How To Use a Fire Starter: A Complete Guide (2022)
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Building a fire and absorbing its warmth before going to sleep in your tent is one of the best parts of any camping trip. Using a fire starter can be intimidating to many beginner campers and hikers, but getting your fire going strong doesn’t have to be a daunting task—even if you don’t have a lighter or match at the ready.
Whether you need to learn how to use a fire starter because you’re trying your hand at survival techniques, or you’re just simply curious about how it works, this complete guide walks you through all the necessary steps to getting a good campfire going with a fire starter. It also explains the different types of fire starters out there that you may need to bring on your trip.
5 Steps for Using a Fire Starter
Through hands-on experience and consultation with other experts, we’ve established a few helpful tips for using a fire starter and broken them down into five important steps, from collecting firewood and kindling to igniting a spark and keeping the fire going. Keep reading to learn more about each step.
Step 1: Collect Firewood
Before you can use your fire starter to build your campfire, you’ll need to gather wood to put in the fire pit for burning. Below are the three of the most important types of firewood you’ll need for your campfire:
- Dry tinder: This doesn’t necessarily need to be wood, but it should be something that can burn fairly slowly, since it’s the material you’ll use to help ignite the kindling in your fire. Here are some examples of excellent dry tinder for your fire: dry grass, small twigs, pine needles, recycled paper, dry leaves, and wood shavings.
- Kindling: These can be small sticks that you gather from the forest floor or thin sticks that you split from a bigger piece of wood. You should collect around 10 of these, since you may use them later if your fire’s flame starts to dwindle.
- Fuel: The fuel of the fire are the large logs of firewood. These will keep your fire burning steady for hours and will be an important part in a later step.
The amount of each type of wood you need can depend on your situation. For instance, if you’re getting your fire started earlier in the afternoon and want it to burn through the evening, you’ll need more fuel logs.
On the other hand, if you’re planning to get your fire going, then leave it to die out for a while before starting it back up, you’ll likely need more tinder and kindling. Once you have enough of those types of wood, you’re ready to move on to the next step.
Camping folding saws can be useful during this step to help you saw off logs from branches, rather than needing to find them lying around in the forest.
Step 2: Prep for Your Fire
Once you have your firewood gathered and a perfect fire pit spot picked out, the next step is to build the structure of your fuel logs before you can use the fire starter to get them lit. Here are a few examples of useful campfire builds that you can consider while on your adventure:
- Cross: You can criss-cross two or three logs in your fire pit to build this structure. This fire is simple, but it can be hard to get burning quickly, since it doesn’t allow for much air flow under the logs. It can also require more work to keep it burning, since it will need to be fed more often than some other methods.
- Cone: This is one of the most popular methods that involves propping up your firewood in a teepee or tent shape. You’ll put the kindling in the middle, and you’ll have a steady burn on your logs for hours.
- Log cabin: This method is the best for longer fires, since it builds a dense stack of logs that can burn for a while without needing to be fed more fuel. You build the fire by stacking the wood in a square shape about two to three layers high, then put the kindling in the middle.
Step 3: Strike Your Fire Starter
No matter what type of fire starter you use, it probably includes a rod or block of steel or other metal and a blade. These are the critical components of using a fire starter to get those initial sparks to light your tinder. If you don’t have the blade, you can use the camping knife you brought along on your trip.
Gather your dry tinder together into a pile in the bottom of the fire pit and strike the blade in a downward motion—similar to striking a match—until sparks begin to fall onto the tinder. Once you start to see smoke, act quickly and move onto the next step.
Keep in mind that getting sparks from your fire steel takes patience, so don’t get discouraged if it takes a few tries to get the tinder lit.
Step 4: Spread the Fire
Immediately as the spark starts to light the tinder, you should blow on it softly to make sure a good portion of the tinder ignites. Then, make sure your tinder is in a good spot in the fire pit and can transfer the burning flames to the kindling, then ultimately to the fuel logs.
Continue to add oxygen to the fire to help it build and spread to all of the kindling and firewood. Sometimes when doing this step, you may lose your flame. Don’t be discouraged, just grab another handful of tinder and start over in the previous step.
Step 5: Keep It Burning
Now that you have your fire going strong, you can relax and enjoy the warmth around your tent, get out the marshmallows for roasting, or cook your dinner over the flames. If you notice your fire starts to die out a bit, add more of the fuel logs that you gathered earlier.
If you stop paying attention to it and it dies out enough to where the coals cool down, and you can’t get a fuel log to ignite again, you can add some kindling to any hot embers in the bottom of the fire pit, then stack the firewood logs on top and blow to add oxygen and ignite it again.
Types of Fire Starters
Fire starters are survival tools that can help you during emergency situations, but they can also be useful for every-day campers and hikers who want to quickly get a fire started without having to bring a lighter or matches on their trip.
Here are some examples of different types of fire starters you can choose:
- Flint and steel: This is the traditional fire starter that has been used for centuries. Sparks are made to start your fire by striking a rock—usually flint or quartz—against a thin piece of steel, releasing particles of metal. It can be harder to light than other options and takes patience, but it can last much longer than alternatives. It can also feel very rewarding to get your fire started with a traditional flint and steel.
- Magnesium block: Also known as a mag bar, this fire starter is used by scraping bits of magnesium off the rod that burn very hot and light the tinder with their high heat. It typically features a small ferro rod attached to the side that can be used to light a spark to ignite the magnesium shavings.
- Ferrocerium rod: Also known as a ferro rod or firesteel, this is a common type of fire starter used by many campers and survivalists. They can often be included with other camping tools, such as backpacking multitools and camping shovels. If you haven’t purchased your ferro rod yet, we recommend finding a softer one. Although hard ferro rods last longer, they can be harder to start a fire, since they don’t release as many metal shavings and sparks.
Below are examples of each type of fire starter that you can purchase on Amazon:
Before You Leave
Using a fire starter for your first time can be exciting, whether you’re going on a long adventure and looking to rely on it as your main source of heat generation, or you just want to test your skills in the wilderness. We recommend trying it a few times at home before you go on your trip to practice and be sure you have the hang of it. Additionally, it doesn’t hurt to bring along a few matches, just in case something goes wrong.
Additional note: Always be careful when using a fire starter and other camping tools, since they can potentially be dangerous to you or others, and follow the proper fire safety guidelines to keep it from spreading beyond your fire pit.