Homemade Campfire Starters That Actually Work

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There’s nothing quite like sitting around a campfire on a cool evening, roasting marshmallows and enjoying the company of friends and family. However, starting that campfire can be challenging, mainly when dealing with damp wood or other conditions. That’s where a homemade campfire starter comes in handy.

These DIY fire starters can help you get your campfire going quickly and easily, even in less-than-ideal conditions. Whether you’re an experienced camper or a novice, they’re a must-have addition to your camping kit.

Today, we’ll share some of the best homemade campfire starters that actually work. So, grab your marshmallows, and let’s get started!

What Are Campfire Starters?

Campfire starters help ignite and build a fire in a fire pit, fireplace, or other setting. They are typically small, lightweight, and easy to transport, making them popular for camping trips and outdoor activities.

Campfire starters can be made from various materials, including natural ones like wood shavings, dried leaves, and bark.

Additionally, some contain manufactured materials like wax and sawdust. They are designed to be easy to light and burn for sufficient time to ignite larger pieces of wood and build a sustainable fire.

Campfire starters can help you quickly and easily build a fire, particularly in challenging conditions. They can also be a safer and more efficient alternative to flammable liquids like lighter fluids.

We consider them essential for anyone who enjoys camping or spending time outdoors.

A man putting sticks in a campfire next to the river that was started with a campfire starter

What Are the Four Crucial Ingredients to Start a Fire?

Oxygen, fuel, heat, and a chemical reaction are the four ingredients required to start a fire. Many refer to oxygen, heat, and fuel as the “fire triangle.”

The three ingredients create a self-sustaining chemical reaction that produces a flame when working together. A fire can’t start or continue to burn without them. 

Each ingredient plays a pivotal role in the flames continuing to burn. If you want to extinguish a fire, remove one of these ingredients, and it’s only a matter of time before it’s nothing but ashes.

It’s a good idea to understand these ingredients, whether your goal is to start or extinguish a fire.

What Makes for a Good Campfire Starter?

A good fire starter will have everything you need to start a fire and keep it going. They’ll withstand almost anything Mother Nature can throw at you and will be easy to use no matter your fire starter skill level.

A man using a fire starters for camping that sparking over a pile of dead grass


A roaring fire is delightful when there’s a chill in the air and some frost on the ground. And when you have a fire starter that can handle that chill, you know your night will be pleasant.

Neither snow nor rain, nor sleet will keep a good fire starter down. Fire starters for camping should be weatherproof as you never know what the moisture levels will be.

Ease of Use

Your camping plans shouldn’t include hours of starting a campfire. A good fire starter is easy to use, and a longer burn time never hurts.

It should require little effort to get your night around the campfire started right.

Type of Fire Starter

There’s a vast range of fire starters, from all-natural to high-tech. Decide how much technological help you want or need from your campfire starter.

There are flint and steel-style starters, treated firewood starters, homemade starters from dryer lint, and more.

A roaring campfire in a metal fire pit that was started with a campfire starter

Should You Use Lighter Fluid to Start a Fire?

Lighter fluid is a highly flammable liquid that can easily ignite, especially when mishandled. Misuse can lead to burns and other serious injuries. Typically, using lighter fluid to start a fire is not a great idea and is something we don’t recommend.

Additionally, burning lighter fluid can produce harmful fumes. If someone around the fire has respiratory issues or allergies, it could cause them to experience issues. However, it’s not just humans that can experience adverse effects from the fumes. Burning lighter fluid can also harm the environment.

If you need a campfire starter such as lighter fluid to start your fire, we recommend using a low-odor and clean-burning option like Mr. Bar-B-Q Fast Lighting Lighter Fluid.

2 x 1 Quart Bottle Lighter Fluid, Fast Lighting Lighter Fluid, Clean Burning, Charcoal Lighter Fluid, Perfect for Starting Outdoor Charcoal & Wood Fires, BBQ Grill, Grilling Essentials by Mr. Bar-B-Q
  • CLEAN IGNITION EXPERIENCE - Mr. Bar-B-Q lighter fluid, the pinnacle of cleanliness in the world of outdoor cooking. This...
  • LOW ODOR - Mr. Bar-B-Q Fast Lighting Lighter Fluid is your go-to for a clean start without the overpowering smell....

However, we recommend using more natural campfire starters, if possible. These tend to be safer and less harmful to people and the environment.

The Best Homemade Campfire Starters That Actually Work

There’s no shortage of options for manufactured firestarters, including organic fire starters. However, sometimes you’re in a pinch and can’t wait for two-day shipping or run to the store.

Let’s take a look at several homemade campfire starters that will actually work when you need them.

Dryer Lint

Dryer lint is a highly flammable material that burns quickly, which makes it a fantastic fire starter. In addition, it’s typically readily available, making it very easy to find. All you have to do is collect it each time you empty your dryer’s lint trap. If you’re anything like us, you’ll have enough to start several campfires after a few weeks.

