Whether you find yourself lost in the woods or out camping with friends, know how to start a fire using only a few sticks and some friction is an incredibly essential skill. Here’s exactly how to do it.

You will need 3 things to get a fire going and keeping it at a healthy burn level:

  1. An Ignition Source
  2. Tinder and Kindling
  3. Fuel

The first of these is an ignition source. The most portable fire starters are waterproof matches and butane lighters. Both of these items should be present in each and every survival kit you bring on your travels. It is an important survival technique to have more than one method of fire ignition available to you in your kit, in case something happens to your primary fire starter. If for some reason you find yourself separated from your kit, or have reached the end of your butane or match supply, then you can use alternative fire starters made from common materials such as batteries and steel wool. By taping together the positive and negative terminals of two AA batteries, and then connecting the exposed terminals together with fine grade steel wool, you can superheat the steel to the point where it will readily ignite dry tinder. Also, having flint and a knife is essential in a wilderness survival kit.

How To Start a Fire Using Friction

If you’re more of a Tom Hanks type as opposed to a MacGyver type, you can use the old spindle and fire board technique (better know as starting a fire by rubbing two sticks together).

Simply put, starting a fire with friction is, well, really hard.

Be prepared for the most emotional fire-starting experience of your life.

The most important thing to remember is to have your tinder nest ready and a supply of kindling nearby to feed your fire after it is started.

Here’s how to use friction to light a fire:

  1. First, find a dry, rounded stick (spindle) and a dry flat piece of wood.
  2. Cut a groove lengthwise down the wood and place your tinder nest at the bottom.
  3. Next, rub your spindle up and down the groove very quickly to try and get a spark into your tinder nest.
  4. Now, it’s important to provide tinder and kindling to help your fire catch. Tinder is the term for small, dry flammable objects that will readily catch fire.

Here’s a few simple items you can use as tinder: 

  • lint or fluff from clothing
  • dry twigs
  • dry pine needles
  • paper
  • dry grass or plants

Tinder doesn’t burn very long, which is why you need to combine it with kindling. Kindling is the term for the small, thin pieces of wood that you can use to get your main fire fuel to catch. Kindling has a large surface area and a low internal volume, making it burn hot enough to set the main fuel on fire – smaller logs usually do the trick.

The fire’s fuel is the final component of the fire pyramid. The most frequent fuels used are wood or coal, but thick books and upholstery such as seat cushions will also serve the purpose. Make sure that you have gathered enough fuel to keep the fire burning as long as you need it to – it will be difficult to venture out into the dark to search for more fuel by the dying light of your fire if you run out.  It is better to gather and stockpile too much wood than to not have enough.

You will need to protect your fire from water and wind, both of which can put an early end to combustion, especially if it is just beginning to catch. Wind can also blow embers out of the fire and onto other flammable materials such as tents, clothes and dried grass, so be wary of the weather and your choice of fire location. Once a fire has died down to just glowing coals, it can still provide a good source of warmth over the course of the night.