A campfire is one of the most beloved of outdoor traditions; there is nothing quite like watching flames flicker over dry logs at night or carefully browning a marshmallow over the white heat of cot coals. But fire can also be a necessity of survival. Find yourself in the wilderness and wet, cold, and lost, and you’ll want to know how to make a fire efficiently. Here’s a simple guide to start a simple fire, safely.
If you have a fire ring then the location has already been decided for you. In many campgrounds, the fire ring is the only spot in which fire is allowed. If you find yourself in the backcountry (depending on where you are, you may need a backcountry permit) you’ll want to make a ring: clear a space of flammable material—leaves, small sticks—although don’t entirely discard because you’ll want to use the smaller debris for kindling. Then place rocks around the perimeter of the ring to keep the fire from jumping out from its confinement—out-of-control campfire is a common cause of forest fire.
Gather wood. Choose the driest pieces available. You’ll want kindling—thin strips of wood, leaves, sticks, mosses, etc.—medium-sized pieces of firewood, and, assuming it’s available, larger sized logs. Never cut the braches from live trees. There’s plenty of wood scattered on the ground, and that wood is likely to be drier and easier to gather.
Light the Fire
There are several different methods, ideologies, as to the best way to light a fire; to place the logs in an efficient architecture that allows the fire to spread between fuel sources and provide adequate air circulation for the fire to spread. For the purposes of this article, we’ll talk about the cone building method. Layer kindling at the bottom of the fire ring; the kindling should have the appearance of a cone—fat at the bottom, tapering upward—and then lay tinder and other thin, small, easily burnable strips of wood atop the kindling. Light the kindling at the base of the cone and use short, strong breaths to breathe life into the fire. When the kindling eventually lights the tinder, and the fire begins to grow—the sticks of wood are lit and crackling with fire—you can begin to add bigger and bigger pieces, being careful not to smother the fire already lit.
This winter, stay safe and enjoy the Bitterroot Valley.