5 Natural Fire Starters

Fire starters

You are backpacking or camping and were careful not to forget your lighter and some backup matches. You’ve carefully kept your lighter and matches dry but as it becomes time to light the fire you realize the wood just won’t light. You need help getting the fire going before it gets too dark. Try one of these 5 natural fire starters.

Pine Needles or Dry Leaves

Natural fire starters

Photo courtesy of Melissa J

This is pretty simple. Look under any pine tree. Pine trees are everywhere in the west and dead needles are usually piled up at the base of the tree. If they seem wet, dig down and find the driest needles possible. Dry pine needles typically light right up. Pile a stash of needles under your wood and light it on the bottom. You might have to blow on it but you’ll likely have a fire going in no time.


cattails for fire starters

Photo by Phil Roeder

Have you ever cracked open a cattail? The fluff from inside the cattail is extremely flammable. Grab a couple of cattails and crack them open. Stuff the fluffy insides under a pile of wood and it will light quickly.

Old Man’s Beard

This lichen typically hangs in spruce trees but can be found on the bark of deciduous trees in cool shaded areas. On wet days, Old Man’s Beard will absorb moisture so dry it out as best you can. Do not compress it. Keep the lichen in its natural fluffy state.

Bark Shavings

birch bark as a fire starter

Photo by Dendrolca Cerulea

Bark from a birch tree peels off in thin paper-like shavings. These dry light pieces of wood are easy to light. Cedar trees also have light stringy bark that’s easy to light. If you can’t find birch or cedar trees, use whatever bark you can find, but try to break it into the thinnest pieces possible.

Dry grass

Grass is another easy to find fire starter. Green grass is too wet to light but drier brown grass will ignite fairly easily. Pull the top, drier part of the grass. Gather a small bundle then light it under your wood.

Try these natural fire starters to get your camp fires burning. What other natural fire starters have you used? Any tips for finding kindling? Share them in the comments below.


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Andy Hawbaker
Andy is a hiker, backpacker, snowboarder and outdoor fanatic. When he isn't exploring the Rocky Mountains with his wife and daughters he shares his adventures here on the Sierra SocialHub.

5 comments on “5 Natural Fire Starters

  1. David K. Henderson

    I’ve used pitch from pine as well, but that is better used to encourage a small fire to burn damp wood. Better to use your own tinder for fire starting instead of counting on finding it in the woods. One trick: 1 cardboard egg carton filled with a wax/sawdust mixture. Just cut up in cubes and use as necessary.

  2. Doug

    Although bark especially birch bark off of a Paper Birch tree is excellent fire starter it should NEVER be taken off of a live tree. Please encourage others to use what they find on the ground.

    1. Doug

      Another good fire starter would be small shavings from a dead and downed cedar tree branch. Also there is a fungus that grows on Paper Birch trees that if when ground up takes a spark from a Swedish Fire Steel very well.

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