Tinder vs. kindling: What’s the difference?

by | Dec 28, 2022 | Campfires

This post may contain affiliate links.

If you’ve ever tried to build a campfire (or bonfire, or even just a fire in your fireplace), then you know you can’t just hold a match to a log and call it a day.

No—you need tinder and kindling before you can get those big logs burning.

But what’s the difference between tinder and kindling? Let’s take a look.


Lighting birch bark tinder to start a campfire.

First things first: We’re not talking about the popular dating/hookup app called Tinder!

We’re talking about the original tinder—a.k.a. the stuff you use to build a campfire.

Tinder is the tiniest, most combustible material that you can find.

Think small and thin twigs, birch bark, and wood shavings.

Tinder is usually so small that you can light it immediately with a match or a lighter.

How to gather tinder

Birch bark lying on the forest ground.

For a natural tinder option, birch bark from white birch trees is your best bet.

The oils in the birch bark make it highly flammable even when wet, and the thin texture makes it burn quickly.

We also highly recommend bringing along a few of these quick light fire starter rolls as tinder to get your fire going, which are basically natural hardwood shavings.

Other common items you can use as tinder include:

  • Dryer lint
  • Cotton balls
  • Paper or newspaper strips
  • Sawdust
  • Dry grass
  • Dry leaves
  • Pine needles
  • Cat tails


A bucket of split logs to use for campfire kindling.

Kindling is larger than tinder and can come in various forms.

Common examples include small to medium-sized twigs and sticks, wood shavings or chips, bark strips, and pieces of split logs.

Kindling is generally combustible but may be slightly more difficult to light immediately and may not burn s quickly as tinder.

Other things you can use as kindling include:

  • Crumpled newspaper
  • Straw
  • Cedar bark
  • Corn cobs
  • Pinecones

How to gather kindling

A pile of dead branches and logs to use as campfire kindling.

Look around your campsite and collect twigs, sticks, bark strips, and split logs to use as kindling.

These pieces should be no bigger than the width of two fingers in order for the tinder to effectively ignite them.

Using a hacksaw, hatchet, or axe, you can chop larger pieces into smaller ones.

These items must ideally be as dry as possible.

If they’re not dry, you may have trouble generating enough heat to spread the fire.

You can tell that your kindling is wet if it starts smoking a lot once you add it to your fire.

Smoke means that the tinder is burning off the moisture in order to ignite the kindling, which will take longer than with tinder that’s already dry.

It isn’t impossible to build a fire with wet kindling, but it is much harder.

Is tinder the same kindling?

A person cutting wood shavings from a split log to use for tinder or kindling.

No, not exactly.

They can be the same material, but tinder is always smaller and thinner, whereas kindling is slightly bigger and thicker.

The main difference between tinder and kindling is the size and thickness.

Another way to understand the difference between tinder vs. kindling is to recognize that there are three main fuel types—all with their own special roles—in building a fire:

  1. Tinder (smallest fuel type) is meant to help you get your flame lit.
  2. Kindling (medium fuel type) uses the tinder flame to spread the flames and build heat.
  3. Logs (largest fuel type) use the heat from the kindling to burn and provide the longest and most consistent heat.

How to you use tinder and kindling to build a campfire

A person lighting a tinder bundle to start a campfire.

Lighting your tinder is the first step toward getting your campfire started.

It will burn quickly, but it won’t produce an enduring flame.

Once your tinder is ignited, you can begin adding kindling to help spread the fire and build up the heat.

To help build our campfires—and especially when we have no choice but to use wet kindling—we like to use our collapsible fire bellowing tool to blow air between the tight spaces of tinder and kindling.

The oxygen helps to fuel the flames, which creates more heat and enables the fire to burn and spread more quickly.

A campfire burning.

After a few minutes of allowing the heat to build (which may require adding more kindling as the initial pieces burn away), you can add your larger pieces of fuel to the fire—such as thicker stick and bigger pieces of split logs.

