How to Start a Fire Without Kindling – 24 kindling substitutes you can use

Kindling is the finger-sized sticks, twigs, and branches that bridges the gap between your tinder and the bigger logs that are going to keep your fire going for a long time.

You can use these items to start a fire without kindling:

  • Commercial Fire Starters
  • Grass
  • Newspaper
  • Bark
  • Fatwood
  • Pinecones
  • Pine Needles
  • Paper Plates
  • Books
  • Cotton
  • Gauze
  • Tampons
  • Coffee Filters
  • Plant-Based Ropes and Cloth
  • Synthetic Ropes and Cloth
  • Feather Sticks
  • Wood Shavings
  • Cardboard
  • Potato Chips

Let’s look at some other things you can use when you don’t have kindling!

Start a Fire Without Kindling

When you start a fire it’s pretty typical to start with some kind of very fine tinder (like grasses, charcloth, etc.) that will light easily with just a spark or quickly touching it with a flame. This tinder then gets your kindling burning and the kindling gets the rest of your fire burning.

That’s great when you have plenty of kindling lying around, but when you don’t have access to good kindling, you could just be left with large logs that you can’t get started. These 24 kindling substitutes will get those logs going in no time!

Commercial Fire Starters

Commercial fire starters are all the rage these days. Pretty much any commercial survival kit will have some type of commercial fire starter in it.

They’re nice because they should be able to be started with just a couple sparks and can usually fill the roles of both tinder and kindling.

These are some of my favorite fire starters: Light-A-Fire, All Natural Fire StarterRutland 50B Safe Lite Fire Starter SquaresGreenSpark – Friendly Fire Starter BundlesMidwest Hearth Cedar Fire Starters.

Fire Logs

If you have a fire log then you’re definitely in a good place! I would suggest not using it all at once.

Cut off a small chunk of the fire log and light that to get the rest of your fire going. Doing this makes sure that you have a good source of kindling for MANY more fires in the future.


Dried grasses are great as tinder but just laying them under a large log probably isn’t going to be enough to get it going. Luckily, you can turn most grass into pretty solid kindling.

You can do it in any way that you want, but I prefer to gather several bundles of longer grass. Then just twist each bundle until they’re tightly wound together. You can tie these bundles together with other grass and use them that way, or you can use overhand knots to make the bundles into kindling.

If the grass is really dry, each bundle may only burn for 30 seconds each. Just keep feeding more of these bundles into your fire until they get the logs burning.


Newspaper tied into knots is one of the best ways to get a fire started.

Take one page of the newspaper, roll it or fold it into one long length that you can tie into knots. Then, make several overhand knots in that length of newspaper. Tighten the knots as much as you can without tearing the newspaper.

These dense knots in the newspaper will burn for much longer than the newspaper alone giving you several minutes of burn time to get those larger pieces of wood going.


Bark can be excellent as kindling. If you’ve collected a bunch of logs then you probably have some bark of some kind.

You can use just about any kind of bark that is large enough to burn for a little while as kindling. Burch bark is some of the best burning bark but it may burn a little too fast for what you need it for.

If this is the case, you can bundle it together in a similar way to how you’d bundle together grass so it burns for a longer period of time. Just use some of the inner pieces of the birch bark to loosely tie the bundles.


Fatwood is dried wood that is full of resin. It actually has so much resin in it that it can look like the wood has become petrified.

You can find fatwood in the stumps of dead pine trees after they rot. The sap gets pulled up from the taproot and gathers in the base of the stump.

Pine resin contains terpene which is extremely flammable. All of this terpene in the fatwood makes it burn easily and for a long time. Fatwood is usually better off just being shaved and used as tinder but it can also make great kindling if you carve off a larger chunk.

This 10 lb box of fatwood is pretty cheap and makes it easy to get fatwood if you don’t live in an area where you can find it naturally.


Pinecones really shouldn’t be used for starting fires in wood-burning stoves or fireplaces. They give off a sticky tar called creosote when they’re burned and it can build up inside of chimneys and fireplaces, making them a fire hazard.

If you’re starting a fire anywhere else, you can use pinecones to get it started. They light really easily and burn long enough to get most fires going. The good thing is they don’t need any kind of special preparation to get them going and if you have one, you probably have several hundred at your disposal.

Pine Needles

Pine needles are just about as good as pine cones for getting fires started. I say just as good because they burn pretty fast.

A handful of pine needles should burn for long enough to get your fire going. If you need a longer burning flame, you can just use more. Like the pine cones, you probably have more than enough pine needles laying around if you have any in the area.

Be careful when you’re lighting the pine needles since they can flare up really fast. If you’re ready for it then it’s not a big deal but if you’re not expecting it then it could catch you off guard.


Books will burn for long enough to get a good fire going and they light easily if they’re dry.

Start by getting one or two pages lit and then maneuvering the book to get a bigger section lit. You can then gently close the book to keep it from fully bursting into flames and slow the burn time down significantly. Just be sure you don’t completely smother the flames when you close the book.

Paper Plates

Throwing paper plates into a wood-burning stove is frowned upon by a lot of people, but if you need to get a fire going, they can be a lifesaver!

