Firebuilding basics |

Firebuilding basics

Deb Acord
Rocky Mountain News
Vail CO, Colorado

You’re an outdoor guru, a regular Jeremiah Johnson in the wilderness. You love your “got flint?” T-shirt and your pile of multi-tools.

But how much do you really know about making fire? Can you start one without matches? Outdoor skills can make all the difference in that backpacking or camping trip you have planned this summer, and can even save your life.

To help you create that fire – whether for cooking, warmth or ambience, we asked the following experts for tips on creating that spark:

* Peter Kummerfeldt, a Colorado Springs-based survival expert who teaches outdoor skills through his company, OutdoorSafe (

* Ben Lawhon of Lyons, education director for Leave No Trace, a program promoting low-impact outdoor skills. (

* Jack Daniels of Conifer, camping manager at REI’s flagship store in Denver.

So can you ditch the matches?

Only a handful of outdoor experts have mastered the stick method, Kummerfeldt says.

“Outdoor skills like making fire with two sticks aren’t easy,” he says.

The spark

So what’s the best way to achieve fire? With a lighter or matches, of course, but not just any matches. Consider waterproof matches or storm-proof matches.

Sure, you can get a spark. But have to have something ready to light. Best choices for kindling:

* Cotton balls smeared with petroleum jelly: At home, get your hands all slimy and stuff the coated balls into a film canister or snack-size zipper plastic bag.

* Dryer lint: Save this stuff from the trash can and compact it into a zipper bag. It burns quickly.

* Egg-crate fireballs: At home, melt paraffin or leftover candle wax in a double boiler. Fill the bottom of a cardboard egg crate with puffs of dryer lint, and pour melted wax on top. After the wax hardens, cut the crate into separate little firestarters to carry in your backpack.

* Waxed paper: At home, fold several squares of this old-fashioned kitchen wrap.

* Fire paste: Get this at your favorite outdoor store. It comes in a tube like toothpaste, and is easy to squeeze out onto small sticks to get your fire going.

Around the campfire

Three of 10 Leave No Trace guidelines for building a fire:

* Do your homework before you head out. Find out if the fire danger is low and if fires are allowed in the area you’ve chosen.

* Once you reach your campsite, look around. Is there enough wood in the area to feed your fire without its removal being noticeable?

* Allow wood to burn completely to ash, then douse it with water.

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