What’s the Difference Between Tinder and Kindling? – We Explain all Here

Building a fire is one of the most important elements while camping. The three things you need to build a fire are tinder, fuel and kindling. Fuel can be any material you burn to produce the fire. While you are camping, the fuel is generally timber or firewood. 

So, tinder vs kindling: what’s the difference? If you’re confused about how to tell these two apart or what they do, you are not alone. Most people use the two interchangeably while they are quite different materials. 

To put it simply, tinder is the material you use to start the fire right at the start. It has to be a light material that helps you to start a fire. 

Kindling is quite similar, yet different in many ways. It is slightly bigger than tinder and can be any material that catches fire easily.   

What is Tinder? 

Among all three essential materials needed for a fire, tinder is the smallest. You will use it when you start the fire initially. You can use many different materials as tinder.

The most important quality of any material that you use as tinder is that it should catch fire easily. The second quality that is also very important is that it should create a short-lived but strong flame. 

The thinner the material is, the better. A rule of thumb that you can use is that it should be thinner than your little finger. 

Some good materials that you can use as tinder are dry pine needles, fatwood, and birch bark. Another very good material to use as tinder is cotton balls. The reason is that they light up at once as soon as they touch a flame. 

This also means that your tinder will not keep the fire burning for long. You need a different kind of material to help the fire build up. This material is kindling. 

Which Materials Make Good Tinder?

In general, tinder is any combustible material. It should be a few inches in length and thinner than your little finger. 

An important thing that you must remember is that any material you use is easily lighted. As you use it directly while starting your fire, you want the tinder to catch fire right away. 

If you use any material that does not burn easily or is damp, you will surely have difficulty in starting your fire. You will also have problems if your tinder is too big.

You can find natural materials near your camping site to use as tinder. Here are some natural materials that work well as tinder:

  • Dead leaves or grass
  • Pine needles or cones
  • Tree bark
  • Wood shavings
  • Twigs
  • Straw
  • Moss

You can also use man-made materials as tinder to start your fire. These can be:

  • Twine 
  • Cotton balls
  • Magnesium shavings
  • Paper
  • Cloth

Cotton balls, twine, and char cloth are fibrous materials that catch fire quickly. Additionally, twine and rope are often coated with materials that are water-resistant and coated with wax or petroleum. These materials make them highly combustible. 

What is Kindling?

Kindling is material that catches fire quickly and burns well. Since the tinder does not sustain a flame, your kindling will help your fire become stronger. While both may have similarities, there are several differences. 

The three materials that you need to start and build your fire include tinder, kindling, and firewood. Among these materials, tinder is the smallest, kindling slightly bigger, and firewood the largest. 

Kindling can be any material that burns well and is the right size.  

Once you light your kindling, it will pave the way for the bigger firewood to join the fire. This means that the kindling will hold the flame until the firewood starts burning. 

Which Materials Make Good Kindling?

There are several materials that you can use successfully as kindling. The most important quality that these materials should have is that they are dry and combustible. 

However, the kindling does not have to be as quick to catch fire as your tinder. Once the tinder has done its job, the purpose of the kindling is that it must burn for a long enough time until the firewood starts burning. 

Kindling can be a thin and long piece of wood, possibly 2 feet or longer, and as thin as your thumb. If you find a nice, long, dry twig, break it into smaller pieces of 2 feet each. 

While any branches can work as kindling, dry branches are better. Damp kindling may take longer to catch fire and that may mean that you need more tinder. 

Some good materials for kindling include:

  • Dry twigs or branches (approximately 2 feet long)
  • Cardboard
  • Dry, softwood cut into thin, long pieces

While gathering kindling, get more than you think you’ll need. If you end up using only some, you can use the rest for the next fire. Also, keep a lookout for places near your camping site with good kindling, in case you need more. 

How to Use Tinder & Kindling to Start A Fire?

Tinder is the first material that will start the fire. It must be completely dry and quite small. 

Place your tinder next to the flame and blow on it gently. This will help the flame to spread quickly and easily to your tinder. 

The reason is that when you blow on the tinder, you are providing it with more oxygen to help the fire become stronger. Your blow also helps the embers to be distributed all through the fire. 

You can look for suitable materials to use as tinder near your camping site. These can include dry bark that is often easy to peel off trees. You can also use smaller branches from trees, but do check for dryness. Dry leaves also make good tinder and you will find many on the ground, beneath the trees.

In case it has been raining, then look for dry leaves or branches under the thicker trees or inside hollow trees. 

While you are collecting the tinder, collect more than you need right away. There is a chance that your fire lighting may have a few bumps and you will end up needing more than you thought. Any kindling leftover will be there for your next fire. 

As your fire builds up, you will be able to add more material to help it build stronger. This material is your kindling.

Add a few dry, thin, long branches from your kindling and let it catch the fire. Give it a few minutes and you will see your fire building up. 

Now add your firewood which will be the larger pieces of wood. This firewood is what will build up the fire. Firewood usually works well whether it is in the form of logs or smaller chunks of wood.

Don’t break off branches for firewood as that will ruin the trees. Look for pieces of wood that have fallen off instead. You are likely to find many such dry pieces of wood on the forest floor.

Any pieces of wood that snap or bend easily are usually dry and will burn well. Avoid very large logs as they will take much longer to catch fire and you may need more kindling. Look for pieces that are approximately the size of your forearm.

Tinder Vs. Kindling: What’s The Difference?

There are two main differences between tinder and kindling - the size and level of combustion. 

  1. Size 

Smaller, thinner twigs or wood shavings are tinder. A little longer and slightly thicker branches are kindling.  

  1. Combustion Level

Among the two, tinder is easier and quicker to light, while kindling takes a little longer to be lit, but it holds the flame better and longer.

The tinder has to be completely dry, otherwise, it will not catch fire. The kindling should also be dry, but in case it is slightly damp, it will still work as long as you have enough tinder.

Don't Skip The Tinder Or The Kindling

You may be tempted to skip using tinder or kindling. But don't skip either. 

While you can just use more twigs to start the fire and then build it up with firewood, it will take longer. The easiest way and also the tried and tested one to start a fire is to start with the tinder, build the fire up with kindling, and then add the firewood. 

The exception is if you use lighter fluid or any other accelerant, you can build your fire faster. 

While you can skip using kindling, using it just makes lighting and building the fire easier.

Some Quick Tips for Your Campfire

  • Practice building fire at home before you have to do it on your camping trip in the wilderness.
  • In case of rain, look for dry tinder on the dry side of trees. Because wind often blows in one direction, the trees are likely to be dry on the opposite side.
  • You can find dead leaves and twigs in tree hollows or under a thick clump of trees.
  • If the outside of a tree branch is damp, whittle it down to the centre for dry wood.
  • If your tinder does not catch fire, try some materials in your backpack.
  • To make your fire last longer, use the process as explained earlier. The right amount of oxygen, heat, and fuel will make it happen.
  • To keep the fire burning, keep adding firewood. You can also use kindling to revive the fire if it seems to be going down.
  • Pine needles are good fire starters because of the resin in them. It burns quite well and pine needles often dry quickly.

Good luck with your campfire!