Fire building is one of those skills that you can only really learn by getting your hands dirty (and maybe a little burned). Fire building is also a skill that can always be improved with a little more practice. The skills required to make fire demand patience, awareness of your materials and surroundings, and, above all, attention to detail.
So whether you already light camp fires like a pro, or not, pay attention to these 10 details next time you go to work building a fire. You might just surprise yourself.
1) Arrange the fuel in a teepee shape. Lots of firemaking attempts are doomed from the start because the fire lay shape is too flat. Build a one-foot-tall cone of small twigs, and don’t bother from low-slung kindling configurations.
2) Light the fire from the windward side. This lets the flames travel through your kindling, engulfing it faster and better.
3) Light the fire low. Fire climbs as heat rises, so make sure you have your match or lighter touching the material at the base of the fire lay. Don’t waste your time trying to light it at the top as if it were a candle.
4) Use a ton of tinder. Tinder is the dry, dead, fluffy plant stuff that lights on fire easily. The center of your fire lay should be loaded with tinder.
5) Keep a backup handy. A backup wad of tinder can save a failing fire, or be saved for future use.
6) Use a fire helper in cold or wet weather. Fire starter cubes, fire packets, fire paste, or some drier lint from home could be a lifesaver when the weather turns wet or cold (or both).
7) Cut out the middleman. Use your match or lighter to directly light the tinder in the fire lay. I don’t know why this happens, but I often catch beginners trying to light a stick with their match, and then use the stick to light the fire lay. I can’t imagine where this common and odd behavior comes from, but it is totally counterproductive.
8) Block the wind. Just as you can easily blow out a candle, tiny flames are very susceptible to the wind. Use your body to shield the fire lay as you light it. Just kneel near the fire lay with your back to the wind and the problem is solved.
9) Stick with the sticky stuff. Pines, firs, spruce and most other needle-bearing trees have sap in their wood. This is pitch, which is usually very flammable. Select dead twigs from these trees to get your fire going quickly even in damp weather.
10) Split wood burns better that whole sticks. Cutting or splitting your hardwood kindling in half lengthwise will expose the drier inner wood. The lower mass of these “half” sticks will cause them to light faster than it they’re left whole.
Got any tricks for fire building that you swear by? Take a second to tell us about your best or worst campfires in the comments.