Choose a Site
In a situation where survival is paramount, you may not always be able to assess how safe it is in your area.
However, if you start a fire in the wrong place, you could find yourself in a lot of trouble.
There a few key things to look out for prior to starting a fire. Make sure your chosen site isn’t near any trees, plants, or bushes, to avoid setting them alight. Ideally, your chosen spot should be at least 6 feet away from any plant material.
A fire should be started on bare ground, rather than on grass or a grassy patch. If this isn’t possible, then you can improvise by raking away any vegetation, and digging up to create a bare site.
You should ensure that any dry plant material is out of the way before you get to work, as materials such as bark and branches can easily catch fire.
In order to contain your fire once it is lit, it is advised to build a stone fire ring. This will also help you to mark out where you’re going to start the fire.
Using rocks and stones that you can find, it should measure around 3-4 feet in diameter to give you enough room to start a decent-sized fire.
There are several key materials you will need to get the fire started.
Several of the techniques we will highlight in this guide will require matches or a lighter, but there are plenty of ways to start a fire without these items.
Now, let’s take a look at the main components of a good fire:
Tinder consists of the small, lightweight materials to help you start a fire. There are many different forms of tinder that you could easily find, such as strips of cardboard, wood shavings, wax, or wadded paper.
You could even use dry bark or dry leaves if you haven’t taken any tinder in your survival backpack.
It’s advisable that you bring your own homemade tinder if possible, as wet environments won’t provide useable tinder, and you’ll struggle to start a fire.
Kindling is the next layer of your fire building process. These are medium-sized materials that light easily once in contact with burning tinder.
Look at using items such as small twigs and sticks, or large pieces of bark as suitable kindling. Twigs and small branches should ideally be around 1/8 inch and ½ inch in diameter. Anything too big will not light as quickly from tinder.
These items should be fully dry, or else they won’t light properly, if at all.
Wood Logs are crucial to keeping the fire burning for long periods, and are essentially the heart of the fire. Without decent fuelwood, it’s unlikely that your fire will burn brightly enough or for a long enough time to keep you sufficiently warm.
Fuelwood can vary in size depending on what’s available to you, but each piece should be around 1 inch to 5 inches in diameter. They don’t need to be huge – just substantial enough to keep the fire going. Anything too big will take a while to catch fire, and you’ll be left shivering for longer than you need to be.
All the wood you use should be dry, and you can use various sized logs to help increase the flames once the fire is burning. If you have a survival axe or a sharp knife on hand, then you can use these to help you chop wood if your logs are too large.
It is also worth noting that different kinds of wood burn at different rates. For example, hardwood, such as maple or oak, takes longer to start burning but will also last longer. Softwood, such as cedarwood, burns at a quicker rate and will make crackling sounds, so bear this in mind if you have a variety of wood at your disposal.
Now that you have your wood, you can start arranging it to create your structure. There are many different fire structures you can build. The materials available to you and the environment you’re in will determine which structure is most suitable for you.
The Teepee Fire
This fire-starting method is one of the most common ways to start a fire in the outdoors.
It is particularly useful for cooking food because of its shape.
- First, wad your tinder ball so it’s about 4 inches in diameter, and place it in the middle of the fire pit you’ve decided on.
- Then, place the kindling into a cone around the tinder ball, forming a teepee shape. If you are planning on using a match or lighter to start your fire, then leave a gap in the kindling shape so you can get to the bottom of the tinder to light it up.
- Place a larger teepee around the kindling using the wood logs.
- Position a lit match under the tinder, which will direct the flame upwards. The flame will then rise through to the kindling and light the fuelwood logs.
- This structure will fall in time, but you can add more fuelwood once this starts to happen.
Log Cabin Fire
A log cabin fire is a long-lasting fire structure, making it an excellent choice for long, cold nights in the wilderness.
- To start, create a small teepee using tinder and kindling in the center of your fire pit.
- Then, stack large pieces of fuelwood on opposite sides of the teepee.
- Next, find smaller pieces of wood and lay them over the larger fuelwood, in parallel to the opposite sides of the teepee.
- Keep repeating this pattern with smaller pieces of wood to create a ‘cabin’ or pyramid shape, in as large a size as you’d like.
- Then, light the kindling using your chosen fire-starting tool, and you’re good to go!
A lean-to fire is one of the best options for cooking food, and is one of the easiest and most effective fires to build for a variety of conditions.
It works well in the wind, due to a large piece of wood being used at the base of the fire, which acts as a windshield.
