Amazingly Easy Campfire Starters

Have you ever been in that frustrating place where you’re trying to get your campfire going and it’s just not happening?

Then check out these super easy campfire starters…

campfire closeup

One of the most fun parts of camping is having a campfire, whether you want to cook over it or simply enjoy it.

But sometimes they’re a challenge to get started. Maybe the wood is wet, or it’s too windy. Maybe you don’t have enough tinder or kindling.

Here are two campfire starters you can easily make for pennies that are guaranteed to get that fire going and help keep it going.

First, though, what do you need to build a good campfire?

fire in a fire grate
At Okontoe be sure your fire stays within your fire circle!

There are 5 Things You Need for a Campfire

  1. FLAME OR SPARK—Matches (strike-anywhere matches in a waterproof container are best) or a lighter. You can try a flint-and-spark tool if you really want to rough it—more power to ya!
  2. TINDER—Birch bark, pine needles, very small 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.
  3. 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.
  4. FUEL—Wood that’s been dead and dried for several months, i.e., laying on the forest floor or from an obviously dead tree. When you’re at Okontoe you can purchase wood we’ve cut, split and let sit for at least 6-12 months.
  5. 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 use your precious tinder up before you’ve gathered or split your kindling and fuel!

Make-your-own Fire Bundle

Did you know birch bark is one of the best fire starters available? It’ll burn even when it’s wet.

These bundles are a combo of small strips 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.

homemade firestarter with birch bark, twigs, sticks
A homemade firestarter bundle with natural materials

You can find the materials and make several of them during your Okontoe stay.

TIP: Only use birch bark and sticks that are on the ground—not on live trees. Peeling bark off a live birch tree harms the tree, and there’s plenty to be had laying around. And sticks you cut from a live tree are too green to burn.

These fire bundles are fun for the whole family to make. 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. That gives you plenty of time to start laying your kindling on, and eventually your fuel.

Cotton Ball Trick

This homemade fire starter is especially good for backcountry trips when have to carry everything with you—whether it’s backpacking or canoeing.

cotton balls soaked in petro jelly in a ziplock bag

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 nothing 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.

TIP: It’s best to make these at least several hours before you need them to give the cotton time to soak up the jelly thoroughly.

One little cotton ball should burn steadily for about 10 minutes. 2-3 of them allow you time and space to get your tinder and kindling going.

It’s That Easy

Enjoy your campfires!

(Article and photos by Sharon Brodin)