Build a Foolproof Backpacking Firestarter Kit

By Alexander Popp


Having a good fire on a cold day is one of my favorite parts about hiking and camping in the backcountry. Provided you have weather conditions that allow a fire, the skills to make one, and a way of putting it out, a campfire in the wilderness is an essential part of the backpacking experience.

But you can’t just go striking matches willy nilly without knowing how to make a proper fire and having a good plan for how you’re going to put it out. All of that starts with your firestarter kit.


What’s in a kit?

So, what goes into a firestarter kit? Well for most hikers, that kit consists of one thing, a disposable lighter. And there’s nothing wrong with taking the simple approach because a simple disposable lighter can start a fire as much as anything else, but there are other items that will ensure that you can make fire, no matter the circumstances you find yourself in.

Build a beginners kit

A good backpacking firestarter kit has three key things: a way of producing sparks or flames, a firestarter or tinder, and a way of making small to medium-sized kindling.

  • Sparks and Flames – You’ve got to have some way of getting the fire going, that means matches, a striker rod (Ferro, magnesium, etc.), or a lighter. Whatever you use, we suggest bringing at least two different options; so you always have a backup if something gets wet, breaks, or fails somehow.
  • Firestarter – If you’ve ever made a fire before, then you know you can’t start with just big logs and a lighter. Building a good fire means starting small and BUILDING it larger and larger. That means you’ve got to start small. A firestarter can be simple, like a bundle of shredded leaves, bark, or straw, or can be more complex, like the solid or gelatin firestarter fuel blocks sold in camping stores and online.  Before you head out into the wilderness, do some tests to see how much firestarter you need to get a fire lit and plan accordingly.
  • Kindling – So you’ve sparked a flame and things are looking good, what do you do next? Feed the flame and let it grow. To do that, you’re going to need kindling (small to medium-sized pieces of wood) to feed it. Since you can’t carry all that wood with you, you’ll be dependent on deadfall and sticks that you can find to cover that need. Make sure you have a pocket knife to cut small kindling down to size and it wouldn’t hurt to consider bringing along a small wire saw to section off deadfall branches.

Get More Advanced

  • Friction is Fun – We’ve all heard about rubbing sticks together to make a fire, but it’s a bit harder than that in reality. Making a friction fire is a serious outdoor survival skill that can take years to master. But once you’ve got it down, you can basically make a fire with nothing more than a knife, string, a few pieces of wood, and some time. Take some time, watch some tutorials on YouTube (there are thousands), and practice in a safe space until you’ve got it down.
  • Advanced Tinder –  No, it’s not a course on internet dating. Once you’re getting into the hang of making fires, you can learn more about the types of natural firestarters that exist in your area. Learn what trees and other foliage in your area burn hot and clean, and then look for them when you’re out in the field. But be sure to keep with the practices of Leave No Trace, by only choosing dead and already downed branches.
  • Fan the Flames – Fires need oxygen to grow and good airflow can mean the difference between a fire that stays lit and the one that smolders out. Try out different methods of layering and fanning your fire to see how airflow can improve it.

Learn more backpacking tips from World’s Best Adventures! If you like these tips and want to learn more, join World’s Best Adventures on a trip this spring. We take beginning backpackers, families, groups, and hikers of all skill levels on guided backpacking trips to some of the most beautiful locations in North Carolina. Learn more here.

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