Once upon a time, a camper named Asano was out on an adventure with his team in the Japanese wilderness. A woman from Asano’s team fell through thin ice into an ice lake, remaining stuck there for several minutes until the team managed to pull her out. Soon after, the team got a fire burning to warm the injured lady, saving her from frostbite and possibly hypothermia.
As the story shows, knowing how to make a fire in the wilderness can save lives. As well as keeping you warm, fires can act as a source of heat for cooking food and as an emergency alarm signal if you’re in trouble. Anyone who does bushcraft should know how to make a fire. So, this article will teach you how to make a fire in the wilderness in three steps!
How to Create a Fire in the Wilderness
Step 1: Source a Quality Firestarter
In the wild, the weather (e.g. rain) and other unfavorable factors can make it difficult to start a fire. To beat these odds, you need a quality firestarter. There are several things you can use as a firestarter. These include:
- Store-bought lighters, matchboxes, and firesteels
- Petroleum jelly, candle wax, hand sanitizer, and other cosmetics
- Bark from birch trees, cedar trees, or other trees
- Wood from baskets and canoes
- Spruce sap or other sap
- Dry leaves
Tip: If you want to bring a matchbox and matches with you to start a fire, you should store them in a watertight container as they won’t work if they get wet.
You can source some of those items—like the lighters, cosmetics, and bark—before you head out camping. But sometimes you might forget to pack them or you might want to keep your pack as light as possible. Therefore, it’s good to know how to source firestarters while you’re out in the wild, too.
To find the right bark for making a fire, you need to look for trees and branches that are dry and scrape the bark off them. Some barks, like birch bark, are particularly useful for firestarting as they have water-repellent properties, so bear that in mind during your search for bark!
If you want to start a fire using spruce sap, you can catch it as it oozes out of injured trees. Other trees’ sap can also work well. Simply scrape off some sap and collect it—it’s highly flammable and a great way to start and sustain a fire.
If you want to use leaves as a firestarter, you should look for ones that are particularly dry. When you get onto lighting them in Step 3, you should find the driest corners of the leaves and light them there.
Step 2: Build a Fire That Breathes
Once you’ve sourced your firestarter, you can start building your fire. Every fire needs heat, fuel, and oxygen, so you need to build your fire in a way that lets air circulate in and around the fuel (i.e. wood). Without enough oxygen, your fire won’t last long. The size and shape also affect how long a campfire lasts.
An effective way to arrange a fire is in the shape of a teepee, tripod, or rectangle. Start by placing down your smaller logs and twigs first, as they catch fire more easily. Then place down your larger logs. Make sure the wood isn’t too tightly packed so there’s enough space for air to pass through.
Step 3: Light Your Fire
Now it’s time to light your fire using the firestarter you sourced in Step 1. If you don’t have matches, a lighter, or a store-bought firesteel with you, you might need to use a steel knife and a rock to create sparks. Strike the flint and steel together in a fast slicing motion, making sure that the sparks land on the firestarter you collected—be it leaves, sap, bark, or something else.
Once you’ve got a flame, pick up the firestarter and put it in the middle of the fire you built in Step 2. (If you built a teepee shape, for instance, you should place the firestarter in the hole in the middle of the teepee.) Make sure the flame comes in contact with the small twigs you placed down so the fire can spread. After the smaller branches catch fire, the bigger logs should follow suit. Place down some more big logs gradually if you want to increase the size of your fire.
Tip 1: If you’re bushcrafting in a slightly wet environment, it’s a good idea to collect some wet or semi-dry firewood and place it next to your burning fire to dry. That way, you’ll have some dry firewood ready for later and won’t run out. You can also start a fire with wet wood.
Tip 2: If it’s raining, you can protect your fire by building a tripod-like structure above the fire or draping a tent over the fire. Just don’t allow the fire to melt the fabric!
And that’s how you start a fire in three steps! It can be difficult, but practice makes perfect, so don’t be disheartened if it doesn’t work out the first time. You’ll get the hang of it eventually—and, given fire’s multiple uses, you’ll want to make a fire on every trip!
I am Bruno. I write and lecture about bushcraft, survival, hiking, and nature experiences in general. I also produce short films on these topics as a director.
My wife Lilith and I try to travel as much as we can to discover the world! We wish to live in harmony with nature and preserve its ecosystems: Eden paradise is here now.
I want to open a door to reconnect with nature through this blog.