looking for quick ways to warm up, it couldn’t be easier to get into the groove and make this fire with a few pieces of wood, and maybe a match or two.

This type of fire burns quickly so it’s good as a method of immediate heat, but as far as slower ways of heating go – including those used for cooking – you’ll want to find another method that uses pieces of sticks; fire structures of this type require it.

How to create:

  1. Pile up dry tinder kindling and set alight.
  2. Place sticks around it in a teepee formation.
  3. make sure plenty of airflow can get to each stick, grass, or piece of kindling inside.

How to Light Your Fire Safely

In order to light a fire safely and make sure that no embers fly about into the trees, there are some safety precautions everyone should follow.

When it comes to piling rocks, lighting tinder, or even putting knife to rocks to do the classic flint-and-steel technique, you’ll want to make sure that…

  • Pets and children are safely away from tinder and kindling
  • You light the tinder from several sides
  • You do not squirt lighter fluid or fuel into the tinder – this could burn you very easily.
  • You not use gasoline on the tinder.

These tips will ensure you can start a fire as safely and as easily as possible. If you need to use the old knife-and-rocks, flint-and-steel technique, the same rules will apply for the vast majority – try to light the tinder from several sides and be sure that no pets or children are exposed to the tinder either.

How to Extinguish Your Fire Safely

 

a man pouring water on a campfire using a water bottle.

 

Give yourself plenty of time to put out the tinder and kindling as easy as possible, making sure there are no glowing embers left over – as these embers could easily fly off into trees and cause a large scale fire.

Start by sprinkling water onto the tinder and flames – be careful that you sprinkle, rather than pour. Don’t flood the fire ring either, especially if you’re in a communal camping area. Campers after you may want to use the pit!

Always place your hand on the back of the wet ashes before you leave. If they don’t feel like warmth on your hand, the fire is out and everything is fine. No stray ember here.

Campfire Do’s and Don’ts

Do's:
  • Build a bonfire in favorable conditions only.
  • Burn your tinder bundle or fire fuel in small quantities to lower and monitor the emitted smoke.
  • Keep your eye on the area’s regulations.
  • Keep your fire contained.
  • Remove any dead grass or extra wood that could add too much fuel to the fire – this means the fire won’t grow out of control.
Dont's:
  • Burn toxic materials- this is out of the question
  • Leave your fire unattended – this can be dangerous for everyone on site
  • Light a bonfire in strong winds, near low branches, or near residences
  • Use accelerants to boost the flame – this can make the fire get out of control and spread via a high oxygen supply very quickly
  • Leave glowing embers or a part-extinguished flame before leaving the great outdoors – you need to ensure there’s no emanating heat and all kindling is extinguished

Safety Checklist

Before you go, please check that you read the following points about how to safely start a fire, keep a fire, and extinguish a fire. Fire making, or fire kindling, is no easy task at hand, and it has to be done safely.

From considering the teepee shape, to the fuel source – whether plant material such as pine needles, tree branches, or otherwise – every element of this heat-kindling activity needs to be carried out with the utmost consideration. Here are our key points you’ll want to ensure you follow in all tinder kindling processes.

Are campfires allowed in the area?

Before you go and start your log cabin fire, you’ll want to ensure that you can safely and fairly prepare a fire pit under the area’s regulations. The reason for this is because it can actually be unsafe in some places whilst backpacking to start a fire, so you’ll want to ensure that the task at hand is done in the center of the utmost safety, and that you won’t have a stray spark or ember causing a forest fire. One of our most important recommendations, therefore, to keep protection from damage or trouble, is to check in advance whether a fire is permitted on site.

We would recommend searching for a posted sign, a camp ranger or host to ask, or any other person. Just because a campsite or campground has a fire ring, this doesn’t actually mean that a fire is automatically permitted – so don’t start your fire straight away without checking the regulations.

Is the site prepared adequately?

