There are a lot of different techniques for starting camp fires in the wilderness, from primitive methods like bow drills and flint and steel to ferro rods with chemical tinder and wind-proof butane torches. My favorite option for quickly making fire are the UCO Stormproof Matches™. These matches are longer than standard matches and have a larger head. They go off somewhat like small road flares, they flare very hot for 8 to 10 seconds, and they will burn for around 10 more seconds afterward if protected from wind.
This fire lay was done on wet ground, the day after an all night rain. There was very little prep work involved. First I made a base for the fire from branches collected off the ground that were roughly one inch in diameter. Then I placed small dry twigs, also collected off the ground, on the base. I started with twigs just a little larger in diameter than tooth picks and match stems, and worked up to ones roughly the diameter of a pencil and a little larger. After that I gathered as much fuel as I could from as far off the ground as I could find it. That was the extent of the prep work.
The next step was to strike the match and push the burning tip into a gap in the smallest kindling material as quickly as possible. You can see the match is just starting to flare up good in this photo, and some of the smallest twigs have already caught fire. The initial flames of the fire have ignited in less than half of the burn time of the match. At this point the match would still be flaring for 5 or 6 more seconds, and then the match stick itself would burn another 8 or 10 seconds after that.
Here you can see how the match had burned. The flare has finished and the stem has a small bit of flame still going. Yet inside the pile of kindling you can see that some of the twigs that are a good bit larger than the match stem have caught fire, are burning well, and that the flames are already beginning to spread through the fire lay. These matches aren't all that big, and they don't take up a lot of room, however they do pack a pretty powerful punch and bring a lot to the table.
The next step was to establish sustained fire by adding a good bit of fuel. I started with some about the size of a finger in diameter and a little larger, and then gradually stepping from there. That is the trick with starting fires in wet or damp conditions. Staying with the smaller twigs would cause them o burn out too fast and require a lot of fuel to create any warmth. Going with too large of fuel too soon would only result in a smothered fire, due to there being more moisture in the wood than the available amount of heat heat could dry out and still have enough energy to ignite it. In this photo you can see the amount of moisture rising from the heated wood.
In a short period of time the fire was strong enough, with a substantial bed of coals below, to add larger fuel and create more heat. To me, living in a temperate rain forest, the storm proof matches are an important part of my kit. I spend a lot of time out in the field, and whether I am cold and wet, and in dire need of warmth to prevent going into hypothermia, or it is late when I make it to my campsite tired and hungry, I want a fire starting system that gives me what I need the quickest. So far this is the most reliable and consistent system I have found.
We are almost two-thirds of the way through autumn now here in the northern hemisphere, so it's that time of year once again. It's time to put a some thought into dealing with frigid temperatures at inopportune moments, and being able to avoid cold weather injuries in the process if something goes wrong.
When the temperature outside our front door has dropped to the point the most common liquid on this planet has become a solid, if you haven't already done so, it's time to take a few minutes to winterize your daily set up. There is a very simple reason for this. Exposure to such low temperatures for extended periods of time – such as any unexpected long delays during an evening commute without a way to warm up – can easily turn another of the more common liquids on this planet to a solid, the very blood that flows through our veins. Having experienced severe frostbite personally, and having seen and felt some of my own flesh frozen solid, I can assure you it is a very unpleasant experience.
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