The type of fatigue that affects your body after a day of mountain hiking and fishing is unique. It can make things like setting up camp and starting a fire very arduous. You cannot force a fire to start after a long day of hiking. I have failed to start a fire in the mountains because of exhaustion and skimping on kindling. Even with a flint and steel or a ferro rod, you cannot force fire without its integral parts.
In survival, fire is as important to moral as it is to things like cooking food.
While it’s easy to get caught up in the tsunami of fire starting videos, fire is much less about that initial spark. Whether you use steel wool and a battery, a Fresnel lens or the traditional flint and steel and charcloth, you aren’t guaranteed fire.
There is a measure of patience and of quality plentiful kindling. You also need enough fuel to sustain that fire for the time needed. These are all important things to consider.
Fire is critical in survival and it helps if you spend some time getting to know it. Get to know its stages. You must identify when it needs work. There is a time to blow and poke and prod just as there is a time to sit back and enjoy it.
10 Vital Survival Uses for Fire
Even if you haven’t spent a lot of time in the woods, you know how effective fire can be. While the novice camper may just look at a fire as little more than a setting, In a survival situation or a bushcraft outing, you use fire for all sorts of things.
Let’s look at these 10 uses for fire in a survival situation
The most obvious use of fire is its ability to heat. Now, this could be a matter of comfort on a cool night or it can be a matter of life and death in a cold-weather submersion emergency. You need to be dry and warm in the cold. There are no exceptions.
Whether you cook over direct flame or if you pack in a mess kit, a fire will make hot food a possibility. This makes a huge difference in both moral and energy. There is also something about a warm meal before bed that helps you sleep.
Water is essential and there is only one method for killing 100% of pathogens in water. While filtering makes the water clearer and can eliminate some pathogens, boiling is the only true answer to sanitizing water.
Don’t forget to carry some form of container that will help you carry and boil water. It's not impossible but a lot harder and less efficient to boil water without a metal container.
Charcoal is not just for cooking. When pulverized it is one of the most effective materials for absorbing bacteria in the natural world. It can be used to deal with hygiene, or it can be used to filter water. It’s a great addition to a biofilter.
Fire can allow you to make charcloth which is a big player in the next fire mentality. This is an essential element when it comes to starting a fire with a flint and steel.
Hardening Wooden Tools and Weapons
If you get into bushcrafting you will use fire to harden some of your tools and maybe some wooden weapons that you make.
After the sun goes down, that fire is going to offer you light and that can go a long way. Maybe you cozy up and read or you keep watch. Light is something that puts humans at ease in the darkness.
When human beings get out of the darkness, they are given a serious sense of psychological security. This level of security comes from being able to see using the fire or a torch that you create from that fire.
This is the product of thousands of years of security by fire. Predators stay away from fire. They can smell it and see it. They cannot control it.
The smoke from your fire will allow you to preserve food that you harvest from your deadfall trap or your snares. Smoked food is also delicious!
Catching fish is easy but you can quickly wind up with too many. At this point, a good smoky fire will allow you to smoke and dry that fish so it can be carried and eaten along the way.
If you are submerged or caught in a rainstorm, you need to dry your clothes. This is not just necessary from the standpoint of hypothermia, but you will also develop hot spots and chafing.
The Fire-Starting Process
When you don’t know how to make fire in the wild, it’s hard. Add to that some rain or wind and you might feel like you are standing at the base of an insurmountable mountain. The good news is there is an easy path to fire.
The fire-starting process begins with finding the location of your fire. Be sure you choose a location that can sustain a fire. One of the biggest concerns is a place with plenty of fuel. Build a fire ring or dig a hole that the fire can burn in safely.
Next, you are going to need tinder. Tinder can be made from several natural materials like cattails, bark, dry grasses, and other dry natural materials. If you bring something from home, I would recommend the lint from your clothes drier. Its great tinder and it is free.
Kindling is the next thing to gather. A large pile of pencil-sized sticks. Pencil thickness is what you are after. The more kindling you can find the better.
In your final pile, you are going to create a pile of things larger than kindling all the way up to full-sized fuel for the fire.
