Backcountry Skills: Firecraft

An important skill for those venturing into the backcountry or wilderness areas is basic firecraft. I use the term 'firecraft' instead of 'fire starting' - starting a fire under most conditions is often quite simple - its keeping a fire going that can be difficult!

Below is a picture of the components of building a backcountry fire. Note this was done while waiting for the next phase of a SAR exercise (about 2 am); so some details were not completed (i.e. digging down to mineral earth in a minimum of a 3' circle), as the fire was immediately drenched dead-out with water from a nearby lake.

Firecraft sequence pictures

Ok, so all the preparation is complete; you have a Base on which to assemble the bits, a Brace to support the fuel, and appropriately prepared tinder to get it all started (and, of course, sufficient prepared materials at hand).

When all is prepared; the metal match is used to ignite the pitchwood tinder, and a handful of small kindling is laid over the flame (supported by the "Brace" to ensure sufficient oxygen). As soon as the flames burn up through the kindling, another handful is laid over it...

... and again more is added as the flames grow. It is important to be fairly aggressive - without smothering!

Larger tinder, and firewood, is continuously added to feed the growing fire; establishing the start of a bed of coals.

As the fire grows, and is increasingly sustained by the growing bed of coals, larger and larger fuel may be added.

There are many to build a fire; but it is useful for me to remember "3."

  • 3 Corners to the "Fire Triangle" - Oxygen - Heat - Fuel (make sure all are in place).

    This is where the "Brace" is invaluable; About a wrist sized piece of wood that will support the kindling (Fuel) above the burning tinder (Heat) ensures enough circulation (Oxygen).

  • 3 Fuels - Tinder - Kindling - Firewood (prepare in opposite order).

    Probably best to carry tinder with you (pitchwood, fuel tablet, cotton balls & Vaseline, etc.).

    Kindling is small (pencil lead to pencil sized) wood which catches fire easily, and burns well.

    Firewood is the larger fuel used to sustain the fire.

  • 3 Main Tasks - Site selection/preparation - Ignition - Maintenance

    Select a site that is sheltered from strong winds, and is easily cleared of materials that may cause the fire to spread - or go out.

    Read "To Build a Fire" by Jack London.

  • 3 Times the amount of prepared materials you think you need.

    It is crucial to have enough of everything prepared before igniting the fire; if your first attempt fails, you must completely start over - short cuts waste time and effort!

  • Nothing, but nothing, replaces practice in developing firecraft skills.

    Vary your sources, practice your methods. More... Another...