How to Build a Campfire

How to Build a Campfire

Most of today’s RV’s and new fangled camping gear allow campers to take their modern conveniences with them. But if you really want to rough it, you’ll need some way to start a fire. And no matter which method you like best, every fire needs tinder; see our post about tinder options. It never hurts to know more than one way to start a fire. Here are a few traditional methods:


The simplest way to start your fire is with matches and good tinder. Ideally, you strike the match, light the tinder, and build up the flame with larger and larger pieces of kindling. Of course wet matches do you little good, so it never hurts to know a few matchless fire-starting methods as well.

Hand or Bow Drill

A hand drill is easy to build, even if you haven’t prepared anything ahead of time. You just need a good fireboard (a large chunk of bark works great) and a stick. Rub the end of the stick against the fireboard by rolling it between your hands rapidly. You can imagine how difficult a hand drill could be to keep up with, and that’s why we like the bow drill option better. A picture says a thousand words:

You’ll need a socket to provide pressure on your stick or spindle. This can be another piece of wood or a stone—really anything that keeps the spindle in place while you work with the bow. This method takes some preparation, but it is a lot easier to run than the hand drill. Either way, be sure to cut a small notch in your fire board so the stick you use will sit in one spot and the friction can work up to the desired spark.

Flint and Steel

You can buy a good flint and steel set at most any camping goods store, and even a few supermarkets. Remember to buy the char that goes with it—this is the fabric that has been formed into a sort of charcoal that holds a smolder from striking the set until you can light the tinder. Sets are often lightweight and are, of course, water-proof. If you forgot your set, another option is quartzite and your pocket-knife. Use the back of your knife blade against the quartzite to ignite the char. When the char is lit, set it under your tinder nest and blow gently to light the tinder.


A magnifying glass, eyeglasses, or a binocular lens are all good options for the next method. Simply hold your lens at an angle that catches the sun and aims it at your tinder nest. Soon you’ll have fire. This method only works well on sunny days though. Do you have a favorite fire-starting method? Please share it with us.