Building Fires

There are many types of fires which can be used to cook, light even in rain, or resist the wind.

Here we're included 6 different fires and methods of lighting fires.

Can you start a fire without matches?

In a survival situation, matches may not be on hand, or may be useless due to rain and wind.

-- Important to know --

Building a fire in the wilderness: If you use an existing cave shelter, think twice before starting a fire inside of it.

This can smoke you out and the heat can cause rocks to move and collapse on you.
For man-made structures, building a fire inside is fine as long as you create an opening at the top for the smoke to leave.

A note on safety: 

Use your head. Check your surroundings. Make sure you have enough room to safely build the fire without it catching anything else. Be sure the area is ventilated and the smoke won't be trapped around you. If you're new to fire lays, keep a jug of water close by just in case. 

Let's start with the most well-known fire lay.


This technique is the top choice of experts and readers. It’s easy to make and produces tall flames quickly.

1. Drive a forked, finger-thick stick into the ground at a 45-degree angle over your tinder pile. Lean another same-width stick into the crook of the forked end.

2. Add slightly thinner sticks, maintaining a balanced structure by adding like-size pieces at the same time on either side of your teepee.

3. Leave an opening all the way to the center on the lee side so you can deliver a spark or flame to your tinder pile.

4. After lighting, add more kindling to the outside of the teepee. When a good bed of coals forms, add fuel, starting small so as not to smother your flame.

Log Cabin

Damp logs, slightly green wood, and harder-to-ignite hardwoods dry in place with this technique.
Watch the Sail2Change family build a log cabin fire indoors!

1. Place inch-thick pieces of fuel wood on either side of your tinder pile, parallel to each other.

2. The next layer of fuel wood should be slightly thinner (thumb-thick), placed across the bottom two to form a square base (think: Lincoln Logs).

3. Starting with the third layer, place thin, well-spaced pieces of kindling flat across the center. Starting here leaves space to insert your match.

4. Continue with this overlaying pattern until you’ve made a square structure about seven levels tall.

Upside Down Fire

1. Clear your fire pit

2. Lay down the base logs. Use the largest logs you intend to burn and lay them down parallel to each other. There should be no gaps between them.

3. Thicker Fuel Layer. You are going to use large fuel wood for this layer, larger than your thumb. Lay this wood in the opposite direction to the logs below it and allow space between each piece for air to flow.  Build 1-3 layers of this sized wood if you have enough and if you have organized your wood build each layer upwards out of slightly smaller thickness pieces.  Each layer should be laid down crosswise (perpendicular) on top of the layer below, similar to the method used when building a log cabin.

4. Smaller Fuel Layer. Repeat the process used in step 3 here but using smaller fuel wood, preferably smaller than your thumb in thickness.

5. Kindling

Now you are going to start adding on the smaller wood that you have, kindling that is thinner than your pinky.  Add 3-5 layers of this if you have enough to do so.  Stick to the same method of laying each layer down crosswise across the layer below it to allow proper air flow.

6. Tinder

Choosing and adding your tinder is a crucial last step.  You need something that is small enough to be ignited with your match, lighter, or firestarter but that will burn long and hot enough to get your kindling to start burning.  Place this tinder on top of your kindling.

7. Light And Enjoy!

An upside down fire should burn for well over an hour and result in a large layer of coals all ready to cook your meal. 


If you can’t split larger logs, or it’s slim pickings for smaller fuel wood, choose this fire design, which gets a log burning fast.

1. Lay an arm-thick log in your fire area. This is the support and windbreak. Put your tinder pile directly beside the log and on the lee side of any wind.

2. Lean kindling and thin fuel wood against the log at a right angle, directly over the tinder pile.

3. Alternate between thin and thick pieces for easier fire uptake, and make sure to leave plenty of space between sticks so the fire can breathe.

4. To light, reach under the lean-to with your match or lighter.


This style uses minimal wood and effort to burn for a very long time. That makes the star best for all-night fires or use in a fire pit.The star fire was used by western Native American tribes with low supplies of wood.

1. Create a small tepee fire with kindling, then lay four or five logs around it, one end in the fire and the other end leading away like the point of a starburst.

2. As the fire goes, nudge the logs further into the center to replace what has been burned.

Another benefit of the star fire is that it can be extinguished quickly by pulling the logs away from the center.

Find a safe place and try them out for yourself!

Sources: Backpacker + YouTube