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Tinder vs Kindling: What’s the Difference?

There is a serious focus on fire starters in the survivalist community. How you throw sparks, make a flame, or get a fire started is all the rage. In all honesty that is an important part of the process. Things like Ferro rods, flint and steel, lighters, tinder vs kindling, and matches are all needed if you plan on getting flammable materials to catch fire.

Tinder vs Kindling

If you can use a fire starter or if you can start a fire with a number of different tools then you are way ahead of the curve. But when it comes to tinder vs kindling, which is which and what’s the difference?

How a Fire Really Gets Started

I want you to think about tinder vs kindling and building fire this way:

Making a fire is different than making a flame.

When you strike a match, you make a flame. That will not keep you warm. When you build a fire you are creating a massive heat source. A fire will burn for a while, grow, and provide heat. It will allow you to boil water, cook food, light the darkness, and all of the above.

Fire is dependent on a good tinder bundle and lots of kindling. Tinder and kindling are the bridge between flame and fire. A flame can become a full-size fire if you have enough tinder and kindling to make that happen.

Tinder Vs Kindling

So when it comes to tinder vs kindling, what’s the difference?

Tinder is used to start a flame, and kindling is what causes it to build into a fire and then keep burning for a while.

Natural Tinder

Tinder can be found and processed in the wild but it can also be made by man. In this section, we are going to focus on the type of tinder that can be made in the wild.

There are lots of plants and materials that can be used to make tinder in the wild. You are basically looking for a dry fibrous dry material that can be processed down nice and fine. The more fine parts and pieces there is the better tinder will work at catching a spark or a flame.

Natural tinder

Some of my favorite plants for tinder are things like

  • Cattail
  • River Burch
  • Dry Brush and Flowers
  • Dry Leaves
  • Dry Grass
  • Dry Pine Needles
  • Shaved Fatwood
  • Bull Thistle Fluff

The goal is to process these kinds of materials and bash them with the pommel of your knife or the back edge. You will see they become finer and more fibrous as you work them.

You can bunch these materials together and tie each end with fine strips of bark or fine cordage and hold this tinder bundle for later use. Make these and store them in Ziplock bags so they stay dry when you need them.

I like a natural tinder bundle to be about two big handfuls of material that will easily catch fire.

Man-Made Tinder

Man-made tinder is usually much more effective than what can be found in the woods. In fact, a lot of times it’s overkill! However, if the fire is important to you then you should have some of your own tinder in your pack.

We carry something that we call bigfoot fur. This is a mixture of dryer lint, that we clean out of our dryer, and melted paraffin wax. When the wax is heated and mixed with the dryer lint it creates something like a fire extender that can be easily lit and will burn for around 15 minutes!

Dryer lint as man-made fire tinder

We gather this up while it is warm and stuff it in small wax paper cups. These go in Ziploc bags when they are dry and right into our backpacks. People do similar things with makeup cleaning pads instead of using dryer lint.

Gathering Kindling

There are also two different kinds of kindling that can be used, too. The first kind is gathered kindling. This is pretty easy to understand. The twigs, sticks, and branches that fall from trees, when dry, make great kindling.

Gathering Kindling

I like to have at least two different sizes of kindling. The first is “pencil-sized sticks” as characterized by Dave Canterbury. This is the first kindling that will go over top of the tinder once it really gets going. This is one of the most critical steps in fire building. When that first batch of tinder is lit you are in great shape.

Then I also like to gather a larger kindling to slowly add to my fire in the early stages. This kind of kindling is really the step between your small sticks and larger fuel.

Splitting Kindling

Kindling can also come from splitting wood. If you are splitting wood for fuel with an ax or similar tool then you can split that wood down and down and down into smaller pieces that are larger bits of kindling.

Split kindling from seasoned wood is great for building fires. This wood is easy to stack and burn and if you have an axe it is also easy to turn one big round of wood into lots of kindling. You can stay in one place rather than fool around gathering sticks that might be wet and useless.

A fire burning split kindling

There is no harm in taking advantage of both kinds of kindling. You could gather sticks and split kindling. All of it is going to burn down and create a nice bed of coals for your larger pieces of fuel to burn on.

Tinder Vs Kindling and the Organized Fire Starter

When it comes to tinder vs kindling vs fuel, I need all three and I never feel like I have enough. It always seems like I need more and more and more. As you start collecting your tinder and your kindling you will realize that you have a lot of materials at your disposal.

The successful woodsman is always going to organize his kindling in piles. This organization helps keep your campsite clean and clean but it also comes into play when you are starting your fire. When you have your pieces of wood and other flammable materials all in piles, they are easy to grab when the time is right.

Your first tinder bundle might fail but before it goes out you can start another. If the tinder is burning strong then you want a nice pile of your smallest sticks to place on top. These sticks should be separated out from larger kindling. If you have to root through a larger pile of kindling then your fire could go out!

You should have a few different piles around your fire ring at the time you start your fire. I have a pile of tinder that is kept up off the ground. Then I have a pile of the smallest sticks that I have found. These will hit the fire first. Then I have my pile of pencil-sized sticks. that will really get the blaze going.

A campfire

A pile of large kindling and then of course my pile of fuel are all close by. This is how I consistently have success with fire. And when it comes to amounts of tinder vs kindling, you’ll probably need more kindling than tinder. But it depends on how many times you start a flame before the fire takes.

Wrapping Up Tinder Vs Kindling

In the war of kindling vs tinder, I would have to say that kindling wins. However, they both deserve their due. They are both essential to your success as a woodsman.

The better you understand tinder vs kindling, the more easily you will find success over and over with fire starting. To learn more about other ways to start fires in the wilderness and when to use which kind, check out these Fire Building articles.