The ability to produce and maintain fire at will can be a lifesaver. An easy task when matches, lighter and dry kindling are available fire-lighting can be one of the most frustrating tasks facing the outdoorsman without. The only sure-fire way to be able to start a blaze every time is to practise the techniques listed here.

Fire has many uses, it can be used to provide warmth and comfort, to cook food, as a sterilising agent and to send signals, it can also be dangerous in the extreme, fire can destroy all living things and vast areas of flora.


The Fire Triangle:-

To create fire you need 3 things, Heat, Fuel and Air - the "Fire Triangle". In order to keep a fire burning for any useful length of time you must have these three elements in the correct ratios. The only way to learn these ratios is through experience.

Selecting a site & fire type:-

Before you build your fire certain factors will have to be considered;

Look for a "fireplace" that is dry and protected from wind, it should be close to any shelter or bivvi that you are using but not so close as to present a hazard. Try to arrange the fire so that it projects heat in the direction you require, if this is not possible you may need to build a 'reflector'. Ensure adequate fuel is available in the immediate area. Clear the immediate area around your fire of any vegetation, out to about one meter, this reduces the risk of the fire spreading. If time and materials allow construct a "wall" around your fire using rocks, these can be arranged to reflect the heat in the direction you require, as cooking instruments and as a secondary source of heat. BEWARE damp porous rock can explode when heated. In certain situations it may be necessary to build a covert fire, one that cannot be seen. One of the best examples of this is the
Dakota Fire Hole, it's a complex fire and will require much practise to get right.



In snowy or flooded conditions it may be necessary to raise the fire above ground level, this can be accomplished by using large loosely spaced rocks or green logs.

You require three separate kinds of material to build a fire tinder, kindling and fuel.

Tinder :- Ideally tinder will burn with the addition of just a spark, in practise it can be a little more difficult. Good tinder will always be dry, in rainy conditions it can be almost impossible to find any, so it pays to prepare some in advance if you are planning a backwood journey. If you do find yourself looking for suitable tinder in a downpour there are a few possible sources, look on the underside of dead wood, you may find 'punk', wood decomposed almost to a powder, this makes fair tinder. Another source not to be over looked is your navel, really, ever wonder where that fluff comes from ? Don't....... use it to light your fire !
Assuming damp tinder is all you can find there are several expedient drying methods you can attempt. Use your body heat, place damp tinder in a pocket while on the move, the heat you generate may dry it, alternatively try rubbing it hard against absorbent clothing friction will dry it out. With soft wood tinder or fungi try gently stripping off an outer layer the centre may still be dry.
If you have time to search for or prepare tinder here are some suggestions :- Dead Bracken; Excellent ! Dries easily and is widely available. Bracken is amongst the best tinder for friction firelighting. Birch & Cherry Bark; Burns hot, not the easiest to actually get going but provides a long lasting flame once lit. Clematis; Fluffy seed down provides an instant flame from sparks, the 'bark' can be buffed to produce a superior tinder. Honeysuckle; It's bark is naturally shedding and very thin, collect and dry. Ignites by friction. Various Fungi; Many fungi, particularly those which grow on trees can be dried to produce excellent tinder. Cedar Bark; When peeled and buffed is excellent. Char cloth; Cotton or silk scorched black, is superb and was once in common use.

Kindling :- Is material, which while not as readily ignited as tinder will burn easily with the application of a flame (your ignited tinder), dry twigs from the thickness of matchsticks up to about the diameter of a pencil are useful kindling. Starting with the finest, gradually add thicker twigs as the fire becomes hotter, once the pencil thickness type are burning readily you can start to add your main fuel.

Fuel :- Is less combustible than both tinder and kindling, it requires the steady application of considerable heat to ignite but once burning will do so slowly, releasing a lot of heat and light.

You may need instant warmth, if you clothing has become wet in very cold conditions for instance, in this situation it is essential to get a good fire going quickly. Use the most expedient method available to you as you have no time for refinement. Once your situation has stabilised you can think about better positioning, fire design etc.

Types Of Fire


Lighting Fires.

There are many methods, some easy some not so...
Matches & Cigarette Lighters: Easiest of all, carrying several disposable butane lighters is always a good idea, as they will light even when wet, don't throw away empty ones as the flint invariably last longer than the gas providing a ready source of sparks. The 'Zippo' style petrol lighters are popular as they have a degree of wind proofing and can, with care be made to run on a variety of different expedient fuels. You can never have enough matches, ideally you should have the weatherproof, strike anywhere "Lifeboat Matches" in a waterproof container. Less satisfactory, although better than nothing are standard 'strike anywhere' matches with the head and at least half of the stick sealed in melted candle wax. Carry in a 35mm film container.
Convex 'burning' Lens: Useful on bright, sunny days, a convex lens from spectacles, binoculars, camera, weapon sights etc. can be used to concentrate the suns rays onto dry tinder. Hold the lens over the same spot until the tinder smoulders, then fan by blowing gently.
Magnesium Starter, Metal Match; Place the metal match on your tinder and strike smartly with either the striker provided or a knife blade. Once the sparks start tinder smouldering, fan. The magnesium starter is the same but with the added benefit of easy-lighting hot burning magnesium chips to get things going!
Batteries: If you have batteries you can create sparks by attaching a wire to each terminal and touching the bare ends together close to your tinder.
Ammunition: Remove the bullet head or, with a shotgun cartridge pry open the end and remove the load, add powder to kindling it will ignite with a spark. Alternatively add only half the powder to the tinder, stuff a small piece of cloth cut from clothing into the cartridge, chamber the round and fire at your tinder, the cloth will ignite the mix. Exercise extreme caution with both methods.
Chemicals: Certain chemicals can be used to cause spontaneous combustion. Be very careful about use of these methods.