“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).

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