Another one of our key principles when starting a fire in the greatness of nature is whether the site is properly prepared. This is not just a benefit – it’s a necessity, to ensure that you’re not going to suffer from any chunks of debris catching fire – your enjoyment will soon go from 60 to 0 if this is the case.

This website, according to the best campfire starting reviews and wildfire safety guides, recommends that you:

  • Ensure there’s at least 8-10 feet of bare dirt surrounding the fire ring.
  • Take the time and effort, and determination, to ensure there’s no debris around the fire ring that could catch fire.
  • Ensure there are no overhanging tree branch components or any other basics tucked away in the bushes – as they can catch fire more easily than you’d expect.

Following these tips will leave you plenty of room to start your fire safely and with the best results. This is just good practice to ensure that your fire doesn’t lack the necessary steps required to make it equal parts safe and effective. And whilst this aspect requires a bit of patience, anywhere you camp will require it – a good fire is not down to luck, it’s down to diligence.

What weather conditions can you expect?

You’ll have to take caution when you see the slightest bit of water or rain, or even a cloud. The worst situations you can be in is if your fire is bound to get wet, and won’t spring to life. If there’s even a hint of water outside, there’s no question that you’ll be stuck in the middle of things outdoors with no safe place to build a fire base.

If there’s an approaching storm, the fires can easily be blown out of control, and before you know it you’ve got a blazing forest fire on your hands. To protect the life of all people round the campfire, check that the weather conditions are safe and water-free, as well as having no chance of wind.

If these conditions are apparent, you might as well have stayed home. If you have soggy sticks, fires will not be possible!

Do you have fire safety equipment?

Another way to control the environment of your fires out in the wilderness is to ensure you’ve got the right safety equipment in case your methods lapse into the more dangerous sides of things. All it takes is one stray ember to start a forest blaze – so ensure the control is in your hands, whether you’re using matches or flint and steel.

This is one of the methods that’s absolutely pivotal to wilderness survival and starting a safe fire; no matter the environment, whether in Aspen or Vermont, for example, you have to read this information and make some informed choices. This knowledge will help you make the right choice when it comes to safety in camping – whether you want help cooking or you’re toasting marshmallows.

The key elements of fire safety are:

  • Making sure there’s a shovel nearby – a shovel can help you dig a deep pit for your firebed.
  • Making sure you have a few spare gallons of water in a nearby space.
  • If no water is around, loose dirt may suffice.
  • Being aware that coals can stay dangerously hot even under soil blankets, for hours afterwards.

FAQs

Which campfire is the best type?

While there’s loads of different campfires to look out for which will allow you to fan flames with safety and efficiency, one of the best lighting method types is undoubtedly the teepee.

This campfire structure is easy to create and has a long kindling time, meaning you’re able to supply it with fuel and oxygen for a while to cook your food, keep you warm, or do anything else on the ground that you require.

They also burn steadily, meaning they’ll keep a brilliant constant heat from a large piece of wood.

This campfire structure works by forcing flames from the tinder up into the kindling, which ignites the rest of the campfire. Given that it’s so reliable and easy to start, it’s used as a brilliant starting campfire for many campfire tasks.

Where is the best terrain to start a fire?

In order to start a good fire, including a solid fire bed and tinder pile, you’ll need to fit certain requirements. While you can search for categories of advice all day long, our handy tips, right here, will tell you everything you need to know about kindling a wood fire including where the best place to lay tinder, kindling, kindling materials, and so forth, is.

You’ll first need to ensure you’ve got a good amount of bare dirt to start a fire. This is the most ideal terrain because of the lack of debris, vegetation or obstacles around.

If you’re trying to start a fire in a campsite, make sure to follow the guide lines and use designated areas, as we’ve said before. If you’re starting a campfire in the wilderness generally, ensure your campfire is far away from any flammable debris.

