You may know how to pitch a tent and tell time by looking at the sun, but if you don’t how to start a fire camping, you’ll always be a survival noob at the mercy of the elements!
Fire-making is the most important outdoor survival skill you can have.
Before insulated homes, centralized air, gas stoves, and battery powered flashlights, fire made our lives possible!
Cavemen who knew "how to start a fire camping" got laid. Everyone else had their genes unceremoniously weeded out of existence by cave ladies who could smell a chump a mile away.
You and me, we are the decedents of fire-makers! Learning to build one in nature with minimal tools is our birthright.
In this article, I’m going to teach you how to start a fire camping!
You need firewood, kindling, tinder, and a box of matches. (In a future article, I’ll teach you how to make a fire without matches, but for now, get matches! A butane lighter is also acceptable.)
(Stop that snickering! This is serious stuff!)
There are two types of wood: hardwood and softwood.
As far as the art of fire-making goes, hardwood logs are what you need.
Oak, hickory, ash, birch, and dogwood are so dense, they burn extremely hot and for a long time. That’s a good thing!
Softwoods like pine suck because they burn too fast. You can use pine, but you’ll have to constantly throw more into your campfire to keep it from going out.
That doesn’t leave a lot of time for playing kumbaya on acoustic guitar, so make sure you use hardwood logs.
You can buy suitable firewood from any home improvement store, or just order it from Amazon here.
I know you think you can save money by burning the leftover wood from that St. Andrew’s Cross you built over the weekend, but don’t do it!
Construction lumber is treated with chemicals to protect it from mold and termites.
If you burn it, you and your entire family will be inhaling toxic fumes!
Get real firewood, for Crom’s sake.
Big hardwood logs like oak and hickory are so dense, they can be tough to set ablaze. You can’t just drop a match on it and expect it to ignite. That’s what kindling is for!
“Kindling” refers to smaller, easy to ignite sticks that burn long and hot enough to set your logs on fire. You can walk around the forest picking up dry sticks from the ground and use that as your kindling, or you can buy it from your local hardware or sporting goods store.
If you buy it, make sure to get the “fatwood” kind.
Fatwood sticks are infused with resin, which makes it EXTRA easy to set on fire. It also burns longer than natural kindling, pretty much guaranteeing your success.
(Here’s an Amazon link to some good quality fatwood kindling.)
Before it became a dating app to help promiscuous young whipper snappers get their rocks off with minimal social investment, “tinder” referred to any dry, lightweight material that burned even more easily than kindling.
Good quality tinder requires only sparks to catch fire.
Have you ever seen someone start a fire by using flint sparks?
Or by rubbing sticks together to generate heat? Those methods are only possible because tinder is so flammable!
You may not need it if you have fatwood kindling and a butane lighter, but use tinder anyway for the sake of practice, and because its what you’re ancestors did.
Great sources of tinder:
wood shavings, thin strips of cardboard, crumpled up paper, or my personal favorite: lint from the dryer.
As far as tinder goes, dryer lint kicks butt!
Plus, there’s something about watching dryer lint ignite from only a few sparks that’s really satisfying.
I've always been a bit of a pyromaniac though, so it could just be me.
Step 1. Clear some ground.
You want to remove the dead leaves, twigs, and other flammable materials from an area of about 8 to 10 feet.
Once you have an area cleared away to the bare ground, grab a shovel and dig a shallow hole in the center. Make it a few inches deep, and as wide as you want your fire to be.
Use the dirt to build up a rim around that hole. Then line that rim with big rocks (to contain the roaring inferno you’re about to create).
Step 2. In the middle of your shallow hole, lay down a bed of tinder about a foot wide.
Step 3. Grab your kindling sticks! Stand them up against each other on top of your tinder, as if you’re building teepee.
Step 4. Place a few logs on top of your kindling sticks in the same upright, teepee fashion.
Step 5. Light that mother!
The idea is to set off a chain reaction. You use a match, lighter, or some sparks to ignite the tinder first.
The tinder automatically sets the kindling on fire, and the kindling automatically sets the big logs on fire.
And that’s how its done! Now you know how to start a fire camping!
But like Hulk Hogan once said, “With great power comes great responsibility.”
That was the Hulkster, right?
Anyway, here’s a few important safety tips to consider:
1. Make sure to build your campfire at least 15 feet away from any tents, trees, bushes, or anything else flammable. And keep it away from anything you might get in trouble for destroying, like the car.
2. Never leave a fire unattended. The gods of epic camping screw-ups always work their mischief when no ones watching the fire.
3. Don’t build the flames too high. Control your fire! Don’t let the fire control you and make you its biznatch!
4. Keep a fire extinguisher nearby, or a few gallons of water, or at the minimum, a shovel (to smother your fire with dirt). You want to be able to put it out in a hurry if you need to.
You also want to be ready in case any sparks or floating embers start mini fires outside the safety of your rock circle.
5. Pay attention to the wind. Strong gusts of wind can turn your romantic little campfire into a dangerous, roaring inferno in a heartbeat.
If its windy outside, consider waiting until it dies down before igniting that magnificent teepee creation.
6. Put out your fire early! Don’t just extinguish it at the last minute before going to sleep or, even worse, driving away.
Make sure the fire is really out, all the embers and coals have cooled, and there’s no chance of any escaped embers starting mini fires outside of your rock circle.
7. The easiest way to put out a fire is with water. After dousing your fire with water, use a stick to push the wood and coal around so it all gets wet, not just the red hot pieces.
Phew! Who would have thought “How to Start a Fire Camping” would turn into such a weird article?
We talked about “hard wood,” “fat wood,” and “tinder.”
I guess words today just don’t mean the same as they did when I was young, and that can make for some really awkward reading, but thanks for sticking it out.
(That’s what she said.)
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