7 Fire Starting Secrets of Campfire Pros (video)

7 fire starting secrets

When you want to light a campfire, you want it to start quickly. Both bragging rights and practicality come into play. The best campers, woodsmen, and women, always seem to get the fire going with a single match, regardless of the weather conditions.

coghlan fire starter
Coghlan's Magnesium Fire Starter

They’ve got tricks and secrets … and you’re about to learn some of them. Here are a handful of great ways to prepare to start a campfire, fireplace, or wood stove with a single match.

The most important part of starting a fire is having dry, highly-flammable tinder on hand. Tinder collects the flame or spark from the original fire source whether that’s a match, a lighter, a ferro (Ferrocerium) rod like the Gerber® Bear Grylls Fire Starter found at Cabela's, or even a battery. It lights easily and burns for at least a minute or two … and longer is better. Proper tinder is equally as important as a source of flame or spark.

1 arrow pointTip: Coghlan's Magnesium Fire Starter is bar fire starter that uses magnesium to produce a flame source generating temperatures up to 5400ºF.


The following secrets are life hacks of different types of fire tinder you can either bring with you or find out in the field when you need them.

steel-wool firestarter1. Steel Wool Can Be Used as Tinder for Fire

An excellent form of tinder is fine steel wool … the finer the better. #0000 steel wool is the best choice as tinder. You can either pull threads of the steel wool into a loose pile and hit them with a shower of sparks from a ferro rod or by making contact with an electrical circuit. A 9-volt battery with poles on the same end will start fine steel wool to glowing on contact. Just be ready to feed it more substantial tinder (like paper, shavings, or birch bark) right away.

cotton-ball firestarter2. Cotton Balls & Petroleum Jelly as Tinder for Fire

If you take a cotton ball and pull it apart and light it with a match or lighter, but it will burn better and longer if it’s impregnated with petroleum jelly. To prepare these ahead of time, melt a few tablespoons of petroleum jelly in a dish in the microwave. Soak up the warm liquid with cotton balls. Store them in a zipper top bag and keep them in your day pack for when you need to light a fire. These will light easily and burn for a good long time for you to add more tinder.

3. Use Egg Cartons to Create Fire Starters

egg-carton firestarterWith a little prep work you can recycle old egg cartons to create fire starters a dozen at a time. Take an empty egg carton … the paper fiber type, not the plastic foam type … and fill each compartment with wood shavings and/or saw dust. Melt some paraffin wax in the microwave and pour enough over each ball of shavings to bind it together and hold the materials in the cup. Let it all harden, then close the lid and toss the egg carton into your camping gear. When the time comes to start a fire, cut or tear out a segment of the carton, place it in your fire pit, light the edge the paper, and add more tinder and kindling as the flame grows.

1 arrow pointTip: Watch Video: Which Tinder Burns Best for a Campfire? here


4. Cotton Swabs are Great Fire Starters

cotton-swab firestarterYou can make yourself a kit of fire starters that will take up almost no room in your pocket and will light half a dozen campfires or more! All you need are some cotton swabs, an empty lip balm container, petroleum jelly, and a scissors. Cut the swabs to fit inside the lip balm container with the cap closed tightly. Dip the swab end in the petroleum jelly and coat well. Place half a dozen cut and dipped swabs inside the container and replace the cap. To light a fire, gather tinder and kindling, take the a swab from the container, and light with a match or lighter.  The coated swab will burn for about 45 seconds which will be long enough for you to add additional tinder and get it to catch.

Always Practice Fire Safety Tips

Fires and camping seem almost inseparable. We use campfires for cooking and providing warmth. We use fire to light our surroundings and to provide that special ambience that is a part of the camp experience.  Keep your camp and fellow campers safe by following all the rules for safe fire use. Click here to see a Campfire Safety Rules Diagram.

fire distance 
Your fire should be at least three meters from flammable objects. image by DFES


1 arrow pointTip: Check out more about campfire safety with these tips.


5. Kindling Candles Burn for Hours

tea-light firestarterCollect candle stubs or the short flat little candles they call “tea lights” which run about $6 for a bag of a hundred. Put one of these candles down in the fire pit or fireplace, light it, and add tinder and kindling on top of it. These candles will literally burn for hours, so you have plenty of time for the pieces on top of it to catch.

6. Use Doritos or Other Chips to Start a Fire

nacho-chip firestarterYes, you read that right. If you don't have a lot of fire-starting supplies but you do have munchies such as certain snack chips you've got options. You can use either of these two very common food snack examples; potato or Dorito chips will burn if you hold a match to the edge. Get one going and slowly add a few more to light. They will burn long enough to allow you to add kindling and get the fire going.

7. Guguitar-pickitar Picks

This is more of a party trick than a method for regularly building campfires, but it is an exercise in adaptability and thinking outside the box when you need a fire starter. Anything made of cellulose … like a standard guitar pick … will light readily by introducing just a little bit of flame.


Check out this video below where we tested various types of tinder to see which burns best.


What Are Your Favorites?

We’d love to hear your secrets for starting campfires. Please share them in the comments section.