Eventually, these bigger pieces of fuel will get burning, and they’ll last much longer than your kindling—meaning you won’t have to keep adding fuel to your campfire as often.

Tip: One of the most common ways to build a fire is by placing medium-sized sticks and bigger pieces of split logs in a “teepee” shape, which allows for better airflow and helps concentrate the heat so it burns more effectively.

Practice makes perfect!

Fun things to do around a campfire

If you’ve never built a campfire before, or you only do so very rarely, don’t worry!

By understanding the three main fuel types (tinder, kindling, and logs) and how they interact, you’ll be able to build a campfire quickly and efficiently.

Just remember to practice safety and proper fire-building techniques in order to avoid any accidents or damage.

Now that you understand the difference between tinder and kindling, you can use them both to set your campfire ablaze!

Next up: 19 fun things to do around a campfire

Tinder vs. kindling FAQ

How much tinder do I need?

Because tinder’s main purpose is to get your fire simply lit, you don’t necessarily need very much.

A good rule of thumb is to use enough tinder to fit in the palm of your hand—but you could use slightly less or more depending on how much kindling you plan on using.

How much kindling do I need?

You’ll need lots more kindling than tinder, that’s for sure.

The amount of kindling you need largely depends on the size of your tinder bundle and the size of your fire pit (or wood burning camp stove if you’re using one).

For instance, when we use our Bushbox titanium XL stove, which provides a small enclosed space to build a fire, we would only need a small amount of kindling.

But when we use campsite fire pits, which are naturally much larger, we make sure to gather at least 10 times more kindling than we’d need for our Bushbox stove.

Where exactly do you light the tinder bundle?

This generally comes down to personal preference.

Some people will create a larger tinder bundle on the ground (away from combustible materials, of course) and light it there, simply because it’s easier and more accessible.

Once it’s lit, they must carefully and quickly pick it up by the base, which hasn’t burned just yet, and place it in their fire pit or stove before adding more kindling on top of it.

This can be dangerous if you’re not skilled with handling fires.

It also requires a larger tinder bundle, or the use of a large piece of birch bark to hold the tinder bundle like a tray.

The other alternative is to simply place your tinder bundle precisely where you want your fire to be and light it there.

Do you light the tinder before or after adding it to the kindling?

It’s always best to light your tinder bundle first and then once it’s in your fire pit (or stove), add kindling to it before all the tinder burns out.

This will help you build up the heat and get your kindling burning faster.

Just be sure that you don’t smother the tinder flames with too much kindling or it will go out.

What if it rained and everything is wet?

If you’re using birch bark as tinder, it will work even when wet.

Anything else, however, will need to be dry.

This is why we recommend bringing along a few quick light fire starter rolls, just in case.

As far as wet kindling goes, you have a couple of options:

  1. Try to burn it while wet—a long, frustrating, and smokey process.
  2. Find a down or dead tree, cut some logs, and then split the logs into small thin pieces. (The inner wood will be dry).

How do I protect my tinder, kindling, and logs from getting wet?

It’s a lot of work to gather and process all that fuel for your fire, and ideally, you want to keep it as dry as possible.

If rain is in the forecast, consider storing your campfire fuel under your tarp shelter (if you have one set up) or at least covering it with a waterproof tarp.

Do I need tinder and kindling to keep my fire going?

No, tinder and kindling are used mainly to build and get your fire going.

Once it’s burning, you’ll be able to keep your fire going for an extended amount of time by adding larger logs for fuel.

You may, however, decide to gather extra tinder and kindling for when you put your fire out and want to start it again another time.

Popular posts

About Us

Elise & Ross

We’re Elise and Ross, avid backcountry campers and outdoor adventurers! We started Gone Camping Again as a way to share our knowledge and experience about wilderness living and travel. Our hope is that we inspire you to get outside and enjoy all that nature has to offer!

Read more about our story.