How to Make a Fire in the Outdoors without a Lighter?

Finland Karhunpolku

Man is the only one who has learned to control and make fire. In ancient civilizations, fire was a precious commodity for cooking, light, heating and more It was obtained and maintained with difficulty. Even up to day, knowing how to make a fire is an essential survival skill.

Fortunately, 400 000 years since the first time man managed to make a fire, has led to easier tools to do so, such as matches or a lighter. So easy-peasy right?

But what if your matches are wet or your lighter is lost or ran out of fuel? These are situations that can easily happen when in the outdoors. Therefore, it is essential in survival to know how to start a fire without matches or a lighter.

How to Build your Fire?

Step 1 – Create your fire bed

Safety comes first when building a campfire. If there are no designated fire areas where you are staying, you will need to make a new fire bed. Choose a site away from trees, bushes and plants. The best place for a fire bed is on bare earth. Avoid grass (especially dry grass!) Once you found or made a clear area, you can gather dirt and place it in the center to make a platform. You can surround the fire bed with rocks to avoid that the fire can spread.

Step 2 – Gather your Wood

No fire without wood. However, when making fire, it´s impossible to start with huge logs. No, you will have to build it up. For this you need three types of wood.


Every well-build campfire starts with Tinder. This is the type of wood that ignites with a single spark. Useful when you are using a fire stick to ignite. The downside of tinder is that it burns really fast. Tinder materials that work great include dry leaves, pine straw, dry bark, wood shavings, dry grass. Well prepared survivalists bring their own tinder. Think of paper, cotton (tampons are light and small). Some people even bring vaseline cotton balls.

Make sure the tinder is super-dry as it is intended to catch fire with a single spark.


Tinder won´t give you a good campfire. No, its sole intention is to make sure a spark is catching on and gives the campfire time to grow. So to keep the flame going, you will need something more: kindling. Huge logs would smother your fire, so this is where kindling comes in.  Small twigs and branches work best here. Go for something that’s about the width of a pencil. Like tinder, kindling needs to be dry or else it won’t burn as easily. If all you can find is wet wood, you can whittle away the damp bark of the twigs with your pocket knife. Most times, it is only the surface that is wet.

What is Kindling and Why is it Dangerous?

Fuel wood

Now that you managed to get the fire going, it is time to build it into a real campfire. Collect huge branches and logs to get the fire going. Unlike tinder and kindling, it may be a little damp (although dry works best) as it will have the time to dry out. Just keep in mind that this will give quite some smoke. Once you fuel wood is burning, you have a solid campfire.

Extra tips when making a fire

Collecting the right wood is essential when building a fire. Make sure you have plenty of tinder and kindling to start your fire. Building a fire from scratch isn´t easy and may take some times (especially when you are not used to it). Making that you have enough tinder and kindling averts that you will have to start all over.

Tinder and kindling needs to be very dry as it has to ignite really easily. Tinder doesn´t last long, so the short amount of burning time needs to be sufficient for your kindling to strike. You can scrape off the damp bark of wet branches to make the wood dry. Make sure to scrape away from you to avoid injuries. Wood that can be bend, is often not dry enough.

Oxygen is essential! When your spark has ignited the tinder and the tinder has jumped over to the kindling, your fire will need oxygen to build up. Blow oxygen to the base of your fire. Don´t be afraid to snuff out your fire. Controlled blowing will have the opposite effect.

Step 3 – Lay your fire

There are several ways to lay your fire, but the most common one is the Teepee Fire Lay.

Start by placing your tinder bundle in the middle of your site. Above this, build a teepee with your kindling. Make sure there is an opening for oxygen. Work your way up to pencil-sized twigs.

Make a larger teepee on top of it with fuel wood. The way this works is that fire works its way up. Once the fire reaches the fuel wood, your teepee structure will collapse, but at this point you can just add fuel wood on top of your fire.

Tepee Fire | Exploration Survival

How to Ignite a Spark for your Fire?


A firestick is a very useful to have with you when you spend time in the outdoors. It is weatherproof and allows you to create sparks by moving the scraper hard over your firesteel. Depending on the firestick, this works best in an angle of 30 to 45 degrees. It’s just a matter of trying out what works best for you. Aim the sparks to the tinder you use.

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Fire Plow

This is the way bushcraft lovers want to learn to make a campfire. The fire plow or fire plough technique allows you to start a fire with sticks. The technique in itself is very easy, but it is hard work. The spark originates by the friction caused by scraping your stick in a plow board. It is important that your stick is harder wood than the plow board. This way your scraping will result in wooden dust particles in the plow board that will work as tinder.

The plow board is ideally a large piece of wood that is split longways in the middle. Use this split as a pathway for your stick to run through. The stick should have a blunt end.

Bow Drill

The bow drill is a similar technique as it also works with the friction of wood on wood. It is more effective than the fire plow as it is easier to maintain the speed and pressure you need create enough friction to start a fire. In addition to the spindle and fireboard, you’ll also need a socket and a bow.

The socket is used to put pressure on the other end of the spindle as you’re rotating it with the bow. The socket can be a stone or another piece of wood.

he bow should be about as long as your arm. Use a flexible piece of wood that has a slight curve. The string of the bow can be anything. A shoelace or rope works great. Just find something that won’t break. String up your bow and you’re ready to go.

The fireboard should have a v-shaped notch. Underneath the notch, place your tinder.

Belize Jungle Survival
Belize Jungle Survival

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