Wilderness Camping: Why Light a Fire?


What’s going on Walk and Think audience?

I’ve got an awesome topic today:

Building a Fire while wilderness camping.

Or: Why you should have a fire when camping.

So, why build a fire?

10 Reasons to make a fire:

  1. Psychological Comfort(Especially if you are in a survival situation)
  2. Warmth(Homes used to have a fireplace for a reason)
  3. Purify water/Cooking(Dehydration shuts your brain down)
  4. Light/Smoke Signals/Firelight Signals(Get rescued!)
  5. Protection from insects and animals.(Mosquito, etc)
  6. Destroying Trash(Never in a cooking fire)
  7. Make Charcoal(To burn other fires)
  8. Fire-Harden Tools(Don’t know much about this)
  9. Sterilize knife blades(or needles or bandages by boiling)
  10. Heat rocks to sleep on(and burn out areas to sleep on)

#1. First and Foremost: A fire is for psychological comfort.

Imagine yourself in the pitch black woods.

You are alone, and it’s getting cold.

Now imagine yourself in the same place, but with a large crackling fire and a lit torch in your hand.

Now we can take it up a notch, and say that you have three squirrels or lizards roasting on the fire.

And have a rock-tipped spear in your hand, as well as a crude bow and arrow.

Now add a sturdy hut to that.

Complete change in mental state.

A fire is for a sense of comfort and control.

It is a measure of control.

Never, ever underestimate the importance of fire.

Modern cars use combustion to get you around, and maybe you cook on a gas stove.

That is about the extent of fire in the daily life of a modern person.

But in the woods, my friends, a fire is everything.

#2. Building a fire to stay warm

We’ve all heard of Hypothermia.

Symptoms are as follows, in order: Feeling very cold, Uncontrollable shivering, Confusion, Poor coordination, slurred speech, paradoxical undressing, extreme fatigue, no shivering, death.

Read: To build a fire by Jack London (1908) <here>

This short story outlines dangers of going alone and hypothermia.

Be wise and learn from other people mistakes, and, of course, successes.

Our core temps look like this:

37C or 98.6F: Normal Body Core temp
36.5C or 98F: Lowest functional body core temp
35C or 95F: Hypothermia Commences
34C or 93F: Person is incoherent, no shivering
32C or 89.5F: Cardiac Arrest

(This is not outside temperature; this is your inner core temp.)

The human body is incredibly effective at thermoregulation, provided you have water, calories, can create a micro-environment around your body, stay dry, and out of the wind.

Check this out: -40F Camping.

You can sit next to the fire and use the radiated heat to stay warm.

Or you can get more creative.

You can make a hot beverage (I like tea) to warm you up.

Heat water and place it in a container, and place the container near a major artery.

Heat up rocks and bury them in soft sand where you plan to sleep, for around 6 hours of warmth.

You can heat rocks and place them into a water container to boil the water (using sticks as tongs).

#3. To purify drinking and cooking water.

Boil water for one minute. That’s as long as you need. Anything more is a waste of fuel and water(evaporation).

This will kill whatever is in the water and make it drinkable.

Most bad stuff(giardia) will die at 60C to 70C. Water boils at 100C at Sea level, 90C at altitude.

Doesn’t mean the water will taste great(or be palatable, as these intellectuals say), however you can strain it through a cloth to help.

How to Build a Fire

Building a fire is not easy. You have to practice. It’s not enough to just carry a fire-lighting set. You have to practice. Ideally, so that you can light a fire in total darkness.

Four methods:

  1. Friction
  2. Electrical means
  3. Chemical mixtures
  4. Magnification of heat from light
  1. Friction – Bow and drill(fire sticks), Metal or stone unto flint for sparks, ferro rod.
  2. Electrical – Fine steel wool and batteries. The battery will acr out the steel wool, heating it up.
  3. Chemical – Condy’s crystals and sugar(glucose). Mix half a crushed glucose tables with Condy’s crystals, use that side of a knife blade to scrape the two together on a hard, dry surface.
  4. Magnification – Strong reading glasses, binoculars, water filled plastic bag. Focus sunlight unto fine tinder.

While I don’t always light a fire while stealth camping, I always carry multiple means to do so.

I cook with a mini stove, and stay warm using quilts. If I am far enough out, I build a fire.

Here in the Walk and Think Army, when it comes to gear, or support systems, I always preach to have two methods, Primary and Secondary.

A primary is you best, most effective, reliable, and practiced method.

A secondary will accomplish the same result, reliably, however is used only when the primary fails.

What I carry for fire-making even goes beyond that, no kidding around when it comes to fire.

I have Two lighters (A Zippo, and Bic), matches, tinder, Ferro rod w/ striker, lighter fluid, and wetfire cubes.

Carry tinder. Tinder has to be fine to light. Almost like thin hair. Very very fine, and completely dry.

Completely dry. That means no dew. If it’s rained recently, or you live in a humid climate, then it is that much harder to find.

And you have to blow gently to get it going.

Again, this is not easy.

There isn’t a whole lot of reason to write about HOW to build a fire, as reading about it didn’t serve me well.

You can read a ton, and watch a ton of videos, but until you go and practice, it doesn’t mean anything.

Learn how to build a fire using multiple methods.

Until Next Time, and

All the Best.



P.S. Check out PRIMITIVE TECHNOLOGY, amazing work.

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