Boys' Life magazine

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.