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How to Start a Campfire Without Matches or a Lighter

The time to perfect your fire-making skills isn’t when you’re stranded in the wild. It’s right now. It’s especially important to learn the art of starting a campfire without using matches or lighters. What if it rains and your matches get wet? What if cold temperatures ruin your butane lighter?

Here are three ways to start a campfire using flint and steel, friction or a magnifying glass. Each method can be effective and all take lots of practice. But they’re actually pretty fun to learn.


For all three methods, start by collecting tinder — fine, dry material that will easily burst into flame. Collect about two handfuls of something such as pine needles, the inner bark of dead branches, dried grass or slivers of wood shaved from a stick with a pocketknife.

Then create a separate pile of kindling — larger chunks of material that burn hotter and longer but need a little encouragement. Look for twigs about the size of a pencil.

Finally, collect some fuel — dead and downed wood no bigger than your wrist that you can feed the fire over time to keep it burning.

Prep your fire site the right way to increase the chances of getting the wood to burn. Start with a big, loose handful of tinder right in the middle. Arrange sticks of kindling around the tinder. Once you create a spark or get smoke from your tinder, feed with kindling until you have flames, then add fuel to get the campfire roaring.


You can buy ready-made flint-and-steel fire starters from an outdoors supply store or your local Scout shop, but if you happen to find yourself without one, try getting a spark by scraping the blade of your pocketknife against a piece of flint — a hard, gray rock that fractures easily.

Form your tinder into a nest about the size of a softball. Hold the flint just above the tinder and try to direct your sparks into it. Nurse the spark into a flame by blowing on it gently. Add kindling and fuel as needed.


On sunny days, it is possible to focus enough sunlight through a curved lens to actually start a fire. You can try eyeglasses, camera lenses, magnifying glasses or the lenses from binoculars or telescopes.

Hold the lens so the sunlight goes through it onto a point in your tinder. Then wait. And wait. And be patient. It might take a while, but the tinder will eventually smoke and then burn.


In the old days, Scouts used to start fires all the time with a bow and spindle. You’ll need several elements to try this one yourself.

Bow: Any curved piece of wood.

Bowstring: Use a piece of nylon cord or a shoestring. You can also use a cord from a tent, pack or tarp.

Spindle: A piece of dry hardwood.

Hand block: Another section of hardwood, this one should have a depression carved into it to fit the top of the spindle.

Fireboard: A dry piece of softwood, the fireboard must have a notch whittled into it that will hold the spindle. Place some tinder under the notch.

Twist the bowstring around the spindle, then hold the spindle upright with the bottom end inside the notch in the fireboard.

Use the hand block to hold the spindle steady, and move the bow back and forth, twirling the spindle and creating friction as it rubs against the fireboard. Ideally, the friction will create enough heat to light your tinder.


Even in a survival situation, try to avoid harming the environment when building your fire. Look for a spot from which a fire could not spread and where the surrounding area would not be damaged.

62 Comments on How to Start a Campfire Without Matches or a Lighter

  1. cool

  2. That’s very cool

  3. Do you need fuel for all techniques?

    • bubbahoohaa // June 24, 2013 at 1:48 pm // Reply

      no! you don’t need fuel you idiot! that’s why it says ” how to start a fire without matches”

  4. I have a flint’n’steel I am hopeing to use it this saturday

  5. cool

  6. I says to him, I // August 2, 2012 at 8:07 am // Reply

    theres another way. take any battery, and attatch steel wool to both ends. itll start to spark, and at that moment you gently blow it and add it to the tinder. itll be hot, but its either that or go without fire…

  7. 168 boyscout // July 7, 2012 at 5:30 pm // Reply

    some swiss army knives have a magnifling glass on them

    • Knife Xpert 157 (aka Chad 101) // October 15, 2012 at 12:36 pm // Reply

      what if its cloudy? then your going to be out of luck. Thats why i stick with a good ol’ flint an steel

  8. Ninjaman123 // June 29, 2012 at 6:37 am // Reply

    I have a real flint and steel and it is awseome.

  9. Ethanawedome // June 28, 2012 at 4:10 pm // Reply


  10. Great Video with good techniques and detail. A video great for Wilderness Survival Merit Badge. I have tried a three techniques and they work.

  11. Have you ever heard of the Scout Motto, Be Prepared? If so, you probably wont need these tips. Still good to know if you’re lost in the woods. Overall great video.:) 🙂 🙂

  12. that is so cool

  13. thats really cool now I know what to do if I ever get lost

  14. weblopack464 // April 25, 2012 at 8:15 pm // Reply

    awseome video!!!

  15. nice tips

  16. webelo from pack 295 // April 21, 2012 at 9:38 am // Reply


  17. Wow

  18. TheEagleScout // April 11, 2012 at 6:32 pm // Reply

    My scout troop went on a camping trip and one of our tenderfoots had gotten lost, he was gone overnight. He was not catching on with survival techniques as fast as the other scouts so I taught him in private classes. When he was lost he used a bow drill to start a fire, then he built a lean-to shelter to sleep on for the night. Thanks to this vidio I was able to teach him the skills that saved his life.

  19. donkey kong // March 29, 2012 at 12:07 pm // Reply

    thats cool

  20. awsome

  21. I was a Boy Scout, am an Eagle Scout, and love building fires. Great job on the video guys! But I would have to say that there are many more than just three ways to build a fire. For those of you who want to survive anywhere, here are a few more methods =)

    – Single(1) match
    – Battery and steel wool
    – Burning laser light
    – Lighter
    – Drop of water in jar/cup
    – Fire from ice – the natural lens
    – Pop can and chocolate – parabolic lens

    Have fun!

  22. Steel wool and a battery works too.

  23. Man, I’ve got to try that!

  24. chaoscontrol // January 29, 2012 at 6:28 pm // Reply


  25. One word: WOW!!!

  26. rock and roll // January 13, 2012 at 12:59 pm // Reply

    so cool

  27. like you would not use matches.

  28. Wow!

  29. This is an EXCELLENT video! It teaches the basics of fire starting in a simple manner that is easily understandable. Great Job!!

  30. awsome

  31. The flint and steel is awsome I have started thousands of fires with the stuff.

  32. i have tride to do the magnufine glass it did not work

  33. Helpful I could do that on new years for a bonfire. But I do have matches, but they wont last longer than week.

  34. this ia great i have to try this some time

  35. way awesome!!!!

  36. I have a magnifieng glass with me all the time.

  37. Loved it, especially the flint and steel.

  38. It looks so easy to them

  39. i have the flint and steel but i prefer friction bow

  40. I suppose a butane lighter wou.ld count as not using matches! 😉

  41. they need to dig a very small wide hole and put rocks around it to make a fire pit ive seen so many flammable things aroud that. they should also put a little bit of green grass in there. the water in the grass will evaporate and the grass will burn longer.

  42. This is really cool I want to try, but Remember: Even in a survival situation, try to avoid harming the environment when building your fire. Look for a spot from which a fire could not spread and where the surrounding area would not be damaged.

  43. sweet I’m so buying a steel and flint set for my next campout

  44. skinny willy // December 31, 2010 at 9:28 pm // Reply

    There is another way to start a fire by using a battery and steel wool

  45. Now THAT Is A Skill I’ll Teach My Son!=D

  46. awesome

  47. cool but Remember: Even in a survival situation, try to avoid harming the environment when building your fire. Look for a spot from which a fire could not spread and where the surrounding area would not be damaged.

  48. Great video!Next campout I’m getting a flint and steel set or use a bow saw like I learned here!

  49. cool

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