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You’ve gathered your wood and kindling, you’ve set it up for maximum flammability, and you have one shot to get it started. The good news is that there are many different ways to start a fire, and I’ve found some of the best ones to bring camping with you.
You can start a fire with household items, flammable materials in nature, and store-bought products, but each will have their own advantages and disadvantages to consider.
It doesn’t take a degree in chemical engineering to keep a fire going, but getting one started can be a little trickier. The potential for getting your fire going can be found in some obvious (and not so obvious) places, and you can decide which one you want to try on your next camping trip.
Table of Contents
Fire Starter Found Around The House
You don’t have to run to a fancy outdoor store to find everything you need for a fire – it’s likely hiding in plain sight.
Cotton Balls and Vaseline
Before you ask, no, Vaseline gel is not flammable on its own. So how exactly does this work then? First, you want to get your cotton ball saturated with the Vaseline, working it into the middle as much as possible. You don’t want to put so much that you have globs of gel all over the outside, but you want to make sure the cotton ball is thoroughly filled.
You can use a simple fire striker to throw sparks on it or touch it with the flame of a lighter or match, it will immediately light. That’s one of the main benefits to this method – unlike most store-bought starters you don’t need an open flame to get it going.
Once the cotton ball is lit, the cotton fibers will try to burn immediately but will be slowed by the surrounding petroleum gel. Instead, a wicking effect will occur where melted petroleum is drawn up into the top fibers, then gets boiled by the heat. The liquid isn’t flammable, but the gas bubbles are and they will give you a slow, stable, sustained burn for as long as the petroleum lasts.
This fire starter will have a burn time around 4 minutes. That longevity plus the absolute simplicity of this hack makes it extremely attractive, not to mention how lightweight and accessible the materials are.
Most people create these at home before their trip and pack them in a Ziploc or tin. You could also get a pocket-sized tub of Vaseline and throw a few cotton balls into your survival kit and make them on the go.
Egg Carton and Dryer Lint
Another easy fire starter to make, this one does require some preparation ahead of time. First, take a cardboard egg carton and fill it with dryer lint or sawdust from untreated wood. Then cover the lint in a layer of melted candle wax and allow it to harden before cutting up the carton into 12 sections.
You now have 12 lightweight, portable fire starters. The wax will make sure the flame lasts long enough to light your tinder, but one downside is you do need to have an open flame source like matches or a lighter to get it started. The other downside is that they don’t work so well if they end up getting wet.
Otherwise, you can put a couple of these in a zip lock baggie and have the ability to make a campfire wherever you go. They’re easy to make and use, and you can make as many of them as you want at home. As an added bonus, you can dye the cartons with food coloring and they make great Christmas gifts for the camping enthusiast on your list!
Happy birthday to your fire, because it’s about to be born. You can use a naked birthday candle to help light your tinder, or you can take a birthday candle and wrap it in wax paper, twisting the ends like a tootsie roll. Either way, these will give you a bit more longevity than a match to get your fire going.
You do have to use a match or lighter to start the candle, but once they’re lit you usually have at least 30 seconds before they go out – and longer if you use the wax paper. These also travel very well, and you can easily add a few to a survival kit or your pack.
Alcohol Based Hand Sanitizer
If dry tinder is in short supply and you’re having a hard time getting it to catch, another way to get your fire going is to apply a small glob of hand sanitizer to the tinder.
The ethyl alcohol in hand sanitizer makes it flammable, and the flame from a dime-sized glob will burn for 1-2 minutes. It is more likely to catch with an open flame than sparks, but you may still be able to light it with a fire striker.
The nice thing about hand sanitizer is that it’s lightweight and comes in small, portable containers. You can find it just about anywhere and you likely have some at home already, even if you have to transfer it into a smaller container.
Hand sanitizer is a handy item to carry on a camping trip anyway since your hands will inevitably get dirty and need to get sterilized before eating and after a visit to the bushes.
Engineered For Flames
When choosing a fire starter, you want one main thing: for it to work! That’s why many people choose to put their faith in the experts, the ones that developed products for a consistent fire starter.
The main downside to matches is that they’re all but useless if they get wet, and they’re way too easy to put out. Fortunately, UCO gear has created the perfect solution, the Behemoth Sweetfire matches! These have given the traditional match a complete overhaul.
These 5.5” strikable tinder sticks are made from sugarcane fibers making them an eco friendly renewable product. They also have a burn time upwards of 15 minutes, if that won’t get your fire going nothing will.
Because they have a strikable tip there is no need to use matches either. And they’re not just waterproof but storm proof allowing them to ignite in both wind and rain. You can pack them all along for the trip or just bring a few and add some other useful items to the included reusable tin case.
- Crafted from the highest quality materials
- Built for performance and durability
- Made in India
This product uses the natural resin that collects in pine wood to make eco-friendly fire starters. They are harvested from leftover stumps and dead and damaged trees and split into thin 8 inch length sticks for excellent combustion. They work well, and they don’t contain any additives or chemicals.
A single box will provide enough fatwood to start more fires than you can dream of and each stick can be cut down and included in a travel friendly container, tin or bag.
Do you want a fire starter that can also function as a trail marker and waterproofer? Look no further than pyro putty. A clump of this stuff can burn for 8-10 minutes, it will glow in the dark after being charged with UV light, and it can even be used to waterproof tents or shoes. Just don’t go walking through any fires after!
