What are the Three Parts of the Fire Triangle?

what are the three parts of the fire triangle?

The three parts of the fire triangle are heat, fuel and oxygen.

Most of us will be aware of the fire triangle from those school science lessons.

However, it is worth briefly going over again though, to reinforce its importance when lighting a fire in the field.

Let’s take a look at each of the 3 components.

1. Heat

The fuel needs heat in order for it to release its combustible vapours, which in turn, ignite from a flame or spark.

This heat also dries out the surrounding material, causing that to release combustible vapours also and is how a fire spreads and takes hold.

This is why a wood fire will start slowly at first but start to blaze, once the correct conditions for it to do so are met.

2. Fuel

A fire needs fuel to burn. This is pretty obvious, but the type of fuel needs to be considered.

The most common fuel that we use in bushcraft is wood, as it is freely available and for the most part, sustainable.

You can’t usually just set fire to a large log though, as you need to build the fire up in stages.

To light an all-wood fire, we generally need 3 grades of wood fuel:

Tinder: This takes your ignition source and transforms it into a flame or ember.

Kindling: These are small pieces of wood that have either been collected in that state, ie small twigs or that have been chopped down to size from a larger log.

Main fuel: Anything larger than kindling – usually large branches and logs that are dry and form the main fuel source.

3. Oxygen

A fire requires 16% oxygen to burn.

Oxygen acts as the oxidising agent for the chemical reaction that produces the flame.

A flame will not form without it.

Therefore, oxygen is vital to the success of a fire.

Fresh air contains approximately 21% oxygen, depending on your altitude.

Therefore, as long as you maintain a good supply of fresh air to the fire, it should continue to burn, as long as the other conditions are met.

The Fire Triangle in action

The Fire Triangle

Without all 3 parts of the triangle present, you will not achieve a sustained fire.

If you have fuel and fresh air for example, but not enough heat to ignite and sustain it, your fire will go out.

Equally, if you have heat and fresh air, with wet fuel, such as very damp wood – your fire will not start.

The fuel element has not been satisfied and the triangle implodes.

An example of not meeting the oxygen requirement would be that you load too much fuel onto the fire, too quickly, in which case you smother the flames and kill off the airflow.

To be successful, you need to keep all 3 elements in balance, ensuring a sustained and controlled fire for you to warm yourself and cook with.

Keeping all 3 parts in mind will ensure greater success.

The video below from Coalcracker Bushcraft explains this visually:

What are the 3 stages of a fire?

Generally speaking, a fire has 3 stages:

Growth stage: when the fire is building and gathering heat and voracity. In this stage, the fire is very much dependent on the oxygen and fuel supply that it has.

Fully developed: this is the stage when the fire has reached its peak and is now giving out a good amount of heat. You should also have a good bed of embers now to keep the fire sustained.

Decay: once you stop feeding the fire with fuel, the fire will enter the decay stage and start to burn down. The embers are still extremely hot at this stage though and will likely ignite any fresh fuel that you put on. If left alone, however, the fire will die out on its own.

What happens when 3 elements of the fire triangle combine?

If you have the correct proportion of heat, fuel and oxygen present and you have a source of ignition, such as a spark, or flame – then you have a good chance that a fire will start, as it has all the required elements.

This could be a good thing if you are looking to start a fire…It could also be a very bad thing if you are not.

Always be mindful of potential ignition sources and keep things such as tinder and stored wood well away from anything that could ignite it.

Summary

We hope you found this a good refresher on ‘What are the three parts of the fire triangle?’

It’s a very simple concept, but quite often forgotten about when trying to get a fire lit.

Next time you do light a fire, try and bear all the elements in mind and you should have more success

Want more??? We have loads more articles for you to read in our fire section here.

Fire lighting – Ignition

The Fire Triangle in action

This article outlines the main fire lighting options that are specific to bushcraft applications, in the Northern Hemisphere.

There are a number of ways to light a fire, with various tinder and ignition options available.

What you use will ultimately depend on your environment and what you have with you.

For this article, we will concentrate on the equipment used to start a fire, using a spark, flame or other magical force.

After reading this post, you should have a solid understanding of the different firefighting methods available and how to implement them effectively in the outdoor environment.

Matches

Picture of matchbox
Matchbox

Although it has slightly fallen out of favour to the more widely used lighter, the humble match is still a great option for fire lighting, as long as you take a few precautions.

It is good practice to become proficient at lighting a fire with just one match.

This way you do not to go through all your matches just to get a single fire lit.

Ideally, you should be aiming for one match, one fire!

This is easier said than done, but with practice and with the correct preparation, this can be achieved consistently.

Remember, prepare your kindling and fuel in advance, so that everything is ready to go.

Good practice

Keep the matches dry: it sounds obvious, but it’s easy to forget about your matches until you go to use them.

Matches and moisture don’t do well together – the heads will soften and disintegrate when trying to strike them.

