Fire Basics For Outdoor Adventures
Importance of Fire Starting:
Being able to start a fire in the backcountry is a basic survival skills. Before starting out on an adventure, you should be very proficient in starting a fire in all types of weather. You don’t have to know how to start a fire with a bow or flint rock, but whatever method you use, be good at it.
The surface you decide to build your fire on should be a durable surface. Clear away any loose brush, needles, and leaves. Make sure you have reached the ground level of sand or very hard soil before you start building your base. Clear at least a 3-foot circumference around your chosen spot. Clear any overhanging limbs, twigs or brush over your intended fire zone. If they are available, circle the pit with stones and rock to create a more traditional fire ring.
Once you have prepared the surface of the river, now you can start with a base. Find small and dry material such as dry leaves, pine needles or small twigs. If they feel brittle and break easily, more than likely they will be dry enough. If the environment is very wet, look for natural material under logs that has been kept dry. Some people carry dryer lint, sawdust or fire-starters with them for inclement conditions. Pile these materials in the center of your fire circle. Gather slightly bigger material to add to your fire and place in a small easy to access pile next to your ring.
Once you have your fuel (wood, leaves, branches, etc) it is time to get a flame going. This is the most important step, and sometime the hardest. This is where preparation comes in handy. Wooden matches burn longer than paper ones and are great for starting fires. If you do use wooden matches, you must waterproof them. Keep them in an old film canister IN a Ziploc bag. Bring more than you think you will need and think about a backup. It is generally a good idea to have TWO methods of fire starters. The most basic system is to have both matches and a lighter or two. It is also a good idea to carry a small candle in your safety kit to use as a fire starter.
Building a Backcountry Fire:
Once you have your fire starter, light the small base of material you have created in the fire circle. When you have the base lighted, slowly add solid fuel (wood, twigs, leaves, etc.) to the flame. Continue to build your fire using bigger and more substantial burnables. If you have trouble starting your base, try different materials. If you have cooking fuel or hand sanitizer, you can use that to help light the base. Pringles and potato chips also work well as fire starters.
Controlling and Putting-out a Backcountry Fire:
When you have your fire going, keep an eye on it and keep it in control. The last thing you need is to burn down the backcountry. Make sure you don’t throw on bigger pieces of wood than you have time to burn. A good rule of thumb is to burn pieces no bigger than your forearm. When you are done with your fire, make sure you put out the embers with water or cover it completely with sand. If a gust of wind comes up, you don’t want it to pick up the fire and carry it away. Never leave a fire if you are unsure if it is out or not.