Imagine going camping or throwing an ultimate firepit party but not knowing what steps are needed. That would certainly ruin the night, or maybe, the entire experience. Luckily, learning how to use fire starters beforehand could save the night or even a life!
Cue: Tom Hanks in that most exciting moment in Cast Away, “I have made fire!”
Table of Contents
What Are Fire Starters?
Fire starters are anything that helps in starting a successful fire. The simplest fire starter is using a pretreated fire starter log. These are popular for indoor use because they are easy enough to toss a pre-wrapped log into the fireplace or wood stove and strike a match. It’s just as simple when using the fire starter log outdoors. Obviously, they are not great for camping because of their heft and weight.
A lighter or match is the easiest, most compact, and most common fire starter. They are convenient enough to fit into a pocket but ensure they don’t get wet and pray it’s not a windy day.
Historically, a flintstone has been the longest-running fire starter. Flint is part of the quartz family. It’s super strong and tough enough to cut through steel, which results in a spark. Manufacturers have harnessed the power of flint and steel in a portable, compact tool. Still, be vigilant when using one, as it’s all too easy for sparks to fly.
Magnesium block fire starters are also highly popular for camping because it is portable, affordable, and accessible to purchase online or from your nearest sporting goods store.
What Can I Use if I Don’t Have a Fire Starter?
Firestarters are not limited to store-bought options. Many camping and survival enthusiasts make their own DIY fire starters. These are often made from soaking wine corks or cotton balls in vaseline and coating twine with paraffin wax.
Some even repurpose empty cardboard egg cartons and fill them with charcoals and wood or sawdust. Then, they cut them into cubes and put them in a ziplock bag or emergency kit! And, Viola! A budget-friendly fire starter that doesn’t add bulk or weight to your camping bag.
Other options for DIY fire starters include toilet paper tubes and dryer lint. An interesting one is a 9-volt battery and a bit of steel wool.
If you want to save money buying fire starters, some DIY alternatives also work great charcoal grills and a double boiler!
Pro Tip: If you want to use DIY fire starters, beeswax is your best friend! They slow down the burn time, so you don’t have to keep building a fire throughout your trip.
How to Use Fire Starters
Learning how to use fire starters might take a little practice. And, it’s always recommended to bring a backup fire starter when camping, just in case one should fail. If you’re bringing a flint, make sure to bring an extra knife as well! After choosing the ideal fire starter to get you started on that crackling inferno, you will need to build the proper containment area to keep the fire safely burning.
1. Prepare the Fire Pit
Prepare a dry, debris-free area for the fire pit. Be aware of the ground around and the trees above. You will always need to consider your surroundings, whether using a manufactured pit or building a pit area from natural elements.
As its name suggests, mount fire pits usually sit above the ground in containment. However, if not properly maintained, fire can still spillover. On the other hand, pits that lay on the earth are dugout pits.
Digging down slightly into the ground and creating a sand, gravel, or soil foundation for the fire is ideal. Circling rocks around the cleared area will help prevent the fire from spreading.
Practicing safety is essential before starting a fire. Have the area clear of flammable objects because a lot of heat can come off a fire.
Keep a shovel close by. Shovels are needed throughout fire maintenance, whether for digging the pit, stoking the fire, or extinguishing a fire. The number one safety item to have near the fire pit is a hose or a constant bucket of water.
2. Gather Fire Starting Materials
Now that the fire pit is ready, it’s time to gather the materials needed to start a proper fire. Getting a log to light and stay lit can be tricky. If the wood has too much moisture in its fibers, it might catch a flame but quickly smolder out.
That’s why you need the right materials for generating enough heat to dry out those logs. Your goal is to have a beautiful fire that can deliver a long-lasting burn.
Tinder is the first stage in getting a fire going. It is made from dry, organic materials that are easily flammable. The best options are newspaper rolls, dry grass, and super dry bark or wood shavings. There are also non-conventional alternatives, such as cotton, egg carton, rubber, or hand sanitizer. Tinder accelerants light quickly and burn fast. The purpose of tinder flames is to spread and catch onto the kindling.
Kindling should not be mistaken for or interchanged with tinder. Kindling’s job is to keep the original tinder fire blazing, so eventually, the logs will catch fire. Kindling should be a compilation of sticks and twigs that vary in size. They can’t be too thick, and they must be very dry.
All the parts that go into building a fire are important, but firewood takes the cake because it will generate the most long-lasting heat. It also sustains your glorious fire, so it continues to burn. Firewood must be dry and have some girth to it. Oversaturated wood is challenging to keep lit, and small twigs burn up too quickly to produce enough heat.
Ideal firewood will have been already chopped and dried out for a year. Of course, that isn’t always an option when in the wild. So, look for dry wood without signs of damp sap. If there is a loud snap when breaking off a limb, the wood is probably ideal for feeding the fire.
3. Build the Campfire
Now it is time to learn the methods of building a viable fire. Building a fire that will last several hours is more than simply throwing a pile of sticks together. It’s vital to shield the fire from drafts while letting oxygen feed the fire. There are several structures, or fire lays, that you can use to build the perfect campfire.
The cone or teepee is one of the most popular lays of a fire structure. First, arrange the tinder and kindling in a cone shape. Next, lay the firewood around the kindling as a sturdy structure. Light the fire from the top center. This allows the structure to burn from the inside out.
The log cabin lay resembles an actual log cabin. Essentially, you stack wood in an elevated square or rectangle. This structure has several benefits, including the ability to hold cookware on the top of the cabin. Additionally, it’s less likely to collapse and spread out the fire.
The best way to build the cabin is to start with a cone of tinder and kindling in the center while squaring it off with firewood. You can add additional kindling in between firewood. Just remember to use large pieces of wood on the bottom of the cabin and smaller wood towards the top to keep the structure balanced.
The pyramid structure is a stacking lay that is more complex but will need less maintenance while burning. The key is to build this lay slightly off the ground using two long, thin branches sitting parallel to each other. Next, lay a row of larger firewood about an inch or two apart.
Then, add a new row of slightly smaller logs and lay them in the opposite direction. Continue to add more height to the pyramid using this continuous pattern. Do so by stuffing in tinder and kindling so that the fire will burn evenly throughout the night.
4. Strike the Flint
When the flintstone scrapes the steel, iron is exposed. And, as the oxygen hits it, it causes a spark. If you’re using flint to light a campfire, it is best to read all the directions first. Safety is imperative because one lone spark can be damaging. Follow fire safety practices and have a water bucket or hose nearby.
Striking the flint may also take several attempts before you light your tinder. You’ll need to position your blade at the right angle and drag it across the surface of the flint to produce any spark.
5. Get the Fire Going
So, the small flames are visible, but it’s time to make them roar. You will need to feed the fire with oxygen to make it grow and sustain. Stoking the fire lightly with the shovel or long branch will allow the air to get in and grow the fire. Just be sure not to poke the fire out.
6. Extinguish the Fire
It’s great to know how to build a fire, but it’s just as important to know how to put out a fire. Even if a fire might look extinguished, there is still the potential for the hot ground to reignite. Given that, first water and spread out the fire with your shovel.
Then, douse the embers with water again. With the shovel, mix the water and foundation to extinguish the fire and embers fully. Finally, water it until it stops smoking.
By now, you should feel confident in building a viable fire and how to use fire starters. Indeed, no one will judge you if you shout, “Look what I’ve done. I have made fire!” Just be sure to practice fire safety, first and foremost.