After a long day on the trail, or a short day in foul weather, there is nothing quite so comforting as a fire. And just think what it does for us in a survival situation out on the land. Fire will dry you, keep you warm, cook your food. And it’s the best help signal: smoke can be seen in daylight and flames in darkness of night.
When heading into the backcountry, being prepared to make a fire will be a huge asset if you ever find yourself in a survival situation with hypothermia creeping in and manual dexterity slowing down.
In a crisis, your fire needs to start immediately and you can make that happen if you are prepared.
Here are some tips:
- When in the backcountry, always carry wooden, strike anywhere matches in a waterproof container and a Bic lighter in your pocket. A second set should be in your pack, but remember that in a survival situation, you may not have your pack.
- Tinder can usually be found easily but it might be dark or raining, so carry something with you for tinder. Drier lint in a zip-loc bag, duct-tape (you can wrap some around the Bic-lighter,) sap-wood, solid fuel pellets, Vaseline soaked cotton balls or commercially available fire paste all work well. Even oil based powdered coffee creamer can ignite.
- Spread the tinder product with the kindling and small fuel pieces in a small wind-proof area and light with the matches or Bic lighter. Protect the start-up flames and add larger fuel, then the big-stuff.
- A common error when lighting a fire is starting off with pieces that are too large to ignite. Use pinecones and small, dry branches for kindling and keep some on stand-by to get the fire going again later. Increase the size of the fuel pieces as the fire gets larger. If you have no saw or axe, lay longer pieces with their mid-point across the fire and they will burn through giving you 2 pieces to add to the fire. Even wet wood will burn if you can get the fire hot enough.
- Wind-proofing your location will help keep the fire going. You can pile rocks higher on one side, or build the fire against a large rock so the heat will be reflected towards you, as well. Don’t use river or lake rocks because the water inside may cause them to explode when heated.
- A fire built to keep you warm during the night must have an adequate wood supply for the whole night. Gather it while it is still light as it is tough to gather in the dark and time spent gathering is time away from the heat of the fire.
Starting the fire is still the biggest problem for the inexperienced outdoors person. After a few tries, we all learn what works well. Whether it’s a campfire, cooking fire, or a life-saving survival fire, learning dependable fire starting techniques gets you there faster.