Ever since I was a boy I had a fascination of being able to fend for myself out in the wilds. I would pack a small bag of essentials and head off for the day to go seek adventure. Many times I would swear to my parents that I was actually running away but would get lonely or hungry by mid afternoon and come back with my tail between my legs but also a little bit miffed that I wasn’t able to live off the land for at least an hour or two.
At the same time, I had been taught by my parents how to light fires at a young age. In those days, the way we would discard of rubbish on the homestead was to create a big weekly bonfire and set fire to it. The smoke would be seen for miles around and the ashes would lift up into the sky on a thermal wave and never to be seen again. Yes polluting was a big thing back then, but we are all much more responsible these days…but a good fire does the world of good and is a way to reset your life too…in a very non pyromaniac kind of way.
I remember visiting my parents homelands in Italy as a young boy and would be hooked as I saw old women tend to kitchen fires on which they would cook or boil water for washing and cleaning. Fire tending was an art and these women were the Picasso of their day. Every detail was important and each action was thought through, every stick was placed in perfect timing and the gentle blow of their breath would perpetuate the heat and the flames until they were no longer needed.
I learnt at that very young age that a fire must be nurtured from humble beginnings and must gradually grow until it reaches the required size or that critical mass where upon anything will burn upon it. However I also learnt that these home fires need not be experiments in chemistry either.
There was a pragmatic approach to fire building, starting and tending. There wasn’t a fire starter in sight, nor a bloody fire drill to be considered either. The old women that taught me knew that the most important thing was to get a fire going quickly and to have the tools at hand to make that happen as well.
Matches, lighters, paper, dry grass, small twigs, cotton wool, animal hair was all used to get fires started. Then once a good burn was produced, then the gradual layering of increasing sized wood was done too, until the fire was raging and everyone was feeling its warmth…but not forgetting the purpose of the fire was to be productive too. It needed to be lit and active quickly and the cooking and cleaning needed to be accomplished in a flash too. No time for wasting and certainly no time for rubbing sticks either.
I loved this approach to working. Of course these ladies could easily start a fire by rubbing twigs together, but that wasn’t the point. They would often say to me that matches are great but they can get wet…dry is always better. Whatever you’re setting fire too, it needs to be dry, otherwise it will just be difficult or even impossible to start…and will then just produce a lot of smoke. Which is great if you’re making a signal fire but not if you want to cook anything on it.
As I grew older, I learned that these fire magicians were really just matter of fact women who did not consider the fire as a major chore but rather it was a means to an end. They later told me that the only thing better than a lighter…is two lighters, just in case the first one runs out.
I really liked the simplicity of their argument. Prepare yourself to make a fire wherever you are and always carry with you some fire starting equipment…but by far the easiest and the quickest method is to just carry a lighter or two with you.
Lighting camp fires can be a testing affair in damp conditions so having a dry stock in your pocket may be the best thing you can do. Carrying dry grass or cotton wool with you which can be lit very quickly, may make the difference between fire and no fire in some tricky situations too.
Of course I am not belittling the bush craft wisdom from the like of Mears, Grylls or Stafford but what I am saying is that 99% of people would not have a clue how to do it…and even if they tried in a crunch situation, then they would probably lose the will to live before an actual fire gets lit, so having a very simple solution to a seemingly complex problem will always win out at the end of the day.
Lighting camp fires should be considered and should be pragmatic too. First gather as much dry grass, paper, kindling as possible. Make a clearing on the ground to set the fire. You want to add a fire break around the perimeter of the would be fire so to prevent the risk or any fire spreading beyond.
Light the flammable material, set it on the ground and gently add small twigs on top until they catch fire, then gradually layer on with increasing thickness too until you have a substantial fire. You can also add fire stones around the perimeter to help keep the fire contained and the keep the heat within too, but they also act as a cooking surface too, but the chances are that you might find the wood but the rocks may be harder to come by.
I would think twice about trying to start fires for leisure activities by using starters or drills. You can easily get hacked off with the procedure but will be missing out on the ultimate aim of the exercise, which is to simply start a fire. Anything more than that is just window dressing. A simple lighter will work perfectly and will be cheap as chips to buy too. Avoid using a Zippo style lighter because their fuel will dry out very quickly whereas a liquid gas closed container lighter will be useful for months on end.
Whenever I am out riding or would consider lighting a fire I will always look to the simple, easiest and quickest method of starting a fire. Bushcraft can do one as far as I am concerned as I’ll never likely use it.