Place the dryer lint into a cardboard or paper egg carton and pour melted wax on top of the lint. Let the wax cool and harden, then cut the egg carton into individual sections.

Each pocket can serve as a fire starter. If you fill the entire carton, you’ll have plenty of fire starters for a weekend camping adventure.

Cotton Balls and Petroleum Jelly

Cotton balls and petroleum jelly go together like peanut butter and jelly. While they may not taste nearly as delicious, cotton balls and petroleum jelly make an ideal campfire starter when combined. The cotton balls are highly flammable, and the petroleum jelly allows the cotton to burn longer.

To create these homemade campfire starters, gently pull the cotton to form it into a flat disc. Then coat it with a small amount of petroleum jelly and rub it into the fibers. However, you don’t want to go overboard and use too much. 

Then to use it, rip it slightly to expose dry cotton and set it on a base that won’t absorb the melting petroleum. You can use something as simple as the bottom of a metal soda can. This will help it burn longer and get your fire going.

Store these in a small container and take them along no matter where your adventures take you. These are effective and inexpensive options to consider for starting campfires.

Cotton balls on a blue background that can be used as a campfire starter

Pine Cones

A more natural method for homemade fire starters for camping is to use pine cones. Depending on your location, you may easily find hundreds or even thousands of pine cones by walking through the woods. They’re highly flammable and burn for extended periods.

To use pine cones as a homemade campfire starter, gather a bunch of pine cones. Next, dip the pine cones in melted wax. Apply a generous layer of wax on the pine cones. 

Next, place the pine cones in a bag or portable container, and you’ll have a healthy supply of campfire starters for your next fire.

Cardboard Egg Cartons

Instead of tossing your cardboard or paper egg cartons into the trash, why not reuse them as a homemade campfire starter? We shared earlier that you can pack them full of dryer lint to make an excellent fire starter. However, that’s not all you can do with them.

You can also stuff them with sawdust or other highly flammable materials like paper or cardboard. You’ll then want to pour melted wax over the top of the materials to keep them in place. 

Let the wax dry, and then cut the egg cartons into individual sections. This method allows you to reuse materials and have a safe and effective way of starting a campfire.

Just don’t use the styrofoam or plastic egg cartons. These are dangerous and release toxic fumes when burned.

Duct Tape as a Campfire Starter

There’s no limit to the number of tasks where duct tape can be helpful, including starting a campfire. Duct tape is highly flammable and burns for long periods. This combination makes it a great option for a homemade campfire starter.

To use duct tape to start a fire, you’ll need to tear off a small strip of duct tape and roll it into a tight ball. Light the ball with a match or lighter to ignite your kindling or other fire-starting materials.

Even a small ball of duct tape should burn for several minutes, which is typically more than enough to get your fire going. However, be cautious of breathing in this smoke as it may produce harmful fumes.

Toilet Paper Rolls

When it comes to fire starters for camping, you can add toilet paper rolls to the list. The cardboard center of toilet paper is highly flammable. These paper tubes are perfect for storing dryer lint, sawdust, and other highly flammable materials. 

Seal the ends with aluminum foil or dip the ends in wax. This prevents the materials from escaping and falling out. This is a very inexpensive and effective method to use. Since you’re likely buying toilet paper, you can quickly have a healthy supply of paper rolls.

Charcoal Briquettes

If you use a charcoal grill for cooking, you probably have a bag of charcoal briquettes. These briquettes burn slowly and evenly, which makes them excellent for starting a fire. You’ll need a paper bag and a hammer or mallet to turn them into the perfect homemade campfire starter.

Place the charcoal briquettes into the bag and use a hammer or mallet to smash them. You’ll then be left with small pieces of charcoal, possibly even dust. 

Then fill each egg carton or muffin tin section about halfway with the dust. Placing a layer of wax on top of the dust will help keep it packed and in place.

Sawdust and Wax

Sawdust is highly flammable and is an excellent fuel source for starting a fire. However, adding a wax layer to sawdust helps slow the burn so it lasts longer.

Mix sawdust and melted wax in equal parts into an old coffee can create a great homemade campfire starter. Once the mixture has cooled and hardened, you can easily break it into pieces.

As mentioned earlier, you can also place the mixture into toilet paper rolls, egg cartons, or other burnable containers. This is an effective and eco-friendly option that you can make in advance and have for future trips or backyard campfires.

A fire that was started with a campfire starter overlooking sunset on a mountain

Don’t Want to DIY? Name Brand Campfire Starters That Won’t Fail You

Choosing the right starter for you depends on your storage space, fire-starting skills, and the materials you’re using.

If you don’t want to DIY, here are some of the best fire starters for camping offered by top brands.

