Knowing the principles of the fire triangle is very important for building and maintaining a fire. The three sides of the triangle represent air, heat, and fuel. If you remove any, the fire will go out. For a fire to burn at its greatest capability, practice is needed to learn the ideal ratio of these components.


  • Before building a fire, consider:
  • Terrain and climate,
  • Materials and tools available,
  • How much time do you have,
  • Wind protection, dryness and distance from your shelter,
  • Direction of the heat,
  • Availability of wood,


You need three types of materials to build a fire:  

  • Tinder  – is dry material that ignites with little heat – a spark can start tinder.  If you are prepared, or perhaps lucky, you may have available a commercial tender such as “wet fire” which will work in the wettest of conditions
  • Kindling – is a dry readily combustible material that you add to the burning tinder. Kindling increases the fire’s temperature. Once the fire is sustainable, we are ready for the fuel.
  • Fuel – is a less combustible material that bums slowly and steadily once ignited. Splitting logs greatly increases their combustible nature.

Build a Fire

There are several methods for laying a fire: 

  • Tepee – Arrange the tinder and a few sticks of kindling in the shape of a tepee. Light the centre. As the tepee burns, the outside logs will fall inward, feeding the fire. This fire burns well even with damp wood.
  • Cross-Ditch – Scratch a cross about 30 cm long and 7 cm deep in the ground. Put a large wad of tinder in the middle of the cross. Build a kindling pyramid above the tinder. The shallow ditch allows air to sweep under the tinder to promote combustion.
  • Lean-to-push one green log on the ground. Place a tinder at the base of the log.  Then lean pieces of kindling against the lean log over the tinder. Light the tinder. Add fuel when ready.
  • Pyramid – Place two small logs or branches parallel on the ground. Place a solid layer of small logs across the parallel logs. Add more layers of logs or branches, each layer smaller than the layer below it. Then start the fire on top of the pyramid. This fire burns downward and requires no attention.

Lighting a Fire

Always light the fire from the upwind side. Igniters provide the initial heat required to start the tinder burning :

  • Lighters – My primary ignitor. I include one with a stove, 2nd in an emergency kit and 3rd in a first aid kit – we love the ultimate lighters from UST such as the Trekker and Delta. They are stormproof and will always work even in the harshest of environments, however, they are not cheap!
  • Matches – Waterproof when possible. They are never really waterproof. Lighters hold up better to water,
  • Magnifying Glass – Works only on sunny days,
  • Batteries – Can generate sparks when touching bare wires together,
  • Gunpowder – Can be sourced from bullet shell casings,
  • Flint and Steel – Creates sparks when you strike a flint with a piece of carbon steel. When a spark has caught in the tinder – blow on it. Consider compact models from UST such as the Blastmatch or the ultra-compact Sparkie,
  • Fire Bow – This technique uses friction as a method of ignition. Friction ignition techniques require much effort and practice. Find a dry baseboard made of softwood. At one end of the baseboard carve a small depression, and then cut a cavity below it – this is where the tinder will fall. Make a “spindle” out of hardwood, slightly sharpening one end this will be spun in the depression. Make the bow from a pliable stick, and the sling with a shoelace or twine. Place a hollow piece of wood, rock or jar on top of the spindle to provide steady downward pressure with the palm of your hand. Wind the bowstring once around the spindle, and place the pointed end in the depression. Move the bow backwards and forward while lightly bearing down on the spinning spindle. Increase the speed as the spindle drills through the wood.  The spindle tip, now glowing hot, will contact and ignite the tinder. Gently blow on the embers to encourage the flame.


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