Fire is one of the most important parts of surviving in the woods or in outdoor environments. To name just a few benefits, you have warmth, boiled and clean water, cooked food, or a signal for help.
In this article, we'll have a look at how to start a fire with wood and charcoal and the most popular sources of heat.
How Fire Works
Let’s start from the beginning, so how does fire work?
In simple terms, fire comes from a chemical reaction between oxygen and fuel (for example wood).
Sure, fuel doesn't spontaneously catch on fire just because it’s surrounded by oxygen. You must have the so-called triangle of fire: heat, oxygen, and fuel. If you don’t have one of those three elements, you don’t have a fire.
We need to get heat from a fire source (lighter, matches) and heat the fuel to its ignition temperature for the combustion reaction to happen.
Once the fire is burning, you can add more fuel to make it bigger and suit your needs. Although, check camp regulations to see if there are any restrictions on the fire size.
Gather Your Tools
Okay, so in order to get the fuel to its ignition temperature, you need to have a fire source. You have three options:
Ideally, you would have a long lighter for easier operation. I prefer BIC lighters because they are affordable and long-lasting.
I recommend using longer matches as well in order to keep your fingers away from the fire. There are specifically made matches just for campfires like UCO Stormproof Match Kit with waterproof cases. They 're ideal if you 're camping in the rain, but for dry days ordinary matches work like a charm.
Flint & Steel Set
These are excellent alternatives to lighters and matches. Plus you can use them in any weather condition. Simply, hold the flint and steel next to the tinder pile. Strike the steel against the flint until it ignites.
I use a Ferro Rod fire starter which comes with a key chain and a lanyard in a gift box.
Choose Campfire Fuel
The best fuel for campfires is hardwoods such as oak, maple, ash, birch and most of the fruit trees. They give the most heat and have a longer burn time.
If you want to save space or didn't find any wood before you went camping. You can pop into any gas station and get yourself a bag of charcoal. However, make sure it’s made from 100% hardwood and there are no added substances like coal, oil, limestone or petroleum.
Then, you need some tiny cut tinder so it lights up quicker. One way is to get yourself a hatchet or a knife and cut larger wood pieces into small pieces, buy tinder online or get some from the nearest shop before going camping.
To give some perspective, the tinder pieces should be smaller than your thumb.
Instead of having a lighter and keeping next to the fire for 5 minutes, you can make your life easier and use so-called firestarters.
Again, I advise you to use natural firestarters over chemicals such as tree inner bark, dry grass or tumbleweeds. You can get them on Amazon for a few dollars:
If you 're at camp already or it’s too late to order some firestarters from Amazon. Grab some newspaper or look around the camp for tiny dry wood and bundle them together.
Find the Ground
Most campsites have a designated place for starting a fire. Some of them even come with BBQ grills or fire rings.
If not, you can build one, but make sure there aren't any signs hanging around with “No-fire” and double-check with the camp owner for the best place.
Also, it has to be away from any flammable grasses or trees.
Then grab some stones and build a circle around 2-3 feet in diameter. This allows the stones to control the fire as they form a boundary for the fire.
Build the Fire with Wood
There are three techniques as to how you can build your fire so it goes up in flames.
First, put tinder and firestarters or kindling in the middle and build a bird’s nest. Then put some slightly larger wood on top. Once it catches fire, place larger pieces of wood around it.
The advantage of this technique is that you can get a quite large fire going pretty quickly.
Start with laying down some large logs first and make some gaps for airflow between them. In the middle, place some tinder and firestarters.
Then put smaller logs across and build it up to the desired height.
This technique is great if you want to have a long fire without adding much wood. Place large logs at the bottom with as little space as possible. Then add slightly smaller logs across the first layer and continue adding layers until you have a pyramid.
On top of the pyramid, place some tinder and finish it off by adding tinder and kindling.
Build the Fire with Charcoal
The easiest way to light charcoal is with a chimney starter. You can get one from Amazon or your local camping store for $20.
Whether you 're using a BBQ grill, stones or a fire ring, simply put some paper under the chimney and you 're ready to light it up. When you see flames up top, pour the coals out into the fire pit.
If you don’t have your chimney starter yet, arrange your coals into a mound or pyramid, which will help to increase coal to coal contact and help the fire spread.
Make sure you place some tinder or firestarters on the side of the stack so you can ignite only a few charcoals.
Some charcoal manufacturers make it even easier. You can simply light up the bag and get grilling. No special preparation needed. Kingsford is one of them.
Light the Fire
For the best results, light up your chosen fire structure from several sides to ensure that it burns properly.
Then gently blow on the lit firestarters to help build the fire, but don't get too close as you don ’t want to get your hair or eyebrows burnt.
For wood and charcoal, you may need to wait around 30-45 minutes for the flames to die down and the coals to get hot before you can start cooking food.
Extinguish the Fire
If you want to stop the fire just simply stop adding fuel, but never leave a fire unattended.
Once you stop using the fire, get some water and pour it over the fire. Grab a stick and stir it around until the ashes are cool to the touch.
Don’t flood the fire ring if you will need to use a fire again soon.
Also, you can use nearby sand if you 're at the beach.
Here are 10 tips on how to be safe around a fire:
- Never burn plastic.
- Keep your fire small and contained, keep it around 2ft x 2ft x 2ft.
- Have some water or sand nearby.
- Don’t make the fire too close to the flammable source, especially if you have some wind.
- Never allows kids and pets to stand close or play around a fire.
- Don’t leave your fire unattended.
- Clear the area of dry leaves and sticks.
- Keep your tents, automobiles, campers and other items a considerable distance away from the fire.
- Avoid using gasoline, diesel, and other dangerous liquids to prevent serious accidents.
- Properly extinguish the fire as hot coals are capable of inflicting burns for 24 hours.
Leave no trace
After you have an amazing time camping, make sure you clean up after yourself. I bet you don’t want to go camping next time and find plastic bottles and litter lying around.