Suggestions on building a fire outdoors

Adirondack Life has an article entitled “11 Winter Skills Every Adirondacker Needs to Know“.  They include items like how to dislodge your tongue from frozen metal, How to come back from a not-so-graceful fall off your skis, how to beat the winter blues, how to mix a delicious winter beverage, how to handle power outages, how to shovel smarter, how to get your car unstuck from a snow drift, how to build a good wood pile, how to avoid skidding on slick roads,  how to avoid falling through ice, and what to keep as emergency gear.

Worth repeating here are their suggestions on how to get warm when you’re out in the cold by building a fire outdoors. “Even the most savvy Adirondacker can find himself stranded in an isolated area—and in cold weather that situation quickly becomes dicey. Like any good boy scout you should always be prepared, especially before trekking into the snowy woods. Have more than one fire source, advises New York State forest ranger Chris Kostoss, of Wilmington. “Lighters are great,” he says, “but make sure you have a backup.” Kostoss recommends pre-made packets that include emery cloth or sandpaper and at least six strike-anywhere matches dipped in clear nail polish (the nail polish provides weatherproofing and makes the matches burn hotter). He sometimes adds a little tar paper to kick-start a fire, and some folks make their own portable tinder with dryer lint or sawdust and melted wax, using a shot glass as a mold.

For a roaring blaze in the icy wilderness:

  1. Don’t build a fire under snow-laden branches (to avoid a flame-smothering avalanche).
  2. Make a foundation for your fire with medium-size logs or thick bark, or dig down to the frozen earth. Without these precautions the fire will melt into the snow and suffocate.
  3. Find tinder and kindling. For tinder, use shredded bark or wood shavings. White birch bark from fallen trees is a reliable starter, but if everything is wet and you have money to burn, dollar bills work too. (One stranded explorer even resorted to using his underwear—although it’s best to leave all your clothes on in a frigid forest.) Pencil-size twigs can be used for kindling.
  4. Gather only dead wood from downed trees and branches to feed your fire. *If the available fuel is snow-covered and damp, use more tinder and kindling, and start with a smaller fire. “If you keep at it,” explains Kostoss, “you can dry out any wood enough to burn.”
  5. For a no-hassle fire, use the classic tepee method: In the middle of your foundation, sandwich a handful of loose tinder between two layers of kindling. Prop small and medium sticks, no bigger than your wrist, upright around the kindling, their tops meeting like the poles of a tepee. Leave a larger opening on the windward side to ensure enough air for the fire, and light the tinder.”



1 comment to Suggestions on building a fire outdoors

  • Tom Murphy

    Some good advice I was given when I asked for help:

    Dead wood burns easier than green wood.

    Gather a barrel of twigs, an armful of sticks, and a handful of branches and a couple of logs.

    Start small and slowly build up the ash bed/fire.

    If wet, split logs into quarters and strip outer bark.

    Place logs near fire to pre-heat and drive off as much moisture as possible.

    Birch bark and pine needles are excellent kindling.

    Use dryer lint to catch the spark from the firesteel & then add more dryer lint to that starter flame until the pine needles and birch bark light.

    Use a “lincoln log” chimney structure and have something handy to literally fan the flames.