How to start a fire? Hare are 10 steps to success!

A fire in the outdoors offers you many advantages. I will now show you in 10 easy, clear steps how you can manage to ignite your first flame.

from Martin Gebhardt | Bushcraft | reading time 7 Min
Updated on 07 June 2023 28.631 views 93% found this guide helpful
How to start a fire? Hare are 10 steps to success!

Martin Gebhardt

From Martin Gebhardt. Check out my “About me” page.

👉 The key facts from this guide

  • Select the right fire spot. Make sure that there are no easily flammable materials within a radius of at least three meters, and that the ground under the fire spot is hard and non-flammable.
  • Prepare well. Collect enough kindling and firewood before igniting the fire. Kindling can consist of natural materials such as birchbark or Fatwood.
  • Build your fire properly. Make sure the ground is not too wet and prepare the kindling and firewood. Place the kindling in the center of your fire spot and have the twigs ready.
  • Ignite your fire. Work with the wind and ignite your kindling from the bottom up at several points simultaneously. Add the twigs carefully and blow evenly into the embers until the twigs are in flames.
  • Maintain your fire. Only add wood once the fire has almost burnt down to the embers. Never leave your fire unattended.
  • Extinguish the fire properly. You can suffocate the fire by covering it with sand or earth, or simply let it burn out. Consider your fire extinguished only when you see no more smoldering embers or further smoke.

There are many reasons why you should know how to make a fire.

However, starting a fire in nature isn't as easy as you might think.

You have to pay attention to a few things when igniting, burning and extinguishing a fire.

If you know how to start a fire in the wilderness, it may save your life under certain circumstances.

The fire offers you many advantages:

  • It provides you with warmth.
  • It keeps wild animals away from your campsite.
  • It is suitable for boiling water.
  • It is suitable for cooking food or frying a freshly caught fish.
  • It is also ideal for romantic nights under the starry sky.

So, as you can see, it is vital for you to know how to start a fire.

Usually, you start a fire with a lighting method like a lighter or matches. With these, you ignite your tinder, like fine dry twigs or birchbark. Then you add pencil-thick branches to build a fire.

But there is much more to it.

Now I'll show you in 10 simple, clear steps how to get your first flame.

1. Find the right fire pit!

When choosing your fire pit, make sure that there are no materials within a radius of at least three meters that are easily flammable.

This applies not only to the sides, but also upwards. The greater the distance you decide, the safer it is.

Make sure that the ground directly under the fire pit is hard enough and not flammable.

If the soil is too loose, a root fire can occur in the worst case. The danger with such a root fire is that the embers get enough oxygen. So, it eats its way underground along the root. New fires often only occur days later in places that are several meters away.

If you're not careful, you'll catch loose forest soil, which is not made of earth. Then you ignite a fire on compressed and only partially decomposed leaves. They glow and burn later too. Then your fire sinks into the ground over time.

You have to be especially careful if you want to start a fire in spring. After the snow has melted, leaves lying on the ground and dead grass appear harmless. After all, they are soaked. But this is only superficial.

The grass and leaves themselves no longer contain any moisture. As soon as the heat of the fire has evaporated the water, they easily start to burn. This danger also exists in late autumn.

Reading tip: What is a Dakota fire hole?

2. Preparation is everything

The most important thing for your fire is something that creates the initial glow and the first flame. There are many possible ways here, from a simple lighter to a fire steel to fire drilling. I only describe the use of matches.

You probably have some matches lying around somewhere else. Otherwise, you can get them at every corner. They should also be included in every survival kit.

While matches are generally advantageous to use, there are also some disadvantages. First, you don't have as many attempts available as you would with a firesteel (2 foolproof tricks: making a fire with a firesteel).

A match loses its effect when it gets wet or damp. To avoid wasting matches, you need the right technique on the one hand and the appropriate burning material on the other.

Small trick for protecting matches from moisture: light a candle and dip the heads of your matches into the wax when it has melted. This protective layer preserves the surface from moisture. When you require them, simply scrape off the wax with your fingernail.

Always take at least three lighters with you - better safe than sorry
Always take at least three lighters with you - better safe than sorry

3. Find the appropriate kindling!

The right kindling is crucial for making a fire.

Kindling is a combustible material that is effortless to burn. Kindling is used to ignite a fire.

There are artificially produced kindling that can be purchased in specialty stores. However, I will only focus on natural kindling here.

The best natural kindling is birchbark. But only use bark from birches that are already dead. Never cut trees that are still standing in the sap! However, you should not use the entire piece of birchbark.

Pull the fine threads, called ring barks, from a piece of birchbark. This is easiest done with a knife by scraping over the white bark until the threads come loose. Then you can ignite them. (Regarding birchbark, I recommend my article "Birch Bark: The Survival Miracle".)

Birch bark is a survival miracle and perfect for use as kindling
Birch bark is a survival miracle and perfect for use as kindling

Furthermore, these materials found in nature make great kindling:

Regarding kindling, I also recommend my article "Survival Basics: Gathering and Making Your Own Kindling [16 Examples]".

4. Find Suitable Firewood!

It's frustrating to create a small flame only to watch it go out because you didn't have enough firewood on hand.

