Tinder that Will Get your Fire Going

When building a fire, there are three types of material you need to gather: tinder, kindling, and fuel.  Fuel consists of larger pieces of wood, and kindling is typically smaller sticks.  Kindling is required to get your fuel lit, but tinder starts off the whole process.  Tinder is defined as any material that will light from an ember or spark.  In order for this to happen, it must either be very fluffy and dry or it must have some type of accelerant.

Sometimes, fire tinder is found in nature and other times it is found in your garage or at the local hardware store.  You will find that certain substances work better than others, so trying out different tinder sources can be very important.  Inclement weather can also affect its effectiveness.  If it has been raining or if it is especially cold the type of tinder you choose may change.  In this article I will cover a variety of tinder sources you can utilize to get your fire started in any conditions.

Plant-Based Tinder

First we can discuss natural tinder sources.  Dried leaves and grass work okay, but they really have to be roughed up to get them fluffy.  A great way to find these sources already prepared is to hunt down a bird’s nest.  As birds build and use a nest over and over it creates a perfect tinder bundle for an ember.  Another option for dry tinder is the fluff inside cattail heads.  The exterior of the head will keep it dry in the rain, so popping one open can help in any weather.

In addition, dandelions can provide a good tinder source.  If you gather a small bundle of the white fluffy seed heads they will readily take a spark. Dried pine needles can be used for tinder but have to be broken and fluffed up. Another trick for tinder is to carry a small manual pencil sharpener with you.  You can create shavings from sticks and use it for tinder once you have a decent sized pile.Certain types of moss work great when dried. Tinder fungus is an excellent source provided by nature.  It can be found on fallen logs and will not only take an ember but can keep it going for hours.


Animals can actually help you out with a few different tinder sources.  Dried animal dung can be used just like tinder fungus, and many times it is easy to find in the wild. Another option most people do not discuss are feathers.  The fluffy interior feathers on most birds are perfect to ignite when dry.  The next time you kill a bird in the wild, save that tinder. If you kill a mammal in the wild, you can use some of the fur to create a tinder bundle.  Just trim it off at skin level and create a bird’s nest shape to catch a spark.

Waterproof Natural

There are really only two natural tinder sources that can get your fire going even when soaking wet.  The first is birch bark, and it has gotten fires going for me when nothing else would work.  Birch bark has a chemical in it that burns even when wet.  Pine resin works in a similar way.  This sticky substance can be rubbed on anything and lit even in the pouring rain.  Keep these two substances handy if you get the chance.

DIY From Home

If you want to prepare some tinder in advance to bring in your pack, that can be a huge advantage.  One option is to fill a toilet paper roll with dryer lint.  This gives you three different substances that will burn well when dry: the paper, the cardboard, and the lint.  Another option is to rub cotton balls in petroleum jelly.  The jelly is an accelerant that works even when wet, and the cotton allows it to burn for 30-60 seconds typically.

Gauze bandages, paper, cardboard, tobacco, plastic, and rubber can all be used as tinder if they are shredded to a fine powder.  Sawdust works well, and shredded cigarette filters or cordage will take a spark.  Even diapers, tampons, and maxi-pads can be shredded up and used for tinder if you have any available.

Char Cloth

Some of the best tinder you can take with you is char cloth.  This product will take even the smallest spark and keep an ember burning for several minutes.  To make it, take an old cotton rag or t-shirt and cut it up into squares about one inch by one inch.

Put them in an empty Altoids tin and poke a small hole in the lid.  The hole needs to be just big enough to let the smoke out without letting much oxygen back in. Throw it in a fire for 10 to 20 minutes and check to see if all the cloth is charred.

Make sure you keep char cloth in a watertight container. This works great with a ferro rod to catch your sparks and get a nice ember going.  It is also one of the few types of tinder that works well with a lens for an ignition source. Just focus your beam of light on the cloth and make the point of contact as small as possible.  It should start smoking immediately as the pure carbon hits an ideal temperature.


