Extreme Travel | Adventure Sports

How to… make a fire

Scouting skills come to the fore as we show how to start and keep a blaze

Choosing your wood

Not all wood burns in the same way and it is hard to make green (living) or damp wood burn at all. Never damage living trees or shrubs – it is wasteful and the wood will not burn well; instead, pick up fallen dead wood – as dry as possible.

Don’t collect too many large, heavy pieces of wood unless you want to spend time chopping them up. Large logs will only burn on a hot fire. Thick sticks that can be easily broken make good fuel wood. If they do not snap easily the wood is green.

Once your fire is hot enough, it is possible to burn green or damp wood and it will slow your fire down and make it last longer. Damp wood gives off lots of smoke, but this can be useful if there are mosquitoes or midges about.

Wood types

Quick burning: birch, hazel, pine

Some types of wood flare up brightly and burn quickly to a fine ash. These include softwoods – conifers, such as fir, larch, pine and spruce – and some hardwoods such as apple, birch and hazel. These woods make good kindling for getting a fire going quickly, but they burn so fast the wood is soon used up. Also, conifers are full of resin, which makes the wood spit and give off sparks when burned.

Slow burning : beech, hawthorn, oak, ash, cherry maple

Hardwoods are broad-leaved or deciduous trees, and most, such as ash, beech, cherry, hawthorn, holly, oak and maple, burn slowly and evenly, leaving embers that retain heat. These woods work less well as kindling (although dry holly leaves make great kindling), but will keep a fire going for hours and give off a great deal of heat. They are ideal for slow-cooking stews or pot roasts. But avoid chestnut, elm, poplar, sycamore and willow as these woods smoulder rather than burn.

Fire tips

Before you light your fire, make sure you have a good supply of extra firewood near (but not too close) to the fire

If possible, protect your woodpile with plastic sheeting to keep it dry

It can be useful to carry a small bag or tin of dry tinder with you

If the earth is damp, lay a sheet of aluminium foil on the ground before you build your fire

Laying and lighting a tepee fire

  1. Stand the first twig upright into the ground and surround it with a handful or two of tinder. Build a tepee shape around the tinder by leaning pieces of kindling against the central twig.
  2. Use thicker twigs on the outside to make the tepee larger, but don’t pack them too tightly. Make sure there are gaps around the base and in the middle to let in oxygen to feed the fire.
  3. Light the tinder and pieces of kindling in the centre of the fire. (If it’s difficult to reach the centre with the match, use it to light a longer strip of kindling and use this as your ‘match’.)
  4. Poke small pieces of kindling into the centre of the fire, as necessary, to keep the flames alight until they spread to the thicker twigs.
  5. If the wood smoulders but does not burn, blow gently into the base of the fire. When the flames catch, they will quickly burn away the sides of the tepee. Add larger twigs and sticks until the fire is firmly established.
  6. Lay thick logs or bricks on two sides of the fire, parallel with the direction of the wind. This helps to funnel air into the fire while protecting it from the wind. Add more sticks and logs as needed, but be careful not to smother it.

Once you have a good bed of hot embers you are ready to use the fire for cooking.


Firesticks make great kindling and really help to get your fire going. Take a dry, dead wood stick and use your knife to carve shallow cuts all around it so that the shavings curl outwards creating a feathered effect. If you cannot find a dry stick, carve the outer bark away first and you will probably find that the wood is dry underneath.

Dry wood shavings also make great tinder.


[This is an extract from the book 'Scouting Skills,' a comprehensive and full colour authorised guide to Scouting knowledge, experience and expertise about all things outdoors. Scouting Skills is available to buy now]

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