Once you’ve had a search for a good area and don’t need to find an alternative, the next thing is to dig a large dent into the earth with any necessary gear you have. The centre, according to guides, should be the lowest point – this presents results in which you can have the best degree of fire control, and this will act as a container for the ashes afterwards.

Therefore: bare dirt, large dent, center of the dent should be lowest. Then you can start to layer your stones around the outside and gather your kindling!

How do I choose the perfect piece of wood?

One of the most important things when you’re going for a campfire, of any size, is to make sure that the stick or wood logs you opt for are large enough for the flame you want to produce.

You don’t want your firewood to be so large that it quickly makes your fire uncontrollable, but you’ll want logs or a stick from trees that is big enough for safe and efficient use, whichever ways you plan to make your fire.

Here’s how to find the best wood logs for your fires:

Dry is Best

Here’s a key point to think of at all times: the best log is the driest log. According to science, wood is full of tiny little tubes that transport water from the roots, to the trunk, and into the branches. These tubes can take shape and hold water for ages, meaning that they won’t produce a good campfire because their soggy water content will slow your fire down.

Green isn’t ‘Go’

We call logs that are still full of moisture ‘green’. If you have one of these logs on your hands, you can bet your heart that the fuelwood will not burn to the best potential of firewood. On account of this, energy from the campfire would have to focus on reaching the centre of the fuelwood to re-dry it first, and then set it alight. This wastes heat and makes the output less efficient at the best of times.

What’s more, this green wood is actually more of a pollutant – so if you and your family are eco warriors at heart, and love to save the planet, this sort of wood produces more smoke and fumes.

Try Your Luck and See What Will Work

Across the US, there are different species of wood that all reside in different areas. From point to point, your family might find more effective fuelwood in certain placed that will work a little better. You could always buy man-made firewood from brands such as Ekologs, which are actually responsible for more environmentally-friendly flames by reusing a lot of waste material.

Can you really start a fire with a magnifying glass?

If you’re looking to start long-lasting fires, such as a cross fire, you might wonder if you can do that old trick that you’ve seen in the movies, and start a fire around the fire pit with a magnifying glass.

The question is: movie magic, or tried and tested?

Well, do we have the answer for you! You actually can start a cross fire – or any type of fire- with magnifying glasses or even eyeglasses, and it’s easier than you’d think. Provided your campground doesn’t suddenly get wet in a bout of rain or snow, here’s how you can start a campfire using a magnifying glass:

Gather dry fuel and kindling

The tinder bundle is quite important here, as you might want to ensure you have around 3 layers of tinder. Many prefer pine needles, whilst some like thin sticks or wood shavings.

For the middle layer, tree bark works especially well for your fire ring. If you’re absolutely stuck in an emergency situation, materials such as dryer lint, char cloth, or cotton balls will also work okay.

Focus the glass

Once you’ve got your tinder bundle set up with char cloth or dryer lint, focus your glass towards an unobstructed view of the sun. Ensure that the glass is perpendicular to the sun’s rays.

You will also want to move it close and further away to/from the fire until you can find the distance at which the focal point is smallest.

Once you’ve done this, maintain a small focal point of sun rays in a concentrated area. In this way, your twigs or tinder materials will start to smoke in its area – this is a sign that the material is kindling.

After there’s a small amount of smoking, focus the sun’s rays onto the larger size piece of sticks, twigs, or other material. This will enlarge the centre.

Bundle up material

Once you’ve got some small fires going, keep bundling up firewood. This way, you’ll be able to see the firewood glowing – it needs to be steady and constant, feeding oxygen directly to the firewood you use.

Once you’ve gradually fed your fire, piece by piece, there you have it! A nice little fire, without even having to use a match. Whether you use cotton balls, you use bark, or you just use small twigs or a decent stick, it’s easy to start a fire with a magnifying glass if you’re in an emergency situation without matches.

Before you ask, yes you can also create a fire using a pocket knife and some rocks – classic flint and steel!

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