Start the fire first with tinder, then add small twigs (wire size), then pencil size twigs, then thumb size twigs. Keep the fire small so that you aren't wasting valuable energy gathering firewood all the time. However if gathering wood is easy big fires attract attention. Burn whole logs without cutting them by just sliding them into the fire as they burn (the whole log will not catch fire).
Don't fear rain. Rainwater is just on the outside, and this does not mean that wood is sodden through. Green wood and young branches are "wet," and won't ignite readily, but any kind of wood will eventually burn on a hot enough fire. If it looks like a heavy downpour is coming, build a roof over your fire using one or two big logs about a foot (30cm) above the coals.
- Paper, cardboard, or unneeded cloth can be easy to start on fire
- Use small twigs from under the main canopy of the tree as tinder. (If they don't break off easily, they are still green.)
- Dry pine needles work great to start fires and give off lots of smoke.
- Rubbing bark between your hands until it is fluffy also makes excellent tinder
- Cattails easily catch on fire.
- If stranded in a vehicle, siphon out some gas or oil.
If you don't have matches:
- The old "fire-bow" trick is very hard work even under the best circumstances
- Fire can be started with a glass lens from a magnifying glass, mirror, binoculars, and the polished bottom of a soda can. (Most eyeglasses will not work.)
- The reflector of a (broken) car headlight can be used to concentrate sunlight and start a fire. Place tinder where the filament is and point the lamp at the sun. Same with a flashlight reflector.
- Flint and steel works but you must practice with it first.
Lately many new products have become available:
- Two-part chemical fire starters work fairly well and work even in the rain
- Magnesium fire starters work well but practice with them first
Some other ideas
- a tealight candle works wonders.
- If you have a 9 volt battery and a bit of steel wool, hold the steel wool against the battery's terminals and it will spark and start the steel wool burning.
- Just for fun ( be careful with frost bite for this one) but you can actually start a fire by melting a piece of ice with your hands into a lens and using it to start a fire. However Mythbusters showed this does not work.
- Be creative
To coax a struggling fire into a healthy blaze, fan it or blow on the coals. A flap of cardboard makes an ideal fan. Be careful not to blow it out.