Picking The Right Wood To Build A Fire In The Wild

Picking The Right Wood To Build A Fire In The WildBuilding a fire in the wild is mandatory for survival and it also a great morale booster. You should know how to build one, regardless if you are fleeing the collapsing civilization or if you are enjoying a camping trip. Picking the right wood to build a fire is the most important step to get a long lasting fire. You need to know what wood to pick and how it burns.

People falsely believe that any type of wood will work just fine and that starting a fire in the wild is no big deal. The type of wood you collect will impact the kind of fire you are making. Experienced campers know how to pick the right wood to build a fire and they follow this rule:

  • Softwoods (such as cedar) are great for starting fires
  • Hardwoods (such as oak) are ideal for sustaining a fire and build reliable cooking fires
  • Resinous woods (such as pine) can be used to make signal fires and are good for campfire. This type of wood is not recommended for cooking since it affects the flavor of your meal.

That being said, one needs to understand a thing or two about wood in general. To pick the right wood to build a fire, you can rely on two types of trees:

  1. Coniferous – The types of trees with needles that lose said needles all year long and replace them with new ones.
  2. Deciduous – The trees with leaves that lose said leaves every year.

Now that you know about the main classification, you have to understand that not every hardwood is always a deciduous tree. The same goes for softwood and there isn’t a general rule that states a conifer must always be softwood.

Even more, both types of trees can have oils or resins that can affect the taste of your food, especially if you cook meat directly over the flame or coals. You don’t have to be a tree expert to pick the right wood to build a fire. You can use simple deduction in most cases and you won’t fail to build your fire. Here are some tricks I’ve learned from other bush craft and survival enthusiasts:

  • Stay away from coniferous trees. Use them only to light the initial fire.
  • Don’t feed coniferous to your fire unless you plan to smoke your meat.
  • To establish if non-birch deciduous trees have softwood or not, split a wood piece and try to impress your fingernail into the wood. If it leaves a mark, it’s softwood.
  • Deciduous soft woods should be used only to start a fire.
  • For better cooking fires and lasting coals use deciduous hardwoods.

Picking the right wood to build a fire – BTUs and other considerations:

The term BTU is widely used below and before we go further we must understand what it represents. BTU stands for British Thermal Unit and it represents the amount of heat needed to raise the temperature of one pound of water by one degree. It’s a term used to measure the amount of heat produced by an appliance or a fuel. The simplest formula you can remember is the following:

10,000 BTU will boil 8 ounces of water in about 2 minutes.

Types of wood to burn as fuel:

Black locust

BTUs(million) per cord: 27.9   Ease of splitting: Hard  Smoke: Low   Spark: Few

Bur Oak

BTUs(million) per cord: 26.2   Ease of splitting: Easy  Smoke: Low  Spark: Few


BTUs(million) per cord: 25.5   Ease of splitting: Easy     Smoke: Low   Spark: Few


BTUs(million) per cord: 21.8   Ease of splitting: Easy     Smoke: Low    Spark: Many

Eastern Red Cider

BTUs(million) per cord: 18.2   Ease of splitting: Difficult   Smoke: Medium  Spark: Many

Osage Orange

BTUs(million) per cord: 32.9   Ease of splitting: Easy     Smoke: Low    Spark: Many

Lodgepole Pine

BTUs(million) per cord: 21.1    Ease of splitting: Easy     Smoke: Low    Spark: Many

Ponderosa Pine

BTUs(million) per cord: 16.2  Ease of splitting: Easy  Smoke:Medium   Spark: Many

Suggested article: The basics of starting and maintaining a campfire

Honey Locust

BTUs(million) per cord: 26.7    Ease of splitting: Easy     Smoke: Low    Spark: Few

Red Oak

BTUs(million) per cord: 24.6  Ease of splitting: Hard    Smoke: Low    Spark: Few


BTUs(million) per cord: 15.5   Ease of splitting: Easy   Smoke: Medium  Spark: Many


BTUs(million) per cord: 19.5   Ease of splitting: Hard  Smoke: Medium  Spark: Few

Silver maple

BTUs(million) per cord: 19    Ease of splitting: Difficult   Smoke: Low    Spark: Few

Rocky Mountain juniper

BTUs(million) per cord: 21.8   Ease of splitting: Difficult   Smoke: Medium  Spark: Many

White Oak

BTUs(million) per cord: 29.1    Ease of splitting: Hard    Smoke: Low   Spark: Few


BTUs(million) per cord: 17.6     Ease of splitting: Easy     Smoke: Low    Spark: Few

The above list should give you a good idea of what wood to choose for your fire. The tricky part remains to build the right type of fire for your needs. I wrote in a previous article about the various types of fires you can build in the wild. It should provide you with a good understanding of how a fire can influence your survival.

When picking the right wood to build a fire, some may argue that guessing the heat of the fire by looking at the BTUs chart is difficult. That might be true, but you always have an alternative when having to guess the heat of the fire.

When you want to bake or roast using coals, here is how you can properly tell if the fire is strong or weak:

Place your hand above the coal bed, right where the cooking level would be and start counting seconds. Do so while you can comfortably hold your palm down toward the fire. The number of seconds will tell you how strong the fire is.  Five seconds means a low heat, 4 seconds a medium one, 3 seconds a medium-high heat while 2 seconds means there’s a high heat.

A final word:

Picking the right type of wood to build a fire is only the first step. Once you do that, you should know how to use the wood and understand the basics of building a fire. Make sure you gather lots of tinder and kindling and have a fuel supply (hardwood) ready at all times.

Useful resources you may like:

Knowledge to survive any medical crisis situation

The vital self-sufficiency lessons our great grand-fathers left us

A DIY Project to Generate Clean Water Anywhere

Learn how to Safeguard your Home During a Crisis




1 thought on “Picking The Right Wood To Build A Fire In The Wild”

  1. great Article..Thanks;
    I’m in a camping Club & still there are few who know what wood to make a fire with. without stinking up the event.


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