How to build and start a campfire with fire starters

by Igor
How to start and build a campfire

While taking our outdooring skills to the next level in Canada, we found out that starting a campfire without a lighter or matches is a true outdoor skill! Once you get a hold on it, making a campfire ‘the ancient way’ feels super rewarding. Let us share how we learned to work with fire starters the hard way, without the luxury of being able to watch YouTube tutorials ‘How to use fire starters’.


Also you can build a campfire

Everyone can be successful at starting a fire with a fire starter, there are only a few things you need to know before you get started.

During our camping trips in Canada we saw that mainly 2 different fire starters were used. Both fire starters are standard outdoor tools and available in almost every outdoor (web)shop. They are cheap, reliable, and even when wet still ready to use. Furthermore, they can be an alternative to matches or a lighter during extreme weather conditions. You can simply wipe off the fire starter and start striking the flint.

Most common fire starters: 

  1. A small magnesium bar with a built-in ferrocerium flint that often comes with a striker.

magnesium fire starter Coghlan'sFrom the fire starter with the magnesium bar, you can scrap a small pile of magnesium shavings on top of small twigs, leaves, bark, dry grass etc. That’s your fuel. Then hold the bar with the built-in flint up. With a 45° angle, scrape the length of the flint to create sparks which will ignite the magnesium shavings and burnable materials. We went to Cabela’s in Canada and got ourselves this fire starter.


  1. Ferrocerium flint and a striker.

Coghlan's Fire StrikerWith the ferrocerium flint, you have to strike the sparks within 2,5 cm (1 inch) of the tinder (dry grass straw, sawdust or other dead and dry plant). A suggestion: try to scrap some ferrocerium carefully on your pile of tinder and then scrap with force to create sparks which will ignite the ferrocerium bits on the tinder. However, my personal favorite fire starter is the magnesium bar with a built-in ferrocerium flint and a striker (option 1).



How to start, set up and build your campfire with a fire starter

Step 1: Pick a strategic location for your campfire

Where to build your fire depends in general on your location and the purpose of your campfire. Typically, you need a surface that is flat and out of the wind, that has no overhanging and is close enough to your tent or your camper (but not toooo close!). Find an area with minimal chance of fire spreading (super important in dry season) and make sure you have enough wood supply. Surprisingly enough, campfires can burn out fast and it is not practical to carry large logs from a large distance.

Be aware that it is your responsibility to know what the current fire restrictions are for the area that you plan to visit.


Step 2: Assemble the necessary campfire materials

 When starting a fire, building it, and keeping it lit you will be most successful if you prepare well. This means you need to have a good amount of wood ready. Please respect and conserve living trees and species, buy and burn firewood sourced locally. When you stockpile your fuel, group different sizes of wood together and get more than you think you will need.

Step 3: Using the fire-starter to make a campfire

If you have a magnesium bar, then first shave some slivers of the magnesium bar on top of your assembled tinder. Scrape the flint with the striker to create sparks. The quantity of sparks will be determined by the amount of force applied, the speed of the strike, and the angle/degree at which the striker runs along the flint.

Step 4: Building and maintaining the campfire

British Columbia Campfire RegulationsFocus on the development of the flames. If the tinder immediately ignites and catches fire, Shout Out to you, great job! If it instead smokes and smolders, you may need to gently blow the tinder until it ignites into proper flames. When the fire is established, form a teepee with some kindling. Leave an opening in your teepee on the side from where the wind is coming. This will ensure that your fire gets the air it needs and will blow the flames onto the kindling. As the fire grows, create a larger teepee structure with your fuel wood. The teepee structure will eventually burn, and at this point you can add some fuel logs to the fire.

Pro tip: buy fat wood kindling before your camping trip for your planned campfire. Fat wood comes from the heartwood of pine trees. This natural material lights quickly even when wet, is super wind resistant, and gets hot enough to light even larger pieces of wood.

Step 5: Extinguish your campfire

Ready to go to bed or leaving the campsite? A-L-W-A-Y-S make sure your campfire is out when you leave it. Pour water on top of the campfire until the hissing from the embers stop. Stir the fire place and pour water on the campfire once more. Make sure that the burning wood is extinguished.

All excited now to visit Canada and build your own campfire while camping in British Columbia? Read all our articles about camping in Canada:

Campfire on the beach

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Tom November 16, 2019 - 11:03 am

Very useful read, thanks! I’m going to give the fatwood a try next time.

Igor November 16, 2019 - 8:03 pm

thank you!

Derkina November 16, 2019 - 7:55 pm

You are a real prof! Thank you for the tips, which I will bring with me at my next trip 🙏🏻🔥

Igor November 16, 2019 - 8:04 pm

Derkina I want to see you in action :)


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