Building a Fire in the Back Country

adventure, camping, explore, fire, hiking, safety, travel -

Building a Fire in the Back Country

Building a Fire in the Back Country 

      It’s sunset in the middle of winter and you’ve found a spot to sleep for the night in a spot far removed from human civilization. You’re going to need a source of warmth. Now, you could bring tens of pounds of gear to warm you up, but that would slow you down too much. So what do you do?  Fire. Fire is and has been the lifeline of many a person in a cold situation. Fire can be used to cook,  light, or warm. It’s very important to know how to start a fire safely and effectively to maximize the amount of time your fire is up and minimize the danger to yourself and the area around you. There are many styles of fires and many ways to set them up.  Each one of these styles and ways requires gear and safety procedures.  Let’s delve into the gear first. 


      For your bog-standard fire, you’re going to need wood (obviously),  kindling, or smaller pieces of wood, and some tinder (fine, flammable material). Rocks to make a rock ring, unless you are in an emergency situation, are a must. Oxygen is what keeps a fire alive, so your fire must have a source of air. You will also need an ignition source.  An ignition source can range anywhere from a lighter to a  magnifying glass.

      The list of ignition sources I have used (which is by no means definitive) is as follows: 

● Magnifying glass. This only works during the day and with a large magnifying glass and is simple as aiming the magnifying glass so the sun’s light passes through it and focuses on a spot of tinder                                                             ● Flint and steel. This requires the scraping of flint on steel and is actually quite quick. It is recommended to always bring this on a  trip in case you find yourself in a situation with no lighter.                                                                                  ● 8-Volt battery and steel wool. This causes a mild reaction, which produces heat. I wouldn’t recommend this, as it took a full twenty minutes for even paper to ignite.                                                                                                                ● Lighter. This is the most obvious and should be easy to use. 
● Match. This sounds like it should be easy to use, but it is surprising how fireproof some matches are when you actually need one.                                      ● Rope on a stick (friction fire). This was really hard to pull off, but it’s doable. This method requires a dry stick, a dry rope, and a board to drill the stick into to prevent the stick from slipping.                                                                             ● Chemicals + another ignition source. Most household aerosols  (spray-on sunscreen, bug spray, etc.) will light up very quickly when exposed to heat. This method is not recommended to start your fire as there is the ever-so-slight possibility that you spray onto your ignition source, and the trail of fire ignites its way into your can or bottle, blowing it up. 
To recap, to start a fire you need:                                                                         ● Large wood (small logs)                                                                                     ● Kindling (smaller wood)                                                                                       ● Tinder (Paper, lint, etc.)                                                                                     ● Ignition source                                                                                                   ● Rocks for a rock ring                                                                                         ● Air   

Another very important item to remember is safety procedures. 

      Safety Procedures 

      Sometimes, when you feel like your blood is turning to ice, you don’t care about safety. However, you should. Wildfires from campfires do happen, and following procedure keeps the area near you safe.  Fire safety procedures are quite simple. 

      First of all, never leave a fire alone. Have a fire marshal assigned to the fire at all times with a bucket of water in case the fire breaches containment.                 Secondly, make sure to put your fire in designated fire pits. These are designed to keep fires from spreading too far. If there aren’t any to use, make your own by creating a medium size circle of rocks.                                                   One procedure that is extremely important is keeping a ten-foot circle around the fire clear of plant life, tents, and chemical fuel. This prevents errant tongues of fire from triggering huge, all-consuming flames. 
     Never burn green wood or wood taken from still-alive trees. Wood that is still alive will have water and won’t burn.  When you are done with the fire, pour water over it and watch until the last hot coal goes out and the ash turns watery.                                                                                                                          If the fire ever breaks out, immediately shout to inform people in the area and call emergency services.  And that’s it. There really aren’t that many safety guidelines to follow.

       There are also a few different styles of fires to be made. We’ll go over those next. 

Styles of Fires (and types of wood used) 

       The main difference between fire styles are the way they are set up.

There are three basic types: 

1) Tepee. This is set up with your tinder in the center and kindling surrounding the tinder. Then, you must create essentially a cone (with air holes) of wood surrounding the tinder and kindling.        

2) Log cabin. A log cabin fire is set up in the same way as the toys many of us played within our youth were.  Two logs spaced evenly apart, then another two smaller logs on top of them, at a 90-degree tilt,  until you eventually have a square firebase with tinder and kindling in the middle.     

3) Pyramid fire. A pyramid fire is similar to a log cabin fire; however,  instead of building upwards, you build upwards and inwards. This means you have a result at the end that looks like one of the  Egyptian monuments, except made of wood and with air holes.   

      For each of these, you will need tinder, kindling, and wood. Tinder must be fine and very flammable. Examples of tinder include paper, lint, and dry grass. Kindling is made of slightly larger things; basically, just twigs and small sticks. Wood is the largest ranging category. It ranges from  large sticks to logs the sizes of small houses and it has many, many different types. You’ll want to use the large sticks first; larger and larger pieces of wood become progressively harder to burn. Later, as the fire gets bigger, you can put on larger wood.  In my personal experience, the type of wood has never really mattered. Just make sure you’re not using decomposing or green wood, and you should be okay. 

      Finally, we will be moving into the steps of actually making your fire burn. With the knowledge you have gained from this post, it should be quite trivial. 

Fire Creation 

1) Gather wood, kindling and some tinder from the nearby area. You should always have some amount of tinder with you. 

2) Set up your fire as described in the previous section. 

3) Ignite the tinder. 

4) If the fire seems to be dying, blow on it. It sounds counterproductive, but this gives more air to the fire, which allows it to burn hotter and thus spread to the rest of your setup.   

And that’s all. Thank you for reading this post and if you have any questions, just drop them in the comments section.