The 3 Principles Of Starting A Fire You Need To Know

Note: This article may contain commentary or the author's opinion.

Everyone knows that one of the main things you need in a survival situation is the ability to make a fire quickly and reliably. Whether it’s to warm up quickly, dry wet clothes, cook your food, melt snow, or just to have the comforting feel of the fire at night, these methods with help you master the flame easily.

To understand how to build a fire reliably you must first understand the principles of what a fire needs. These are:

  • Fuel
  • Heat
  • Air

You need all three of these otherwise your fire will go out. To get your fire to burn correctly you want the right ratio between these things. First let’s cover FUEL.

There’s 3 types of fuel that you need to start and maintain a fire that will burn at maximum efficiency. These three types are: Tinder, Kindling, and Fuel.

The first type, tinder, is what you’re going to need to actually get the fire going (no, you can’t just hold the flame of a lighter to a log and have it erupt into flames). There are many kinds of tinder such as charred cloth, birch bark, the shredded inner bark of chestnut, cedar, and red elm trees, feather sticks, dead grass, ferns, moss, or fungi, straw, sawdust, etc. Essentially what you are looking for is something that will ignite with very little heat from either a spark or the small flame of a lighter. Charred cloth is one of the best kinds of tinder because it can ignite with a simple spark and hold a flame for a longer period of time.

The second type, kindling, is dry combustible material that you add the ignited tinder to so as to create a bigger flame. These would be things such as small twigs, smaller strips of dry wood, heavy cardboard, smaller pieces of wood removed from the inside of a split log, and wood that is imbued with some kind of accelerant. This can be either manmade such as gasoline, oil, wax, or lighter fluid. It can also be naturally occurring such as the knots of pine tree stumps which are loaded with a heavy concentration of pine resin. These are slowly stacked on top of your ignited tinder so as not to smother the flame (remember air is another factor here).

The third and final type of fuel is the one that you’re probably thinking of, which is logs that have been cut into quarters or whole logs from medium sized trees. These will burn slowly and steadily once they are fully ignited and will release wood gas which is actually what is fueling the campfires you’ve sat around. When choosing trees to cut for logs you want to make sure to choose dead trees that are still standing and have the tops intact. This prevents them from collecting rainwater and rotting.

Now that you understand fuel the other parts naturally fall into place simply. Heat is what you need to ignite the tinder. Whether that’s a standard gas station lighter, the flint of a lighter that has gone empty, a ferrocium rod scraped with a knife or lighting rod, a flint and steel, or an ember from a friction device like a fire-bow or a fire-plow. You have to get some type of ignition source onto the tinder to create a flame. And we all know that a fire needs air to burn. If you need proof of this simply light a candle in your house and then put a glass over it, cutting off the supply of new oxygen. The fire will quickly smother and go out. Knowing this, you need to make sure to leave plenty of gaps and air pockets in your kindling and logs for air to move through and keep the fire burning hot.

The best way to master these principles is through practice. However, simply knowing the components of a good fire already puts you at a great advantage. You can now improvise between different sources of ignition and fuel. Luckily for us all, air is still free.


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