Winter Survival Guide: How to build the perfect fire
There is something really special about starting a fire yourself. Watching the flames ignite and engulf the wood you harvested, or at least brought yourself, sparks a deep connection with our survival instincts. It warms not only our hands, but also our hearts. Since moving into the middle of our little birch forest, I've been starting a fire most mornings and nights, and the act has healed a part of my soul. Who isn't hypnotized by the licking flames and the crackle of perfectly seasoned wood? My son, who hasn't even celebrated his first birthday yet, gets mesmerized by the glow of the fire before bed. The final sounds he hears before dozing off to dreamland are the comforts of a warm home - and of course, with a happy belly full of milk.
Starting a fire eloquently - without the frustration and doubled attempts - is a skill that is easier said than done. But once mastered, it's almost meditative and ritualistic. I take pride in starting the fire for my family and I know you will too after reading FortWhyte Alive's masterful tips and guide for this week's Winter Survival Guide:
GUIDE TO BUILDING THE PERFECT FIRE
The smell of a campfire brings back memories for a lot of people. Nights out under the stars, summer camp, s’mores–the list goes on. These images are so quintessential to being Canadian, it would be easy to assume that everyone is comfortable starting a fire–but for a lot of folks that’s not the case. Many are shy to admit their fire building technique is a little shaky. All it takes is a few basic steps, and some practice!
Below are some steps for building a fire without paper. Just give yourself lots of time and a little patience; you’ll feel like a rugged outdoors person in a snap.
Hot tip: If you’re feeling unsure, try it with no one watching – you’re practically guaranteed success when you don’t have an audience!
WHAT YOU'LL NEED
• Dry, split, seasoned soft wood (think cedar, pine, etc)
• Strike anywhere matches
• Firepan, firepit or stove
Step 1. Location.
We put a firepan inside our ring to protect the ground. Remember that fire leaves a trace unless you take steps otherwise. Building a fire directly onto a rock will leave a scar, and doing so on the ground risks starting a root fire. Whenever possible use an established fire pit with a shield to protect your surroundings.
Step 2. Tinder.
We’re not talking about the app. Hold the wood upright while pressing one end into the ground. Use your knife to lightly shave off thin pieces of wood along an edge. Once you’ve got a good collection pile them into the firepit and fluff them up to make sure there’s lots of air flow. This will be your base so you want it to light easily.
Step 3. Kindling.
Continue to hold that same piece of wood upright. With just a little force, tap your hatchet or axe into the top of the wood near a corner. Then gently tap the whole apparatus on the ground a few times to work the blade deeper into the wood until you’ve separated a smaller piece. Repeat until you have 8-12 pieces of kindling.
Step 4. Tipi.
Use your new kindling to build a tipi on top of your tinder. This way once the shavings are lit they will in turn light the larger pieces of kindling. This is how you start to grow your fire – gradually increasing the size of your pieces of wood.
Step 4. Logs.
You don’t want to get too big too quickly so use the piece you’ve shaved down plus another small log. Lean them up against the sides of your tipi so that the heat from the lit kindling will light the logs. Later on you can start to add larger pieces or else just stick to the smaller ones. Smaller logs are more likely to burn through efficiently.
Hot tip: Pretty frequently fires get built up too big. This means not only using more wood than needed, but also higher chance you’ll have to douse your fire rather than letting it burn down. That can lead to gross, soggy leftovers, and a harder time lighting tomorrow.
Step 5. Match.
Strike anywhere matches are fantastic and easier to light. As per their name, they can be lit from being struck on most rough surfaces. We lit them off of the rocks around our pit– but if you want to make it easier, you can use the sides of the matchbox or a cheap nail file.
Step 6. Light.
Once your match is lit hold it against your pile of shavings. The lower the better, as the flames will travel upwards. If all goes well the match lights the tinder, which means that the tinder lights the kindling, which means that the kindling lights your small logs. Fire!
Step 7. Enjoy.
Bask in your woodsiness.
Interpreters Kalyn and Barret guide ecotours at FortWhyte Alive, where 640 acres of pristine prairie beauty, lakes, forests, and wetlands are waiting to welcome you. Best known for its urban bison herd, this award-winning destination offers discovery, adventure, and amazing outdoor experiences. With snowshoeing, 7 km of wilderness trails, frozen lakes and everything in-between, there's never been a better time to get outside and explore this local hidden gem.