How to Start a Fire With Just a Lighter in 5 Easy Steps


Hand Holding a Lighter in the Forest

Preparation is the key to successfully lighting a fire, be it a campfire, in the fireplace, or a grill. While most people use matches to start a fire, it can also be done with any type of lighter. These include your basic convenience store pocket lighter, a stick lighter, pipe torch, or refillable metal cigarette lighter. I’ve been tasked with lightning hundreds of fires over the years, so I can give you detailed instructions on how to do it properly.

Here are the 5 steps to starting a fire with a lighter:

  1. Select a Site to Start the Fire
  2. Build a Fire Pit
  3. Collect Fuel for the Fire
  4. Arrange the Fuel
  5. Light the Fire

Now, let’s quickly go through the steps so that you can get that fire a-blazin’!

How to Start a Fire With a Lighter

Ideally, you will have brought tools and materials to facilitate the process.

Recommended Components

  • Shovel- Firepit preparation, safety
  • Bucket- Safety, disperse water, sand
  • Paper- Newsprint, brown bags, etc. to act as tinder
  • Lighter- Heat component of the fire equation

1. Site Selection (Omit If Fire Pit Already at Location)

Here are the factors to consider when choosing a good location to start your fire:

  • Near water, surrounded by trees
  • Flat ground
  • Accessible firewood to collect
  • Absence of fire hazards susceptible to embers
  • Assess breeze

The campsite is the ultimate source for two of the three components for the fire. Oxygen is present even when the air is still but a small breeze facilitates the campfire. Therefore, try to build a fire where airflow is good.

Important: While a breeze is great for starting a fire, strong winds pose a potential danger as embers could fly out of the area. Often local and federal authorities will post fire danger warnings during hot, windy conditions. These should be respected.

2. Build Fire Pit

Guidelines for building a fire pit:

  1. Clear a space 3′ in diameter
  2. If possible, excavate pit to a depth of 6″
  3. Surround the pit with large (softball sized) rocks making a border

3. Collect Fuel

Here are the combustible items you will want to gather to optimize the fire starting process:

  • Tinder- Readily flammable paper, twigs, dry moss, bark, pine needles, etc.
  • Kindling- Twigs and small sticks which will light from the tinder
  • Fuel- Larger logs which will provide longer sustained flame, stack upwind from the fire pit.

4. Arrange the Fuel

This step is paramount to a successful fire. You need to get this part right to be successful.

  1. Loosely arrange a good amount of tinder
  2. Identify a few points at which you will light the tinder
  3. Arrange kindling around and over the tinder, crisscrossing pieces
  4. Keep additional kindling handy to grow fire
  5. Have logs in reserve to add once fire has taken hold

5. Light It!

  • Know the lighter, make sure it can hold the flame for an extended period
  • Ignite the tinder at multiple points

Pro Tip: Bringing tinder and kindling can ensure an easier start to the campfire, but is not required. Tinder and kindling can be collected in the wilderness, but their readiness to burn must be assessed. Are they dry and wispy enough to facilitate flame?

Managing the Fire

  • Your mouth actually makes a pretty good bellows. Blow lightly on the lit tinder to encourage the flame.
  • Add tinder and kindling as the fire grows.
  • Do not smother the growing fire.
  • Once the kindling is well underway add the first log.
  • Add logs one at a time until you have a strong fire.
  • Keep it within the pit, do not build a fire too large for your location.
  • Do not leave the fire unattended.
  • Over time add logs as needed to maintain the desired size, temperature.

Be Prepared to Put it Out

Keeping a bucket nearby to extinguish a fire in an emergency is always a good idea.

  • Identify your water source
  • Fill buckets, containers with water to use if trouble arises
  • Use sand if water not available

Breaking Camp- Best Practices

  1. Stop adding logs well before you plan to break camp.
  2. Realize the fire will take time to burn out.
  3. With the flame no longer present spread the ash logs and coals throughout the pit with your shovel.
  4. Douse with water to extinguish any embers.
  5. Refill bucket with water.
  6. Use a shovel to uncover any remaining embers.
  7. Douse with water again.
  8. Wait and ensure no embers remain and that no heat is being generated from fire pit.

Remember, if water was not present, use sand or dirt for steps d through g.

The Goal- Leave It, Like It Was (or better)

Ideally, the campsite should be left in the condition it was found. Remember to return rocks to the riverbank or field where sourced. Last, fill any excavations you made.

Enjoying the Fire

Be mindful around the fire. Make sure safe distance is maintained particularly if youngsters are present. Here are 3 of my favorite things to do with the family.

  1. Tell tales
  2. Watch the flames
  3. Roast marshmallows or make S’mores (proper roasting sticks required)

Final thoughts

I recommend that you carry backup heat sources in the form of an additional lighter or a box of wooden matchsticks. Wooden matchsticks provide a longer burn than the cardboard version found in match books. The process is basically the same no matter what you use to light the fire.

I hope this article has been helpful. Thanks for reading!

Jim James

Jim James spent most of his childhood outdoors fishing on lakes in his area. Due to his scouting background, he has always been interested in survival, camping, and the outdoors in general. Jim is a best-selling author and has a degree in History, Anthropology, and Music. He lives with his family in Charlotte, NC.

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