Fire – The Survivalist’s Best Friend!

What Makes Fire So Important? It’s So Versatile!!

Besides the air your lungs need to breath, no other basic need in a survival situation will be more urgent or important than your body’s core temperature. You can go days without water and weeks without food, but you could have a little as a few hours survive hypothermia or hyperthermia.

Proper clothing and shelter from the elements are obviously a tremendous asset when it comes to safe guarding your core body temperature from the elements, but many survival situations leave us without the ideal clothing or shelter. In emergencies such as these where you find yourself inadequately dressed and/or shelter options are poor to non-existent (or you simply can’t find or create a proper shelter quickly enough), fire may be your best or only chance to stay alive.

Fires are a great way to warm your extremities!

Fires are a great way to warm your extremities!

Learning how to create fire is a critical skill to learn not only because fire is such a great source of heat, but it is also a great source of light, allowing you to complete tasks in the dark. You can also cook and boil water over a fire, use fire to help create tools, and use fire to signal for help. Fire can also help you keep nocturnal predators at bay while you sleep at night. And fire can be a powerful psychological help as it is also terrific moral booster. Sure, your first concern should always be to your core body temperature, and fire is terrific for doing that job, but fire is far more than a way to keep warm. It is an invaluable multi-purpose tool.

Fire making can be a challenging skill to learn for some individuals, but if you truly learn just a few basics, it is a skill anyone can learn and gain confidence in their ability to create fire. There are fool-proof fire starting methods that absolutely anyone can use. Sure, fire bows and similar fire-making methods are really cool and impressive, but when you are in a real survival situation, the last thing you will care about it impressing anyone. You want tried and true dependable ways to start a fire easily and quickly so you can stay alive. You aren’t going to care how the Native Americans did it.

To master the craft of survival fire, you need to start with a solid understanding of how fire truly works and realize that there are many ways to start a fire in almost any situation. All you need is a little bit of understanding, three ingredients and some patience. So what are the basics of fire?

Before we get into fun topics like fire making methods, fuels, tinders, types of fires, etc., let’s take a closer look at why fire making is such a fundamental yet vital skill for any and all types of survival enthusiasts to master.

There are several critical survival “tools” that are not always regarded as literal tools per se’, at least not in the conventional sense… but these “tools” are just as important (if not more so) than your fancy folding saw or favorite fire piston. The “tools” I am referring to are “tools” you don’t carry in a pack or on your belt. You carry them in your noggin! They are knowledge, skills and experience.

Knowledge, skills and experience are “tools” that don’t weigh anything and don’t take up valuable space in a kit or bag but are seldom viewed as the “tools” that they truly are by survival enthusiasts. For example, carrying a hank of paracord is terrific, but knowing how to tie an array of useful knots with your cordage would obviously empower you to truly leverage that cordage in a much more powerful way should you find yourself in a survival situation.

Arguably, no skill is more critical in a survival situation than mastering the ability to create fire. Why you ask? Simple: The skill of being able to create fire is easily the most diverse and multi-purpose asset you can possess in a survival situation. Just look at all the things you can do with fire!:

  • Core Body Temp (direct and drying clothes/gear)
  • Signaling (signal fire, day or night)
  • Illumination (light up your environment for comfort and tasks)
  • Mental/Morale (“Companionship”, accomplishment, comfort, control, warmth, nourishment, encouragement)
  • Water (boil, pasteurize, tea, coffee,
  • Food (cook food, dehydrate, etc.)
  • Hygiene (warm water for washing, laundry, disinfecting, sanitizing, killing germs, etc.)
  • Sanitation (kill germs, burn soiled items, boiling, etc.)
  • Repair/Fabrication (singe cordage ends, harden wood spear tips, melt resin for glue, fashion spoons/bowls, etc.)
  • First Aid (disinfect bandages, cauterize wounds, boil herbs, etc.)
  • Security & Protection (Scare off critters, deter insects with smoke, illuminate threats)
  • and many more!

