Knowing how to light a fire in the woods can make the difference between comfort and discomfort, hot food or cold, or even life and death. At any time of the year, a camp fire will provide warmth, reassurance, light and even the focus for great stories and conversation.
Let's make some assumptions:
1) You are not stuck on an ice floe
2) You have a source of fuel in the form of sticks, twigs, dry grass, bark, or wood
3) You have a fire starter in the form of matches, a lighter, or maybe a flint sparking tool. (Starting a fire using only the heat generated by friction, using, say, a bow drill, is the topic for another blog.)
Even in the winter, you can find dry branches on the lower parts of a coniferous tree.
If you are not at a campsite with a well used fire pit, you should start by clearing an area on the ground. Remove all flamable material and prepare a flat bed for the fire. If you will be cooking on the fire, place some rocks close together to support the pots. Make the fire in the space between the rocks.
Start with some dry grass or birch bark if you can find it. Gather a handfull and compress it into a ball the size of your fist. Next, place some very small sticks in a teepee shape, leaning on the bark. Leave a gap in which to place the match. Then lean some sticks the size of pencils on the outside of the teepee. For a "bonfire", you can place larger branches or even logs in a log cabin arrangement, tightly around the teepee.
It's important to prepare a good supply of firewood and stack it near the fire before lighting the match. If cooking, fill some pots with water so you can get them on the fire right away.
After you light the match, hold it to the birch bark or grass in the middle of the teepee, reaching in through the gap that you left. Gradually add fuel. As a rule of thumb, don't add sticks which are more than twice the diameter of the ones that are already burning. Start cooking as soon as you can.
Even in the rain, the inside of a larger branch will be dry. Shave off the outer surface with your knife to find the inner dry part and use the shavings for tinder. Be patient; don't light the match until the fire is well laid and everything is ready. Then impress your friends with your great fire-starting skills!