One of the most common questions I get is, “what’s the easiest way to start a fire?” There are several common ways to get a fire started at camp, but before I share my favorite, let’s talk about tinder and kindling first.
The longer your tinder burns, the less you have to worry about kindling. If you use a newspaper, for example, you’ll need to spend more time splitting thin kindling vs. using a high-quality fire starter that burns for a long time. The longer your tinder burns, the more leeway you’ll have with the next step. I like splitting kindling, so I use newspaper often. It’s easily found for free, and for some reason, it burns much better than magazine paper. If you want to make the process easier and don’t mind spending a little money, these are my favorite fire starters.
Kindling is the most crucial component of a successful fire. If you take the time to split 15-20 pieces of kindling the size of your thumb, you’ll have a nice fire in no time. It’s the fastest way to build up enough heat to ignite larger logs. If you have a solid, full -tang knife, kindling can be made quickly with a technique called batoning. More about that here.
So what’s the fastest, easiest way to start a fire? My favorite is a simple lean-to configuration. Teepee style fires are great, but they’re not foolproof. As your wood starts to burn, the kindling can fall down, which means that you’ll have to rearrange it after it’s started. When I show people how to build fires, safety is my top priority, so I rather not have people picking up burning wood.
To build a lean-to fire, all you’re going to do is lay a log in the fire pit and lean kindling on the side of the log. Make sure you don’t put your tinder too far underneath the kindling, or you won’t be able to reach it with a match. Build a lattice with your kindling that crisscrosses three or four times. If your kindling is thin enough, you’ll have a nice fire in a few minutes. At that time, you can start adding smaller logs to the top of the kindling. Remember – it takes a LOT of heat to ignite a full-sized log. Wait until you have a large coal bed before you start adding the biggest logs.
Becoming proficient at fire-building is perhaps the most essential outdoor skill you can learn. Not only will it provide years of enjoyment with friends and family, but it could also save your life one day. As always, make sure you fully extinguish the fire when you’re finished. Pour water on the coals until they can be handled safely with a bare hand to make sure you’ve eliminated all risk of a forest fire. Good luck, and have fun!