Just as you wouldn't wait until your car is out of gas before looking for a gas station, you shouldn't wait until you need a fire before preparing yourself to start one. The "Iceman", a 5300 year old mummified Neolithic man found in 1991, had in his pouch a black felt-like substance that was deduced to be tinder fungi, along with several small sharpened flint stones, a small drill-like piece of flint, a slender bone-tool, and more. There's a lot to be learned from history. Obviously the Iceman knew what he'd need, and prepared himself in advance by having essential fire-making tools with him.
Not only should you carry fire-making supplies with you, but you should know how to find and fashion new ones if necessary, and be comfortable using them. Whether you're using an open flame or a firesteel rod to create sparks to light a fire, the initial spark, coal or flame is only one aspect of a successful fire. Knowing how to finesse that spark or flame into a successful fire by providing it with what it needs is crucial to getting a fire going quickly.
There are a variety of reasons why it's important to know how to start a fire. Fire is necessary for boiling water for off grid water disinfection, for cooking, drying wet clothes, sterilizing medical instruments, and repelling bugs, to name a few. Maybe the most important reason is to keep your core body temperature at a safe level when the weather is cool or damp. “Our bodies protect us from extreme cold by sending blood to our core to keep our organs warm. But when cold exposure persists, our whole body cools to dangerous levels. When your core body temperature drops below 95 degrees, you have hypothermia,” - Dr. Paul Casey, MD. If you become hypothermic(low body core temperature), you are in deep trouble.
What Does A Fire Need To Ignite?
A fire needs 3 things to ignite -
1. A Heat Source - Heat ignites the fire, and is also necessary to maintain the fire. Heat allows fire to spread by drying and preheating nearby fuel and the surrounding air.
2. Fuel - Fuel is any kind of combustible material. It's size, shape, quantity, availability, and moisture content determines how easily the fuel will burn.
3. Oxygen - Air contains roughly 21 percent oxygen. Most fires require at least 16 percent oxygen content to burn. Enough air keeps a fire alive. This is why you were told as a kid if you ever see smoke coming from underneath a door not to open it. Opening the door would provide the fire on the other side with a fresh supply of oxygen, which would allow it to easily spread.
Constructing A Fire
When it's said that someone "builds" a fire, that's no exaggeration. The way in which you add fuel to a fire affects the end result. Generally, each size wood is added gradually in succession from smallest to largest as the embers build underneath. If you add the large stuff too soon, you risk smothering out the fire before it's had a chance to build up an adequate amount of embers and heat to ignite it. Always keep all fire starting materials off the ground(so they don't absorb moisture) and as dry as possible.
Initially, use a generous amount of the fine, readily igniting stuff, or "tinder". Once you have a coal lit and get a flame burning, you can add slightly larger, yet still very small fuel such as twigs called "kindling". Once that's burning, add the slightly bigger stuff, and so on. Once you've established a nice hot bed of embers, it's time to add a log or two. If you haven't allowed ample time for the bed of embers to build up, it's not likely that any large wood will catch fire and stay burning.
The Order In Which To Add Combustible Materials When Building A Fire:
Step 1. Tinder - Light the tiny, dead, dry or fluffy stuff
Step 2. Kindling - Add small sticks and twigs
Step 3. Add larger sticks once the kindling is lit
Step 4. Once you have a bed of hot embers, add large branches and logs
Firewood For Fireplace or Wood Stove
This is a bit off topic, but I wanted to add this tip since it's important. If you plan to burn wood in a fireplace or wood stove, use dry wood. If you've cut green wood, make sure to give it about 12 months of drying time before you burn it. 20% moisture content is ideal. Drier wood burns hotter and more efficiently, and it gives off less pitch and soot. Always cut your wood to the right length, split it before you stack it, and store firewood off the ground.
Clever Fire Starting Methods
There are many ways to create a flame, from chemical reactions, to focusing the sun's light through a lens. If you have access to those materials, this is invaluable knowledge to have. You can visit the following links to learn some clever fire-starting methods:
If you're interested in using only what you can find in nature to start a fire, we've got you covered! Learn about making friction fires, firesteel rods, natural tinders, and more - use the menu below.
Credit For Content:
New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology
Land of the Sky Wilderness School
Rush University Medical Center
University of Alaska - Fairbanks
University of Wisconsin-La Crosse
North Carolina State University
University of Kentucky - College of Agriculture Cooperative Extension Service