Have you ever been in that frustrating place where you’re trying to get your campfire going and it’s just not happening?
Maybe it’s been raining…your wood is wet…it’s too windy…and you might be out in the back country somewhere. Your dinner and warmth depend on you getting that thing started and keeping it going.
(Or maybe you’ve been looking forward to s’mores all day. Whatever!)
What you need is an Amazingly Easy campfire starter.
These two ideas also happen to be amazingly cheap, which is always good news!
What do you need to build a good campfire?
There are five things you need for a fire
- FLAME OR SPARK—Matches (I suggest strike-anywhere matches in a waterproof container) or a lighter. You can try a flint-and-spark tool…more power to ya!
- TINDER—Birch bark, pine needles, very small and dry sticks, dead grasses, bark shavings…something highly combustible that’ll burn long enough to get your kindling burning. The best tinder is material that burns when it’s wet.
- KINDLING—Dry sticks an inch or two in diameter. You want material that’ll start burning quickly, and stay burning long enough to get your fuel going.
- FUEL—Wood that’s been dead and dried for several months, i.e., laying on the forest floor or from an obviously dead tree. If you’re in your yard, wood you’ve cut, split and let sit for 6-12 months.
- AIR—Fire needs oxygen, so your materials need room to breathe. The classic teepee or log cabin designs (sticks criss-crossed) both work great.
For best results, you need 1-4 next to you before you light the match. Don’t do what I’ve done and use your precious tinder up before you’ve gathered or split your kindling!
Make-your-own fire bundle
I learned this from some friends as part of their training on off-the-grid cooking.
If you live in a northern climate like Minnesota where birch trees are plentiful, birch bark is ideal for this nifty idea. If you don’t, newspaper will work too (although not when it’s wet!).
Each bundle is a combo of small pieces of birch bark, a handful of tinder material, and a few kindling-size pieces all wrapped with a large piece of birch bark and tied with twine.
Your kids or grandkids will LOVE making these! Go out in the woods and find dead tree branches, gather some birch bark and start building. One or two dead branches will give you tinder and kindle for several bundles.
One dry bundle is all you need to get a great fire going. Light a match to the birch bark or pine needles and the bundle will burn for 10-15 minutes. Plenty of time to start laying your kindling on.
It was the easiest fire I’d ever built!
Perfect for campfires, backyard bonfires and even your in-home wood fireplace.
Ye olde cotton ball trick
One article I read toted this as the oldest trick in the book, but I had never heard of it. So it’s new to me. Maybe it’s new to you, too.
When you head out to the backcountry and have to carry everything with you—whether it’s backpacking or canoeing—take one of these little packs along and you’re set.
Here’s what you do…
Take a bunch of cotton balls and rub petroleum jelly (i.e., Vaseline®) all over them. That’s it! Two materials all of us have in our homes. They cost pennies.
These great fire starters only weigh a few ounces and take up so little space it’s ridiculously easy. Throw a handful of them in a ziplock bag and you’ve got it made.
My friend Kirsten and I were glad to have them along in the Boundary Waters recently because of strong winds and occasional rain. We timed one little cotton ball that burned steadily for 10 minutes.
So there you have it.
Two amazingly easy fire starters made with materials you either have on hand or can easily get.
Another idea came in…
Krista, an Active Outdoor Journal reader, sent this idea in. It’s from her sister, Nancy:
- Fill a paper egg carton bottom with cedar shavings.
- Pour melted paraffin wax onto them and push a pine cone into the top.
- Pour a little more wax on.
- Let cool and cut apart.
Thanks, Krista and Nancy!
Sharon is the founder and publisher of Active Outdoor Women. She loves getting outside in beautiful places to hike, paddle, camp, snowshoe, ski, ride—and encouraging others to come along! Besides maintaining AOW and her other website, Twin Cities Outdoors, Sharon writes and designs websites, newsletters, blogs, emails, books and other marketing tools for clients.