Gerber Bear Grylls Fire Starter

Gerber Bear Grylls Fire Starter [31-000699]
  • Compact fire starter with ferrocerium rod and metal striker
  • Lanyard to keep product secure and together

Bear Grylls is a survivalist, writer, and well-known TV host of many shows, including “Man vs. Wild.” It makes sense, then, that he would have his own fire starter.

This compact and lightweight fire starter can get the campfire blazing in no time. It uses a ferrocerium rod and metal striker. You also have an emergency whistle for added safety.

Why It Won’t Fail You: No matter where you end up in the world, this fire starter will be by your side. It includes a waterproof storage compartment for tinder, so you don’t have to stress about the weather.

It also has a lanyard so that the whole product stays secure and together no matter where you travel. This is a top choice when it comes to fire starters for camping.

Lightning Nugget Fire Starters

Lightning Nuggets Inc 0-47815-14175-7 12-Count Firestarters
  • Power Source Type: Charcoal
  • Great for barbecues, wood stoves, fireplaces and campfires

The Lightning Nugget Fire Starter will work its magic with one flick of a lighter. Made of non-toxic wood by-products and no chemical additives, you can use this fire starter for almost any fire.

It’s great for starting BBQs and campfires. You can also use it for an indoor fireplace. The nuggets don’t expire, so you can hang onto them for years. They’re even great for emergencies when you need light or signal fire. So toss a few in your emergency rv survival kit as well!

Why It Won’t Fail You: It’s guaranteed to light easily and has a burn time of 15 minutes. Starting a fire doesn’t get much easier than with these nuggets. You can use them in any wood-burning appliance.

Marshmallows roasting over a campfire that was started with a campfire starter

Light My Fire Kit

Light My Fire - Camping fire Starter Set - Firelighting Kit - Swedish firesteel 1/4" with Emergency Whistle, Fire kindling Wood & Hotdog Cooking Forks for fire Pit - Made in Sweden
  • Lasts for 3000 Strikes: The fire starter in this kit is made to last, with the capability to produce 3000 degrees hot...
  • Toasting fork for Outdoor Cooking: The Grandpa's FireFork is a versatile cooking tool made of stainless steel and a cap...

This complete campfire starter kit can save the day when wood shavings, tinder, or dry wood isn’t available as kindling. You’ll get flint and steel along with a fire fork, making roasting marshmallows and hot dogs over the fire pit a breeze. It all comes in its very own storage bag for easy packing.

Why It Won’t Fail You: Made to last for about 3,000 strikes, this durable tool produces a spark hot enough to start a fire even in damp weather and at altitude. Use it to get your gas stove, and BBQs lit in no time.

Pro Tip: Once you’ve gotten your campfire going, try cooking dinner over it with one of these Best Campfire Cooking Kits You’ll Actually Use.

Überleben Zünden Fire Starter

überleben Zünden Trad Ferro Rod Fire Starter for Survival w/Multi-Tool Striker - 5/16" Thick Fire Steel, 12,000 Strikes - Waterproof Flint and Steel - Camping Fire Starter Rod w/Wood Handle, Lanyard
  • Reliable Fire Starter Ferro Rod - Find reliability with the Zünden Fire Starter Trad, a ferro rod that will help you...
  • High-Performance Ferro Blend - Our trademark Sånft-korr ferrocerium rod blend is balanced for both softness and...

Not only is this a fire tool, but it’s also a work of art. This beauty has a handcrafted wooden handle made with ergonomics in mind. Created with thick bushcraft steel, it offers durability and ease of use. When it comes to the best fire starters for camping, this is a great option!

Why It Won’t Fail You: Created to withstand up to 20,000 strikes, this flint and steel will immediately become a necessary part of your backpacking and camping gear. You won’t have to worry about starting a fire no matter where you travel with this tool.

a man using a campfire starter over some loose leaves and wood

Are Campfire Starters Worth It?

The more time you spend trying to get your campfire going, the less time you have to enjoy it. Campfire starters can be a convenient and effective way to start a fire. While you can find plenty of commercial options, we prefer to go the homemade route as often as possible. 

You can save money and recycle. It’s best to have a healthy supply of these for when you’re struggling to get a campfire going. 

But remember to have a way to light these starters, whether with wood or metal matches, flint and steel wool, or other options. And always practice fire safety.

Have you used any of these homemade fire starters?

Last update on 2024-07-11 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

  1. I use either the folded paper candy cups, cupcake papers, toilet rolls, or wax paper bathroom cups. Fill them with paper from my shredder, dyer lint, or sawdust and a piece of candle wicking, then pour melted wax over the filler. I save candle ends or buy candle seconds and melt them in an old glass jar (usually a Mason jar that is no longer good for canning) over a candle warmer. I set up and make a few dozen at a time, since they keep forever and store them in a covered container with a seal And they live in our RV until needed. Do they melt a bit and deform over time, sometimes, but they still work.

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