Knowing how to build a fire is key to survival. When you’re stranded in the wilderness, building a fire will help you stay warm, cook food, give light, and send SOS messages. However, there’s more to building a survival fire than rubbing two sticks together until you get a spark. For example, some types of fires work best for cooking, whereas others work best as a heat source. In survival situations, it is wise to know a variety of fire-building techniques for different purposes.
What you need to build a fire (plus, survival fire tools that you need)
According to Smokey Bear, all fires need three things: heat, fuel, and oxygen. The heat source is what is used to ignite a fire (such as a match). The fuel is the material you are burning. Smokey Bear explains, “Fuel is any kind of combustible material. It’s characterized by its moisture content, size, shape, quantity and the arrangement in which it is spread over the landscape. The moisture content determines how easily it will burn.” When your fuel burns, it reacts with the oxygen in the air forming smoke and embers.
Tinder includes small twigs, dry leaves, needles or forest duff.In survival situations, finding fuel is essential – specifically fuel that is not too moist. REI states, “You’ll need three types of fuel: tinder, kindling and firewood.”
- Kindling consists of small sticks, typically less than one inch around.
- Firewood is any larger piece of wood and is what will keep your fire going long into the night.”
It is also important to have a heat source. All survivalists know the importance of having some sort of fire starter in their survival kits just for this purpose. My Patriot Supply offers a variety of heat source options that make starting a fire in survival situations quick and easy. All of our fire starter products are perfect for survival kits and go-bags. We offer the following fire survival tools:
- Waterproof matches
- Magnesium fire starters
- Ready Hour fire starters and fuel
- Instafire fire starters (single pouches available)
- Waterproof fire sticks
- Flint strikers
- Fire discs
- Fire lighters
Keep reading for 8 types of fires...
- Teepee Fire
A teepee fire looks exactly how it sounds. It is built to resemble a Native American teepee, and it is one of the easiest survival fires to build. You start by arranging a batch of tinder, such as small twigs and grass, in a heap. Then, you build a teepee-like structure using your fuel (or logs). Once you have the structure built, you light the inside batch of tinder. As the fire burns, the outside teepee logs will fall inward, which will help sustain the fire. Given how it burns, you can even use moist wood.
- Pyramid Fire
A pyramid fire is a good choice if you need a long-burning fire that doesn’t have to be attended every minute. For a pyramid fire, you will need to collect wood of different lengths. Essentially, you will build a pyramid using the different sizes of the wood. Start by placing two of the bigger logs parallel on the ground. Then, on the next row, place several smaller logs parallel to one another opposite the base logs. Then, continue to alternate for the next levels, which will make the fire get smaller and more pyramid shaped. Start the fire at the top of the pyramid, and it will burn down to the other logs slowly.
- Log Cabin Fire
A log cabin fire is a good choice for cooking. To make a log cabin fire, you need to gather tinder and fuel. Start by making a heap of tinder. Then, you will use your fuel (aka logs) to build a structure around your tinder pile. Place two logs on either side of the tinder pile. Then, place two logs facing the opposite direction and outside of the tinder pile on the base logs. Continue this alternating pattern until the structure looks like a solid square. Light this fire at the bottom of the tinder.
You can also build a teepee fire within a log cabin fire structure for a fire that will last even longer.
- Star Fire
A star fire is ideal if you are trying not to consume too much wood or need a small fire. Discovery explains, “Instead of burning all of your wood at once, this style burns a few logs bit by bit to keep the fire going for as long as possible without adding more wood.” To build a star fire, build a small teepee with kindling. Then, place four to six logs around the teepee, but barely touching it, so that the logs look like spokes on a wheel. Light the fire starting at the teepee.
- Long Fire
A long fire is a fire that is contained between two long logs. These two larger logs will be placed parallel to one another but should be close enough to hold cooking utensils. Then, place 1-inch thick sticks at the end of each log to allow air to reach the coals. A long fire works well for cooking or warmth for larger groups of people.
- “T” Fire
A “T” fire is essentially a trench fire in the shape of the letter T. Dig a small trench in the ground in the shape of the letter T. Fill the trench with kindling. Wilderness Arena explains, “The shallow ditch allows air to sweep under the tinder to provide a draft. This type of fire is useful in open areas and/or areas with little breeze blowing.” As your fuel burns, you simply replace it.
- Keyhole Fire
A keyhole fire looks like a keyhole. Since you use two different shapes (the circle and the rectangle), it works for warmth and cooking. According to Discovery, “Start by marking out a keyhole shape in the dirt with stones, creating a circle at least 2 feet (61 centimeters) in diameter attached to a rectangle big enough to accommodate the cookware you want to use. Next, create your favorite fire in the main ring — a teepee or log cabin works well here.” As the fuel burns, you shovel the coals into the rectangle for cooking.
- Dakota Hole Fire
In situations where you need to hide your fire, a Dakota hole fire will work best. Essentially, a Dakota hole fire works as an underground fireplace. Here are the steps to building this type of fire from Wilderness Arena:
- Dig a hole in the ground about 1 foot deep and 1 foot wide.
- On the upwind side of this hole, dig a large connecting hole for ventilation. This hole should be about 10 inches away from the fire hole and about 8 inches wide. Angle the hole so it connects to the bottom of your fire hole.
- Build your fire in the fire hole.
Important survival fire safety tips
You must always extinguish your fire after you are finished. Smokey Bear recommends, “Pour lots of water on the fire. Drown ALL embers, not just the red ones. Pour until hissing sound stops. If you do not have water, stir dirt or sand into the embers with a shovel to bury the fire.”
Practice these different fire-building methods to prepare for what’s coming.
Stay alert, friends.
Preparedness Advisor, My Patriot Supply