Instructor Corps Pro Tip:
Like a building, a good fire starts with a solid foundation. And while we all know about the building blocks of fire – tinder, kindling, and fuel – there’s actually a foundational step that comes before even those, and I’m surprised at how rarely it’s discussed in mainstream survival books and shows.
Before you set up your fire, you need to place a fire lay. This is what you will “lay” your fire on. (Makes sense, right?) Not using a fire lay is one of the reasons that most people fail so often when starting a fire in damp conditions, and here’s why: When the ground is wet (or even just slightly damp), there’s a great deal of moisture near the surface. When you start a fire on bare ground, that flame heats up the earth beneath it, which vaporizes that water into steam. For an established fire, this is no big deal. But for a fire that’s barely started, that steam will drown it out within a few seconds to a few minutes of its birth, especially if you’re using wet wood. If you’ve ever had a fire that started out alright, flamed up, and then quickly died, this may well be one of the reasons why.
The solution is to put a barrier between your fire and the earth. A flat plank of wood is best - You can quickly use your hatchet, axe, or knife with a baton to split off a plank the size of your hand or larger (or use several small pieces), put it down where you want your fire, and then build your tinder nest and add your kindling accordingly. But anything flat that comes from a tree can work – large pieces of bark, or even thick dried leaves (magnolias are great) will do in a pinch.
There’s no magic bullet for excellent firecraft. No single “killer survival hack” that you can use to make the perfect fire every time. Building a really good fire in challenging conditions is the result of a lot of small, seemingly insignificant skills performed consistently well. So while you’ll still have to use the rest of the tools in your kit, here’s another one to add that may make the difference between success and failure when it counts.
Wanna learn more useful firecraft tips like this one in an interactive, hands-on environment? Join us for Firecraft Essentials this Saturday, October 20th, from 9am-7pm! Register now at www.sarcraft.com/firecraft-essentials!