Store your matches correctly, in a dry environment.

A dedicated waterproof matchbox is the best bet, such as a 35mm film canister, with a section of the striker glued to the inside lid.

If you have the time, you can also make one out of birch bark.

Ray Mears has a video on how to make one below:

How to light a match correctly

Everyone can light a match, can’t they? Well yes, but most don’t do it correctly. And why would they?

Most of the time it’s not the end of the world if you go through a few matches at home, lighting the BBQ or some candles.

If you are out in the field though, away from it all, it can really matter!

You need to get maximum use out of those matches and not use half the box to get a fire lit.

It may be your only ignition source, so learn to make them count.

Correct fire lighting technique

Assuming your matches are dry, the most important thing to have ready, before you even think about getting a match out of the box, is your kindling and main fuel source.

Using a standard pack of matches, find out which way the heads are facing. 

If the weather is dry, open the matches however you like. It will not make much difference.

Should it be raining or snowing though, open the pack from the other end (stick end) and keep the open end pointing downwards.

Put your back to the wind if it is raining, to shield the pack even further.

This is to stop any chance of a water droplet, or snowflake, getting in there, potentially ruining your match heads.

Assuming your hands are dry, take one match from the box by pulling one out and downwards.

Close the box. 

Hold the box in one hand, with the striker facing towards the match in the other hand.

Grip the match at the bottom of the stick with your index finger and thumb.

You now also want to place your middle finger directly on the match head itself.

This provides support to the match head and minimises the chance of it snapping on you.

If you have not done this before, you can be forgiven for being a little nervous about burning this finger when you go to strike the match.

However, in practice, the striking action is so fast, that your finger will be well out the way of the burning match head before it gets a chance to burn you.

You should naturally remove the middle finder when you strike and just have the match gripped between the thumb and index finger.

Strike the match!

Now that you have lit the match, immediately cup your hands and shield the flame.

You do not want the flame blowing out from a gust of wind. 

After a few seconds, the flame should establish and the main wooden stick should start to take and establish a stronger flame.

Now carefully take your flame to your kindling and keep it shielded while you ignite it. 

Once you have lit the kindling, you should now have an established flame that you can slowly build on with your different wood sizes, until you have a well-established fire.

Once the fire is stable and doesn’t need your constant attention, place the matches back in their box – not on damp ground.

Place back inside your pocket/backpack etc, to ensure they are kept dry.

You only used one match didn’t you, so you have plenty left for next time 🙂

Cigarette lighters

Clipper Lighter Bushcraft Firelighting
Standard refillable gas lighter

It doesn’t need much explaining and indeed some would regard it as cheating, but we all use lighters from time to time. 

They are fast and reliable.

Even though this is a common igniter, I would 100% advise that you practice and become proficient in the other methods (match, firesteel, etc), in all weathers.

This ensures that you can light a fire confidently, in a variety of conditions and environments, with multiple ignition options at your disposal.

If one fails you have another to use – it always pays to have a backup option.

Gas lighters

The disposable type is the most common and what most people think of when they think of a lighter.

I would urge you not to use disposable lighters if you can, as they are not great for the environment.

A good standard one that I like is the Clipper. They are refillable and you can replace the flints in them when needed.

They also just work! 

Windproof lighters: Another gas option is the windproof type – sometimes known as a butane torch.

These are designed for lighting up in bad conditions, by providing a jet like flame.

They use a piezo ignition and create quite a roar, which in turn uses up more gas than the standard type above.

The only problem with these types of lighter is that I am yet to find one that is reliable, as they all seem to break pretty quickly and stop igniting, hence me not recommending them.

If you do find a good one though, please let me know in the comments below.

Petrol lighters

Black Zippo Lighter
My trusty Zippo

One of my favourites is the petrol lighter, or to be exact a Zippo.

I just really like these and have used my trusty black version for donkey’s years.

They are solid and have that great unique ‘Zippo’ sound when opening and closing.

They are refillable, using the recommended specific lighter fluid – but at a push, you can also use other fuels, such as petrol or Coleman fuel.

Be very careful with these though and follow directions.

You can also replace the flints and wicks on them – and genuine Zippos also come with a lifetime guarantee.

The fuel can evaporate if left for a while, but if you are a regular user, these are a great option.

Correct technique

Using a lighter is pretty instinctive and I’m not going to insult you my telling how to light one up. There is only one way to do it.

However, I will mention trying to avoid rolling the strike wheel the wrong way, as this messes up the flint. That’s all I will say.

Once lit, as with matches, cup your hands to protect the flame whilst it ignites your kindling.

Place back in your pocket and get that fire roaring!

Ferro rods

Swedish Fire Steel - Light My Fire - Ferro Rod - Ferrocerium - Fire Lighting
Swedish Fire Steel – Light My Fire

The original ferro rods were composed of a mixture of 30% iron (ferrum) and the rare earth metal cerium – hence ferrocerium rod.

