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Survival Fire Building

“Campfires these days are not popular with wilderness managers.  The impact of fires on land – some many people have come to feel – is simply unacceptable: not because any single fire does much harm, but because so many campers are lighting so many.  One fire may be welcoming but twenty are obtrusive, and two hundred in a single camping area constitute a plague.  The trampling caused by wood foraging in popular areas is itself significant, and if the wrong sorts of fuels are selected, real ecosystem damage is done. ”
-Walking Softly in the Wilderness by John Hart, pg. 251

In Ground Search and Rescue manual we are taght that “fire is a basic element of survival procedure no matter what time of year.  It is the difference between life and death in the winter.  It can be used for:

  • Providing essential warmth
  • Drying clothing
  • Cooking food
  • Signalling
  • Melting snow or boiling unsafe water
  • Keeping animals away”

In my opinion the accomplishment of having a fire and keeping it going will give a lost person a morale boost like nothing else.

During our COSAR training exercise last week, a number of fire lighting methods were used.  The purpose of this post is to remind the hiker or outdoor enthusiast of several ways to light a survival fire and to carry more than one fire lighting method in the backpack at all times.  It is beneficial to practice lighting a fire in different conditions.


The first step to lighting a good fire is to find a suitable location.  The ideal campfire / survival fire location would not propose a forest fire hazard, have dirt or water close by to totally put it out after its purpose is served and will have a low impact on the environment.  After gathering enough wood fuel for tinder and water boiling, seven fires were lit (on a 4X4 road covered in a few inches of snow) using the following methods;

  • sliced pieces of soft rubber lit with a match or lighter
  • cotton swabs lit with a match
  • cotton swabs lit with flint and striker
  • lint from a dryer lit with a match or ligher
  • lint from a dryer lint with flint and striker
  • magnesium with flint and striker

Each small fire had an area cleaned of snow with adequate tinder and fuel storage and each fire was successful and only one went out (no worries – we’ll get Brian when he thaw’s out in the spring).

For more Canadian Hiking information and video see Tracks And Trails .ca Adventures.

About Clayton Kessler

In addition to TracksAndTrails, I am proprietor of First Page Solutions, the home of Kelowna's Digital Marketing Agency. It is the base for my team and I to build secure websites with responsive mobile design and help entrepreneurs reach top Search Engine Rankings through SEO. I live in Kelowna, let me buy you a cup of coffee and show you what I do. Just send me a text that says, "lets beat the competition on Google" to 1 (250) 470 - 8704

Comments 1

  1. Just to add to the SAR experience, is that this fire lighting exercise was done at night in the dark using our headlamps. Useful good burning wood is somewhat a challenge to find at night if you are not sure what to look for, you can be fooled and when that wood goes onto the fire it quickly starts to have a hard time staying lit and then you scramble to find more.

    Another tip is to collect more wood than you think you will need then triple that, being careful not to damage the environment. I collected my wood and kindling in a large plastic bag so keeping it together was easier and to pack around while gathering and if it starts to rain it stays dry. Nothing more depressing is gathering good dry wood then having it rained on. I started my fire with one match and a cotton ball soaked in wax, they are water proof, lite weight and once lit they a very hard to put out in case the wind comes up.

    At the end of the day you really have to get outside and practice in the elements to get a real sense of it. Many people can get a fire going but having it stay lite , cooking and boiling water on it for extended period of time is not as easy as it sounds. Try going out and doing that after it has rained for 2 days or longer or in the snow.

    The last tip I have is what tools seem to work best, well this may start a debate but thats healthy. I have saws, knives, axe, hatchet. For me, since I have to be willing to pack my supplies on my back for extended periods of time my choice was a lite weight hatchet and my sturdy knife. I packed my saw for a whole year and it did not even come out to use so out it goes. I was able to build shelter, fire and everything I required to just the 2, even though I had more.

    Thats my 2 bits worth

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