Because core body temperature, signaling and hydration are so immediately critical in a survival situation, and because fire can be an absolute game changer on all three fronts (quickly warm you, quickly signal for help, and quickly boil water), this is why mastering the craft of making fire is so critical in terms of survival. Additionally, mastering several to many different methods producing fire only increases your odds of successfully fire and thus increasing your odds of survival. In a survival situation, you never want to “put all of your eggs in one basket”, so to speak. 

Principles of Fire

As most of us already know, fire requires three ingredients: Heat, Fuel, and Oxygen. The right amounts of these three elements will produce fire. Mastering the amounts of these elements means mastering fire!

The "Fire Triangle" for Survival & Bushcraft

The “Fire Triangle” for Survival & Bushcraft

Heat (source of ignition, resulting in combustion… a chemical reaction)

In the process of combustion, heat is present in two forms. While heat is applied to the fuel material to begin the combustion process, heat is also produced by the fuel and perpetuates the exothermic chemical reaction (known as combustion) as well. You see… in a sense, heat already “exists” in combustible materials (fuel) in the form of potential energy. This potential energy exists inherently in our fuel and is stored in its chemical makeup. This potential energy is then released when the other required variables are adequately in play.

Most of us already know that when you burn wood in conventional fashion, we generate heat. But heat is more than just a derivative of this process. It is also a critical ingredient required for this process to begin. Not only do we generate heat with combustion, we also need heat to begin the process. And therein we find heat’s dual role in combustion. Simply put… we need heat to make heat.

Man uses "ferro rod" to ignite tinder with sparks

Man uses “ferro rod” to ignite tinder with sparks

Now let’s discuss those other two critical ingredients required for us to produce fire. We have established that we need sufficient heat to facilitate fire, but we need a couple of other things as well. We require to other variables to combine with our heat to make this process work.


Our second required ingredient in making fire is fuel. So what kind of fuel are we talking about here? What makes some fuel materials more suitable for making fire than others? What makes a fuel material “combustible”? Well, in extremely broad terms, a suitable fuel must possess the capacity to release energy (combustible gases) once it has been ignited and had the opportunity to react with the oxygen in the air. Our fuel material must possess this capacity to release these combustible gases (a process known as pyrolysis… more on this later – wood gasifier) or else it will not be able to perpetuate combustion and our fire will never get past the initial ignition phase of the combustion process. Simply put… we can’t have fire without these gases.

Oxygen (wind, blow tube, bellow, fan, vent)

All fires need oxygen. Forcing oxygen onto a fire based on gas risks blowing it out. Forcing oxygen into a carbon-based fire will probably increase it temperature. The best way to feed oxygen into a fire is to draw oxygen up through it (in the same way as a chimney does)
In a survival situation, a hollow elder tube used to blow air into a fire just as an example.

Man blowing air into his survival fire to promote combustion

Man blowing air into his survival fire to promote combustion

It is worth understanding that the available oxygen usually limits the process of combustion. Adding oxygen will often cause a fire to burn hotter and faster – the process that makes blacksmiths bellows work. This must be tempered with understanding that you can blow the fuel away. In blowing out a candle, the gas (vaporized wax) is removed from the heat source and the candle goes out. Blowing hard on glowing charcoal will make it burn faster since the charcoal is unlikely to blow away. Blowing too hard when fuel is flaming (burning vaporized hydrocarbons) may extinguish it, blowing on glowing coals probably wont.
Now air can be added to the mix in a variety of ways – by blowing, through mechanical means (bellows or fanning) or via scientific principles. Let’s take one of the most useful. The chimney. Heat rises. We know this right? So as a fire burns, the hot gases and vapours will rise up a chimney. This draws more oxygen into the fire at the bottom. In addition, if a wind is passing over a chimney, it lowers pressure. This lower pressure makes the chimney draw still more gas up through it and hence oxygen into the fire.

To learn more about creating fire, survival fires, the various tools and methods you can use to start fires, how to ensure fire even in the worst conditions, and much more… check out our Ultimate Survival Fire Guide for the best information you can get on survival fire starting! Click the image below to learn more!

The E2S "Ultimate Survival Fire Guide"! Get your copy today!

Author: Josh Nieten

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1 Comment

  1. baby oil makes everything flame up.

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