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Survival Essentials for Lighting a Fire on the First Try


The firewood has been gathered.  You have the wood organized into your preferred configuration and are ready to start your campfire.  And here is where you must pause and consider your options.  Your ability to start a fire is one of the most critical elements you need to remember when setting out to camp outdoors. 

It is rarely the case where you can simply add a flame to a pile of wood and have it spring to life as a brilliant fire.  Before I get into the tinder possibilities, let me first consider the flame options you have for starting a fire. 


  • Matches
  • Traditional Lighter
  • Grill lighter
  • Other traditional means

 Survival Essentials for Lighting a Fire on the First Try

This last piece is too vast for me to really go into here since people have been devising clever means to light fires for millennia.  When I am packing my camping gear, I generally prefer to use a grill lighter to start my fires.  They are durable, can handle getting wet (to a point), and allow you to reach farther into your fire’s base without having to upset your tinder too much.  Now lets talk tinder.

Tinder is the stuff you use to start your main fire.  It is what you first put flame to and what you hope will cause the wood you have so carefully organized go from dried wood to brilliant flame in only a matter of moments. 

You can use all of the traditional methods such as leaves or shredded bark.  If you have a really sharp knife you can also take a piece of dried wood in a way shred it to create a tinder bundle.  All of these methods work, but what I would like to focus on are the things you can pack in while hiking that won’t add much weight and probably have sitting right around you. 

One of my favorite things to use for tinder is newspaper.  It is one of the very best things to include in your pack when setting out for any survival camping situation.  I don’t actively get newspapers delivered to me, but I sure get a lot of junk mail publications that work just as well.  The junk mail I use is the same as newsprint, and is not the glossy ads you receive from credit card companies or local auto dealers. 

Depending on the state of the wood I am using, I may just take several sheets of newspaper and crumple them into a loose ball or I may twist them into a tight roll.  If I use the ball approach, I will usually build the fire stack around the newspaper to avoid knocking everything over.  If I opt for the twist approach, I will light one end and use it as almost a candle and put it directly into the fire stack. 

Other things that you can use as a tinder starter are:

  • Dryer lint – We have a box we put all of our lint in after each load of laundry. It lights quickly, is always dry, and is readily plentiful when we need it. 
  • Commercial Fire Starter – If you just want something that you can put a match to and walk away, consider one of those commercial fire logs. They work every time without fail.
  • Most any chips – These are not wood chips. I’m talking about potato chips.  We discovered this years ago while fishing that certain chips (that come in a tall cylindrical can) work incredibly well for starting fires. 

There are hundreds of other things you can use when starting your campfire.  The basic premise here is that whatever option you choose, make sure you are able to place it where it will be most effective. 

When you are starting a fire, you need to ensure that you have planned ahead.  Have your wood ready and your tinder bundle all set before you strike that first match.  If done correctly, you should only need to make one attempt at starting a fire. 

Don’t choke out the initial flame by adding too much wood at one time.  Patience is a virtue when starting a fire, so take your time.  As you see that your initial fire is consuming all of the initial wood you set up, begin to add more at a moderate pace.  Don’t make it too big at first, but do ensure that you have some larger sized pieces in close proximity to the flame so that they can eventually catch. 

Any fire just takes time and patience.  The essential elements for any fire are time, oxygen, and fuel.  If you can provide all three, you will soon have yourself a roaring fire without fail. 

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