How To Make A Fire In The Great Outdoors And Leave No Trace

A campfire is one sure fire way to transform a great night under the stars to an epic night under the stars. But, I’m sure you’ve heard the stats: most forest fires are caused by humans, many of them a direct result of poorly managed or illegal campfires. So, the question remains: How do we make a campfire without torching our campsite and leaving an ugly, destructive scar on the wilderness we escape to.

Being that campfires go hand in hand with adventure, we figured we would reach out to Andrew Groves of Miscellaneous Adventures to learn some easy tips on making a safe, low-impact campfire.

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Andrew explains, “first things first, it’s vital to consider the natural environment and whether there is a suitable site available for a campfire. Fires should not be lit in areas where they could spread easily or cause permanent damage or scarring to the landscape. Potential hotspots for danger include coniferous forests with a large amounts of dead, flammable material on the ground and areas with peat rich soil and heathland. Fires should not be lit on grass or in an obvious beauty spot; you don’t want to ruin the aesthetic for other outdoors users. If you can’t be certain that your fire poses no risk or that you’ll be able to leave no visible evidence then don’t light one! Use your hiking stove instead. It’s also important to be aware of any legal restrictions on lighting fires; in England and Wales for example it is illegal without permission from the landowner and similar laws apply in some places in Europe and the US, particularly in national parks and nature reserves.

The key to successful firelighting is preparation and this starts at home. Before embarking on any journey make sure you have at least one means of lighting a fire and some dry tinder to get a fire started. Our favourite tool is the Firesteel or flint and steel. This produces hot sparks when scraped with a knife (use the back!) that will light natural or manmade tinders. It will light gas stoves or spirit burners too. For tinder we use nature’s ultimate fire lighter: birch bark. You can collect bark from dead birch trees if you happen to find some near or on route to your campfire site but it’s a good idea to have some with you before you set out just in case. We’ll be posting some ideas for other natural tinders in a future post so check back for more.

An ideal campfire site is in deciduous woodland where the top layer of debris can be scraped back to the bare earth. On top of the bare earth place a platform of dry sticks around thumb thickness; this will keep your dry tinder off the cold, potentially damp ground.

Collect and prepare fuel for the fire. The fire I’m making here uses dry, dead sticks which require no splitting or sawing. Fire needs three things in roughly equal quantities: heat, fuel and oxygen and successfully managing a fire is about keeping these elements in balance. Large fuel (wood) will require a lot of heat and oxygen to burn, therefore start small and build up. Start by collecting very thin twigs, kindling, as dry as possible. They should be matchstick thick and you need a good handful. Avoid collecting wood off the ground as it may be damp; look for dead twigs and sticks suspended in the canopy of other trees. Next collect sticks about pencil or little finger thickness. Again these need to be dry and dead and ideally off the ground. Finally collect sticks around thumb thickness. Depending on the intended use for your fire this may be as large as your fuel needs to be; it will certainly suffice for boiling water and cooking. Keep your collected sticks in separate bundles graded by size and have them all to hand before lighting the fire.”

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To read the full story, check out Miscellaneous Adventures’ Campfire Classroom.

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