Cooking and Fires

People who cook in the outdoors of New Zealand are up for a whole other level of el-fresco dining experience - whether it be on a mountain top, on a camping trip or in a backcountry hut. It is a great way to celebrate a long day of outdoor adventuring with a hot meal and friends.

What Are the Risks?

It is important to understand how to prepare and how to mitigate the risks around cooking and fires to keep you and our natural environment, safe from harm.

  • Cookers tipping in a camp - be sure to set up your camp correctly with enough room for the cooking to occur safely.
  • Huts - Turn the heating off carefully, triple checking and leave the hut as you found it, restocking firewood for the next person.
  • Running out of fuel - Always take enough supplies and fuel for an emergency situation or an extra night or two. Keep these dry in wet conditions.
  • A survival situation where you need heat, fast! - Take the right items for a survival situation and learn how to make a fire in our Camp Craft series.
  • Risks to the environment - Check it's alright to light a fire - the risk is often high, especially in the summer months.

What You Need to Know

Types of cookers

  • Compressed gas canister style - One of the most comment stoves, they are easy to set up and can be bought relatively cheap.
  • Non pressurised liquid style - Easy to ignite in most conditions and can work in the wind. Safer to transport but cooking might take longer and will use more fuel. Beware that care needs to be taken because fuel can spill easily on the ground. Refill at least 3 metres away from your cooking site.
  • Pressurised liquid fuel style - Fast and efficient with a high heat output. They are less likely to blow out in the wind but are on the expensive side.

Watch how to Cook on a Stove in the Outdoors

Things to consider before lighting a fire

  • Find out if you are permitted to light a fire via Fire and Emergency New Zealand.
  • Use an existing fire pit if available to reduce the impact on the environment.
  • Your site needs to be flat with a clear area of a metre around it. Clear away any dead dry sticks and foliage that could catch alight.

How to Build a Fire

A fire needs three things to be successful: fuel, oxygen and heat.

1. Find firewood - You need three sizes of wood to get started. 

  • Tinder is what you use to start the fire. This can include thin tree bark, dry leaves or small twigs. You can also use paper to help you get started.
  • Kindling is small sticks around 2cm in diametre. 
  • Firewood is the bigger pieces of wood that you will need to fuel your fire. Firewood doesn't need to be bigger than the width of your wrist.

2. Build the fire - Start of with a dry base, then add your tinder and shape it like a cone. Place the kindling around the tinder in a Tipi shape. Make sure you leave plenty of space between each piece of wood. A fire needs oxygen to thrive. With this in mind, place down a couple of pieces of firewood in the same Tipi fashion.

3. Light the fire - Use a match or lighter to ignite the tinder and wait for it to catch alight. If you need to, you can blow on it gently to provide more oxygen to help the flames to ignite faster. When you have yourself a roaring fire, keep adding wood to keep it alive.

How to Extinguish a Fire

Plan ahead and stop adding wood to the fire so that it can burn down to embers before bedtime. Store additional firewood at least 3 metres away from the fire and never leave the fire unattended. You can extinguish your fire by pouring water on it, turning the ashes over with a stick and repeating this until it's cool to touch. 

What to Do Next

Continue your preparation with our online resources, there is still plenty to learn to ensure for a safe and enjoyable trip!

Explore Our Resources

  • Plan My Walk app | Use our free planning tool to choose tracks, get alerts, build a gear list and share your plan with others before you go
  • Get more skills | Navigation, River Safety and more essentials in our Skills Section
  • Watch our how-to videos | There are plenty more and useful tips in our video section
  • Read our manuals | Access the NZ Bushcraft Manual and other digitised resources here
  • Learn more about Fire Safety in NZ | Fire and Emergency NZ and Preventing Wildfires with DOC