How to Light a Campfire: Best Methods!


Ahh… Who doesn’t love the joy of friendship alongside the warm glow of a campfire? 

Perhaps an even better feeling than that is knowing how to light a campfire yourself.

While it may seem like something you had to go to cub scouts to learn, creating a good flame is relatively straightforward. 

In fact, all you need to get a campfire going is tinder, kindling, firewood, and something to light it with.

However, there are many new technologies and methods that make this process a lot easier.

This guide will give you a comprehensive rundown of the best methods and means to lighting a strong and comforting campfire.

how to light a campfire

Do You Need Lighter Fluid to Start a Campfire?

If you want to light a campfire- and you want to do it fast– then we highly recommend using lighter fluid

As a flammable source in a convenient and safe container, it is a great method to get that fire crackling quickly. 

Tt is important that you only use lighter fluid if you do decide to utilize flammable accelerants.

While it may be tempting to make a fraternity party-style gasoline bonfire, the uncontrolled nature of other flammables can be extremely dangerous to you and your camping friends and family. 

Lighter fluid offers a safe, mobile, and effective means of getting a fire started. However, there are a few things to note about its use:

  • Check whether your local fire rules allow for chemical accelerants
  • Don’t squirt the fluid onto the ember or open flames, as it can lead to uncontrollable flare-ups and cause skin burns and other injuries.

What Can I Use to Start a Fire Instead of Lighter Fluid?

For those that prefer to get a little inventive, there are many different ways to start a fire without the use of a liquid chemical accelerant.

Now, just because you aren’t using lighter fluid doesn’t mean that you have to go full Survivalist Mode to get a flame burning.

There are many different fire-starting products that now exist to replace the dangers of gasoline. 

Particularly popular with avid campers seems to be the market of fire-starting rods and strikers. 

Otherwise known as ‘ferro rods’, these handy tools get their name from the ferrocerium metal that is coated on their body. Once struck, the metal emits a strong shower of sparks to rain down upon your tinder.

One of the best things about fire-starting rods and strikers is that they are tools that you can keep on you at all times, thanks to their small size and long-term durability.

Most rods provide up to 8000 spark strikes, which could well mean 8000 campfires for you seasoned veterans out there.

For those that live in wetter climates and are unsure what the clouds might do on your next trip, you may want to look into lighter cubes. 

These strange little gel wonders generally come in packs of 24, and can be ignited in any weather conditions. 

The fuel that they contain is odorless and non-toxic, making them environmentally friendly and not too stinky to be around.

If you’re keen on trying something a little more minimalist, you may want to take the time to research how to make and use a bow drill.

This simple, hand-operated tool that you can make in the wilderness has the capacity to create sparks through the friction of rubbing together natural materials.

While the bow drill may require a little more hard work than the simple process of using a fire starter or lighter fluid, there is something to be said about starting a flame through organic means and sheer willpower.

how to light a campfire

How Do You Light a Campfire- Step by Step?

Now that we’ve covered some of the basic tools involved in a successful campfire, let’s break it down into a clear procedure of steps. 

The first step is knowing the local rules, and the seasonal fire conditions. 

While this is not the most exciting part of getting your fire cracking, it only takes a minute, and is an essential responsibility of those of us who wish to enjoy what the outdoors have to offer.

Second on the agenda is finding small materials that burn easily to help get the fire started, otherwise known as tinder. 

Tinder can take the form of newspaper, wax, wood shavings, small twigs, dry leaves, or pine needles.

The third step is seeing whether it is possible to get some kindling- keeping in mind that the smaller the kindling, the better.

While you can be lucky in finding small branches and twigs that are dry, sometimes your best option for securing kindling is cutting one of your logs into small pieces. 

The fourth step is gathering your last material, which is the basis of what will keep you warm all night – the all-important firewood! Look for logs that are dry and hardy, as opposed to wet and soft.

Next up is the creative step of building your fire.

It’s recommended that you build a ring of rocks in a circle, and then place your tinder and stack kindling on top of it. If you have any disposable fire starters, here is the time to put them in place!

And now, the moment we’ve been waiting for…

With a light or a match, light the tinder several times around the perimeter of the fire. 

Once the tinder catches and the flame extends to the kindling, delicately place a medium-sized piece of firewood on top of it. 

If you feel suddenly warmer around the cheeks and are hearing a nostalgic, cozy crackle, chances are you’ve gone and successfully lit a campfire.

How Do You Get a Campfire to Stay Lit?

While it may have seemed a little daunting at first to successfully build and light a campfire, we can tell from the steps above that it is actually quite simple.

Yet the real challenge now awaits… How do we get this campfire to stay lit?

The simple formula for a strong and long-lasting campfire is to build a good foundation, have a ventilation system, and secure a good stock of dry and hardy woods.  

The foundation is the way in which a campfire is built. 

While the conventional method listed above is great for getting a campfire going, there are some structures such as the tipi method that are inherently designed to keep that fire crackling.

Ventilation is key in fire making, as the oxygen in the air is what fuels the fire and helps keep it burning.

It is recommended that the rocks that you use in the ring encircling your tinder are kept spaciously apart, in order to let in a steady flow of air to the base of your campfire. 

Lastly, the wood that you gather and use for your fire is an essential part of the fire’s success. 

Look specifically for woods that are dry and hardy, as wood that contains moisture struggles to burn and produces a lot of nasty smoke.

In Summary

There you have it- All of the information you require to build and sustain a fire on your next backcountry camping trip.

Just remember: To light a campfire, all you require is a tinder, kindling, firewood, and a flame starter such as a lighter or matches. 

Now go get out there and happy camping.

Mitch Taylor
With over 20 years experience with camping and hiking, I've taken it upon myself to share my insights. From common camping and hiking questions to gear recommendations, your adventure starts here.

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