Scouting is not just about lighting fires. Though we’re pretty good at that, too.
Scouting encourages young people to do more, learn more, and be more. Through fun and adventure, Scouts face their fears, take the initiative and work as a team. They gain character, confidence and employability, picking up a whole host of invaluable skills for life along the way.
With over 200 activities ranging from coding to canoeing, there’s something for everyone. And though Scouting offers so much more than camping experiences and sing-alongs, being able to light a fire is an undeniably useful skill, whether you need to keep warm in an emergency, or just want to gather around for a story and a marshmallow-toasting contest.
There are just three elements essential to lighting a fire: oxygen, heat and fuel. Whether you’re a newbie or a novice, the video and set of instructions below outlines everything you need to know about preparing and collecting the appropriate materials, setting up the area safely, and lighting and building a variety of different types of fires.
Building a fire (general guidance)
1. Start off by filling a bottle/bucket with water. Keep this water source within arms’ reach at all times, just in case of an emergency.
2. Set out to collect your kindling and fuel. See our firewood guide below if you are unsure about which types of wood work best.
3. Find a clear, open, space to start your fire, searching high and low for any potential obstacles. You should avoid any areas with straight lines of long, dry grass, as this terrain can cause the fire to spread rapidly. You should also avoid areas with low-overhanging branches or nearby trees that could easily catch fire. Generally speaking, the clearer the space, the lower the risk.
4. Do another quick safety check. Is all long hair tied back safely? Is anyone wearing any loose clothing? If so, is it secured? You’ll want to pay attention to which direction the wind is blowing, making sure that no one is in the direct path of flames and smoke once the fire is lit.
5. Kneel by the fire with your back facing the wind. This will shield it from any gusts that may make it difficult to light the fire. Placing your knees and feet firmly together will help to eliminate draught.
6. If you’re using matches or a lighter, strike them up and take the flame to the tinder.
Gently blow on the flame. This will provide more oxygen, allowing the flame to grow.
Gradually add more kindling to further grow the flames.
Building a small stick fire
1. Collect kindling and fuel, sorted by thickness. You’ll need a bunch of matchstick-thick twigs for kindling and larger sticks of around thumb-thickness for fuel.
2. Choose a fire site, avoiding tree roots and overhanging branches. Clear the ground to expose bare earth.
3. Create a hearth by placing dead, dry sticks side by side.
4. Kneel with your back to the prevailing wind, knees and feet together to eliminate draughts, and arrange the kindling on top of your hearth in an at or upright V-shape.
5. Remember to leave a gap to insert your tinder.
6. Pack a bundle of tinder inside the V-shape.
7. Strike the match, shielding the flame, and take it to the tinder. Blow gently to provide oxygen if needed.
8. Add wood as necessary, gradually increasing the size of your fuel as the fire is established.
Building a larger star fire
1. Find and prepare a suitable area to build your fire, looking out for any potential obstacles and risks.
2. You’ll need six seasoned or dry logs of approximately 7cm thick and a collection of smaller dry sticks of different sizes. Preparation is key: gather the firewood before you begin.
3. Take six large logs. Arrange them in a star shape that meets in the centre.
4. Use three smaller sticks and build a tripod over the centre of the logs. Add more twigs (about finger-width) around the tripod, to make a wigwam shape.
5. Leave one side open and place your tinder and kindling in the empty space beneath the tripod. Keep adding more twigs of different sizes around the outside leaving a gap to light the tinder.
6. Light the fire using your matches or lighter. If you want to use the fire for cooking, leave it to burn down to embers before you start. For inspiration, we recommend checking out our recipe for bonfire banana boats and toffee apples.
7. The logs can be pushed further into the centre as they burn down. Keep extra logs ready in case you need to refuel.
Building a Baskerville Burner
The Baskerville Burner is a firelighter that can be made with natural materials. It was invented in 1989 when instructors at Tolmers Scout Camp kept burning their fingers whilst trying to light pine cones.
1. Take a pinecone and turn it upside down.
2. Stick three small twigs into the pinecone, creating a tripod for it to stand on.
3. Next, take some strips of silver birch bark. Wedge one strip of bark into each leaf of the pinecone, making sure you leave some trailing down to the ground.
4. Place the completed burner firmly on the ground, and put some cotton wool or dry thistle heads underneath it.
5. Using a flint and striker, create a spark beneath the burner. The cotton wool will catch and set light to the bark, which in turn will set light to the cone.
6. Have some sticks to hand. Place these around the burner. Within minutes, you should have a toasty fire at the ready.
Best types of wood for fire building
All wood burns better if it has been seasoned. In simple terms, the word ‘seasoned’ means ‘dry’, and the term ‘green’ means ‘freshly cut from a living tree’. Generally, the drier the wood, the stronger the fire will be. However, if a fire is carefully built, most wood will burn on it, even if it is unseasoned. Below is a list of the most and least effective types of wood to use.
Excellent: Ash, Beech, Blackthorn, Hawthorn, Oak, Yew
Good: Apple, Birch, Cedar, Cherry, Hazel, Hornbeam, Maple, Pear, Plum, Sycamore
Fair: Elm, Holly, Laurel, Pine, Plane, Rhododendron, Walnut
Poor: Alder, Douglas Fir, Elder, Horse Chestnut, Larch, Lime, Poplar, Sweet Chestnut, Spruce, Willow