In recent times, this has been shortened to ferro rod, but is also known as a Swedish fire steel – or just fire steel.

Modern-day ferro rods are made from an alloy of rare-earth metals, known as mischmetal, which includes iron and magnesium to harden the material.

When struck with the back of a knife, or metallic striker, this action causes the metals to shed from the rod and combust.

This produces incredibly hot sparks – that can reach temperatures of around 3000 deg ℃ (5432 ℉).

If you have a good dry tinder such as some scraped birch bark or amadou, these sparks will ignite it very efficiently, with just a few strokes.

Ferro rods are incredibly simple in design and will last a very long time – that is their beauty.

They are very low maintenance and will still strike in all conditions, even if it is wet and cold.

They are an excellent tool, even if you only carry one as a backup to your lighter – I would always recommend carrying one when you are out.


Which ones are good?

Most firesteels are able to create a good shower of sparks.

Some are easier to use than others, with different lengths coming into play and handle options.

Some people like to take the time to make a custom firesteel, by affixing a handle made from deer antler or similar onto a blank rod. This makes for a nice looking tool.

Most standard options have a plastic handle though and are a solid, no-fuss option.

The one I currently use is the Light My Fire – 2.0 firesteel.

Light My Fire are a Swedish company, with their factory based in Västervik

They have been around a long time, and this simple to use and uncomplicated design makes this a great choice if you are looking for a decent ferro rod.

Flint and steel

Flint and steel striker in hand - fire lighting
Traditional flint and steel striker

The flint and steel is a traditional and time served fire lighting method.

When the steel striker hits the flint, the flint removes a very small piece of the striker’s metal and this creates a spark.

Not the other way around as is commonly believed.

You will not get anywhere near the same amount of sparks as you would with a fire steel, but this method does work and is ultra reliable.

The sparks produced are known as ‘cold sparks’, so you will need to be patient and try and catch one while it’s still glowing.

If you manage to get this spark to land on your chosen tinder, such as char cloth or some birch bark, you can then blow on this to encourage ignition.

As per the video below, you will need a nice sharp stone for this to work correctly, so that the small fragments of metal are removed.

Flint is ideal for this due to its ability to shed material and leave an incredibly sharp edge as it flakes away.

You can obtain some locally, or bring some in and keep it in a pouch along with your striker and tinder.

With some practice and correct technique, this is a great, reliable method, that has very little to go wrong.

Fire piston

Camp Fire Piston - Slam Rod - Fire Starter
The Camp Fire Piston – USA made

A fire piston – sometimes known as a slam rod – uses compressed air to ignite a small piece of tinder.

The fire piston is made up of two sections, one male part, one female.

The tinder – usually a piece of char cloth (see below) – is placed at the end section of the male part.

The male part then slides into the female (sorry).

When pushed down with force, the airtight seal causes the air inside to compress and raises the temperature to around 250 ℃.

This is usually hot enough to ignite the tinder.

The male part can now be removed and the ember placed onto your awaiting main tinder.

You can now blow on this to get your fire going.

Which one to get

There are a multitude of fire pistons on the market, with the bulk coming from China.

If you can, go for an American made fire piston.

One that works and also looks great is the Campfire Piston. It is made in the USA out of hickory wood.

A good video showing the fire piston in use can be viewed below:

Bow drill

A bow drill set is a great tool to use in the Northern Hemisphere and can create a good ember even with slightly damp wood.

You will need the following parts to create one:

Bow section: the main part that is drawn back and forward to create the drilling action. This is a formed from a carefully selected tree branch.

Cord: this attaches to the bow and is what grips and spins the drill. 550 paracord is usually used for this.

Drill section: this is what spins and ‘drills’ into the hearth below to create an ember.

Bearing block: used to create a low friction ‘cup’ that sits on top of the drill section and is held in place with your non-dominant hand.

Hearth: the base section of wood that stays fixed in place and is ‘drilled’ into, to create an ember.

Ray Mears demonstrates the process in the video below:

For an even more detailed look, MCQBushcraft has an excellent video on this also.

Magnifying glass

A very basic but effective method is to start a fire from a lense, usually a magnifying glass.

If you carry a standard plate compass, such as the Silva Expedition 4, then you will have a magnifying lens built into the compass.

You do need bright sunlight for this to work, but assuming the sun is strong enough, you can move the lens closer to the tinder until you have a small concentrated spot of light, that is laser focussed on your tinder.

If the beam of light is intense enough, the tinder will start to smoke and with a little help – eventually, ignite.

This is a great method to use, as it enables your compass to have a dual purpose.

Not much use if it’s cloudy though!

Summary

As you can see, there are many different ways to get a fire going. I would encourage you to try and master as many methods as you can.

Not only is it fun, it could save your bacon one day and is certainly not wasted effort.

We positively encourage you to leave a comment below or contact us to let us know what you think, good or bad.

We read them all.

Until the next time….

James

Bushcraft Hub