Hiking Camp Fires
Fire is a condition for survival. It produces heat, cooks the food and provides an essential comfort for a good mood. It repels insects and keeps wild animals away. It allows the body to save the calories consumed for heat production, is used to cook food that would otherwise be inedible, and dries clothes and shoes. Three ingredients are essential for making a fire: tinder, firelighter and fuel. Standing dead wood of any size is the best dry fuel. If you only have trees on the ground, use only branches that are not in contact with the ground.
Different Kinds of Tinder
Wet green moss is of no use in starting a fire. On the other hand, dry, fine, dense moss is an excellent tinder. Moss grows on tree trunks or on muddy soil. You may need to dry it before use.
Even in the wettest woods there are always dry dead leaves. Place them in a leak-proof bag as you pick them up. You can use them whole or in small pieces to start your fire.
Tinderwood, a polypore that grows on trees, has soft, dry, fluffy flesh protected by a waterproof skin and is an excellent tinder. You will have to peel it with a knife to be able to recover the flesh.
Even in wet weather, the inside bark of dead trees can still be dry. Trim the wet parts with a knife or look for insect holes. The fine dust they leave behind when digging in the wood is a very good tinder. Rotted wood can also be used to start a fire.
A small bundle of dried herbs, very simple to make up, will ignite very easily.
Using a knife, crush pieces of bark or dry stems into powder. The particles should be as fine as possible. Keep them in a bag.
Make a notch in the surface of the tinder, e.g. a piece of tinder, a polypore fungus. A glowing ember placed in the notch will heat a large area.
To ignite instantly, the tinder must be as thin as cotton wool. Rub and crush the tinder between your fingers or on a rock to loosen the fibers.
Fuels for heat
Soft woods such as ash, pine, apple, hazelnut and holly burn quickly and produce a lot of heat, but also many sparks, especially cedar and hemlock-fir (not related to the plant of the same name). Because they burn quickly, soft woods are useful for fueling the fire and for quick cooking, such as boiling water or other liquids. But they burn quickly and give more ashes than embers that are useful for slow cooking.
In a survival situation, you're forced to use what you find to make fire. This can be dried animal droppings, dry lichen, moss, heather or even blocks of peat that will have to dry in the sun before use. On the shoreline, dried algae can also be used as fuel. In some areas, it is sometimes possible to find coal or small oil slicks on the ground surface. Some sands may also contain oil. Animal fats can also be used as fuel.
Fuels for cooking
Hard, dense woods such as oak, beech, birch, maple, hickory and sycamore burn well and for a long time, providing plenty of heat and embers useful for slow cooking. The smell of smoke gives food cooked over the fire a taste that varies depending on the wood species used. For example, pine gives a resin taste, while apple and sycamore enrich the flavour of the food. Make your own experiments with different wood species.
Species to avoid
Some softwoods crackle very strongly during combustion. Avoid them whenever possible, especially pine and blackthorn. Other species, such as alder, chestnut, poplar and willow, burn poorly and tend to burn more easily. Bamboo can burst in heat unless split before use.
What it takes to make a fire
To make a successful fire, it is necessary to make it take gradually starting with very small wood and when it has well taken, to pass to larger wood, branches then logs. Divide your wood reserves into different categories: tinder, firelighters, branches and logs. Burn them in that order.
You need a large handful of tinder, the size of a grapefruit, which you have first reduced to fine fibres. Tinder is the most important element because you cannot start a fire with branches unless you have a lighter to replace the tinder.
When the tinder has set, add firelighter (twigs the diameter of a pencil or leaves). It must be perfectly dry.
When the firelighter burns out, add finger-diameter twigs. The flames then become a real fire.
Branches can be used as the main fuel. They should be thicker than a finger but easy to break. It's the fuel mostly used for campfires.
Logs are used to keep the fire going overnight or in a semi-permanent camp. Make sure they are completely consumed when you put out the fire.
Preparing the fire
To make a successful fire, you must have dry fuel and make it set gradually, starting with the tinder and the fire starter. The fireplace should be chosen and set up carefully and use the type of fire that suits your needs and local conditions. Safety is the main concern. Fire is potentially dangerous: it can get out of control and ignite dry vegetation, tents or clothing. It can also asphyxiate occupants in an non ventilated shelter by depleting oxygen. If not properly extinguished and covered, it can degrade the area.
- Form a square fireplace by cutting the grass and putting it to one side. Place green wood branches on the cleared area.
- Begin the cone by placing four branches in a balanced position vertically. The cone does not have to be large.
- Build the teepee gradually and make it as strong as possible. Leave enough space inside for the tinder, and an opening on one side.
- Place the tinder in the teepee, ignite it, then add dry leaves and twigs to develop the flame. With the heat, the cone takes its turn and flames. It then collapses on itself and forms a carpet of glowing embers. Fuel can then be added to fuel the fire or to cook food over the embers. The base of the hearth also eventually burns and gives off extra embers.