Tightly folding a paper plate up will make it burn slower and keep the flame going long enough to get your fire going.

Plant-Based Ropes and Cloth

Plant-based ropes and cloth, like cotton, are able to hold a flame for long enough to get your fire going so you don’t need to use other types of kindling.

If you’re in a survival situation, make sure you just cut off strips of clothing and don’t burn the entire thing.

Synthetic Ropes and Cloth

Synthetic ropes and cloth are very similar to natural-based fabrics. Some of these materials may not burn well if they’re treated with certain chemicals.

They normally burn well but have a tendency to melt instead of turning to ash. Be careful that you don’t get any of the melted material on you and try not to breathe in any of the fumes.

Feather Sticks

Feather sticks are a bushcraft staple that have been around for centuries. The best thing is they’re easy to make as long as you have a stick and a knife.

To make feather sticks cut very thin strips of wood down the stick lengthwise, making sure that you don’t completely cut them off. You can do this 10 or 20 times and you’ll end up with kindling that’ll get a fire going without a problem.

Wood Shavings

Wood shavings can be gathered into small piles and will burn really well.

If you’re having problems making feather sticks, don’t throw away the shavings. Collect them and use those to start your fire.


Cardboard is like most other paper products but it’s better due to its construction. The two outlayers of the cardboard are full of even more cardboard that hold them together to give them rigidity and also gives them great airflow through those channels.

There shouldn’t be too much that you need to do to it to get it to burn slow enough to start your fire. You can cut it into strips to make it last longer.

Potato Chips

Potato chips have a large amount of oil in them. This lets the chip take a flame that will slowly burn for a few minutes. Chips usually burn with a small flame so you may want to light several to get a bigger flame.

Safety Matches

Some of the longest safety matches can act as kindling all on their own. They can act as your source of fire and also burn slow enough to let you use them to get larger pieces of wood or other materials going before they burn out.

Rolls of Toilet Paper

Rolls of toilet paper can be used in a couple of ways.

If you have old cardboard tubes from toilet paper, you can pack them with flammable material to make a homemade fire starter. Just light the outside of the tube first and it’ll gradually burn as it consumes the inner material. Drier lint works really well for this.

You can also use the toilet paper itself as kindling. Roll the toilet paper into tight tubes to form a rope-like length of toilet paper. You can tie these in overhand knots like you would with newspaper, twist them together or even braid them together if you feel like it. Your goal is to get the toilet paper tight enough so it slows the burn time to get your fire lit.

If you’re not worried about wasting a full roll of toilet paper, you can even just light the entire thing and use it as kindling. I don’t suggest it since you’re wasting the whole roll, but it’s still an option available to you.

Petroleum Jelly

Petroleum jelly isn’t a good fire starter on its own. In fact, it’s not even flammable under normal conditions.

However, if you smear it into a porous flammable material, something amazing happens. You get a material that burns really well and will burn for a long time.

Get creative and you can extend the burn time on all kinds of things.

You can also use hand sanitizer, lip balm, old grease, cooking oil or candle wax as fuel if you need to.


Dryer lint is something that almost everyone has around their house and almost everyone just throws it away. To use the lint as kindling you’re going to need to extend it’s burn time by adding some kind of slow-burning fuel.

You can use old grease, cooking oil, candle wax or petroleum jelly. Mix the dryer lint with the fuel and you’ll have kindling that lights easily and burns more than long enough to get your fire going.

Mixing the two together is probably going to be messy. Melted wax and cooking oil are going to need a container of some kind when you do the mixing. A lot of people have good luck with cut-up sections of egg cartons.

Cotton Balls

The next few suggestions are all cotton materials that catch a flame well and will burn nicely.

Cotton balls mixed with petroleum jelly are everyone’s favorite tinder and kindling rolled into one. They’re easy to make, cost next to nothing and burn long enough to let you get all but the wettest wood going.

Just make sure you fluff them up a little before you use them so the fire has enough air to get burning well.

Cotton Gauze

Cotton gauze is a staple in almost any first-aid kit. You can tie it onto knots to slow the burn time or you can impregnate it with grease or petroleum jelly to extend its burn time.

Cotton from Medicine Bottles

Medicine bottles are another place that you can get cotton to use for kindling. You’re going to want to look for a store-bought bottle since prescription medicines don’t come with cotton in them unless you’re prescribed an entire whole bottle.

Use it the same way as a cotton ball, but you can probably break it down into smaller pieces so you can use one piece multiple times.


Tampons are once again another cotton material you can grab and use as tinder. If you fluff them up to allow more air in them, you’ll get a good flame going pretty easily.

You can slow down the burn time by adding some petroleum jelly or another slow-burning fuel source to extend that time out even more.

Coffee Filters

Coffee filters can be burned by themselves if you’re really desperate, but they’re better if you add something to them to help them burn for a longer period of time.

If you have some grease, you can soak your coffee filters in it and they’ll burn for a long time. You can also cover them with petroleum jelly and burn them in a similar way.


You can use just about anything to get a fire going if you don’t have any kindling around. As long as it’s able to take a flame and bridge the gap between tinder and your larger fuel, you should be good to go!