To make a fire you need to find a suitable place, build your campfire, and light it. It’s quite easy, but always check first if you are allowed to make a fire. You may need a campfire permit, and be sure to follow Leave No Trace principles.
I love to barbecue so making a fire is second nature to me. Yet, I’ve learned a few extra things while researching for this article. You will find something valuable whether you are a beginner or an expert.
I’ve gathered everything you need into an easy-to-follow step-by-step guide. From building a fire ring to cleaning up the ashes, we’ve got you covered!
Table of Contents
#1 – Use a Fire Site
Use designated fire rings, grills, or fireplaces to reduce your impact and contain the fire. If there is none, create your own to prevent the fire from spreading
Look for a clear and dry location. Remove any possible combustible, such as leaves or twigs. The heat can also harm the soil, so use a base of sand or gravel. Line the fire ring with large rocks to prevent it from spreading
There should not be anything around the fire at least 6 feet (2 meters). In case of doubt, you can spread water in the surroundings.
#2 – Gather Firewood
Check if you can gather firewood. Some national parks and campgrounds forbid collecting firewood, and even bringing your own. The reason is to avoid introducing troublesome insects into a forest. Yet, they may sell pre-cut logs.
Never cut whole trees or branches, even dead ones. They are home to plenty of wildlife, and alive ones won’t burn. Gather only downed wood. It’s also the best for your fire, as it will be the driest.
Any easy-to-light material. You can buy commercial fire-starters or make your own tinder. The very best is char cloth, which you can make yourself by burning cotton inside a metal case.
Here is a list of other things you can use as tinder:
- Dry grass or leaves.
- Shredded tree bark.
- Drier Lint.
- Pine needles.
- Wood slivers.
You can even use things such as cork or cotton soaked in vaseline or alcohol. Try to avoid newspapers and cardboard. They are great fire starters but may produce toxic gases.
Also, don’t try alcoholic drinks. They won’t burn and will only cool your wood.
Any material that is easy to light with burning tinder, but difficult on its own. Dry bark, twigs and small sticks make for great kindling. You can also cut large pieces of wood into smaller ones.
In general, you can use any small to medium size of wood as kindling.
These are the pieces of wood that will keep your fire alive. They are large brittle logs and large pieces of wood, such as logs and branches. You can add them to your fire once it’s burning.
Use thick logs, but keep them thinner than your wrist. Bigger ones will produce blacked scraps and remnants.
You can differentiate two types of wood
- Softwood: It burns fast and has resins inside. It will crack and pop. Cedar and pine are both softwoods.
- Hardwood: It burns slower but for a long time. Maple and oak are both hardwoods.
#3 – Create Your Campfire
When building your campfire, think of it as having layers. Put the tinder first, then the kindling, and the fuelwood on top. Flames burn upward, so build a pyramid to keep the wood lightened.
Very easy to build and light.
- Make a tinder ball the size of your fist.
- Stack kindling around the tinder. Leave an opening on one side, in a teepee-like shape.
- Repeat with the fuelwood. Stack it around the kindling. Leave an opening on the same side, in a teepee-like shape.
The gap will allow you to light the campfire and the oxygen to get in and feed the flames
Easy to maintain, as the logs will fall as it burns.
- Place your tinder and kindling in a teepee-like form.
- Place two fuelwood logs at the sides.
- Keep stacking fuelwood alternating its angle.
You will create a fence around the kindling.
Also called pyramid. It’s difficult to maintain it, but it will last long.
- Create a bottom layer with your biggest logs.
- Keep stacking smaller ones at 90º
- Once you have built your pyramid, top it with tinder or a teepee-like fire
This will make the lower and bigger fuelwood harder to burn, as the flames go upward.
Best for rain and wind.
- Get a large log or rock.
- Place small sticks leaning toward it.
- Keep stacking more layers.
- Create a small teepee fire underneath it.
The lower layers will dry the upper layers as they burn. It has low airflow, but could get out of hand if the wood is too dry.
#4 – Light your Fire
Once you have your campfire arranged, hold a flame to the tinder. It will quickly catch on fire and spread it to the kindling, and then to the fuelwood.
If it doesn’t start roaring after a couple of minutes, provide oxygen by blowing on the lit tinder. This will grow the flame and even rekindle it.
You probably have this in your home. It’s the easiest and most common way to start a fire. Yet, they have some drawbacks.
Lighters produce a flame almost at your fingertip. This can be dangerous when lighting a fire, as you have to get too close to the tinder. Light first a long piece of tinder, such as paper or wood slivers. Once it’s burning, put it with the rest of the tinder in the campfire.
Also, it can break or get wet, which makes it unreliable in the wild.
Most people still use it to burn campfires and barbecues. It’s a better solution than lighters due to each match being consumable. You can throw them into the tinder without getting your hands close.
It’s the best way to start a fire at your home or at a campsite. But don’t rely on them in the wild, as they are useless if wet.