Before you do anything sit these three piles around your fire ring. Tinder, kindling, and fuel should be stacked around the fire ring, so they are at arm’s length. If you are running around looking for kindling or fuel you have started on the wrong foot.
STARTING THE FIRE
Now is the time to place the spark into your tinder. If you are using a ferrocerium rod or a flint and steel, you can get a spark or an ember into that tinder. That is all you need. If you are going to use flint and steel, you will use your charcloth to catch an ember. That ember will be set into your tinder bundle and the fire will begin.
It might require a little blowing to oxygenate the first flames but before long, you are going to have a fire. Now you will add your kindling to the fire and wait for the flames to rise higher than the kindling pile. At this point, you are on your way.
Patience is the most important part of fire-making at this point.
From here you are going to slowly add larger fuel until you built a large bed of glowing coals. At this point, the fire is going to start to eat your fuel with ease.
Next Fire Mentality with Flint and Steel
While most people will kick back and enjoy the fire once it’s started there are some that will start working on the next fire. Rather than letting all your wood fuel burnout and start from scratch you can do things with a fire to assure you have an easier time making a fire next time.
Your flint and steel are going to need charcloth to start the next fire. While that fire is glowing and you have control of it, you can make charcloth in your steel bottle.
Maybe you go find some cap polypore fungus to carry an ember with you to your next fire. This tree fungus is great for tinder and will hold an ember. You can deprive the fungus of oxygen and it will be ready to start a fire when the time comes.
If you have a sealable metal container you can store that ember right inside it. Placing on the lid will deprive that coal of oxygen. You might want to give it some dry tinder or wrap it in the bark to feed it, but it will not burst into flames until you open the container and give a few blows.
The idea behind next fire mentality is to enjoy the fire you have made but also plan to make your next fire easier than your first. Any of the above-mentioned techniques will work. That first fire should be the hardest get started.
Building your Survival Fire Kit
Don’t depend on wood to start your fire. Friction fires and bow drill fires are very cool but are they practical? I would venture to say they are a bit like a parlor trick.
There is really no reason to rub sticks together when you have steel. Flint and steel are a reliable and repeatable method for making fire. Its hundreds of years old. If you have charcloth and the components of the fire process we mentioned earlier, well, it's hard to miss.
Your high carbon steel survival knife is also going to throw sparks on charcloth with a little cut from flint. This is the benefit of having a quality made survival knife.
Depend on metal for your fire. If you don’t like flint and steel than you can lean on ferro rods. A nice thick ferro rod is going to make more fires for you than you could ever need! Strike it with the spine of your knife and save your blade.
Making tinder from natural materials is a great way to become a better woodsman. That said, you should also carry some tinder. The cheapest and most effective tinder is the drier lint from your clothes drier. This stuff goes right up with minimal spark.
You could mix in some petroleum jelly and that will make it an even more effective firestarter.
Another great addition to your fire it is pine fatwood. This is pine shavings or cuts of pine wood that are dark with resin. It can be purchased or sourced at the crooks where branches meet the trunk of a pine tree. Fallen trees are the very best to source from. A root ball is a great place to source fatwood, too.
Don’t be scared to carry a lighter. If you are in a true survival situation, things could be bad and a fast fire is the best fire in an emergency. No shame in using a lighter to start your fire. They are also dirt cheap!
Your fire kit doesn’t have to be expansive if you know the things you need to make a spark, catch a spark and create a flame.
No matter the survival situation fire is essential. Any woodsman is going to understand fire and the components that go into a successful fire. In cold weather survival, a fire might be all that stands between you and death!
Fire is the first step in warming your body, cooking your food, preserving it and doing several other survival tasks. Don’t underestimate the campfire.
There are a number of fire-making tools that go into building a successful fire. If you want to have repeatable success stick with metal like a flint and steel or a ferrocerium rod. There is also no harm in carrying waterproof matches or a lighter.
Once you successfully start a fire you need to use that first fire to affect your next one. That is the essence of next fire mentality. Making charcloth for your flint and steel is the best example of next fire mentality.
Build your fire making skill by burning wood at every chance you get. Whenever you can, gather some tinder, kindling, and fuel. Use your flint and steel to ignite that tinder and nurse your fire to life. Fire craft is about understanding the process that is unfolding before you.