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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Survival Basics: How to Build a Fire in a Rocket Stove

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Gaye Levy

There comes a time when every prepper will say enough with all of the food and enough with all of the gear. Preparing a survival pantry, first aid kit and bug-out-bag are all important tasks but at some point we need to take a break from gathering stuff and move on to some of the basic skills needed to to insure our comfort in an emergency situation.

One of those skills is the ability to cook food outdoors. Sure, we all know how to fire up the barbie and grill burgers. But what if the backyard barbeque was not available?

If that happens, you are going to want to be ready to act. Like flipping a switch, you will want to immediately call up some basic outdoor skills that will help you get on with the business of cooking (and eating) until things, such as they are, return to normal.

This includes building a fire so that you can cook your food. A simple thing, yes, but important none-the less.''


Most people have terrible fire skills. It is not that fire skills are difficult to learn, mind you, it is just that in today’s world of electronic cooking gadgets, pre-packaged meals, and grab and go dining, using a fire to do something basic like cook seems like a lot of work and a plain nuisance compared to get getting the job done with electricity or natural gas.

Today I am going to solve that by showing you how to build a fire so that you can cook outdoors the simple and easy way.

Before we start, however, you need to understand the three basic elements that are needed to build and sustain a fire, namely, oxygen, fuel, and heat. Together these elements make up the Triangle of Fire. It looks like this:

Keep these three factors in mind as we discuss how we are going to create a cooking fire.

Building a fire is not difficult, but getting it started and keeping it going long enough to actual cook something can be a challenge if you have never done it before. There are dozens of ways to build a fire, some easy and some more challenging. We are going to stick with the easy way to get a fire going with the express purpose of cooking in a survival situation. We are going to do that by using a rocket stove.


A rocket stove is a cooking stove that uses small diameter wood fuel such as twigs and branches that are burned in a simple high-temperature combustion chamber. As combustion takes place, heat is created producing flames that reach upward toward the cooking surface. Common among campers and backpacking enthusiasts, rocket stoves are relatively new to urban dwellers or those that do not spend a lot of time outdoors. These days, however, they are becoming popular with ordinary, everyday folks and preppers (like us) who seek fuel efficient ways to cook outdoors when the grid goes down.

There are many commercial rocket stoves available and I own two including the Solo Stove and the EcoZoom Versa. On the other hand, an efficient rocket stove can be had for as little as a couple of bucks, especially if you are willing to do a bit of work to build one yourself.

If you would like to build your own, see the article Building a DIY Rocket Stove.


Here is the short list:

1. A Rocket Stove

You can use a DIY version or a commercial backpacking stove such as the Solo Stove,EcoZoom or others.

2. Ignition Source

The easiest ignition source will be matches (preferably waterproof), a lighter (disposable or the durable Zippo) or a magnesium fire starter such as the Swedish FireSteel.

3. Tinder

Dryer lint, cotton balls soaked in petroleum jelly or purchased tinder will all work. There are lots of other choices but these three are easy and don’t require a lot work to prepare in advance.

4. Fuel

You best choices are charcoal briquettes or biomass (twigs, leaves or branches).

5. Cooking Utensils & Tools

Pots, fireproof gloves, something to stir plus, a manual can opener (if you are starting with canned foods).


Once you have these items, starting your fire is easy.

Your rocket stove will have an open chamber at the bottom where you will stack your fuel source. Do not pack the chamber too tightly since to get going, and stay going your fire is going to need oxygen. (Remember that “Triangle of Fire”?)

Place your tinder in the center of your little stack of fuel and using your ignition source, light the tinder. It should catch very quickly and begin to burn your fuel, creating heat. As soon as you have a nice little fire going, gradually add additional fuel until the flames reach up to the top of the chamber. At this point your fire should be hot enough to boil water and to cook your meals on the top surface of the stove.

After placing your pot of food or water on the cooking surface, be mindful that you will need to continue to feed fuel into the open chamber. The same rule applies: do not pack the chamber so tightly that you starve the fire of oxygen. If that happens, the fire will go out and you will need to start all over.


Building a fire is something to be taken quite seriously and there are a few things to remember.

Never build your fire indoors, except in a real fireplace. Build your fire outdoors, confined to a fireproof area or in a fire pit. Also, keep in mind that fires are hot. Wear fireproof gloves (inexpensive welding gloves work great) while dealing with the open fire and especially while feeding the chamber of your rocket stove with new twigs or branches. After all of your effort to build a fire, you do not want to burn yourself and make matters worse than they already are!


Your action item today is to build (or purchase) a rocket stove and practice starting a fire in the chamber. Keep the fire going and boil some water to learn how long it takes and also to gain some experience keeping the fire going for an extended period of time.

As you do this, keep in mind that in many situations, an outdoor grill, a fire pit or a Coleman stove may be available for cooking as well. That said, the basics of starting a simple fire for cooking purposes still apply and as far as the rocket stove? It just makes good sense to have one of those too.

Read other articles by Gaye Levy here.

Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!

Gaye started Backdoor Survival to share her angst and concern about our deteriorating economy and its impact on ordinary, middle-class folks. She also wanted to become a prepper of the highest order and to share her knowledge as she learned it along the way. She considers her sharing of knowledge her way of giving back and as always, we at Activist Post are grateful for her contributions.

If you would like to read more from Gaye Levy, check out her blog at  You can also visit her Facebook page or sign up for updates by email by clicking on Backdoor Survival Updates.

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