Outdoor Survival Skills: How to Start a Fire

Find out how to get a blaze going with these five fire-starting methods.

| March 28, 2011

The following is an excerpt from When Technology Fails by Matthew Stein (Chelsea Green, 2008). This excerpt is from Chapter 4, “Emergency Measures for Survival.” 

Your ability to start a fire is important for staying warm in cold climates, for cooking food and for sterilizing water. I’ll start with simple instructions for building a campfire with matches and paper, and then proceed through the more Spartan methods, ending with the difficult process of starting a fire by rubbing two sticks together.

Starting a Fire With Matches


I like to separate my materials into piles by size. Start by gathering a couple handfuls of tinder, about one-third of a shopping bag’s worth of kindling, at least half a shopping bag’s worth of small sticks (1/2 to 2 inches thick), and at least a shopping bag’s worth of thicker wood (2 to 12 inches thick).


Any kind of material that takes very little heat to start on fire can be used for tinder. Paper makes great tinder, if you have matches. If you don’t have matches and are attempting to build a fire with a spark (see “Starting a Fire with Flint and Steel,” below), you will need extra-fine dry tinder. Dry pine needles, fine dry grasses, shredded paper, birch bark, dried moss, bird down, mouse nests, cotton balls, wood shavings, pulverized dry pine cones and fibrous inner cedar bark all make good tinder.

Suzanne Horvath
3/30/2011 9:10:45 AM

Check out Dian Thomas, author of "Roughing It Easy". Her camping info/suggestions are fun and easy - like starting a fire with flashlight batteries and steel wool.

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