- Use a large fuel log and place it on the ground on the up-wind side, so it acts as a windshield. This log is essentially the backbone of your fire.
- Then, place a tinder bundle up against the log.
- Position small pieces of kindling around the tinder bundle.
- For a longer-lasting fire, layer this with larger pieces of kindling.
- Light the tinder, and admire your hard work as you warm up or prepare your food.
Flint and Steel
A primitive and reliable method used by survivalists and bushcraft enthusiasts, using flint and steel to start a fire is a straightforward process with the right materials.
Carrying a high-quality flint and steel set with you is a good way to ensure you’re always prepared to start a fire when the time comes. If matches get wet, you’re stuck, while flint and steel won’t let you down.
Flint and steel works by striking the flint against the steel, which scrapes pieces of the metal away. These pieces then blaze with white light and a hot temperature as they make contact with the oxygen in the air. This heat creates a spark to light your tinder and start a fire.
The ability to use flint and steel is a vital skill for keen survivalists, as it allows you to live primitively and survive without conventional everyday items such as matches and lighters.
More Matchless Methods
There are other ways to start a fire, should you find yourself without a lighter, matches or a flint and steel set on hand.
There are other ways to start a fire, should you find yourself without matches or a flint and steel set on hand.
You can use lenses to start a fire, which isn’t as difficult as it may sound.
This is done by using a lens to aim sunlight onto a specific spot. Most accessible lenses will be sufficient for this, including eyeglasses, a magnifying glass, or lenses from binoculars.
Point the lens in an angle so it’s facing towards the sun, which focuses the beam into a compact area. Then, place your tinder bundle under this focused area, and, with a little bit of patience, a fire will start before your eyes.
However, the obvious downside to this method is that it does require sunlight, so don’t rely on this being your only method of fire starting, otherwise you’ll be stuck once night falls.
Another way to start a fire without matches is by using the force of friction. This can be quite a difficult, more exhausting process than using a match or a lens-based method, but it will pay off if you’re in a desperate situation.
You’ll need to use a spindle to create friction. The spindle is essentially a stick that you’ll spin to create friction between it and the fireboard. A fireboard can be made from cottonwood, juniper, aspen, or willow. Friction simply requires your hands, spindle, and a lot of determination!
A primal way of using friction to start a fire is through the Hand Drill method. Here’s how it’s done:
- Create a tinder bundle using suitable materials
- Form a V-shaped notch into the fireboard, and make a small groove next to it
- Position bark under the notch, which is used to catch an ember from the friction
- Place your spindle into the groove on the fire board
- Keep pressure on the board and roll the spindle between your hands, moving your hands quickly in downward motions over the spindle
- Continue this until an ember forms on the fire board
- Once you have the ember, tap the fire board to place the ember onto the bark.
- Move the bark to the tinder bundle, and blow on it to start a flame
When you’re finished with your fire, there is still a process that you need to follow in order to put it out safely.
It can take some time for a fire to extinguish fully. If possible, start planning when you’re going to go to bed or leave the area. Start putting the fire out around 20 minutes before this time.
As a safety measure, you should keep a bucket of water by your fire in case of an emergency. When it’s time to extinguish, this will also be your resource for putting the fire out.
While it’s tempting to pour all of the water at once over the fire, this will flood the fire pit, and it will then be unusable for your next fire. The best method is to instead sprinkle the water, only using as much as you need to put out the embers and charcoal.
Stir the embers as you sprinkle the water over them, by using a stick or another similar item. By ensuring all of the ashes are wet, this will give you peace of mind that the fire will be fully extinguished. Once there’s no steam or hissing sounds, the fire is close to being completely out.
To make sure the fire is out, carefully place the back of your hand by the ashes. Make sure not to touch them or run your hands through them. If you can still feel heat emitting from the ashes, then it’s too hot to safely leave. Be sure to add more water and stir, not going until it feels cool.
With consideration for other campers and the environment, make sure to leave the area as you found it. This means disposing of the ashes. Simply scoop them into a bag and spread them out over the area around your shelter or tent.
Now that you’ve learned how to start a fire, surviving in the wilderness won’t seem as daunting. Fire starting is a crucial skill, and while you may have a fire starter in your survival kit already, knowing how to start a fire without matches could come in handy when disaster strikes.
Fires have many uses, and, with the help of our guide, we hope you can go out and make one for yourself. Whether you need to prepare food, signal for help, or simply stay warm, learning how to start a fire will be a lifelong skill that can help you in a variety of environments.
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Good Luck and Happy Survival Prepping!
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