What Is The Difference Between Tinder and Kindling?

Tinder and Kindling are both of the two elements needed in order to start a fire. (Fuel, in general, is one of the three components of the fire triangle). But what exactly are these three fuels for a campfire, how much should we use, and what do they do? And most importantly, what is the difference between tinder and kindling?

Learning the Difference Between Tinder, Kindling, and Fuel

Difference between tinder, Kindling, and Fuel

Learning the difference between tinder and kindling, as well as the types of firewood to use is one of four steps You Need To Take Before Starting a Fire.


Tinder is the first step in starting a fire (more info on starting a fire here). Any small, dry, and natural material is considered to be tinder. It is the quickest and easiest to set on fire, and should be the first one you light. Its purpose is to light kindling, which in turn lights the fuel. Many natural materials can be used as tinder, such as:

  • Bark
  • Dry/dead grass
  • leaves (certain types; don’t use poison ivy!)
  • pine needles
  • Twigs/Sticks
  • Moss
  • Straw

In addition, lighter fuel can be used due to its high flammability, and can directly set the kindling and even small firewood ablaze. The twigs should be no bigger than the size of your palms.


Improvised tinder includes:

  • lint
  • wax
  • certain cloths
  • fluff

Try to gather at least a handful of tinder to start your fire.


Kindling is lit by tinder and lights fuel. Its purpose is to burn long enough for the firewood to ignite and create a sustainable fire. Kindling is typically small pieces of wood and long sticks, around the size of your wrist to your elbow. If the kindling doesn’t catch on or can’t successfully start the fire, it will go out (unless that’s what you’re looking for: in that case, read How to Put Out a Fire).

In case you don’t have wood, you can use some cardboard to help light up the firewood. Just make sure that is tightly rolled and can sustain itself for a good amount of time. Whatever material you choose to use for kindling, having dry fuel is imperative.


A reasonable amount of kindling would be a big armful.


  1. Keep in mind that the kindling shouldn’t be so fire-resistant/big/damp that the tinder can’t get it burning.

2. Even after you are finished starting your fire, you should still keep some kindling with you in case the flames die down.

Photo by u/Trolldejo on Reddit


Lastly, we have the firewood, the culmination of all your hard work! Powered by the tinder and kindling, this will likely take the longest to light up, but when it does, the fire will go on steady for many hours, provided you start it properly and maintain it (learn about how to manage your fire at The Basics of Campfire Safety).

The type of firewood you want are dry logs, ranging in size from medium to large, thus allowing your fire to “escalate” in size, if you will. You will need about 2-feet’s worth of stacked firewood.

If you get this far, you’re now set for a relaxing time in front of your campfire!


The key takeaway for building a fire and the 3 types of fuel is size. The purpose of increasing in size is to ramp up, so that your fire can grow larger than before. Also, just know that the lines between tinder, kindling, and firewood can be blurry. Use something as tinder or kindling if it suits you. Above all, make sure that your fuel is dry. If you think you’re now ready to tackle some fire-building, check out How to Build and Start a Fire.

Have fun, and keep on exploring!

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