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How to Start a Fire: 6 Tips for Building a Campfire

Brush up on your fire-making skills before going on your next backpacking or camping trip. Learn how to build a fire with minimal equipment and supplies.

How to Start a Campfire in 6 Steps

Follow this effective method for building a fire.

  1. 1. Create a fire ring. Choose a level spot on the ground to build your fire. Use your hands to create a circular area that is free of rocks and debris. Use any rocks you’ve cleared away to form a ring around the cleared area. If you have a shovel, you can use it to dig a fire pit. (A fire pit may be necessary in poor weather conditions.)

  2. 2. Use small sticks to create a platform. Place several small sticks or twigs flat against the ground to cover the base of your fire ring. This creates a platform that allows airflow beneath the tinder.

  3. 3. Build up tinder. Next, gather dry grass, leaves, birch bark, and/or pine needles and place them on top of the sticks. You can also use cotton balls, dryer lint, or sawdust if you have it.

  4. 4. Light the fire. If you have matches or a lighter on hand, use them to light the tinder. Alternatively, you can use flint or a bow drill to light the fire.

  5. 5. Slowly add kindling. Use a hatchet or knife to break down small pieces of wood. Add a few small pieces of firewood to the lit tinder. Slowly add larger pieces until you have a sizable flame.

  6. 6. Add larger logs. Begin to add larger logs in a teepee or log cabin formation. Use dry wood to avoid excessive smoking and smoldering.

5 Materials Needed to Start a Fire

Here are the supplies you will need to build a fire.

  1. 1. Matches, lighter, or flint stick: Every fire needs a flame. Use matches or a lighter to light the tinder. In the absence of matches or a lighter, a flint stick can help you get a fire going.

  2. 2. Tinder: Tinder material can take many forms. When looking to nature for tinder, pine cones, birch bark, dry grass, leaves, and pine needles are best. You can also use a knife to make sawdust or wood shavings for tinder. Household items, like cotton balls, dryer lint, newspaper, and cardboard are good options as well.

  3. 3. Kindling: Soft woods are the most ideal types of wood for kindling—think pine or cedar. Soft wood burns quickly and is useful for the initial phases of the fire. Use a knife or hatchet to break the wood into small pieces.

  4. 4. Firewood: You’ll need firewood of various sizes. Use smaller pieces during the initial fire-starting phase, and use larger pieces to maintain the fire over time.

  5. 5. Fire extinguisher: Though not essential for building a fire, having a reliable method to extinguish a fire is recommended—whether that be a fire extinguisher or bucket of water.

6 Tips for Starting a Fire

Whether you’re an avid camper or a beginner fire-builder, improve your fire-making skills with these tips.

  1. 1. Keep a flint stick on hand when camping or backpacking. When venturing into the wilderness, it’s wise to keep a flint stick on hand. A flint stick is made of combustible magnesium. The tool comes with a steel striker. Use the striker (or a knife) to make magnesium shavings on top of dry tinder. Knock the striker against the stick to make sparks over the shavings. The sparks will ignite the shavings and catch the tinder on fire.

  2. 2. If the ground is wet, build an upside-down fire. When a wet forest floor threatens to soak your kindling, build your fire upside down. Place three to four larger logs on the bottom, then rotate smaller logs at a ninety-degree angle and stack them on top. Repeat this with increasingly smaller pieces of wood. Top with your tinder and kindling.

  3. 3. Practice the bow drill method. The bow drill method uses friction to create an ember. It consists of a fireboard, hand drill, and bowstring. Rapidly rub the hand drill against the fireboard until enough heat is made to create an ember, which you can then use for starting a fire.

  4. 4. Use the battery and steel wool method. If you have a nine-volt battery and steel wool, you can easily start a fire. Place a small bundle of steel wool in the middle of your tinder. Make contact with a nine-volt battery and the steel wool should immediately ignite.

  5. 5. Create a fire using a magnifying glass. In a pinch, a magnifying glass can harness heat from the sun in order to start a fire. Hold the magnifying glass up to the sun so that a concentrated beam of light is produced on your tinder. If weather conditions are right, it should produce enough heat to create an ember.

  6. 6. Make s’mores. S’mores are the quintessential fireside treat featuring toasted marshmallows and melted chocolate wedged between two graham cracker halves.

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