How to Start a Campfire With Matches and No Lighter

Updated on November 26, 2018
Layne Holmes profile image

Layne is an avid camper and has taken many solo camping trips in North America.

Tips for how to start a campfire when you're camping.
Tips for how to start a campfire when you're camping. | Source

How to Build a Campfire

Ok, so you can always buy a starter log or a starter kit, but you really don't have to. Not to mention, starter kits can contain some heavy metals, though most are made of compressed combustible natural materials.

Fire-Starting Is an Important Skill to Have

If you're new to camping, you want to learn how to start a fire the right way. Not only is it an important skill to have, but lighter fluid doesn't last forever and sometimes you're left with just a few matches to work with. Let's set you up for success.

Burn Local Wood

Only buy and burn local wood. Do not bring wood from a different region into a national forest or park—you risk spreading pests and disease.

Twigs, pinecones, dry leaves, dry pine, and pampas grass make for good kindling. Pampas grass is extremely flammable and is considered invasive.
Twigs, pinecones, dry leaves, dry pine, and pampas grass make for good kindling. Pampas grass is extremely flammable and is considered invasive. | Source

Where Are Campfires Allowed?

Depending on where you are camping, it's important to make sure you are allowed to have a fire at your campsite. Some places require permits. Even areas that are designated recreation sites with pits and metal rings may have a fire restriction posted to due high fire danger—this is especially true in national parks and dry areas like California. Make sure fires are permitted wherever you are camping.

In order to light a fire safely, you want to make sure that you have a designated space for one and be sure to do the following:

  • clear all dry debris within 5 feet of the pit before lighting
  • have someone watch the live fire at all times
  • put the fire out if strong winds pick up
  • chase down flyaway embers and stomp them
  • always put a fire out when leaving or going to sleep for the night
  • never pull hot logs out of the pit and set them on the ground

Collect and Burn Policies

Some campsites encourage you to collect local wood for burning to lower the region's fire danger. If this is the case, go for dry pine, pinecones, and dry, sappy leaves. Pampas grass burns well and is considered invasive in some areas. DO NOT BURN PROTECTED PLANT SPECIES. Always ask a ranger or campsite host to be sure.

Good kindling is essential for a solid campfire.
Good kindling is essential for a solid campfire. | Source

How to Start a Campfire

Make sure to buy local wood for burning. If the area you are in allows for collecting wood, look for fallen logs that will fit in your fire pit (you do not want anything extending outside of your pit). If there are fallen logs, look for dry wood (not green wood). Wet, moldy, or green wood will smoke. If you find a dry, rotten log, this wood is great. It will burn quickly but it will burn!

Wear Gloves

I highly recommend that you wear gloves while you collect. If you live in an area where there are spiders, snakes, and other biting and stinging things, you want to be safe. Plus, it is much easier to break down twigs and wood into smaller bits.

You Should Have the Following Supplies

  • Matches (a pack): KEEP THEM DRY! If this is your first time, have a lighter as a backup just to be safe (I keep a BIC multi-purpose lighter around for my propane stove, but it is great for starting fires since you don't risk burning your hand).
  • Kindling: Some log bundles come with kindling, but you can also use pine cones, dry grass, pine branches, dry leaves, paper (paper bags, newspaper), cotton, pampas grass, dry, small wood chips and twigs. Just make sure it's dry!
  • Wood logs: You will want a nice blend of small-medium sized logs and several large logs for later; the large logs will last through the evening.
  • 1-gallon jug of water: This is necessary for putting out the fire. If you don't have a water source, you will need more water or will have to throw dirt over the flame and stomp it.

Video: How to Find Tinder, Dry Wood, or Kindling

How to Light a Fire With Matches

Here's how to light your campfire. You may want to keep a long poking stick around for moving the logs once the fire takes. Be sure to follow the safety precautions above before starting.

  1. Do not attempt a fire if the winds are really strong and out-of-control. This poses a fire danger.
  2. Create a nice tent-shape with your smaller logs in the pit. The one pictured below is a little dense and tall, but it demonstrates the concept.
  3. Gather your tinder bundle (dry, flammable items; almost like a pouch). Crouch down and block any breeze from the direction of the wind.
  4. Strike a match and let the flame take—you can use multiple matches here pressed together to make a more powerful flame; use a cupped palm to shield the match without burning yourself.
  5. As soon as the match takes, meet it to the kindling. I sometimes like to use a paper bag or a bundle of dry grass for this.
  6. Once the flame takes to the kindling, carefully place the bundle inside your log tent. You'll want to work fast.
  7. Start feeding the small flame with other kindling—do not smother the flame. Add a few leaves and a few twigs intermittently.
  8. As the flame starts to grow, you can gently blow on it. DO NOT GET ASHES IN YOUR EYES.
  9. Consider adding a couple of small twigs or branches and/or a dry pinecone. If you are using dry pampas grass, the grass will take immediately.
  10. It's important to keep feeding the fire. Even when the fire takes, the fire can die out in just a matter of seconds.
  11. Stoke the fire and feed the fire for several minutes. If the fire looks healthy, you may add some larger logs to the reinforced areas of the tent. Lay the large logs diagonally to allow air to pass underneath them.

The tent is a little steep, but this is the concept of tenting.
The tent is a little steep, but this is the concept of tenting. | Source

How to Keep a Fire Alive

As your fire slowly grows, add a large log or two. You really only want to have a 2-3 good logs on there at one time so that you can use the logs through the night.

If ever the flame grows weak, blow on the fire. Just don't blow it so hard that you get ashes on your face or blow ashes onto other people and hurt them. If you need to refuel the fire, you can always throw some tinder in there.

Tips and Cheats for Difficult Fires

  • Alcohol: If you have alcohol (isopropyl works, too), consider dousing paper or cotton in it BEFORE lighting anything. When you drop the match onto the woodpile, it may take a second, but the alcohol will light instantaneously. Be safe.
  • Chapstick or Candle Wax: Yep—you can cut and drop chunks of chapstick or candle wax onto the logs to give it a little extra fuel. Be careful as you do this.
  • Fat: Bacon grease, oil, and fat are great for fueling a fire. You can wipe out a pan that has bacon grease or cooking grease (even butter) and throw the paper towel into the fire.
  • Lighter Fluid: If you have lighter fluid for cooking, you can separately dose some on a few sticks BEFORE lighting anything. Use these sticks as part of your starting set. You want to drop the match flame onto these sticks and steer clear of them for safety. Never use a lighter on lighter fluid.

A Word About Fire Safety

There are strict fines (several hundred dollars) for leaving a fire unattended for good reason. Take the state of California for example. There have been millions and billions of dollars lost and hundreds of lives lost due to campfires. You do not want to be the cause of one!

Put Your Fire Out!

Always put your fire out before leaving your campsite or before bed. This requires having a jug of water. I like to keep a gallon of water around for safety reasons at all time (should my car break down) but also for putting my fire out. You can refill it at most campsites. Campfires may take several gallons of water to put out. Make sure to move the ashes around and douse it and all sides of the logs heavily. You can always use them the following night—they usually dry out by then, so don't be modest.

A Word of Caution

I take fire safety seriously and I will add a word of caution here. I have gone to bed after heavily dousing my fire pits (with several gallons of water and turning logs). Twice in my life, I have woken up to crackling where my fire reignited (no wind, just embers)—take this warning seriously. When you put a fire out, you need to overdo it. Fire safety is no joke.

Video: Good Fire-Starting Technique

© 2018 Layne Holmes

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, skyaboveus.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://skyaboveus.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)