Firelighting: Preparation And Attention To Detail

Frontier Bushcraft course student preparing feathersticks
Students on Frontier Bushcraft courses learn that good preparation is the key to successful fire-lighting. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Preparation and attention to detail are two of the key differentiators between success and failure when it comes to lighting a fire outdoors.

Many people rush to achieve a flame, only to have insufficient or poorly prepared kindling and larger fuel.

The key is to spend sufficient time gathering the materials you need, making sure they are in the right condition – not too wet, soft, punky, knotty, etc., as relevant to the method being used – and gathering enough of them.

Once you have enough materials and they are all prepared you are in the best position to achieve a fire.

In some situations you will actually achieve a fire with sub-optimal preparation.

BUT when a fire really counts, the conditions are often the most difficult. It pays dividends to practice your techniques before you ever find yourself in a situation where it is critical to achieve a fire.

Plus, in difficult situations, you tend to do what you’ve done in training.

Make sure you are training correctly.

Don’t take short-cuts.

Further, if you have trained in techniques and you know they work in varied circumstances, then you have full confidence in the technique and your ability to apply it when you come to depend upon it.

At the end of our Elementary Wilderness Bushcraft courses, we have a series of self-assessed challenges against which course participants can apply their skills.

Below is a video of one of these challenges – to light a fire using only wood that has been split out from rounds of dead, standing timber. The hearth, feathersticks, splints and larger fuel are all produced using a Mora Companion knife.

To test whether the fire is sustainable, students have to use their fire to boil a litre of water.

Below is a short section of footage of one of our course students lighting their fire. The aim is to do this with one match. Steve, the student in this film has prepared well and pays attention to detail in several key areas.

Watch to find out more…

He’s cleared the ground, prepared his fuel, put down a hearth, arranged a lay of feather-sticks, pre-positioned his pot-hanger, waits for the matchstick to take from the head, shields the match, lights his feathersticks in several places, keeps the firelighting device off the ground so it is not lost, then proceeds to build up his fire by adding progressively larger, well-prepared fuel.

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Paul Kirtley is Founder and Chief Instructor of Frontier Bushcraft. He has had a lifelong passion for the great outdoors and gains great satisfaction from helping others enjoy it too. Paul writes the UK's leading bushcraft blog. He is the author of Wilderness Axe Skills and Campcraft, as well as having contributed to several other books. Paul has been involved in teaching bushcraft since 2003. He is also a Canoe Leader, British Canoeing Level 3 Canoe Coach and UK Summer Mountain Leader.

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8 Responses

  1. Jonathan Deval
    | Reply

    Great to see more videos coming up on your blog. I know time must be a constraining factor for you, but I’m sure I’m not alone in wanting to see more.

    • Paul Kirtley
      | Reply

      Hi Jonathan,

      It’s very good to hear from you – It’s been quite a while! 🙂

      I’m glad you approve of the videos we are posting here and I’ll do my best to capture more interesting footage throughout the year.

      Warm regards,


  2. Ruud
    | Reply

    Hi Paul,

    As Jonathan said, keep this kind of footage coming our way please!
    I’ve just seen your speech at the Bushcraftshow, also worth the watch for sure.

    I just told my girlfriend that there are some ‘tests’ at the end of the course and now she’s nervous for the course in August… 😀


    • Paul Kirtley
      | Reply

      Hi Ruud,

      Thanks for your feedback on this footage. I’ll add more of this type as and when I can.

      Please tell your girlfriend not to worry. The tests are designed to show how much you have learned during the week (which will be a lot!)

      Warm regards,


  3. Jonathan Deval
    | Reply

    Hey Paul,

    It’s been too long. Glad to be back in the British countryside. Nothing compares.

    I’ll keep checking back to see what you’ve been up to.

    All the best,


  4. Stephen Tomlinson
    | Reply

    Well done Steve! You can feel, and see, his sense of achievement as the flame takes. It’s something we all feel at sometime. Mine was my first bow drill flame! Hopefully Steve, and all of us, will get more of these achievement moments as we advance our skills. Thanks to Paul and other instructors for passing on these skill sets. Stuff like this gets my enthusiasm fired, excuse the pun! I’m looking forward to the courses I’m doing this year and hopefully being as successful as Steve.

    • Paul Kirtley
      | Reply

      Thanks for your comments Stephen. All very positive 🙂

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