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Beginners Guide To Making Campfires
One of the most critical skills for all who
venture into the outdoors is the ability to build a fire quickly. Fire
allows you to cook food, boil water, provide heat and light; it is a
companion that offers self-assurance and it can be your distress signal
if needed. Here are some basic tips that will help you develop better
outdoor fire-starting skills:
Make sure your fire is completely out before
leaving camp. Douse with water, scatter cinders and cover with dirt. You
should feel confident about putting a finger in the fire pit and not
being burned. Check it at least twice by pouring water and checking for
"hisses". Practice good environmental habits, restore the
ground around your camp to the condition you found it, and distribute
the ash residue from your fire don't leave ashes in a pile.
- Preparation: Whenever you build any fire, for warmth, overnight,
or for cooking, get all the materials together in their proper
place, before you strike your match. Stack the firewood by size
about five feet from the fire pit. Splash water on the ground
around, but not in or on, the fire pit. Clear a circle of 2 to 5
feet from around the fire pit of excess pine needles and leaves.
Know where your matches are, they are one of your most valuable
physical assets in the outdoors, and haste and poor preparation
defeat the purpose of being able to efficiently start a fire.
- Location: For a midday cooking fire, pick a sheltered location,
away from overhanging branches and on solid ground, and make a very
small fire. For evening cooking and for overnight, plan for a larger
fire or several small fires around you, this will help provide for
greater warmth. But be careful in how you arrange multiple fires --
three fires in a triangular arrangement are a recognized ground to
air signal of distress.
- Overnight fires: Pick your sleeping location first and then build
your fire in relation to it for maximum warmth. Do not set your
sleeping bag too close to the fire, and make sure your fire pit is a
safe distance from overhanging trees, etc. Do not use wet or damp
rocks to line your fire pit -- they can heat up and explode.
- Patience: Start any fire with the utmost patience. Plan it
carefully and one match will do. Get out of the wind as much as you
can before striking your match. Shield the fire area with your body
or make a windshield with your jacket or other gear before lighting
your match, or you can light a candle in a cup, then use the candle
to light your fire.
- A good foundation: Lay a foundation of fine tinder, such as
shavings from dried twigs or pine needles, or whittle with your
knife from a dried branch. If possible, do not use leaves, they
float into the air very easily. Perhaps the simplest and most
effective approach is to use fire starter such as a solid fuel
- Build up: Above the fine tinder bed, crisscross a few larger dry
twigs about the size of a pencil. Have increasingly larger pieces of
wood at hand. A good method is to lay your tinder beside a short
length of stick 3 to six inches in diameter, lean the larger twigs
over the tinder and against the large stick. Now, when the tinder
catches, the twigs will flame up quickly allowing you to add still
larger pieces of wood and before you know it you'll have a good
- Fire starter: Use a waterproof match, or butane lighter to light
it, and slowly add increasingly larger twigs, branches and pieces of
wood, building the fire up gradually.
Other things you should know…
Create your own fire-starting kit by taking two small plastic resealable
bags, insert 6 to 8 strike-anywhere matches in one bag along with a
small piece of emery paper or sandpaper to strike against in wet
conditions. Include a combination of dried wood shavings, made or picked
up on the trail. Seal this bag then put it upside down inside the other
bag and seal the outer bag. This will provide maximum waterproof
protection. Keep your fire-starting kit in your jacket pocket, just in
case you ever need it. Lastly, always have an "extra" supply
of matches stored away for emergencies.
- Cooking fires: Look for flat dry rocks to surround the fire so you
have containment and a place for your utensils. A small pit built
with dry rocks laid out in a "V" or a "U" with
the open end toward the breeze will allow draft in the open end to
help keep the fire going. If winds are strong, reverse the open end
of your pit.
- Wet conditions: In rain or snow, fire-making becomes more
important, and also more difficult. Try making a tripod of sticks
over your chosen fire area and draping your jacket over the tripod
to shelter the fire base. Carefully light the tinder, add some
twigs, and remove your jacket. If the ground is exceedingly wet, lay
a base of large logs and sticks and start your fire on top of them.
- Types of wood: Whenever possible use old dried wood from conifers
(evergreens) for starting fires. Dry cones are great too. You may
not have the time or the energy to go around and select woods, so
burn what you can, get warm and safe and then look for more wood.
Just remember that pine, cedar, and spruce will start a fire quickly
but will burn swiftly. Woods such as oak, ash and maple will burn
longer but are more difficult to ignite. Aspen, birch and poplar are
quite common and they make good fires as they burn hot but fairly
fast. Whatever you have at hand to burn, gather at least three times
more than you think you will need, experience shows that you will
- Tinder: Solid fuel tablets make excellent fire-starter material in
place of wood tinder. However, you can make your own fire starter
kit, too. Simply saturate lint, sawdust, etc. with charcoal lighter
fluid or kerosene, and carry it in film canisters that have been
sealed with duct tape.
--article courtesy of BeOutdoors.com
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