Earlier this week, we considered tinder and kindling, stepping up the scale of combustible campfire material categories. Today, we look at the largest-sized component: fuelwood.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary quite simply defines fuelwood as “wood grown or used for fuel.” This compound word is thought to have come into use in the 14th Century.

Whereas with kindling, you are looking for twigs no larger than a pencil, with fuel wood, there isn’t an actual limit to how large a piece might be, but there are certainly practical limits. A general rule of thumb that we use in our outings is that a good size for fuel wood is about the thickness of your wrist, or, perhaps, your forearm if you’re building a larger fire. If you have pieces larger than this, they should probably be split down to a smaller size before being used to feed the fire. You’ll want your initial pieces of fuel wood to be smaller.

Where the tinder is used to alight the kindling, the kindling is used to start fuel wood on fire. Once a campfire is established, additional pieces of fuelwood can be used to sustain it.



In our last outdoors post, we looked at tinder, one of a handful of components to successfully build a fire. Today, we consider kindling.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines kindling as “dry twigs, pieces of paper, etc., that burn easily and are used to start a fire.According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word came into use in the 1510s as a present participle from of “kindle,” which is said to have likely originated from Old Norse “kynda.”

From the definition is sounds like a synonym for tinder, but among those who practice the skill of fire building, it is considered one size up from tinder. Tinder is the first material to be ignited. The tinder then sets afire the kindling. Where examples of tinder might be dried grass or leaves, kindling is generally thought of as twigs – sticks no bigger around than pencil.

Going one step up the size scale of combustible materials, we find fuel wood, the subject of our next post on fire building.


This coming weekend, some members of the Family Trivium household will be going camping with a youth group, with the primary focus of the outing being to teach basic outdoor skills to the younger members of the organization. Among the skills being covered will be fire building. What’s a fall campout without a campfire?

There are a handful of components necessary to successfully build a fire. One, of them is tinder, which the Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines as “dry material (such as wood or grass) that burns easily and can be used to start a fire.” Middle English in origin, it comes from Old English “tynder,” and first known to have been used in the 12th Century.

Mr. Family Trivium’s favorite tinder is dryer lint from loads of cotton. It isn’t something found in nature, but it’s very reliable, and makes a practical use of something which would otherwise be thrown away.

For starting charcoal, Mr. Family Trivium uses newspaper. He loosely stuffs wadded-up newspaper into the bottom of a charcoal chimney before loading the top with lump charcoal for grilling, or charcoal briquettes for dutch oven cooking.

If you’re testing out your wilderness survival skills, you’ll need to scrounge up whatever you can find, Dry grass or pine needles tend to work fairly well. We’d love to hear about your favorite tinder in the comments.

Fire Starter

As an alternative to matches, a “fire starter” shows up on the list of Ten Essentials. It shows up as part of item 8 on the Boy Scout list, and would fit under item 6 (Fire) on the updated Mountaineers list. On the classic Mountaineers list it garners its own position as item 7 (“Firestarter”). The most familiar form of a fire starter is probably some variation of the flint and steel.

Over at The Art of Manliness, Darren Bush has an article on how to start a fire using flint and steel, first giving an explanation of the components of the system. The flint can be from a family of rocks with a hardness rating of about 8 on Mohs scale, with chert being an example. The typical steel component is made from high-carbon tool steel. Being slightly softer than the flint, a small curl of the steel peels off and ignites from the pressure induced by the motion when the two components are struck together. The ignited steel, visible as a spark, can be directed to a piece of tinder as part of the fire building process (more on this later).

According to Bush, what is called a flint in a disposable lighter is actually a compound of cerium and iron (also known as ferrocerrium), which is actually the part that becomes a spark in this device.

While no one in the FamilyTrivium household smokes, we do carry a disposable lighters as part of our Ten Essentials kits – at least the adults do. Even if the lighter runs out of fuel, it retains its ability to spark and can still ignite tinder, though other sparking device work better. As a backup, Mr. FamilyTrivium carries a ferrocerrium rod which puts off a wicked spark when used in combination with his favorite EDC knife: the Opinel No6 Carbon.


As we continue in our series on the Ten Essentials for outdoor activities, we will next look at matches and/or a fire starter – item 8 on the Boy Scout list. On The Mountaineers classic list, the two are split out as items 8 and 7. We will also consider fire starters in a separate post. On The Mountaineers updated list, the two are consolidated together, under fire (waterproof matches/lighter/candles).

Matches are ubiquitous, having many uses beyond outdoor recreation or wilderness survival. This is one of those items that many of us take for granted, but do we really know what they are? Just to be sure, we looked up “match” at Dictionary.com and found this definition:

a slender piece of wood, cardboard, or other flammable material tipped with a chemical substance that produces fire when rubbed on rough or chemically prepared surface.

The word originated between 1350 and 1400, from  Middle English “macche” wick, Middle French “meiche,” OldFrench “mesche,” or Vulgar Latin “mesca” lamp wick.

The Mountaineers updated list indicates that the matches should be waterproof. This can mean that the match heads are coated with a waxy substance, or that they are stored in a waterproof container. It is also important to have an appropriate striking surface, against which to rub your dry matches.

We carry waterproof matches in waterproof containers. We also carry Bic lighters (no, we don’t smoke), flint & steel, and other fire stating devices, in addition to a bit tinder.