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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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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

  1. Boy Scout Bob // February 8, 2019 at 3:59 pm // Reply

    Dip your “strike anywhere” matches in some clear fingernail polish to make waterproof matches. These will last forever.
    You can still find the “strike anywhere” matches online.
    Use a vacuum sealer to make small, sealed pouches for the individual items in your kit. i.e. matches, lint, trail snacks, etc.

  2. i love you guys

  3. The items shown in Method 1 are not a real flint and steel set. That’s a ferrocerium rod and it’s way easier than using real flint and steel.

    The video shows a knife being struck with a piece of flint. When you use flint, you’re actually shaving off pieces of steel. Hopefully you can see why using the front edge of your knife is a bad idea.

  4. 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.

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

  6. 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

  7. 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.

  8. 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!

  9. this is great!!

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

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