The non-toxic putty is full of tiny fibers that act as little wicks for easy lighting and a smoke-free burn. Just a dime or nickel sized ball of this waterproof lightweight special blend will get a fire started in any situation wind, rain or cold.
- UNLIMITED SHELF LIFE: That’s right, we said it! Our innovative proprietary formula is backed by our No Questions Asked LIFETIME assurance.
- FULLY WATERPROOF & WEATHERPROOF: It is our mission to keep your safe and dry! Pyro Putty performs where others will not. It will even stay...
- ULTIMATE PERFORMANCE: Just a quarter size ball burns up to 15 Minutes! 1. Simply remove desired amount of Pyro Putty| 2. Pull apart compound...
For a complete gear list for your next camping adventure check out our guide to the Best Minimalist Camping Gear
Fire Starters From The Wild Outdoors
There’s a reason that wildfires are so abundant – nature is great at providing flammable material. If you can find it, then you won’t have any problem getting a nice fire going.
Bark is very hit or miss as far as its fire-starting potential goes. Birch bark, however, is a bullseye. Peel off a few chunks of the bark, then rip or cut it into thin strips. You’ll need a match to get it going, but once it does you’ll have a nice flame that will usually last for several minutes – the perfect fire starter.
While not quite as good as birch, cedar and juniper are two other trees with bark that you can use to start up your fire. They’re not quite as easily recognizable as birch, so it would help to know what they look like ahead of time.
If there are pine trees around, these things will be everywhere. You’ll want to grab the most brown and driest pine cones you can find, and then you can use a lighter or match to get them started.
These can be a bit tricky to light, especially if they’re damp, so if you want to speed up the process you can use alcohol based hand sanitizer or even bug spray to help it along. Once the pine cone is lit, it will usually burn for a minute or two.
Dry Moss, Grass or Leaves
Dry moss may seem like a bit of an oxymoron, given that most moss grows in humid or swampy environments. If you have time to let some dry out in the sun, however, it will light up extremely well.
Dry grasses and leaves, and even dry pine needles are also great fire starters. They ignite very easily, and you can usually find them in abundance. The key to using these right is to make sure that there is still air flow through your stack, otherwise you’ll choke the fire you’re trying to make.
There are a couple downsides with using tinder like moss and leaves for your fire. First, they smoke. A lot. Even when they are bone dry, they’ll still put out more smoke than most other starters.
Another issue is their longevity – most leaves and pine needles will produce a large flame quickly, but one that doesn’t burn very hot or very long at all. It may take a lot of leaves to get your kindling to actually catch.
Having a few dependable fire starter options is a necessity on any camping trip, but even the most flammable starters are useless without a spark or flame to ignite them. We’ve tried all types of matches, lighters and sparkers on our journeys through the wilderness.
The unstoppable ignition ability of the UGO Stormproof matches is second to none. With the ability to burn up to 25 seconds under water or in gale force winds, they won’t let you down when you need the most.
Even though the matches have no problem with water they come in a waterproof container that protects them from damage and gives them a 5 year shelf life keeping them ready for action.
You can rely on the no nonsense standard size Stormproof Matches or the ridiculously large Titan Stormproof Matches to provide a flame when you need it most.
- Includes 12 Titan matches, 3 replaceable strikers, waterproof case and cord
- Titan Stormproof matches are windproof and burn up to 25 seconds in duration
- Titan matches stay lit under water and in gale force winds
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Flameless Arc Plasma Lighter
If you want a weatherproof lighter then look no further than a Dual Arc Plasma Beam Flameless Waterproof lighter. The name alone is impressive, but it still has nothing on the reliability of this modern take on the lighter.
Fueled by battery, this USB rechargeable ignition source substitutes 2 plasma arcs in place of a traditional flame. This combination of cutting edge technology and ruggedized waterproof case create a pretty cool tool to keep the on hand in the bush.
- Waterproof and windproof:Both lighter cover and locking clasp with metal ring sealed design,to achieve perfect waterproof...
- USB rechargeable:Simply connect the Green Vivid waterproof lighter to any powered USB port,then USB cable allow the ligher be charged...
- Eco-Friendly and safe to use:Use plasma tech to eliminate Butane which is harmful chemical for human body.With multiple protection,such as...
Butane Torch Lighter
The pressurized fire power of a butane torch lighter like the Guevara dual flame is great for starting a fire in any weather. Butane ignites easily with the simple press of a button, and the viewing window will tell you when to refill the reservoir for your next adventure.
The high visibility of the waterproof yellow case stands out whether laying on the ground at night or deep down in the bottom of your pack. The flame’s wide base and adjustable height makes this high strength metal lighter easy use and very dependable.
- High Quality :Top Quality Sturdy Metal Body Lighter with Fuel Level Window, universal Refill Valve.
- Butane Refillable: Flame Height Adjustable. Butane Fuel Refillable. Lighter Does NOT Come Filled with Butane Due to Mailing Regulations.
- Strong Flame: Super Powerful Flame and Large Flame Base. Large Flame Base gives you a wider surface area that has no issue lighting objects...
Building a fire is often a camping necessity, and there are many different ways to get it started. Whether you prefer the home hack or using what nature has to offer, the best choice is ultimately the one that gets your fire going.