Anyone can build a fire on a dry day with a box of matches to. However, it is those wet and windy days when we need warmth the most when getting a fire started is more of a challenge. Whether you want to make s’mores with your family or avoid hypothermia, building a fire in any conditions is an essential outdoor skill.
The most important part of making a campfire is choosing a secure spot. Always opt for a designated fire pit (unless there isn’t one available) and position your fire at least 15 feet from your tent or tarp. Avoid shrubs, hanging branches and anything flammable, and also be sure to remove all of the dry grass and leaves from around your chosen spot.
Assess the environment
In dry conditions, dig out a small fire pit and if possible, surround it with rocks. In a wet climate, an elevated fire mound will work better, preventing your fire from flooding. Build one from any non-flammable material such as soil or rocks. A similar platform can also be used to light a fire on snow covered ground.
In case of strong winds or wood scarcity, turn to the Native technique of building a Dakota fire hole. Like a wood-burning stove, it goes through logs more slowly but its construction requires more skill and time.
Gather the wood
When collecting firewood, keep your eyes peeled for three types of material: logs, tinder and kindling.
Dry grass, bird down, dry moss or small pieces of dry bark (preferably from birch, or cedar which ignite even when damp) work best as tinder. Fatwood gathered from the base of dead pine trees or the fluffy plant of cattail are also amazing firestarters.
Remember that tinder ignites easily but burns extremely fast. To keep the fire going, you will need kindling: small pieces of wood that will feed the fire until it is ready for its proper fuel - logs.
Whether you opt for a classic teepee fire or a more obscure shape, the general rule is that small pieces go under the big ones. Stack your material well and allow plenty of room for oxygen flow, as without air even the driest wood will not burn.
Wet weather hacks
If you expect bad weather, the best thing to do is to chuck some firelighters in your backpack. In an emergency, a little bit of cotton, or insulation from your jacket or sleeping bag can work wonders, especially when covered in petroleum jelly.
Search for wood that has been sheltered from the elements, and if everything else fails, hack the wet layers off to expose the dry core. In the absence of other tinder, you can shave any wood into fine shreds with a knife. Once the flames are ablaze, keep wet logs close by to dry them out.
Light the fire
A well-prepared campfire will start without any problems using matches or a lighter. The real trouble begins if you have neither or both are wet. In such cases, a ferro rod fire starter (a flint) can quite literally be a lifesaver. Instead of using the supplied and often flimsy scraper, scrape the rod with the blunt edge of your camping knife until you create a spark.
Alternatively, use the most primitive, ancient methods of lighting a fire: a hand drill or fire plough. Both are reliable as long as you have two pieces of wood, one soft, one hard, and some determination.
Practice makes perfect
While everything seems easy on paper, the truth is that in bad conditions, starting a fire might be quite challenging especially for a novice. Practicing fire building and lighting it with methods alternative to matchsticks is a great way to prepare yourself for an emergency. In addition, it can be a fun camping game to keep both kids and adults entertained.
Give the hand drill method a go and feel the primal joy as a tiny glowing coal turns into a raging fire!