Just like when you bake a cake, you need ingredients to start a campfire.
First, you need heat. That comes from matches. Then you need oxygen. As long as you’re lighting a fire outside (and you’re on Earth), oxygen is all around you. Last, you need fuel.
That’s where tinder, kindling and firewood come into play.
Striking a Balance
Starting a fire isn’t as simple as holding a match close to a piece of firewood.
You have to build your fire slowly using tinder, kindling and logs. Tinder is anything that burns quickly after you light it. Think of this as step 1 in the recipe of getting your fire burning. Kindling is step 2 in that process. If it can catch on fire easily but not burn as fast as tinder, it qualifies as kindling.
Like a chain reaction, you can arrange your fire fuel in a way that once the tinder catches fire, it ignites the kindling — which slowly catches your larger fuel wood that will burn for a long time. But it all starts when your match meets tinder.
BL-Tested Fire Starters
So what makes good tinder for a campfire? You probably know dry twigs and leaves do. But what about some other items you might have stashed away on a campout?
We put five campsite items and snacks to the test. Guess if each item will work to start a fire, then play the corresponding video to see if you’re right!
Note: We did the testing so you don’t have to. Don’t experiment with tinder at home.
WHY THEY MIGHT WORK: They’re dry and small like twigs.
WHY THEY MIGHT FAIL: The ingredients that make a cheese puff edible might not sustain a flame (even if it’s the Flamin’ Hot variety).
WHY THEY MIGHT WORK: We know super-dry twigs work as tinder. And carrots are about the same size.
WHY THEY MIGHT FAIL: Carrots have a lot of water in them. Water puts out fires
WHY IT MIGHT WORK: Steel wool has a reputation as a great fire starter when you don’t have a match handy.
WHY IT MIGHT FAIL: Just because it might produce a spark, that doesn’t mean steel wool can produce the flame required of tinder.
WHY THEY MIGHT WORK: Tinder is usually not dense but takes up a lot of surface area. That’s true with cotton balls.
WHY THEY MIGHT FAIL: You use cotton balls to clean wounds. That’s nothing like starting a fire.
WHY THEY MIGHT WORK: They’re dry. They’re tubular like some twigs.
WHY THEY MIGHT FAIL: There are chemicals in Twizzlers that make them safe to eat. But we’re not sure if these chemicals will fuel a flame or not.
Fire is No Joke!
Fire can be dangerous. It requires care and respect. Remember these fire-safety tips:
• Never play around fire.
• Never try to start a fire with a substance that could unleash toxic chemicals. Never burn something that contains paint.
• Never leave a fire to burn without supervision.
• Before you leave, make sure your fire is completely out (no longer smoking, with ashes cool to the touch).
You never know when you’ll need to think outside the box on a campout. Add to our never-ending list of fire-starter ideas at go.scoutlife.org/firestarters.