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How to Start a Campfire Without Matches or a Lighter

The time to perfect your fire-making skills isn’t when you’re stranded in the wild. It’s right now. It’s especially important to learn the art of starting a campfire without using matches or lighters. What if it rains and your matches get wet? What if cold temperatures ruin your butane lighter?

Here are three ways to start a campfire using flint and steel, friction or a magnifying glass. Each method can be effective and all take lots of practice. But they’re actually pretty fun to learn.

PREPARE BY GATHERING TINDER, KINDLING AND FUEL

For all three methods, start by collecting tinder — fine, dry material that will easily burst into flame. Collect about two handfuls of something such as pine needles, the inner bark of dead branches, dried grass or slivers of wood shaved from a stick with a pocketknife.

Then create a separate pile of kindling — larger chunks of material that burn hotter and longer but need a little encouragement. Look for twigs about the size of a pencil.

Finally, collect some fuel — dead and downed wood no bigger than your wrist that you can feed the fire over time to keep it burning.

Prep your fire site the right way to increase the chances of getting the wood to burn. Start with a big, loose handful of tinder right in the middle. Arrange sticks of kindling around the tinder. Once you create a spark or get smoke from your tinder, feed with kindling until you have flames, then add fuel to get the campfire roaring.

METHOD 1: USE FLINT AND STEEL TO START A FIRE

You can buy ready-made flint-and-steel fire starters from an outdoors supply store or your local Scout shop, but if you happen to find yourself without one, try getting a spark by scraping the blade of your pocketknife against a piece of flint — a hard, gray rock that fractures easily.

Form your tinder into a nest about the size of a softball. Hold the flint just above the tinder and try to direct your sparks into it. Nurse the spark into a flame by blowing on it gently. Add kindling and fuel as needed.

METHOD 2: USE A MAGNIFYING GLASS TO START A FIRE

On sunny days, it is possible to focus enough sunlight through a curved lens to actually start a fire. You can try eyeglasses, camera lenses, magnifying glasses or the lenses from binoculars or telescopes.

Hold the lens so the sunlight goes through it onto a point in your tinder. Then wait. And wait. And be patient. It might take a while, but the tinder will eventually smoke and then burn.

METHOD 3: USE FRICTION FROM A BOW AND SPINDLE TO START A FIRE

In the old days, Scouts used to start fires all the time with a bow and spindle. You’ll need several elements to try this one yourself.

Bow: Any curved piece of wood.

Bowstring: Use a piece of nylon cord or a shoestring. You can also use a cord from a tent, pack or tarp.

Spindle: A piece of dry hardwood.

Hand block: Another section of hardwood, this one should have a depression carved into it to fit the top of the spindle.

Fireboard: A dry piece of softwood, the fireboard must have a notch whittled into it that will hold the spindle. Place some tinder under the notch.

Twist the bowstring around the spindle, then hold the spindle upright with the bottom end inside the notch in the fireboard.

Use the hand block to hold the spindle steady, and move the bow back and forth, twirling the spindle and creating friction as it rubs against the fireboard. Ideally, the friction will create enough heat to light your tinder.

LEAVE NO TRACE FIRE SITE

Even in a survival situation, try to avoid harming the environment when building your fire. Look for a spot from which a fire could not spread and where the surrounding area would not be damaged.

30 Comments on How to Start a Campfire Without Matches or a Lighter

  1. I have don it all three ways described. I find boaw and drill the hardest, only good about 1/3 of the times.

    I also find if the humidity is high, the odd of success are much less.

    I find when I do it, all three methods produce a lot of smoke. much more then is in the video.

    The fire roll is the easiest method i have seen. it uses grey ash form an old dead fire, a cotton ball two flat boards to roll the cotton ball between.

    Next is magnifying glass with charred cloth, third flint and steel with charred cloth, and lastly the bow and drill. I find if the top hand block is held as shown in the video the spindle moved from side to side and the bow is pulled back and forth, and the spindle keeps popping out.

    I find it best to support the hand block against the shin and use a shorter spindle with the leg adding rigidity – to keep the hand from moving.

  2. This is awesome. I will try METHOD 3.

  3. Dryer lint is great for starting a fire, birch bark will work anytime if finely shredded, pitch from a pine tree works good if mixed in. You can make a fire starting log by rolling up old newspaper into small logs and soak them in melted candle wax

  4. Chicagorattler // September 28, 2018 at 6:12 pm // Reply

    I had a dad ask me once why we don’t just teach the boys to use a lighter instead of the 4 different ways I was teaching them. I asked him for his lighter, he gave it to me and I dropped it into the mud and stepped on it. I then asked him to light the fire. I took my magnesium and dropped it into the mud, took it out and wiped it off. A few seconds later I had a fire. “That’s why we show them different ways” I said in my most smug tone.

  5. Fire piston. Used for thousands of years. Easy to make, or buy. Put tinder in its base, slam it down, compressed air gets glowing-hot. Dump out the glowing coal into your kindling, blow gently or fan, and voilá!

  6. this is great!!

  7. I bought the all weather fire starter and have been very pleased

  8. YESS I NEEDED THIS SO MUCH
    I’m a fail with all things fire unless I’m not trying to be

  9. Oh, there's my left kidney! // August 4, 2016 at 1:15 pm // Reply

    I agree with a lot of other people. Using steel wool and a 9 volt battery is really useful if you have them on hand. One more thing. Using eyeglass lenses doesn’t work as well and other lenses. I’ve tried my own glasses, and I’ve never been able to light anything.

  10. Used a 9 volt battery and steel wool. Put a small wad of steel wool in with the tinder and short the battery terminals with the steel wool. Careful as the steel wool will instantly begin to burn and it can get quite hot. This will work even if the steel wool is wet. Kept this in my survival kit when I was a Scout.

  11. Its really cool how you guys showed me how to do that because I was gonna try to start one at home and i needed ideas

  12. i found that match and matchbox works best

  13. great

  14. Just BTW, that little magnifying glass on your Swiss Army knife won’t even noticeably warm a sheet of dry, black paper in winter, at 40 Fahrenheiit with a light breeze blowing.

  15. next campout……competition to see who can do this….(‘ll bring the “shoelaces” for the cord on the bow…..

  16. You know, Hand sanitizer works as well….
    (To improve a blaze, not to start one)

  17. Wow, amazing, will use this for my scouting life. Thanks!

  18. awesome girl // May 2, 2014 at 1:15 pm // Reply

    im awesome

  19. great I also have a blacksmith made stricker for flint

  20. that is super cool!!!!
    next time i go backpacking i will use them!!!!
    i will buy a flint and steel.
    how much are they?

  21. thats dope yo

  22. I think that it really helps if it really happens. But it is cool

  23. meant to be funny // November 17, 2013 at 5:24 pm // Reply

    COOL!!! BUT I PREFER A FLAMETHROWER!

  24. Colonel Commando // November 12, 2013 at 10:11 am // Reply

    I’ve used the first two and also touching a 9-volt battery to fine steel wool (it really works!) for my Wilderness Survival MB. Tip: If you do use a magnifying glass, which works better than anything else, do it with extremely dry tinder in the middle of the day. Another Tip: Use a magnesium striker block and saw blade, you can buy it at Walmart for about $8-10, and not a flint and steel. It works so much better it’s not even funny.

  25. That was cool!!!!!

  26. That was cool! I know a couple of other ways too.

  27. I have done it all three ways, and a couple of more besides. I will stick with my stormproof matches, home made wax fire starters, and nice lawn chair, to watch my fire in.

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