How to Build a Fire 🔥

Today, we’re going back to basics. Because, let’s face it: A big barrier to entry to the outdoors is people feeling unable to perform certain tasks that others deem “easy”, “intuitive” or “no big deal”. In order to make adventuring outdoors more accessible to more people, it is important to provide everyone with the information they need and want to make themselves feel comfortable (and have fun!) in the environment.

Written by

Bronwyn Laurence

Published on

November 8, 2021

Today, we’re going back to basics. Because, let’s face it: A big barrier to entry to the outdoors is people feeling unable to perform certain tasks that others deem “easy”, “intuitive” or “no big deal”. In order to make adventuring outdoors more accessible to more people, it is important to provide everyone with the information they need and want to make themselves feel comfortable (and have fun!) in the environment. So here we go, diving into a huge, ancient skill that is necessary for the classic camping experience: making a fire.

Creating fire is a skill that goes back so far in time that year labels seem to become obsolete. It is a task that has differentiated man from animal with the use of opposable thumbs and metacognition, and has catapulted the human race ahead of all other species through the endless applications and implications. But in this new era of convenience over experience most people don’t have a clue what makes a good fire. It is time to get back to our roots!

So firstly, it may seem obvious but needs to be said: Find out if the campsite you’re visiting allows fires. It is up to the discretion of the campground but also could be dictated by State Law if, for example, it has been a particularly dry summer and chance of wildfires is high.

Alright, let’s talk wood. It is easiest to buy precut wood in bundles from almost any convenience store or grocer. Some campsites do not allow wood collection, so in truth buying wood may be your only option. But also, this will save you time since you won’t have to forage for and cut wood, which can be difficult in a variety of terrain and strenuous on the body during what you probably wanted to be a relaxing vacation. It will also be dry, which is not always the case for wood in the forest as weather and even just dew will make foraged wood almost impossible to burn (and will instead smoke, which is just 0% fun).

It is also worth noting that cutting branches off of trees is not only unethical (it is like chopping off a finger) but also will not burn well because of the water content that stays in the branch for days after it is severed. So if you aren’t finding a plethora of dead, dry branches on the ground near you then it’s time to buy some wood.

OK! Now that we have our pile of wood, now what? Well, hopefully your campsite has a firepit. This usually looks like a large metal circle in the ground, or a circle of large stones. FYI, if there is not one, fires may not be allowed in your area and you should check with the campground. But if they are, you can build your own fire circle by finding a few larger stones and placing them in a circle to contain the fire you create. Make sure this is built on dry ground, at least 6 feet away from any foliage, and that anything that easily burns like leaves is cleared from the area. We don’t want that fire to have a chance in h*ll of spreading! Fire-pit, acquired.

The next item on your list is tinder. Tinder, beyond the popular dating app that got me through junior year of college, is essentially small sticks, twigs or anything else that quickly lights on fire when in contact with a flame such as newspaper or paper towels. I personally like to grab a few newspapers as I buy my bundle of wood as well as gather some small twigs or bark from around the campsite.

The third ingredient to a fire is the kindling. These are slightly larger sticks than tinder; the size that is difficult to ignite if you just hold your lighter to it. It’s basically thinner, smaller pieces of wood that will be able to light faster than logs. Think of it as a progression of flammability — we’re going from lighter to tinder, to kindling to logs. It would be almost impossible to go from lighter to logs, but these middlemen have you covered. If you have a hatchet and your bundle of wood, you can also (carefully!) chop the wood so little strips come off the sides of the logs.

Now that we have all the goods, it's construction time. You may think that piling it all on top of one another will allow that natural fire progression to happen, and you wouldn’t be entirely wrong. However, it’s important to remember from 4th grade science that fire needs 3 things to be created: Heat (lighter, check), fuel (wood, kindling and tinder, check) and oxygen. And yes, though oxygen is in the air around us, fire tends to need a lot of it. So you need to make sure the fire has proper aeration so all the wood can have access to the O2. Enter, the classic fire pyramid — one of the ideal structures for maximizing our surface area to volume ratio, allowing all 3 of our fire elements to thrive!

Essentially, we want the tinder at the bottom and easy to access with the lighter so the fire can catch on from there. Then the kindling on top of that, and the wood on the outside of the pyramid. And though I am saying “pyramid”, this can come in a myriad of designs like the “log cabin” stacked look, so long as your wood has enough air to burn.

To light the fire, you want to light the tinder. You can bring your lighter into the fire ring and light corners of the exposed tinder, or light a piece in your hand and put it at the base of the fire. Oftentimes, you will need to blow on the tinder to get it to spread, especially if it looks like the flame is dying out. That wood needs a LOT of oxygen, especially as the flame is still so small.

With patience (and try enough materials) this should work! If for some reason it does not, then you may want to poke the fire to slightly reorganize and aerate the stack. You may also need to reorganize the materials, again ensuring there is enough airflow in your wood stacking to let the fire spread.

Now we can’t neglect how to put out a fire, as it is dangerous and negligent to leave flames alive while you are gone! You’ll want to begin to put a fire out 20 minutes before you want it all done. To put the fire out, gradually pour water on the fire if you have extra. You don’t want to do this all at once, as it will make the fire site unusable in the near future, create a lot of smoke and catapult ash into the air (bad for your lungs, worse for your clean clothes, worst for the party). Second, (or first if you don’t want to sacrifice your liquid gold), grab a stick and spread out all of the wood that is still burning. Stir it around, ensuring that some water gets on every piece. Once the logs are spread out, you can add more water or wait happily until you don’t see any more burning embers before crawling into your tent.

Pro Tip: The embers are the best for marshmallow roasting!

Please Don’t Tip: Please don’t burn plastics!! It is terrible for the environment and possibly worse for your health, though we know it does look pretty dang cool.

Now go forth and make us proud, young Padawon. We can’t wait to see what community you create!

Happy Camping!

Bronwyn xx ❤️

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