Light it Up: Fire-Building in the Backcountry

I might be bad luck when it comes to camping stoves. The last two times Andy and I took a stove into the mountains on overnight climbing ventures, we ended up building a fire to boil water. The first stove somehow got a “hairline crack” somewhere, according to Andy, and I don’t know what happened to this one. I don’t even know if it’s legal to build a fire in the areas where we were climbing…but Andy’s English and he can’t function without tea in the same way I can’t function without coffee. So, we built wee little fires to cope.

In last week’s most recent stove incident, we’d survived a wicked lightning and hail storm overnight and think maybe the stove went kaput because it got wet. In order to build the fire, we did our best to find dry tinder and kindling by digging around for rhododendron twigs and roots. We’d also spotted some discarded bamboo route markers and gathered them up for fuel, in addition to the kerosene we brought along to fuel the stove.

So, once we got all of our burnable items together, Andy made a little pit in the ground by lifting up a rock that left a small divot in the ground. I used my multi-tool knife’s saw blade to cut the bamboo into burnable pieces. We lined the area with flat rocks, poured some kerosene into the hole, and then built the fire around it before dropping in a match. It smoked and sputtered a bit at first because we had difficulty finding dry materials…

We added increasingly bigger chunks of kindling and then the bamboo pieces until we had little flame, and–finally–a good fire going.

And–voilà–in a few more minutes, we had boiling water…and warm mugs of coffee (for me) and tea (for him) in our hands.

Tinder, Kindling, Say What?
For more about how to build a fire in the backcountry, click here to read my article titled “Basic Fire-Building Techniques” on the About.com Survival Skills site.

The best way to learn how to start and maintain a fire is to practice, so here are the fire-building basics that will help you develop your campfire skillsclick here to read more

Photos © Traci J. Macnamara.

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