Wilderness Survival 101: Fire building
Before you get into actually creating fire by friction you need to prepare the materials that will form the base of your fire.
As always, be sure to adhere to fire safety rules by building a fire pit. At your new found home, chose the site where you will be keeping your fire. Now dig it out, removing any vegetation so all that’s left is hard ground. Be sure to clear an area roughly twice the size of your intended fire pit. Now, go collect a bunch of rocks roughly the size of your fist – you’ll be using these to line the edge of your fire pit. Once you have enough rocks to fully enclose your fire pit it’s time to move on to fire building materials.
To start a fiction fire you’re actually going to need a lot of fire-catching materials. Let’s start with the very basics – a coal catcher and tinder bundle. A coal catcher is a piece of bark that you’ll use to transfer the coal you produce into your tinder bundle. The bark needs to be sufficiently thick and sturdy to hold and move a coal. I typically recommend cedar or a similarly textured evergreen bark.
A tinder bundle is a little more complicated. You want to create a nest, roughly the size of your fist and the density of a hefty knot in your hair (girls, you know what I mean). The bundle should be made of ultra thin, soft, and puffy fibers – cedar again is one of the best materials for this. Strip a piece of cedar bark from a tree and flip it so what was the under side is facing up. Use your knife – please tell me you have a knife – to scrape at the underside of the bark, fluffing up fibers. Begin balling these together as you work to make a nice round nest. Once you have enough material literally shape it like a nest – with a little divot in the center where you could place a small egg – this is where you’ll be putting your coal once it’s produced.
Next you need to build the actual fire. Consider the shape of a typical flame – fatter near the source of energy – the log – and thinner as it reaches up, eventually tapering off. You should build your fire structure with this shape in mind. Begin by gathering a bunch of wood that you’ll be able to hew into different sizes. Ensure it is relatively dry – the drier the better – and that it’s not such a hard wood it will be hard to work with (no maple). First create and set aside little sticks of kindling that are roughly the length and width of your longest finger and only a few millimeters thick. You can usually break these off of dry down logs with your hands. You’ll need roughly 10 such pieces to get your fire started.
Next, prepare and set a second pile of sticks, these one incrementally larger in every direction. Do this three more times for a total of five piles – each larger than the last until your prepared wood in the final pile is roughly the size of a standard fire log – as long as your fore-arm and you should be able to fit your hands around it.
Starting with the first pile, take half of your smallest kindling and build an upright tipi – remember, bigger at the bottom, tapering toward the top – just like fire itself. Then, using a few pieces of kindling from the second pile add to the pyramid, making it larger but being sure to leave a sizable gap so you can squeeze the tinder bundle in once it’s alight. Think of this as the door to your tipi.
Once you actually get a coal and light the tinder bundle you’ll need to be able to get low to the ground so you can blow on the fire, making sure it has the oxygen it needs to catch the tipi so I recommend moving a few of the stones – on the same side of the fire pit as the door – while you’re working. Once you have fire (which I’ll cover in the next post) you just want to keep adding layers to your tipi, using all of each pile from smallest to largest until all you’re adding to the tipi is standard-sized logs. You’ll want to do this slowly so as not to knock over the pyramid and inadvertently smother the fire.
Even just the process of preparing the materials for your first fire in the wild can take a couple of hours however, if you’re good at banking your fire this may be the first and last time you have to go through the full fire starting process.