Pitch Your Tent: Campfires

5 Campfire Starting Tools

I know I said that this week’s article would be where I’d reveal the results of testing camp stoves with different BTU outputs. BUT, ESP Boss & I decided that it would be better for you to watch the video of our test! It is in production as we speak so look for it soon.

Kind of sticking with the theme, however, I wanted to share with you my tips and suggestions for campfires! To make life easy for you, I’m also including links after every product so you can buy one before your next camping trip!

Campfires are one of the best parts of a camping trip. However, I’ve found over the course of numerous camping trips and day trips that building and maintaining a safe campfire is not as easy as it seems. Even the most experienced camper can still pick up new ideas and tricks about fire making.

There are a variety of fire igniters and fire aids on the market. Which are the best for in-camp use, and what should you keep in your backpack for a potential emergency situation? Here are your answers!

Utility Fire Lighter

These are the adjustable lighters with a long reach. They have a trigger feature. The advantage is their long reach — you don’t have to have your fingers as close to the tinder as with the other methods. This is your best in-camp bet, because they’re safe, easy to use, and can be used in breezy conditions. They are not a good choice for your backpack for emergency situations.

  • Water resistance: High. We’ve left these out in the rain and they still work. Just don’t submerge in water.
  • Ease of use: High. Once you get the hang of turning these lighters on, they’re very easy to use.
  • Practicality: High. This isn’t something you want to carry in a backpack as an emergency fire starter since it isn’t compact and might leak. It’s a great fire starter in camp.
  • Over-all rating: High
  • Price: $6

Buy a utility fire lighter.

Strike-Anywhere Matches

Be sure to keep the matches in a water-proof container so that they’re dry when you need them. Ideally, you want to keep the box they come in for the striker strip, but you can light strike-anywhere matches on any rough surface. (That’s why they’re called strike-anywhere.) Matches can be hard to use because they burn so quickly, meaning you’d better have a good place to get your fire started (tinder) and the possibility of getting your fingers burned can be high.

Why not other use matches? Safety matches require the on-box striker strip to ignite, book matches are difficult to use in not-prefect conditions, and other types of matches can be brittle and easily broken.

Of course, matches aren’t really the best bet for either in-camp or emergency fire making. They won’t work if they get wet, require you to get up-close-and-personal with the tinder (increasing the probability of getting burnt) and they are nearly useless in breezy conditions.

  • Water resistance: Low. If you get the matches wet, they won’t work anymore. They can be made water resistant by a light coating of wax, but that will need to be done at home.
  • Ease of use: High. It’s easy to light a match, but it’s easy to go through them quickly.
  • Practicality: Medium. Cheap, easy, quick, light weight. Just make sure you have plenty. Because of low-water resistance, matches are not a great choice for a backpack.
  • Over-all rating: Medium
  • Price: $2.50 for 3 boxes of 250

Buy strike-anywhere matches.

StarterLogg®

This is a wood fire starter made of premium wax and kiln-dried hardwood sawdust and is completely non-toxic. The StarterLogg® will start your fire faster and easier than using newspaper and kindling, and it eliminates fire starting hassles, so you can start your fire safely and quickly. It’s a bit heavy to carry the full log in your backpack, but it can be broken into smaller pieces and a few pieces carried with you.

A StarterLogg® will burn cleanly, ignite quickly and burn hot enough to dry out damp wood. This is a fantastic aid for in-camp fire starting (especially with damp wood) and is great to chunk up and put in your backpack.

  • Water resistance: High. This is wax coated so water shouldn’t hurt it.
  • Ease of use: High. Just light it using your favorite fire igniter above
  • Practicality: High. Cheap, easy, quick, light weight. This is a great tool for in-camp and in the backpack.
  • Over-all rating: Medium
  • Price: $7.50 for 4

Buy a StarterLogg®

Butane Lighter

We just purchased a butane lighter made by DAC. It’s described as a refillable butane lighter for all outdoor activities. Windproof and water-resistant. Features a fuel level window, flame adjustment, and refill valve. It may look like a Zippo lighter, but for emergency fire starting, it’s a cut above, since it’s made of heavy-duty plastic body with a cap that is secured with a clamp.

  • Water resistance: High. It’s not water-proof, but water-resistant should be good enough for most outdoor adventures.
  • Ease of use: High. It works just like a regular lighter.
  • Practicality: High. Lightweight, easy to use, and refillable. It is good for camp or in your backpack.
  • Over-all rating: High
  • Price: $10

Buy a DAC butane lighter.