Collect wood before you start the fire. Gather enough pine or spruce branches as they are important for building up the fire.

First, look for dry pieces of wood. Try to find a variety of lengths and strengths, from finger-width twigs to arm-thick branches. Thinner wood catches fire more quickly, while thicker wood burns longer. Dry wood causes less smoke and burns earlier than wet wood.

So, from the beginning, you should make a few piles with:

  • Tinder (only if you don't have matches or a lighter)
  • Kindling (very fine branches) to increase the flame
  • Matches or lighter, finger-thick branches
  • Fuel, large pieces of wood
Collect wood in different sizes: very fine and small, finger-thick, and large pieces of wood
Collect wood in different sizes: very fine and small, finger-thick, and large pieces of wood

Read also

Tinder and Kindling: What's the Difference? - Tinder and kindling are both easily lit to make a fire. But there are crucial differences to consider.

5. Build a protective wall!

Try to build a stone wall or a protective wall made of earth around the campfire to protect the environment.

This protects against sparks in strong winds, as well as the unwanted spread of your fire.

Grass tiles can also be used for this. It's significant that the material is not flammable.

If you have chosen the option with stones, look mainly for dry stones. Wet stones burst due to the rapid increase in temperature caused by internal tensions. This creates dangerous tiny stone splinters that can literally go into your eyes.

If you can't find dry stones, first light the fire and then slowly dry the stones at some distance. Only then build the shelter wall.

Always build a shelter wall around your fire or dig a pit
Always build a shelter wall around your fire or dig a pit

6. How to build your fire properly

By proper construction, I mean the preparation of the fireplace.

You must ensure that the ground is not too wet. If this is the case, you need to build a base out of several small to slightly larger branches. Just as if you were constructing a floor.

When the first layer is finished, build a second one. You set this one across the first one. This way you can keep the ground moisture away from the fire and achieve a stronger heat development.

The chopping and preparing of the tinder is also part of the proper preparation for your fire. Make sure you have enough tinder available as well.

Place the tinder in the center of your base. Then prepare spruce twigs around the tinder.

Build your fire calmly and there's nothing standing in the way of success
Build your fire calmly and there's nothing standing in the way of success

Before your fire, think about what kind of fire you want to make.

Do you need a fire for warmth, one for cooking, or a long-lasting night fire?

In my E-Book, you'll find 12 popular construction forms - all types with detailed pictures.

7. First embers, small flame, big fire

Once you have collected all the materials and built your protective wall, you are ready to light your first fire.

Every beginning is difficult. Therefore, check the direction of the wind before you start. Then work with the wind.

Ignite your tinder from bottom to top, and preferably at several places at the same time. Make sure it burns well and then carefully add the kindling.

Less is more at the beginning. As soon as the first kindling burns well and you have a first flame, add a little more.

To promote proper development of your fire, it requires a lot of oxygen. Blow evenly into the embers until the kindling is flaming fiercely.

Now you can begin to add branches. Start with the thin branches. Then add the thicker ones.

The tinder, charred cotton, glows and immediately ignites the birch bark
The tinder, charred cotton, glows and immediately ignites the birch bark

8. The right approach to maintaining your fire

If you have managed this, you can relax a little. From this point on, your fire will not go out so quickly. Now it is only a matter of maintaining the fire.

Make sure it does not get bigger than necessary.

A fire that is too big has two disadvantages: on the one hand, it is more difficult to control; on the other hand, you literally use up more fuel.

A tip for saving fuel: only add more wood when the fire has almost completely burned down to embers.

You must never leave your fire unattended. Make sure it does not spread uncontrollably. This also applies to modern outdoor clothing, which usually catches fire quickly. Here I recommend heavy cotton.

9. How to extinguish the fire properly

There are two methods for extinguishing a fire. In one, you suffocate it. To achieve this, you cover it with sand or dirt, or smother it with a wet piece of cloth. Without oxygen, there is no fire.

As an alternative, use water to extinguish the fire. If you want to extinguish your fire without tools, just let it burn out. Don't add any more wood. Deprive your fire of nourishment.

It's a good idea to mix both methods: let the fire burn out on its own, and then suffocate the last embers.

Consider your fire to be extinguished only when you can no longer detect any embers or smoke. Use your hand to feel if there is still any heat.

Extinguishing a forest fire: with dirt, water or sand
Extinguishing a forest fire: with dirt, water or sand

10. Leave the fire site clean!

Sprinkle your fire site with dirt and forest floor at the end. This will help the ashes and charcoal disappear. Furthermore, replace the materials of your protective barrier.

Here's a video I made about it.

Leave the area as you found it.

You are welcome to share in the comments how your fire-making went.

Was it your first time or do you already have experience?

What kind of Tinder do you use and what do you use to light it?

I invite you to a discussion in the comment section.

Take care, Martin
Martin Gebhardt

Martin Gebhardt

Hey, I'm Martin. On my blog, you will learn the basics and numerous details about living in the wild. I think survival, bushcraft and the good life in nature are the keys to happiness. Find me here on Instagram or on YouTube. You can find more about my mission on the About Me page.

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