Magnesium can be a great source of tinder if prepared properly.  My ferro rod comes with a block of magnesium, but many hiking and camping tools are also made of magnesium. You will need to shave off of the block or tool with a knife to get a fluffy pile of magnesium shavings. This should take a spark and give you a flame, but it will not last long so you have to move quickly.


There are several accelerants that can be used by themselves or added to other material to make good tinder. Any product with a high alcohol content can be added to tinder to get a fire going. I actually used an alcohol based poison ivy treatment to get a fire going in my very first survival challenge. Hand sanitizer is a common product with a high alcohol content that works great for tinder. Sanitizing wipes are typically just a cloth soaked in sanitizer, so they get the job done as well.

You can find plenty of products in any garage to get a fire going.  Gasoline, kerosene, and lighter fluid all work well as an additive for tinder.  Be cautious as the fumes can be explosive. Most aerosol cans contain products that are flammable, and most bug spray makes for a good accelerant.  WD40 is another product that is very common and can help you get it lit.

Any substances that are waxy or fatty can be of use.  In the kitchen you can use lard or bacon grease to help get your tinder going. You can also use chapstick, paraffin wax, or shoe polish to enhance your fire starting substances.  I often carry bowstring wax when I have my crossbow or compound bow, and it works well when added to fluffy tinder.

Fire Assistance Products For Purchase

Finally, we come to the easiest way to get tinder… to buy it.  I know it is sort of cheating, but in a real survival situation you need every advantage you can get.  There are several tinder products that can be purchased to help start a fire.  These products are especially helpful in wet or cold weather as most of your normal tinder may be soaked. All of these products work even when doused in water.

There are several versions of fire cubes available which are probably my favorite kind of artificial tinder. These are small waxy cubes that come in packs of 12 or more. Many of them are individually wrapped so you can just throw a few in your pocket.

One cube can be used for about four fires.  You just shave off a small pile of shavings and light it with a single spark. Then cut a small chunk off and drop it in the flame. This will stay lit for several minutes while you get your kindling going.  It is windproof and will work in the pouring rain.

There are two other products that accomplish something similar, but I have not been quite as impressed with them.  The first is called Live Fire.  This is a small tin about three inches long and one inch wide. When you slide open the tin there is a fibrous wick inside covered in a waxy substance.

You can rough up the fibers a bit with your knife and then light it with a single spark.  When done you simply close the tin to extinguish the flame and put it back in your pocket.  It is very convenient, but the flame is fairly small which makes it harder to work with.

The second product would be one of the variety of granulated fire starting products on the market.  These are advertised to float in water while still remaining lit.

You are supposed to make a small pile of granules and then light them to get your kindling going.  However, I have read mixed reviews about this product.  The main complaint seems to be that they are hard to light with a ferro rod, so it is really not ideal for my needs.

Our last fire assistance product is called Fire Sticks.  This product consists of sticks that are about four inches long and about ½ inch wide. They are coated in a waxy substance and come in packs of 12 or more.  This product will not take a spark, so do not expect it to.

However, it is windproof, waterproof, and will stay lit for about 20 minutes. If you need to get large wood lit in inclement weather, this is your product. It typically eliminates the need for tinder or kindling and lets you jump straight to your bigger wood.  However, you will need a flame to get it lit.

As you can, see there are plenty of options out there for good tinder if you know where to look.  Whether you are scouring the forest floor or digging through an abandoned garage or kitchen, you should be able to find something that works.

Just remember that there are a few characteristics to look for. Find something dry and fluffy, find something waxy, or find something volatile and flammable. Any of these tinder sources will produce a roaring fire, so get creative and go see what works.

About Ryan Dotson

Ryan Dotson
My name is Ryan Dotson and I am a survivalist, prepper, writer, and photographer. I grew up in the Ozark Mountains and in the foothills of the Pocono Mountains. My interest in survival started when I was in Boy Scouts and continued as my father, uncle, and grandfather taught me to hunt and fish. In the last few years I have started taking on survival challenges and have started writing about my experiences. I currently live in Mid-Missouri with my wife Lauren and three year old son Andrew.

One comment

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    Another great article. Printed off and added to the prep folder! Thanks.

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