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How to Make a Fire: Tips and Tricks

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Tips and tricks on how to make a fire
Use these tips and tricks to learn how to make a fire with survival in mind. [ photo]

Learn how to make a fire the smart way with these tips and tricks.

How to Make a Fire: Getting Started

* Whenever you build any fire, for warmth, overnight, or for cooking, get all the materials together in their proper place, before you strike your match.  Matches are one of your most valuable physical assets in the outdoors.   Haste and poor preparation defeat the purpose of being able to quickly and efficiently start a fire. There is the old outdoor adage of only one match for one fire, if you practice, prepare and predetermine your actions you can accomplish this task, even in severe weather conditions.

* For a midday cooking fire, pick a sheltered location away from overhanging branches and on solid ground, and make a very small fire. For evening cooking and for an overnight fire, plan for a larger one or several small fires around you, this will help provide for greater warmth. Three (3) fires in a triangular arrangement is a recognized air to ground signal of distress.

* For overnight fires, pick your sleeping location first and build your fire in relation to it for maximum warmth. Do not set your sleeping bag too close to the fire, and make sure your fire pit it is a safe distance from overhanging trees, etc. Do not use wet or damp rocks, they can heat up and explode.

* Start any fire with the utmost of patience. Plan it carefully and one match will do.  Get as much out of the wind as you can before striking your match, shield your fire area with your body or make a windshield with your jacket or other gear before lighting your match. Though one-match-one-fire is for the professionals, make sure before you leave home that you have plenty of matches stored in a weatherproof container. In times of need, what works in good times always fail in bad times, so BE PREPARED!

* Lay a foundation of fine tinder, such as shavings from dried twigs, a bird’s nest, or whittle with your knife from a dried branch. Use pre-prepared tinder you have made from dryer lint or wood shavings from home. Whatever you have or decide to use get a good supply of dried tinder into your fire area before your strike that first match.

* Crisscross above the fine tinder bed you have made a few larger dry twigs about the size of a pencil to begin. Have increasingly larger wood at hand. A good method is to lay your tinder beside a short length of stick 3 to six inches in diameter, lean the twigs over the tinder and against the large stick. Now when the tinder catches, the twigs go in a moment, add larger ones and a good blaze is there.

* Always light your fire with the breeze at your back, and on the side nearest you to provide additional ease and shelter. Always light your fire from below the tinder, not on top. Never start your fire under overhanging limbs of trees, or where the smoke will blow into your shelter. Take the time to plan, and your fire will ignite quickly and burn safely.

* Having a firestarting tool, like the Swedish Firesteel 2.0, is a good idea. You can practice with it at home, too. If you're really in pinch, you can make a bow drill, although this is difficult.

How to Make a Fire for Cooking

Look for flat dry rocks to surround the fire, so you have containment and a place for your utensils. A small pit built with rocks laid out in a “V” or a “U” with the open end toward the breeze will allow draft in that open end to help keep the fire going. If winds are strong, reverse the open end of your pit.  Again, the most important consideration is to start with a small fire and progressively add larger material. Do not panic, take your time and concentrate and you can build the fire that you want.

How to Make a Fire in Wet Conditions

In rain or snow, fire making becomes more important, and also more difficult. Here is where having homemade firestarters will be a great help for your tinder base. One method is to make a tripod of sticks over your chosen fire area and drape your jacket over the tripod to shelter the firebase. Carefully light your tinder, add some twigs, and remove your jacket. If the ground is exceedingly wet lay a base of large logs and sticks and start your fire on top of them.

Choosing Firewood

When and where possible, use old dried wood from conifers (evergreens) for starting fires. Dry cones are great for starting a fire. You may not have the time or the energy to go around and select wood, so burn what you can, get warm and safe and then look for more wood. Just remember that pine, cedar, spruce will start a fire quickly but burn swiftly.

Woods such as oak, ash and maple will burn longer but are more difficult to ignite. Aspen, birch and poplar are quite common and they make good fires as they burn hot but fairly fast. You don’t want wet or new wood; look around for downed trees or limbs. Whatever supply of wood you intend to have at hand to burn, gather at least 3 times more than you think you will need, experience shows that you will use it. Wood burns faster than you think.

Tinder for Making a Fire

You can make your own firestarter kit from lint, sawdust, etc. slightly saturated with charcoal lighter, kerosene, and carry it in used 35mm film canisters that have been sealed tightly with duct tape. Always have an “extra” supply of matches stored away for emergencies.

One easy home-made fire starting kit is to take two small zip-lock bags, insert 6 to 8 strike anywhere matches in one along with a small piece of emery paper or sandpaper to strike against in wet conditions. Add in a combination of dried wood shavings, purposely made or picked up on the trail. Seal this bag upside down inside the other bag, for maximum waterproof protection and keep it in your jacket pocket, not as a primary, but as a back up, just in case you ever need it.

There are a variety of fire starting kits available in your local camping/hunting store, pick one of these on your next visit as your emergency back up. Practice whatever methods of fire starting you choose at home in your backyard, so you know how it works.

As a safety suggestion, DO NOT rely on the disposable butane lighters to always function for you in the outdoors, as you can not always rely on them in wind and wet conditions. Also, if they slip out of your pocket and into the fire, you could have a potential explosive projectile. The problem with most lighters is that you cannot determine the fuel supply in them, and some disposable types will not light at higher elevations.


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