Fire Starters

Experienced campers know that having more than one option to start a fire is almost always necessary in the outdoors. While waterproof matches and butane lighters are your best option in most scenarios, they’re not necessarily always available. This, of course, is why a little fire building knowledge and material will serve you well in a fire-necessary situation.

Before delving into fire starting itself, it’s important to cover a bit of safety first. As a rule of thumb, always dig a pit or use rocks to create a boundary for your fire. Without a flame retardant surrounding, the odds of your fire burning out of control are much greater. Secondly, be careful about the placement of your fire. Never set it up directly under low branches, and always allow more room if it’s windy. Remember that even one small ember suspended in the air carries risk.

With that out of the way, let’s dive into a few emergency fire starting materials you should have on hand. The more fire starters you carry with you, the better you’ll be able to get one burning in a desperate situation. For kindling, nothing beats good, old fashioned dead grass and leaves. Plant material that’s brown and dry is always a good bet. To get them smoldering, some alternative fire starters to carry include a flint and steel and a nine volt battery with steel wool. Read on for more ideas, techniques, and tips on fire starting.

campfireHere is our summary of various types of home-made Fire Starters. Email us any other suggestions that should be added.

  • Use pine cones covered with wax.**
  • Pack charcoal in paper egg cartons and tie shut. When ready to use, just light the carton.
  • Put a piece of charcoal in each section of a paper egg carton. Cover with melted wax.** Tear apart and use as needed. You can also use sawdust, dryer lint or Pistachio shells instead of the charcoal.
  • Take 100% cotton balls and thoroughly rub Vaseline into them. Keep in a ziplock bag.
  • Newspaper cut into strips(3″-4″ wide). Roll up and tie with string. Cover with melted wax.**
  • Use lint from your dryer as a fire starter.
  • Bundle about 10-12 Diamond brand “strike-anywhere” wooden kitchen matches together with waxed dental floss. The heads of the matches should all be pointing in the same direction. Generously soak the buddle of matches (except heads) in melted paraffin wax** to waterproof and to provide a long burn time. Dip heads lightly only to waterproof them. Simply strike on flat rock to ignite.
  • Cut a cotton cord into 1″ lengths and soak in melted wax.** Let dry and store in empty film container or ziplock bag.
  • These are called candy kisses. Use the small 6″ emergency candles and wrap them up in waxed paper. Tie/twist both ends of the waxed paper to seal in the candle (looks like a salt water taffy candy). Light an end when you are ready to start your fire.
  • Cut waxed milk cartons into strips to be used as kindling for your campfire.
  • Stuff paper towel or toilet paper rolls with paper.
  • To get your charcoal pieces ready quicker, use a charcoal chimney.
  • Newspaper crumbled into a ball
  • Use dried pine needles
  • Soak a piece of charcoal in lighter fluid. Coat with wax.**
  • Use small condiment or “sample-size” cups. Add a long wick to each cup and fill with melted wax.** You can also fill them with sawdust.
  • Stack of small pieces of cardboard covered in wax**
  • Waterproof your matches by dipping them in wax** or coating them with clear nail polish
  • Use cotton string about 3-4″ long, put in wax paper bathroom cup with about an inch hanging over the edge. Fill cup nearly to the top with saw dust and pour melted wax into the cup. The saw dust will compact and become waterproof. The extra string length is a wick to start burning the starter, but can also be tied to another starter string through a pack loop to carry outside your pack. – Submitted by C. Berman
  • Keep a plastic “twister” type of pencil sharpener handy. It’s great for shaving kindling (especially if wood is damp)
  • Use wooden ice cream/popsicle sticks. Keep them in a watertight container.
  • Unraveled twine
  • Take an empty toilet paper roll and tie some tissue paper onto one end with some twine. Fill roll with sawdust, cotton balls, etc. Tie the other end as you did the first one, but leave some string hanging out. Put candle wax on the string.
  • Use old tuna or cat food cans. Wash & dry. Cut long pieces of cardboard about 1 1/2 inches wide. Roll these into tight spirals. Pour empty cans about half full of wax. Insert cardboard spirals and let the wax set.

* Never use liquid igniters on your campfire. Example: lighter fluid, gasoline etc.

** When melting wax, only use a double boiler set up. Melted wax can easily ignite. Have a fire extinguisher handy in case of emergency.

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8 Replies to “Fire Starters”

  1. way back in my Boy scout days we made fire starters for either starting wood or charcoal fires by using Old bulletin board stock we would cut the material into 1 ” squares then soak in melted paraffin wax they would be water proof , when the time came to use you would simply use your fingernail or knife blade and pry up 1 corner and light it they would burn for about 15-20 min each long enough to catch your fire .If using for charcoal you would use 2 to 3 with corners pried up in a triangle pattern with the pried up corners facing each other and light the 2 tabs lay your coals on top leaving air space and its done . these work every time are waterproof and white board / bulletin board stock is cheap or often found as cast offs of most offices or schools hope this helps you out

  2. Yeah, paraffin wax is the stuff. It’s with canning supplies in grocery or hardware stores. Melt it in a double boiler (boiling water with a small can or pot inside) to avoid it catching fire.

  3. An amusing idea, bowlan, but your “match lit thermite fire starter” won’t work. You can’t light thermite with a match; matches don’t burn hot enough. Use magnesium tape as a fuse for thermite. The magnesium tape can be lit with a match and will burn hot enough to ignite the thermite.

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