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Tips for Building a Fire

The campfire has been around for thousands of years, and for good reason. Building a fire is one of the best ways not only to stay warm at a campsite, but also to give you and your friends a sense of security and peace of mind.

But an idyllic scene of s’mores and stories will be a mere pipe dream if you don’t know the basics of building a sustainable fire. Before going on your next camping trip, take the time to consider which fire-building method you’ll use, and make sure you have the right gear for it in your camping equipment stash.

Campfire

Fire Starters

There’s a wide range of small fire starters that are great for backpacking or simpler car-camping adventures. Stormproof matches are an easy way to get a flame going and are more reliable in extremely cold temperatures or high altitudes than butane lighters. A magnesium fire starter is also a backpacker’s favorite. With this, you can shave off flecks of extremely hot-burning magnesium and use a flint to shower sparks onto the shavings, creating a flame.

There are also complete fire starting kits available that come with tinder, which is guaranteed to burst into flames when sparks hit it.

Preparation Is Key

Whether you’re using matches, a lighter, or sparks and tinder, you’ll need to know how to construct the base for your fire. This means being extremely organized and prepared before you ever attempt to get a flame going. If you plan to take your own tinder, try cotton balls covered in petroleum jelly or even shavings from the inside of your pencil sharpener. To find tinder in the wild, look for dry, fibrous tree bark, pine needles, dead leaves, or dry moss.

Next, collect small, dry twigs and larger bark pieces for kindling to place on top of your tinder once you’ve got a flame. From there, be sure to have plenty of medium-size sticks on hand as well to keep the flame alive once it’s stable.

Construction

There are several tried-and-true construction methods—such as the tepee, log cabin, and lean-to—but at the core of all of them, you create a dense base of coals. Remember, these will burn much longer and hotter than a brightly burning piece of cardboard. For a tepee or lean-to, rest pieces of kindling across your tinder to look like a mountaintop; for a log-cabin-style fire, lay kindling in a crisscrossing pattern over the tinder. Both methods work great as long as they have the three things necessary for fire: wood, oxygen, and a spark.

Patience is absolutely necessary in fire building. If you get too excited and put a log that’s too large or dense onto your base too soon, you run the risk of smothering the fire

Tips and Tricks

If you’ve got a first-aid kit with plenty of alcohol prep pads, as most kits do, you can use these as great fire starters. The alcohol will ignite easily and burn for minutes before it actually gets to the cloth, giving you plenty of time to get your kindling lit. Dipping your matches into some kind of waterproof coating works great to weatherproof them; this can be done easily with wax or even nail polish.

Even methods you may have thought existed only in cartoons are rooted in reality. A magnifying glass will ignite dry tinder if the sun is out, and you can certainly get a fire going with just sticks; however, this takes extensive practice and instruction.

Getting your campfire going is an extremely gratifying experience, so make sure your hiking backpack contains all the necessary items you’ll need to make it as easy and efficient as possible.

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