The lens method creates a hot spot that will ignite tinder.

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It Only Takes a Spark

You have your fire pit and a nice collection of wood. The only thing between you and a nice evening roasting s'mores is a spark. There are many "primitive" methods for starting a fire, and some are easier than others. Patience and calm are good practices to employ when attempting to start your fire. The following are techniques you can use with items found or on-hand.

Lens Method -- this technique involves using a magnifying glass on a sunny day. You can also use a disassembled camera lens or binoculars:

  • Pile some tinder in the center of the fire pit.
  • Hold the lens about a foot from the tinder.
  • Angle the lens so the sun concentrates a small hot spot.
  • The starter should begin to smolder very quickly.
  • Blow on the tinder to ignite it and place small kindling twigs until the fire is stable.

Battery Method -- if you're stranded with your car or find wreckage from a boat or plane, you can use the battery to create your spark:

  • Find some wire from the car or wreckage -- any engine wire will work.
  • Attach two pieces of wire to each battery terminal.
  • Get your tinder and touch the wires together above it.
  • This should create a spark and the tinder will smolder.
  • Pick the tinder up and blow on it.
  • Once it lights, quickly transfer it to your fire pit and add small kindling.

Soda Can and Chocolate Method -- because many people fail to pack out their refuse, chances are you can find a soda can in the woods. If you have some chocolate, toothpaste or powdered cleanser on hand, use this method:

  • Smear some chocolate or an abrasive onto the bottom of the soda can.
  • Use the wrapper or some cloth to rub it into the can to polish it.
  • Add more chocolate as needed and continue to rub for about 30 minutes.
  • Wash the abrasive off the can with some water. Your goal is a shiny, reflective surface.
  • Once you have a good surface, angle the can toward the sun and hold a piece of tinder about an inch away from the center of the can.
  • Like a convex lens, the can will produce a concentrated hot spot and your tinder will begin to smolder.
  • Gently blow on the tinder until it ignites and quickly transfer it to your fire pit.
  • WARNING -- do not eat the used chocolate or toothpaste. It contains aluminum and is highly toxic.

In the next section, we'll look at some methods for starting a campfire with items you'll only find in the wild.