HomeSurvival SkillsHow to Start a Survival Fire

The very first survival skill anyone should learn is how to start a survival fire. The ability to quickly create a fire is important for several reasons. This is more than just a source of heat, although that is crucial in some cases. Fires can also be used to boil water for purification, cook food, signal for help, and perhaps most important of all, keep our spirits up in dire situations.

Your bug out bag should contain a small fire kit. This essential item should contain two types of things: sources of fire ignition and quick light tinder. Because fire is such an elemental need, we highly recommend that you carry more than one type of each.

For ignition sources, you should have at least three options in your bag. These should include:

  • Waterproof Matches. You can even make your own by dipping the tips of matches in melted wax or fingernail polish. However, you will need to make sure they dry quickly or you can damage the match head and cause a fail when they are most needed. For as inexpensive as these are to buy, we recommend purchasing a supply for your bag.
  • Lighter. A nice cigarette lighter will suffice.
  • Ferrocerium Rod (also known as a fire steel). One of these rods can be used thousands of times, making them an essential item for your bag. Even better, you can get one of these that also includes a bar of magnesium. In unfavorable conditions, a few scrapes of magnesium (which burns extremely hot) can give your fire start a large boost. To use, simply scrape the rod with a metal striker to create sparks to light your quick tinder.


For your quick tinder, try to have at least two sources. Here are our favorite options:

  • WetFire. You can purchase WetFire cubes to use as a quick-light tinder. This type of tinder will even burn in water.
  • Steel Wool. Regular steel wool works great as tinder! Pull the wool apart to allow for some air circulation and then add a spark or two. The thin metal in the steel wool will burn very hot and create a large smoldering ember.  Best of all, this will work even if the steel wool is damp
  • Cotton Balls Mixed with Petroleum Jelly. Work a small dollop of petroleum jelly into a cotton ball. Rub it in thoroughly to make sure that all of the cotton fibers are covered. When finished, roll them into small balls and keep them in a waterproof, resealable bag. To use, simply pull them apart to enable air flow and get a larger surface area, then add the spark to ignite. The cotton acts as a wick and the petroleum jelly works to extend the life of the flame.


Now you know how to light a fire, but before you get that flame going you need to be ready to build a proper fire. A proper fire should be built in steps.

How to Start a Survival Fire

Step 1: Gather everything you need before you begin. You will need: a flat rock or wood to use as a base for your fire, igniter source, quick-light tinder, and sticks and twigs ranging in size from toothpick slim to pencil thin. It is a good idea to also have some larger wood ready for when your fire is ready to go.

Step 2: Lay out the base, or foundation, for your fire. You can use a flat rock or a layer of sticks. The main idea is to keep your vulnerable tinder away from ground moisture.

Step 3: Set your fast-light tinder on the base and add a spark or two to get it going. Move very quickly to next step,

Step 4: Place the smallest, toothpick slim twigs in teepee fashion around your flame. Leave space between the twigs for good air circulation (fire needs oxygen) and allow plenty of time for this layer to catch fire.

Step 5: Keep building “tee-pees” out of thicker and thicker twigs. Once you are up to pencil-size twigs, your fire should be going strong. Continue to add larger branches and twigs as needed to keep the fire going.

Special Note: Please remember Smokey the Bear’s famous saying “Only you can prevent forest fires.” If the area you are in is dry, be sure to clear at least a three foot diameter of ground around your fire area before lighting it.

Now you know how to start a survival fire. Be sure your bug out bag has the essential fire kit and remember our goal is to survive, not burn down the forest.


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