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Survival guide – how to light a fire

Fires have many uses. They give off heat, they can be motivating and they let you cook your own food in the great outdoors. Read on to learn how to make a good campfire and find out what risks you have to be aware of.

Starting the fire


To get the fire to catch, you need to start with lots of small branches. Dead spruce branches work best for this. As the branches on this type of tree don’t get much light, they die off. The wind then dries them off, making them perfect for tinder. Spruce is another tree that grows fast, meaning a lot of gas is entrapped in the wood. As a result, the wood burns faster. Beech wood, on the other hand, has quite a dense structure, so it would take a lot longer to light. That’s why it’s not best used for tinder.

Another option is to use bulrush seeds to start your fire. These little things are very fine like cotton wool. You only need a small spark and the ball will catch. Alternatives to bulrush seeds include wound up tampons or single fibres from jute twine.

Bulrush seeds make ideal tinder


It’s essential to use dead wood here, too. Gion Saluz, a professional survival trainer, told me that wood you find on the ground is usually wet (unless it hasn’t rained for a long time). Therefore, it’s better to look for fallen trees or branches that have snapped off and landed in other trees.This type of wood is dry most of the time, so it lends itself to firewood.

Make sure you’ve collected enough firewood before lighting the fire. After all, there’s nothing more frustrating than seeing your fire go out because you didn’t have enough supplies. Once you think you have a big enough pile of firewood, go and collect the same amount again. There’s no harm in being on the safe side.

Lighting a fire

There are various different tools that can help you light a fire. The best and easiest method is to use a standard lighter. These are compact, cheap and available in almost every supermarket or grocer’s shop. However, if conditions are wet, you’ll have a problem on your hands. If your lighter fell into a puddle or a lake, for instance, you’d need to dry it out before you could use it again.

The good news is there are some alternatives to lighters. One reliable tool for lighting a fire is a fire steel. You can use this no matter what the weather. All you need is a small metal plate or a sharp edge in order to create sparks. These are enough to make highly flammable tinder such as bulrush seeds catch fire. Fire steels come in a variety of different sizes and designs. Gion recommended I try a Light my Fire fire steel. He thought the quality of these was exceptional and almost expected the tools to last an eternity.

  • FireSteel 2.0 army
  • FireSteel 2.0 army
  • FireSteel 2.0 army
Light my Fire FireSteel 2.0 army
Ideal to make fire and light storm kitchens


  • Currently unavailable. Delivery date unknown.

Information subject to change.

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Once your tinder has caught, you can keep adding firewood. It’s a good idea to build the wood in a pyramid-like shape around the fire. This gives it the oxygen it needs to stop it choking. Once you’ve done that, add as much firewood as you want according to how big and hot you want your campfire.

Dangers of campfires

Fire can be quite treacherous and get out of control quickly. If you follow these few guidelines, you’ll be able to enjoy your campfire and prevent it turning into a full-blown forest fire.

Before you set off on your trip, make absolutely certain that there isn’t a high risk of forest fires in that region. If you go on the website, you’ll see the current danger areas in Switzerland. The site shows you which cantons allow campfires and where it is forbidden because of droughts in the area. Failing to observe these rules can have devastating effects on other people and our environment.

Current risk map for Switzerland. Source:

Even if you are allowed to make a campfire in your region, there are some things to bear in mind to ensure the fire stays contained. First of all, make sure there aren’t any highly flammable materials or objects lying near the campfire site. In autumn, forest floors can be covered in leaves. You want to remove all of these from the fire’s safe perimeter area before starting. It’s also a good idea to use stones to separate off the place where you’re going to build your fire from the rest of the forest floor. This keeps the hot embers within the designated fire area. If you want to spend the night in a sleeping bag next to the fire, you’ll need to keep enough distance. Flying sparks are enough to set a sleeping bag alight. If this were to burn while a person was asleep, they could end up with serious burns or even become a victim of the flames.

Finally, always make sure the fire is completely out when you leave. Some ways to do this involve treading on the embers or throwing water over them.

Follow at least these rules and you’ll be able to get in touch with nature and sit around your campfire in no time.

Video by Manuel Wenk.

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Ramon Schneider, Zurich

  • Junior Editor
Riding my motorbike makes me feel free, fishing brings out my inner hunter, using my camera gets me creative. I make my money messing around with toys all day.

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