1. Make friends
You’ll have the most popular campsite around.
2. Abate panic
3. Save batteries
Cook, eat, pack, and play cards by firelight.
4. Charge batteries
Fill Power Practical’s PowerPot V with cold water or snow and put it on the fire. The pot converts heat energy to electricity.
5. Go on a vision quest
If your tent has a fast-pitch option (fly only, no floor), create a backcountry sweat lodge. Put rocks in your fire’s coals (not river stones, as those could explode) and wait 1 to 2 hours for them to heat up. Pile the rocks in the center of your shelter, then close the door. Add water to create steam.
6. & 7. Dry wet gear
Clothes Drive 2-foot-long, forked sticks into the ground next to your fire ring so your clothes can hang beside (never above) the fire. Drape over the sticks and check regularly (especially melt-prone synthetics).
Boots Never dry your boots by the fire; they’ll melt or shrink. Next best thing: Add a handful of pea-size stones to a pot of boiling water. Drain, then scoop pebbles into a thick wool sock. Place in your boot.
8. Make a grease bomb
We can’t, in good conscience, give you directions for pulling off this dangerous river-rat trick. But should you Google it, we recommend standing waaaay back.
9. Grill trout
Wrap in foil and cover with coals. Gauge the temperature, then let it cook.
350°F = 15-20 mins
400°F = 10-15 mins
450°F = 10 mins
10. Create cool photos
11. & 12. Boil water
–With a pot
Easy Plop it directly on the coals.
Medium Build support out of three flat rocks, start a fire between them, and place the pot on top.
Hard Suspend your pot from a tripod positioned over the fire.
–Without a pot
Easy Hang a plastic or glass bottle from a tripod about 6 inches above your coals.
Medium Line your receptacle (Nalgene, plastic bag, paper cup or bowl) with pea-size stones (protects against melting) and fill halfway with water. Heat walnut-size rocks in a fire and place them in your receptacle one by one until bubbles form.
Hard Find a large leaf. Dig a small, bowl-shaped hole in the ground. Line with the leaf then pea-size stones and add hot rocks (as above).
13. Thaw frozen bottles
Bring a pot of water to a boil and dunk your frozen-shut bottle in upside down.
14. Treat hypothermia
Remove wet clothing. Prepare warm drinks and food. Heat up water (don’t boil), fill a bottle, and apply to the chest and armpits. Wrap patient in sleeping bags.
15. & 16. Signal for rescue
Situate your signal fire in an open area, but make sure it’s protected enough from weather that you’ll be able to light it quickly. One fire is good, but three fires positioned in a triangle or a straight line are an international distress signal.
Daytime It’s all about smoke. Collect green branches and pine boughs and set them near your fire. When you hear the helicopter or search plane, put the boughs on.
Nighttime It’s all about light. Layer on lots of softwoods.
17. Incinerate trash
Burn cardboard and paper products, but never plastic, foil-lined wrappers, or TP.
18. Build a torch
Partially split a 2-foot-long, 2-inch-thick stick lengthwise into quarters (aim for a foot-long split). Jam a kindling stick into the crack about 6 inches down (halfway), forming a cross. Add tinder and kindling loosely above it. Light the tinder. The fire will slowly advance down the torch.
19. Set the mood
20. Melt snow
Pour an inch of water into your cook pot, cover, and place on the fire. Spoon in snow.
21. Filter water
Crush cooled charcoal into small chunks. Drape a piece of fabric over your pot and cover with a thick layer of charcoal. Pour in the unfiltered water. Repeat.
22. Survive a cold night
Dig a trench 6 to 8 inches deep and wide, as long as your survival lean-to, and a few feet away. Build a fire end to end. “Adding a knee-high mound opposite the opening cuts down on wood consumption by half,” says Tony Nester of Ancient Pathways survival school.
23. Thwart bugs
If insects are tormenting you and normal strategies (sitting downwind of a fire; smoking a cigar) aren’t working, build a smudge fire. Pile moss, spongy wood, and wet bark from evergreens, hemlock, spruce, or balsam on your good, hot coals. As long as you stand in the smoke, you’ll have an insect-proof force field.
24. Heat stones to use as bed warmers
Find a large, smooth-sided stone. Place it along the inside edge of your fire ring. Once heated (but not too hot), wrap it in a spare sock and place it in your sleeping bag.
25. Preserve meat
Use green wood to make a drying rack that lets the meat hang about 4 feet above the flames.
Place a steak directly on the coals. Flip after 4 to 6 minutes. Wipe away any lingering ash.
Use hardwoods in a broad fire pit. Place a grill rack—or construct one with green wood—6 inches over your low flames.
Bake in the backcountry: Put your cook pot on your stove and turn it on low heat. Use palm-length twigs to build a pyramid-shaped fire on your cook pot’s lid. Rotate the pot to ensure even baking.
On a spit
Find two 2-foot-long, forked sticks and drive them into the ground next to your fire. Fashion a skewer out of green wood and lay it across the supports, a foot above the flames.
30. Entertain friends
Throw a few teaspoons of table salt on your fire. It’ll briefly burn bright orange.
31. Sleep on top of buried fire for warmth
Build your fire on a layer of rocks. After 2 to 3 hours, spread coals over the rocks and cover with 4 inches of dirt. Wait 10 minutes, then make a bed of brush.
32. Sleep less
You need a better excuse than a fire and a flask to stay up past midnight?
33. & 34. Bake a potato
Dirtbag Poke your potato with a fork, wrap it in foil, and chuck it on the coals for an hour.
Gourmet Chop a potato, onion, squash, and root veggies. Wrap in a foil pouch with a pat of butter and some French onion soup mix, and place it on the coals for about 30 minutes, flipping once.
35. Create a backburn
If you can’t escape a wildfire, set a preemptive blaze to burn up all the fuel. Take refuge in the burned area. Emergency use only!
36. Make art
Place a glass bottle (carefully!) on the coals and let it sit. The heated glass turns viscous; shape it with a stick. Be moderate: Worked glass gets brittle and shattered bottles are hard to pack out.
37. Make a spear
Fire-hardened wood is strong and durable. Scrape or carve a thumb-thick stick into a point. Heat the sharp end over the fire, but don’t let it light or char.
38. Sterilize instruments
Dirty metal can infect wounds. Submerge the working end in boiling water for a few seconds or hold the end over a flame (then wipe away soot).
39. Roast the perfect marshmallow
Hold your marshmallow to the side of the fire (not the top, it’ll burn) and rotate until it turns golden brown. Smoosh it between two graham crackers and a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup (big upgrade).
40. Improvise eye black.
41. Make shadow puppets.
42. Flaming arrows!
43. Start the Olympics.