Lightweight and Ultralightweight Backpacking

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Panoramic view from a mountain top in Glacier National Park, Montana

The 10 Essentials

10 Essentials: Warming Fire

Matches may not be enough. Too many people are found dead with partially burned matches near the body.

Learn how to make a warming fire before you really need to have a warming fire.

The most efficient warming fire has a reflector. This may be achieved by building the fire close to a huge rock. If there is only non-organic mineral subsoil for having the warming fire, there may not be a more ideal location for your warming fire.

However, your own open tarp or tent may also reflect heat from the fire back onto you. This can provide a more comfortable temperature for sleeping. If the tarp or tent is highly flammable, you will need to pitch the tent or tarp far enough away from the fire and heat to prevent combusion.

An inexpensive mylar sheet for backpackers, a wide strip of the new metallic ripstop nylon fabric, or, placing any highly reflective material inside the tarp or tent will add warmth from the fire.

I have used this warming fire method, successfully.

I like it so much, I am making a hybrid tarp that utilizes the new metallic ripstop nylon. I will treat it with silnylon. I am going to see how this hybrid tarp works out.

Metallized Tyvek used as a ground sheet could be used to reflect a fire for an emergency.

Now, how will you have an all night fire that does not require your constant attention?

First of all, gather sufficient useable wood for overnight, preparing it in piles separated into tinder, larger diameter sections, and the largest diameter you will use.

It may be necessary for you to tend your fire all night, especially if both cold and wet, utilizing both a reflector and shelter, and nap during the warmest part of the day perhaps in an open field.

However if there is any dead and dry hardwood available, it may burn all night. Cherrywood is sufficient. Madrone is sufficient. Hickory or walnut are sufficient. Oak is sufficient. You may want to know how to identify the hardwoods in your region.

If you are not so fortunate to have dead and dry hardwood readily available, in sufficient quantity, and size, there is the "woodcrafter's warming fire" method, utilizing softwood species of wood.

I have seen this clever warming fire, in the midwest.

Take two sizeable ideally green logs, arranging the two to make a slope down to the fire. Lay the dead and dry smaller diameter logs across the two sloping green logs, so the dry logs will move on down the sloping green logs into the burning fire. I am speaking of four to six inch diameter logs, not the really big stuff.

In general, an axe is required. However, a roofers axe or roofers hatchet may be reasonably lightweight and still up to the task. I prefer a folding saw.

If no saw or axe is available, a bigger green log dragged into a non-organic mineral subsoil area, you found or you made by scraping the organic layer away from the fire bed, may be used for a warming fire.

If the area is sandy subsoil, you might consider burning a fire down to coals, covering the coals with sufficient dirt and getting through a cold night by sleeping on that surface with some covering of green boughs, for insulation, for example.

If you have to make your camp out in the open, this may be the only effective warming fire: Have smaller diameter logs and branches ready, outside the edges of the fire. Drag or push them alongside the bigger green log backdrop for your warming fire. Lie down parallel your fire, to awaken at intervals during the night for keeping this warming fire at the right temperature.

Any fire must be made on a non-organic mineral subsoil base to avoid creating a forest fire, or a grass fire, which can be as dangerous.

Forest fires and grass fires often get their start, from burning unseen, under the organic layer of forest material.

Avoid high-pitch wood, with the exception of "fatwood" used for a fire starter.

High-pitch wood will "pop" and the burning bits thrown off will burn your sleeping bag, your clothing, your skin.

If there is wind, matches may not be adequate. While it is possible to use the fire starting method described on the cooking fire page, it may be necessary to use "fire starters" of chemical tabs like UST WetFire or hexamine or esbit, or even a flare.

If the woods are wet, it may be a consideration you will need more heat for geting more fire started to dry out wood, as you add it onto the fire. In addition to "fire starters" I have mentioned, magnesium also burns very hot, if briefly. Ordinary road safety signal flares have magnesium. There is Mautz Fire Ribbon, and other brand firestarters. There are sawdust product firestarters.

There is the UST Blast Match Fire Starter. There are also the improved FireSteel.

It is helpful if you bring two or three methods of making fire.

In any event, practice your fire making skills at the town or county or state park.

10 Essentials: Is the fire "dead out"?

copyright © 2017 Connie Dodson. All Rights Reserved.