There’s nothing quite like the toasty goodness of a crackling fire. Being a survival guy, though, I’ve always viewed fire as a source of food, warmth, and safety in the great outdoors.
So, let’s learn how to start a fire in a fire pit the easy way!
How to Start a Fire In a Fire Pit in 5 Steps
- Build your fire pit (you can skip this step if you already have a fire pit in your yard).
- Prepare and gather your supplies, including firestarters (matches, lighters, or ferro rods do the job nicely), tinder, and firewood.
- Light the fire and arrange the firewood in a teepee shape.
- Keep the fire going.
- Put the fire out safely once you’re finished.
We’ll go into the fine details of starting a fire in a fire pit below.
Fire Pit Safety 101
Safety is the number 1 priority when starting a fire in a fire pit. Whether you’re camping, hunting, fishing, or bushcrafting, fires can get out of control really fast!
Here are some useful tips to keep the flame under control at all times:
- Build your fire pit on an even surface to prevent embers from escaping
- Make sure there is at least 10 feet distance from any house, fence, tree, or structure
- If it’s windy outside, look for a good cover (or create one)
- Never use any dangerous, toxic products like propellants
- Keep a close eye on any children or pets
- ALWAYS monitor your fire pit closely.
With that out of the way, let’s see how to actually start a fire in a fire pit.
Step 1: Build Your Fire Pit
If you already have a fire pit in your backyard, you can skip this step. This article shows you how to build a fire pit from scratch (and how to start a fire in a fire pit!) in your backyard, on a camping trip, in a survival scenario, on a hunting tour, or anywhere else you’d like to build a fire pit.
Your ideal fire pit design depends on a few different things. These include the weather in your area, the terrain you are planning to build on, the availability of materials, and the canopy cover of trees around your yard.
Ideally, in the simplest fire pit design, you’ll want to find a bunch of big rocks and create a ring to house the flame.
In a survival scenario, you’ll need to conserve energy, so don’t try moving anything that can drain or injure you. Alternatively, you can dig out a hole and light the fire inside it.
In windy conditions, building a fire in a hole can help get the fire started. Mostly, however, we’ve found that fires in holes do not burn as well as above-ground fires.
If there’s snow, compact it by walking over it a couple of times and you’re good to go.
Step 2: Prepare Your Fire Pit
Starting a fire in a fire pit relies on a couple of key ingredients. Don’t worry, the list isn’t that long and they’re easy to come by.
You can throw the initial spark with a variety of tools. A match or a lighter will definitely get the job done. Butane torches are excellent, but who’s gonna carry those around.
My go-to fire starter will always be a reliable Ferro rod. They’re easy to use and they won’t let you down in heavy rain. Mine was submerged underwater for days and it still worked like a charm.
You can replace the toothpick on your Victorinox Swiss army knife with a small Ferro rod and strike it with the back of the saw tool.
In a pinch, you can even use a mirror to start a fire.
Tinder is anything that can turn that initial spark into a live flame. Newspapers, tree bark (especially birch), leaves, you name it. Personally, I really like using pinecones, if I can get them.
We like using newspapers. They’re easy to get started and throw up a nice big flame. If your kindling isn’t bone dry, however, it can take a lot of newspaper to get it going.
We often use Eucalyptus leaves. These leaves contain a volatile compound and make a nice, hot little flame. With a little bit of research, you’ll be able to find similar foliage in your area to do the job!
Once your tinder is burning, you’ll need some twigs and sticks to get the firewood going.
I personally like using softer wood like spruce, cedar, or pine.
Logs are the actual fuel for your fire pit. They are the exact opposite of kindling when it comes to your choice of wood. You want hardwood like birch, oak, or ash.
We’ll use anything we can find but gum trees burn the best, and the longest. Ironbark is one of our favorites – it’ll burn all night!
It needs to be as dry as possible. You can start a good fire in a fire pit with wet wood, but you’ll need a lot more kindling. Up to 5 times more.
Wet firewood will also create a lot more smoke with a ton of potential pollutants. Steer clear of that smoke, no matter what! Mosquitos
This is why you need to build your fire pit in a location where smoke can vent. If you can’t do it out in the open, you’ll need to make sure the smoke can disperse freely. You don’t want to breathe in carbon monoxide or any other pollutants. Especially in a survival situation!
One decent log will burn for about 45 minutes. So, you can actually calculate how much fuel you’ll need in advance. If you’re starting a fire in a fire pit at home, you can use seasoned wood.
Once you’ve built your rock fire pit, it’s super easy to turn it into a primitive smoker so you can smoke meat in the wild, too!
Step 3: Starting a Fire In a Fire Pit
This is the meat and potatoes of why you’re here – how to start a fire in a fire pit!
Let’s go through it step-by-step:
- Make a palm-sized pile of tinder in the center of your fire pit.
- Place your kindling above the tinder to form a pyramid or a tee-pee. Make sure to leave small gaps to ensure proper airflow.
- Light the tinder. When the kindling catches fire, it’s time to bring in the firewood.
- The firewood should follow the kindling model. Arrange it in a pyramid or tee-pee with enough room for airflow. Make sure to keep the gaps small, though. Otherwise, your fire won’t be as concentrated.
We love this gadget for cooking over a campfire or fire pit:
Flame-grilled steak, anyone?
These campfire cookers are ultra-portable and cheap too!
Step 4: Maintaining a Fire in a Fire Pit
This is the part where you have to rely on your own hunch to keep the fire going.
If you’ve placed the firewood in your fire pit and the flame is dying down, add more kindling. If the kindling is wet and won’t catch fire, add more tinder.
Starting a fire in a fire pit is a chain of elements. If one isn’t working, you need to double down on the one before it.
If the charred logs are falling down and suffocating the flame, rotate them or spread them apart.
Step 5: Putting Out a Fire In a Fire Pit
Many people don’t really know how to put out a fire pit safely.
Let’s go over it step by step:
- Let the firewood burn out. Depending on the size of your fire pit, this will usually take about an hour.
- Start sprinkling it with water. If you’re using your home fire pit, make sure NOT to dump the water all at once. This will damage your fire pit.
- Mix the embers with ash until there’s no hissing. You can use a portable shovel, a big rock, a thick branch… Get creative.
- Cover the remains of the fire with earth, sand, dirt, gravel, whatever you can find.
In a survival scenario, you should definitely save the ash from your fire pit. It can be used as insect repellent, toothpaste, and water filter.
Are You Ready to Start a Fire in a Fire Pit?
As I already mentioned, you should look at lighting a fire pit as a chain of ingredients that fuel each other. Tinder fuels kindling, kindling fuels firewood.
If any of the ingredients is lacking (wet wood, for example), you’ll need more of the previous one. Good preparation is the key to starting a proper fire in a fire pit.
Mastering this takes some time, so don’t get discouraged if you don’t make it on your first try. Always remember to keep yourself, your kids, and pets as safe as possible.
If this small guide of mine helped you create your first fire in a fire pit, make sure to leave a comment below and share your experience with our community. Also, comment if you have a useful tip that I didn’t cover or have some extra suggestions.