Magnesium starter

Just in case you’re ever on the TV show “Survivor.” No, really, this is a handy tool to have to start fires in emergency situations. One fire starter should provide hundreds of fires. It’s simple to use; just shave pieces of magnesium using a sharp knife. Place the shavings next to dry twigs, paper, etc. and scrape the sparking edge with a knife to ignite the magnesium. Be careful with this; magnesium can burn so hot it will burn under water.

  • Water resistance: High
  • Ease of use: Medium. (To get good at this, you’ll need practice. I recommend practicing with this during non-critical fire making time.)
  • Practicality: Medium. It’s light and can get wet, but you’ll need to practice to get proficient. Plus, you need another tool (a knife) to start the fire. With practice and a knife its good for the backpack, but a lot of work for an in-camp fire starter.
  • Over-all rating: Medium
  • Price: $7

Buy a magnesium starter.

What ISN’T recommended: gas, lighter fluid or other liquid fire starters. In all of these cases, it isn’t the liquid that’s burned, it’s the fumes. It is never a good idea to use gas or lighter fluid to start a fire since these items will ignite too quickly, burn very hot, and are extremely difficult to control.

Last October, I was camping with the EatStayPlay.com “Royal” Family at Pine Grove Campground near Flagstaff Arizona. ESP Boss (he’s an experienced camper!) had a major brain fart and poured a bit of leftover gasoline from the generator onto the wood in the fire ring and then started the fire. WHOOSH! Let’s just say that he jumped back very quickly and wasn’t hurt, The Queen Mother yelled at him and then started to cry, and I made a mental note to remember to tell everybody I know to never, Never, NEVER use gas on a fire.

So, enjoy your campfire but stay safe and stay smart. If you’re not sure that a tip or tool is safe, don’t chance it — use something that you know will work and is safe.

Readers Weigh In:

What fire starters do you use? Have you ever tried to make your own fire starter out of newspaper, dryer lint, etc? How did it go?

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4 Responses to “Pitch Your Tent: Campfires”

  • james.bednar:

    Another good article. I especially like the safety tips – I think that the safety tips are more important than the the product itself.

    For starting fires, I usually use those fire sticks that you can buy for about a dozen at a time. Those brown things that are about 4″ long and look like dog-poo. They seem to work very good for me.

    Also used dryer lint covered in PETROLEUM JELLY. Just make sure you get the jelly off your fingers before starting any fires or your fingers will catch on fire (not that that has ever happened to me). Lots of people do not realize that petroleum jelly is highly flammable.

    Also used HAND SANITIZER because of its high alcohol content. Just squirted the hand sanitizer onto wood, paper, etc, and just light on fire. Ensure hands are COMPLETELY dry and NO residue is on your hands when attempting to start a fire using this stuff. Also hihgly flammable.
    Also used the magnesium strikers and forgot how hot/dangerous magnesium is. Only use those in emergency situations.

    After burning myself too many times to remember using cigarette lighters, I finally graduated (or got smarter) to those utility fire starters. Best part is that you can stick any fire making articles in the center of a pile of wood and use this item to start the fire more safely. However, I always have a few cigarette lighters on hand as stand-bys.

    Got to agree that using liquid fuel of any type is A VERY BAD IDEA. Enough said on that.

  • Pat:

    We spent four days in the rain on the North Rim this summer. We tried hand sanitizer (Walmart brand) which should have been flammable since it was 62% alcohol, but it would NOT burn. We tried pouring it on paper towels and then lighting it but it would still not burn. The paper towels had absorbed too much moisture from the air. Nothing was burning. Four days and no fires. Very disappointing. Good thing we had our camp stove.

  • Kim:

    Pat — That is EXACTLY the reason why I don’t recommend cooking over a camp fire. If it doesn’t light, or is smokey, you’re pretty much stuck! For my camping trip in a few weeks, I’ll be testing dryer lint soaked in petroleum jelly. I’ve always heard it works but have never tried it. I also recommend the fire starting logs.

  • Michelle:

    Variation on the dryer lint trick: Cotton balls soaked in petroleum jelly. I just squirt some into a ziploc bag, shove a handful of cotton balls in there and squish them around til everything is covered. One or two will get your fire going pretty fast… I have yet to set my fingers on fire :)

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