How to Start a Fire in the Wild: DIY Tinder and Kindling


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The secret to starting a fire quickly and easily is using a quick lighting and steady burning starter fuel. Here’s how to start a fire in the wild by creating your own tinder and kindling.

how to start a fire in the wild

If you want to start a campfire quickly and easily, use tinder and kindling as your initial starter fuels. Not only do they make the fire easier to light and stay lit, they also create a solid foundation for a strong, long burning fire. You can create tinder and kindling from many different materials, both natural and manmade.

How to Start a Fire in the Wild: Tinder

The best tinder consists of light and airy materials that will burn quickly from a spark or an ember. In a survival situation, it can help to use several different types of material in a tinder bundle to improve the odds of the spark catching flame.

Natural Tinder

You can find natural tinder in just about any environment. During the day, keep your eyes open for any items that may work well for tinder. Watch for dry, fibrous materials or anything lightweight and fluffy. Dry grasses, pine needles, and dried seed heads work well.

Look for fine materials such as wood rot or sawdust from dead logs or trees. Keep your eyes open for dried fungi and moss, as well as sticky sap or pitch from evergreens.

Raid an empty nest. Be on the lookout for bird or rodent nests. These are usually made of perfect materials for tinder, including down and feathers.

abandoned bird nest

Keep It Dry

Good tinder material must be dry. In rainy or damp weather, look for materials that are shielded from the worst of the weather, such as the underside of hanging boughs and dead branches that are still attached to trees or at the very least, off the ground.

Even if the outside of a dead branch is wet, if you peel away the outer bark, the inside should be dry enough to shred and use.

If everything is soggy, just take it with you. Damp tinder materials can be placed in your pockets to dry them out, making it easier to start a fire later.

Creating Tinder Balls

Once you’ve gathered your materials, break or shred any large items into smaller pieces. They need to be small enough to catch fire easily. Simply break them down with your fingers, grind them against stones or scrape them into shavings with a knife.

Make a ball of tinder at least the size of a grapefruit if not larger. (If you’re new to fire building or running out of matches, it can help to have a second tinder ball on hand just in case the first burns through before you can get your kindling started.)

Create a sort of nest for your tinder. Loose dry grasses make a good base. Make an indentation in the center, then put the other materials in the nest, mixing up the tinder materials.

A variety of different types of tinder increases the chance of catching a flame, but always put the finest materials in the center. With your Firestarter, direct any spark or ember to the center area of the tinder bundle.

tinder bundle

Making Tinder at Home

Manmade items can also be effective tinder materials. Just about anything flammable will work.

Cloth or cloth fibers burn easily. If your hem is unraveling, break off the string and add it to your mix. Check your pockets. Pocket-lint and dryer lint work well, too.

If you’re in a pinch, you can use cloth scrapings. This works well on denim or heavier materials. Simply take a sharp knife and gently scrape the blade across the fabric, shaving off a light layer of fibers. However, if you do this too often in the same spot, you’ll break down the weave and end up with holes in the cloth (which may not show up until they disintegrate in the wash).

Other flammable items include pieces of steel wool, cotton balls, and tampons.

Homemade fire starters are easy to make with minimal equipment. They usually consist of normal household items and can be created with or without accelerants.

How to Start a Fire in the Wild: Kindling

Kindling is larger than tinder. It’s usually small sticks and twigs ranging from the size of toothpicks to the width of a finger.

Look for the driest wood you can find. If it bends instead of breaking, the wood may be too green and difficult to burn. Look for something that breaks easily.

Pieces of kindling should be small enough that they will burn easily while still being large enough to produce a solid bed of coals. This bed of coals will create the foundation for your fire.

Like tinder, gather more than you think you will need. Kindling burns quickly and it’s nice to have extra on hand in case your fire burns out before you can get it to burn steadily.

Feather Sticks

To help your kindling catch fire easily, try a few feather sticks. They’re easy to make, catch fire quickly and burn steadily once started.

Make feather sticks from thick, dry branches. To make a feather stick, first, peel the bark from the branch. Shave down the stick to make curls but stop before reaching the end leaving the curl still attached to the branch.

Make several of these all around the stick, adding more curls in layers and staggering them up the length of the stick. These will catch fire easily and make great kindling.

feather sticks1

How to Start a Fire in the Wild: Adding More Fuel

Don’t be in too big of a hurry to add heavier fuel. Burn enough kindling to create a nice bed of coals. Not only will this help the larger fuel burn, but will also help you to re-start the fire if it burns out. It’s much easier to re-start a fire from hot coals than to start all over again with tinder.

With tinder and kindling, it’s easy to start a strong fire. Always keep your eyes open for any items that will make good tinder and gather them when you find them.

Use naturally found items as well as manmade items to create a tinder bundle and make sure you have enough good quality kindling on hard to create a good bed of coals. From there, you can quickly and easily create whatever type of campfire you desire.

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