How To Start a Fire Quickly: The ABCs of Fire Starting For Survival

Have you ever been stranded or in an emergency and needed to start a fire in a hurry? If you have, then you may already know it can be quite challenging to get a fire started quickly. Weather conditions, lack of gear, and even a panicked state of mind can make it difficult to light up.

This guide is perhaps more suited for those of you with less bushcraft experience but contains relevant tips and considerations for anyone needing to start a fire quickly in the woods.

In what follows, we will explore some of the basic strategies and techniques to get a fire going quickly and efficiently.

We’ll also highlight the importance of preparedness, practice, site and fuel selection as well as basic step-by-step instructions. 

How to start a fire quickly?

One of the most important elements for getting a fire started quickly is a certain level of preparedness and knowledge. Lighting a fire is not rocket science but if you don’t know how then it may feel like it.  If you are planning to spend an extended period in the backcountry and have little experience, make a point of rehearsing how to start a fire with different materials before setting out.

Different Ways to Start a Fire

1. Starting your fire with a lighter or matches

If you are a beginner bushcrafter its best not to complicate things. Make a point of carrying a lighter as well as good quality matches whenever you leave to go out camping or any backcountry hike. 

In an emergency, you don’t want to struggle to get a flame going since this is only a small part of the overall challenge you are likely to face. 

In general, it is wise to carry a basic first aid or survival kit whenever you are heading to the bush or when traveling or living in remote areas. This can be a good spot to have a couple of lighters and some matches as well as a fire starter.  

2. Using a fire starter 

Since this article is about lighting a fire as quickly as possible, the second-best way to light a fire as quickly as possible is by using a fire starter. There are a variety of fire starters on the market with some even able to work when wet and others that allow you to use it for many fires.

Having a fire starter on hand can make things that much easier making it one less thing to have to worry about. This is even more important for any type of survival or emergency scenario where lighting a fire can mean the difference between life and death.

3. Ferro rod

A ferro rod or (Ferrocerium rod) is a piece of metal that can be used to produce sparks when scraped with a knife or sharp edge. The sparks are super hot and come in at over 3000 degrees Fahrenheit. Its popular among the prepper and survivalists communities as its small and very reliable.

4. Bow Drill

The bow drill is a more advanced technique and will require more time to make and set up. If you haven’t already learned this method you are going to find it very difficult to get a fire going in an emergency situation. First-timers will find that it takes some time and you may fail on your first few attempts. It also requires some string or twine as well as a knife to carve a notch in the wood you are going to use

5. Fire Plough

A much easier method than the bow drill is called the fire plough. This method is essentially rubbing two sticks together. One piece of wood has a small groove where a second smaller stick is used to run up against. A spark is created which catches a piece of dry grass. And whoila you have fire.

6. Magnifying glass

If all else fails and you happen to have a magnifying glass about you and the sun is out, you actually can start a fire very quickly. With just a little bit of dry grass or kindling and the concentrated focus of the glass, you will notice how quickly your grass will start to smoke.

This isn’t a full list of the different ways you can start a fire. Some of the other options include:

  • Battery and steel wool
  • Hand bow method
  • Potassium Permanganate
  • Flint and Steel

A lot of them are demonstrated in this video

ABCs: A step by step approach to starting a fire in a hurry

Let’s take a look at some of the most important steps and things to look out for when you are looking to get a fire going.

A. How to choose the right fire site

When in an emergency there isn’t much time to waste so choosing a spot to build a fire should be done quickly. Here are a few recommendations:

Find a spot near a source of fuel. 

Look at your surroundings and find a spot with some dead trees or large branches that can be used as fuel.  Consider weather conditions and look for a sheltered spot from the wind or rain if needed. Starting a fire in blowing winds or pouring rain can prove to be very difficult. Using any form of natural shelter can make a big difference whether thats a rock wall or outcropping.

Avoid overhanging trees.

You do not want to start a forest fire so best to avoid any overhanging trees as well as tall grass. Build a small fire pit with stones away from any material that can catch fire.

Gather your fuel. 

Find different size sticks for fuel from small to big. To get your fire started you will need small kindling and as it builds you can add bigger logs. Go for a large branch or a dry fallen tree rather than carrying individually to save time and effort.

Look for the dry wood. In wet conditions be it rain or snow you can try to find dead standing or partially fallen trees, or dead branches hanging off trees that are not touching the ground as they will wet or rotting. 

Pro Tip: To test how dry a branch is simply try snapping it with your hands. If it snaps easily and a nice healthy ‘crack’ is heard, then you know it is sufficiently dry.

B. How to start a fire

Once you’ve picked a site and gathered your fuel, it’s time to light up. Here are a few important things to consider: 

Keep it simple  

A simple stacking method will do the trick. There’s is no need to build any complicated stick structure as this can actually make things worse. Build up the fire slowly and try not to smoother it by adding too much too soon. Add bigger sticks as the fire grows. 

Starting a Fire is Not Easy…Dont Believe me?…Just Check Out This Guy Who Tries to Start a Fire For the First Time with Only a Knife

Fire starting

Depending on which method you use, once you get a spark going and it lights your dry grass or moss and this is a small flame, place the bundle in your fire pit.

As the flame starts burning you can start to add small twigs and sticks. Try the find the driest and smallest twigs so that you do not smoother it. 

Pro Tip: Your fire starter can be made up of any dried moss, lichen, birch bark or even shaved wood pieces. The key is that it should be as dry as possible and broken down into strips or small pieces. 

Getting the fire going

Once the small sticks and twigs start to burn keep feeding it slowly with bigger pieces of wood. Try not to get over-anxious by adding too much too fast.

C. Troubleshooting

Now that the basics have been covered, here are a few more tips and elements to consider regarding certain challenges that may arise.

Blowing on the fire

One of the important things a fire feeds off of is oxygen, blowing on a fire that is struggling to burn can help especially if there is already some burnt matter or coals there. 

A large straw or hollow reed can be used for directing and concentrating the air in one particular place. You can even use a piece of bark or a wide hat to help fan the flames if its needed.

What if my lighter is wet

If your lighter gets wet there are a few things you can do. Shake it a few times and then blow hard on the fuel injection hose. The hose is located in the hole where the flame comes out. This will dislodge any trapped water. Also, make sure that the spark wheel is free of moisture and debris.  

If the lighter stops working due to the cold, place it next to your skin for a little while and let it warm up.

How to start a fire in the rain?

To start a fire in the rain you need some form of shelter, whether thats a tarp or a natural rock formation you are going to need something to give protection. 

Another option is to build a fire pit under the canopy of a large tree. As most of the fuel will be wet you are going to need to find dead-standing wood for your fire.

Pro Tip: If your wood is wet peel back the bark as this will contains most of the moisture. Bigger pieces of wood will be drier in the center. Split the logs and make smaller pieces from one big log.

How to start a fire in the snow?

Many of the strategies for starting a fire in snow are the same as starting a fire in the rain. Look for dead branches of conifers and lichen repel moisture and are usually drier than other material. If you are in a place where there is a thick snowpack, you’ll want to dig down in the snow in order to build your fire on the ground. 


Starting a fire quickly will be about practice. Before you know it you will be a master survivalist in know time.

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