By Jane Marshall

I admit it. I am NOT the world’s best fire maker. When out at our family cabin at Wabamun Lake, or camping in the mountains, my fires often start strong… but then the flames get shorter, and soon I’m asking my son to take over. So for this post I thought I’d collect expert tips on how to make a fire, and how to be fire smart.

Visual Learning

Parks Canada has a nifty video on basic fire making:

They also have some ‘Learn to Camp’ fire making tips.

Fire Starting Basics:

  • Start with scrunched up paper.
  • Take small pieces of dry wood/kindling and make a tipi shape around the paper. (This is where my fires fail — I don’t add enough kindling, or make my kindling too big.)
  • Light the paper in multiple places.
  • Slowly add slightly larger pieces of wood, but only when there’s lots of flame. Be careful not to smother the fire. Fires need air space.
  • Eventually you’ll be able to add larger pieces of wood. But don’t rush, and be gentle so you don’t crush and smother your fire.

For more tips, check out Outside Magazine’s take on fire starting.

How about a Leave No Trace Fire?

This is a different idea for fires. It utilizes a fire pan and a log-cabin style stacked fire. This way the ground remains relatively undisturbed.

Safety Tips and Regulations

No one wants to be responsible for a forest fire.

  • Look for designated fire pits, and always use them. This keeps the fire contained.
  • Check for fire restrictions. Is the fire risk high due to hot weather?
  • In most national parks it’s illegal to collect and burn wood from the forest. Check ahead to see if wood is provided, or if you’re required to bring your own.
  • For backcountry campfires, check regulations.
  • Of course, never leave your fire unattended. Wind can spread fire quickly.
  • Have a bucket of water near the fire. At night’s end, douse your fire completely, stir, and douse again until there are no hot embers.

Advanced Fire Making for the Hardcore

Flint Strikers

These are excellent survival tools. The flint isn’t affected by water, so it’s great in adverse conditions. After striking the flint, a spark comes off and needs to catch in good tinder (shaved wood, wool, cotton, etc.). Watch this Coghlans video to learn how to start a fire with a flint:

A Few Flint Products at Campers Village:

Other fire starting ideas:

  • Strike-anywhere matches. These can be used on a rock, or even the zipper of your coat.
  • Always have a back-up lighter.
  • Cotton balls are great as an option to paper, and are more practical for backcountry survival. Soak them in petroleum jelly first, then put them in a plastic bag.