Fire pistons consist of a vessel and a piston. You put a bit of tinder in the tip of the piston and slam it into the vessel. The sudden pressure will create heat and light the tinder.
It works even if it gets wet, so it’s a great way to make a fire in the wild. Yet, the tinder must be completely dry to light.
You will have to be fast to get it out of the vessel and into the campfire’s tinder. Start blowing immediately to provide oxygen and get the fire going.
Best thing about these method is that you can get a fire even if the fire starters are wet. You will need to buy them, as you won’t find ferrocerium in the wild. Yet, they are the most reliable ones.
Flint and Steel
When you hit the steel with the flint, the rock cuts off tiny pieces of metal. Then, the metal reacts when coming into contact with oxygen and catches fire. The flint must be sharp to make it easier for the sparks to fly.
Do not use the edge of your knife, you will ruin it.
Also known as ferro rods or firesteel. They are made of a metal alloy that generates sparks when scraped with a hard object.
It doesn’t get ruined by water, so you can use it even if it’s raining or wet. You can create a bunch of sparks by hitting it with a striker or knife.
Magnesium is a natural element. It’s used to boost the tinder, even if it’s wet. So it usually comes with a little ferro rod to produce the sparks.
Scrap some magnesium particles into the tinder. A single ferro rod strike can light them and start your fire. The magnesium burns at high temperatures, so it will dry the moisture.
These are the most difficult methods to make fire. The single most important thing is the type of wood you use. Make sure it’s bone dry and use softwood such as cedar, cypress, cottonwood, willow, walnut, juniper or aspen.
You need a board of wood and a stick. Rub the stick at a continuous speed against the board. They will get hot due to the friction and, eventually, you will create an ember.
To make your life easy, dig a groove in the board as a track for the stick. Place the tinder at the end of the groove so you will push the embers to it and start the fire.
You need a board of wood and a long stick. Make sure the stick is straight and has a round shape after cutting its branches.
Dig a notch into the board to fit the tip of the stick. Roll it fast with your hands while pressing down. Eventually, it will create an ember that you can drop into your tinder. Blow on it to catch it on fire.
It is a faster method than the fire plow, but can give you blisters.
If you are going to make a friction-based fire, use this method. It’s the most effective and easiest one. You can later improve it with alternatives such as the pump drill.
Youwill need some materials, most of which you will find in the wild:
- Bow: Any curved piece of wood.
- Bowstring: You can use your shoestrings, a cord from a tent or a piece of nylon.
- Spindle: A straight and thin branch. Use hardwood.
- Hand block: Also called socket. Use a piece of hardwood and dig a notch to fit your spindle.
- Fireboard: A dry piece of softwood with a notch to fit the spindle. Carve a V-Shape to allow the oxygen to feed the embers.
This is an enhanced version of the hand drill. You also will dig a notch in the board and spin a stick in it.
- Twist the bowstring around the spindle
- Fit the tip of the spindle in the board notch
- Use the hand block to hold the spindle in its place, and move the bow back and forth.
- This will spin the stick and create friction in the notch.
- Once you create an ember, drop it into your tinder. Blow to catch it on fire.
You have seen it in movies. Using a magnifying lens to melt or burn things on a sunny day. It’s a funny way to start a fire, especially for kids.
Hold the lens so the sunlight goes through it. It’s important to make the smallest point you canto concentrate the hear. You will rapidly see some smoke. Needless to say, do not point at your hands.
The best thing about this is that you can use lots of unexpected items. Eyeglasses, magnifying lenses, camera lenses, binoculars ice, and even balloons filled with water. You can even try to use the button of a can as a parabolic mirror!
It’s fast on sunny days, but you need direct sunlight. Any little cloud will make it impossible to catch fire, so have an alternative prepared.
#5 – Feed your fire
Once you have a roaring fire, you have to keep it alive. Add a couple of small logs once it begins to burn down. Don’t exceed, as sparks could spread and light your surroundings.
Keep the embers at the center of your fire pit. They will better keep the heat and burn completely.
When the flames have almost died down, you can add some tinder to get them going again. Add some logs to keep it alive.
Never ever burn plastic or foil. They produce toxic gases and won’t fully consume.
#6 – Extinguish Your Fire
Let the fire die down at least 20 minutes in advance. Once it has completely burned out pour water on it. Sprinkle it slowly to prevent steam, which could burn you if the fire ring is still hot.
Stir the embers to pour water over all its faces. You will know that the fire is extinguished once there are no steam and you stop hearing hissing sounds.
Use dirt or sand as a last resource if you don’t have water available. It doesn’t immediately cool the site down and the wind may uncover it. Yet, it’s better than nothing.
Check with your hand that the fire site is cool. If it’s too hot to touch, it’s too hot to leave.
#7 – Clean Up the Ashes
Collect any remains and sweep the ashes into a trash bag. Be careful if you are going to spread the ashes, as some might still be lit. Never clean up your fire site until it’s completely extinguished.
Remember to remove any structures or fire rings you have built.
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