Halt and catch fire: 7 tricks for lighting your campsite

August 24, 2015                 2m read time
April Kilcrease

Mastering friction fires may have been a major feat for early humans, but thanks to modern technology, like, uhm, matches, anyone can learn to start a decent campfire without putting much muscle into it. With human progress—or at least human tinkering—being the relentless force that it is, things have only gotten easier. So ditch those two sticks, and follow these surefire tricks to getting lit outdoors.

Find Your Spark

Tinder Is Not Just a Dating App

It’s hard to remember sometimes, but tinder was once a way to start a flame, not find one. After you set up camp, build graduated woodpiles, ranging in size from tinder (dry, snappable twigs) to kindling (about a nickel wide) to actual logs. It takes two handfuls of tinder to make a campfire go right. Gently turn the burning tinder to aerate it, feed the kindling on top, and then lay on the logs.

Of course, you could always buy Duraflame or Fatwood fire starter sticks, but where’s the fun in that?

man building a backyard fire ZOZI

man building a backyard fire



Raid the Medicine Cabinet

Cotton balls and swabs are good for more than first aid on the trail. Smear them with petroleum jelly or dip them in wax, and they turn into portable puffs of fuel.

Or Just Roll With It

Or rather, just roll with lint. Stuff cardboard toilet paper rolls with lint from your dryer (or belly button if you’ve been saving it long enough) for easy kindling. For “eggstra” (groan) support, pack an empty egg carton with lint balls, seal each with wax, and you’ve got yourself a dozen ways to spark up.

Friends roasting marshmallows around a campfire on the beach ZOZI

Friends roasting marshmallows around a campfire on the beach



Lighten the Mood

Now that you’ve proven that you can outsmart primitive humans (an honor surely worthy of a merit badge), it’s time to show off some campout class. We’ve tracked down the brightest ideas for lightening the mood and softening the edges around that roaring fire.

High Stakes

Stick a taper candle on top of a wooden dowel for a tiki torch effect (or to feel like you’re part of a giant birthday cake). Drill a hole into the bottom of the candle, place it on top of the dowel, and then shove the dowel into the ground—just don’t confuse the unlit candles with the hot dogs you’re fixin’ to roast.

Bottle It Up

Create a pretty lantern by looping a headlamp around a translucent colored bottle or jug of water. Aim the light into the middle of the bottle and watch it glow. For a more utilitarian, portable lantern, drop a battery-powered votive candle into an empty peanut butter jar.

Orange rind with a flame in the center Aidan Ashby

Orange rind with a flame in the center

Aidan Ashby


Orange You Glad to See Me

Get your vitamin C and see in the dark with an oil lamp made out of an orange. Cut the fruit in half and scoop out the flesh, but be careful to leave the center strand of white pith intact (this will become the candle wick). Pour olive oil into the hollowed out rind and then light the pith.

Flip the Switch

Rather cut the craft and get right to it? The compact Luci Aura lanterns from MPOWERD deliver instant ambiance. These inflatable, solar-powered lights come in seven hues, and their small size makes them undeniably cute. Bonus: thanks to their waterproof design they can double as buoys for toy boats!

April Kilcrease


April is the editor at ZOZI. Born in Germany, she grew up on three continents with a road-trip loving family. In her twenties, she was thrilled to discover that she could continue this semi-nomadic lifestyle as a journalist. Her work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The Guardian, and AFAR.

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