The One Match Fire

Getting a fire going with one match is a classic Boy Scout challenge. However, I have to admit that I rarely use a match to light the campfire. I find a butane lighter is much more reliable. If I do use a match, I'll make sure to store it in a waterproof container. I also place cotton ball on top of the matches in the container, and briskly run the match through my hair before it igniting it to draw out any moisture.

The real skill needed to get a campfire going is not how you light it, but what type of fuel you gather and how you place the fuel in the fire pit.


The first step is to head far back behind the campsite and collect a handful of dry pencil-sized twigs under the canopy of conifer (evergreen) trees. Even in the hardest rain, this tinder will be relatively dry. Next is to locate dry standing wood the size no bigger than the thickness of your arm. Any bigger and you'll have to split it with an axe. Any wood lying on the ground will most likely be rotten throughout.


Before placing the woods in the fire pit, first use a good fire starter as a base to help get the flames going. Stripes of birch bark work like a charm due to its oily-resin. A glob of pitch squeezed from balsam blisters or a piece of dried lichen, dry pine needles or cattail fluff work great as well. You can also purchase some top-notch starters like Instaflam or Eviro-log Firestarters. Or you can make your own fire starters with lint from the drier, steel wool, Duct Tape with a squirt of bug repellent, stripes of inner tube, pieces of wax paper, or cotton coated in vaseline or lip balm.

Now its time to get things going. Place the pencil-like twigs at a criss-cross pattern over the fire starter material. Then place the larger pieces on top but make sure there's plenty of space for the fire to breath. There's two designs: log cabin or tipi. I prefer the log cabin. Place a few more smaller bits of wood on top and then ignite the fire starter.

A notable quote to remember while gathering wood for your fire is a famous Thoreau quote: "Chop your own wood and it will warm you twice." The citation is derived from Henry David Thoreau's famous dictum on the subject of pleasures with wood gathering. Edward Abby noted the pleasure as well. He exulted in the act of gathering up desert juniper to kindle the camp fire. Since I've never been to the desert, my favorite literary statement about wood gathering is that made by Sigurd Olson. His preference for fueling a fire was weathered pine knots of Canadian Shield country:

"In the fall, I like to gather these blackened old nuggets of energy so that I have a good supply for the long winter evenings ahead. They are far too precious to burn often, and only on special occasions, when a fine bed of coals has formed and friends are sitting around talking and laughing in its glow, do I bring one in, push it carefully into the waiting embers."

Campfires give us a lot of pleasures but the very idea of sitting around a campfire, whether its in a group or alone, is what signifies that you've finally begun to slow down. Your senses open up. A campfire starts to sound good, look good and smell good. You can distinctively hear the snap of exploding resin, watch as the flames change colour as it absorbs oxygen, and smell the woodsmoke being emitted from logs of maple, birch or pine.

Put simply, lighting of a campfire signifies that your time spent in the wilderness has begun.

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