Birch Bark Fire Tinder

Birch Bark is one of the best tree barks for fire tinder and it will light even when it’s damp. Why? Because the natural oil in birch bark is very flammable.

To build a successful fire, preparation is critical. Most all of the work is done prior to sparking or lighting the fire.

Other than having an ignition source, the most important part of a successful fire is what happens during the first seconds of flame. Your tinder bundle is critical for success.

There are a wide variety of tinder materials (natural and man-made) that will enable a successful fire. One such natural tinder source that is very prevalent in my region is birch bark, and one of the great things about birch bark is its ability to catch flame even when it’s damp.


 
If you are in a region where there are birch trees, it’s a good idea to practice starting a fire with its bark so that you get a bit of hands-on experience knowing what to do (and how to do it).

You can use the bark from fallen birch trees or fallen birch branches lying on the ground, or you can peel some of the bark from a live tree using your knife to slice and peel. It is fairly common for live birch trees to exhibit peeling bark sheds on the tree itself.

How much bark? You will need a piece to shave into tinder and you will also want procure extra birch bark to add to the tinder bundle for additional fuel once it’s lit.

The under-layer of the bark will be driest during damp conditions. With your knife, scrape the inside or non-white side of the birch bark to create shavings – ideal for a spark.

Note: The entire bark, regardless of which side, will light up nicely when flame is applied.

Tip: If the birch bark is curled, it’s easier to work with while scraping if you first bend it to take out the curl, making it flatter.

Tip: Scrape with the grain of the bark to make fine tinder shavings, otherwise the bark may just tear up if scraping across the grain.

 
1. Ignite the birch bark shavings with a source such as a FireSteel.

2. Add more birch bark to the flaming tinder bundle.

3. Then add kindling, small pieces to large until fire is established.

 
Tip: Lighters and matches likely won’t function when wet. To mitigate that problem, on your person, carry a knife and a device for making sparks (e.g. FireSteel) whenever you’re in an environment where hypothermia conditions might set in due to one’s activities or potentially hazardous situation.

Example: Canoeing on river or lake, especially when its cool or cold outside.

If you’ve capsized and lost your kit, it will be extremely important to have the means to start a fire on your person.

 
Additional fire-starters:

Magnesium Fuel Bar

Original Swedish FireSteel

 
Related article: Tinder For Building A Fire

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29 Comments

  1. Here in sw Florida,
    It’s easy to get a fire going, ?
    Several of our native and non native trees and brush, start with very little effort.
    Pine needles, Palm , oak leaves, rolled in your hands, creating a fine tinder . With a lite spark and your on your way.
    Even during the wet season , the under laying dried debris will burn.
    Of course we don’t really need a fire for warmth, but some pine needles and a pine cone. In my solo stove, can cook a entire dinner!

  2. You can also extract the birch bark oils and use it for oil lamps.
    Its crude… but it will work in a pinch.
    Its all about survival right?? Crude, but effective.
    You need a tin can and a dirt pit, and fire to extract it.
    :)
    The birch trees in Europe were almost wiped out due to needing oil.

    “I read it in a book” ~Samwell Tarly. Game Of Thrones

  3. i found a VERY simple easy way, EVEN WHEN WET its very simple, cotton balls, toilet paper, newspaper, anything will work as long as you SOAK IT IN VASELINE, just to see if it would work i TRIED IT WITH WATER RUNNING and the cotton ball lit with no problem, just remember to keep it on some kinda container like a baggy or a old med bottle

    1. Kevin

      Toilet paper for fire starter? Boy did you cross the line with someone we all know in here. ha ha

      Let me suggest that you put some birch bark and some twigs in a water-proof container. From experience it works even in wet or snow conditions. I like to stay with what is naturally available and renewable. Like food, I collect some fuel as I travel. And this fuel adds very little weight and takes up little space.

      1. I have to agree with hermit us. I am always looking for all natural ways to do things. What happens when the Vaseline, cotton balls, etc run out. I’m thinking like in the book “One Second After”. If we should ever face a truly big and permanent SHTF event, then all those items will eventually disappear.

    2. @ Kevin, hermit us, Peanut Gallery

      Excuse me, TP makes for a very BAD Firestarter. TP is chemically treated to withstand all forms of abuse (think about it), so trying to coat TP with Vaseline is near to imposable…..

      That’s my story and I’m sticking with it.

      NRP

      1. NRP

        not so sure you are “correct” (gasp…….)

        many brands TP (today) are now made to dissolve easily once in the toilet water/pipes (to help prevent clogs)…I suspect those might burn well…?

      2. I always thought TP was made from wood pulp.
        As are diapers…. and a few other unmentionables.

        At least stories can stick to “it”
        :)

  4. Ken

    I have found that the birch paper like curls that are on the surface of the bark are just as easy to light as the shavings you use. Older trees are best and material is collected even with gloves on. Combine this with the full layer of bark you show and some dry sticks – warm soon if protected from the weather.

    1. I must add that even evergreen needles combined with the birch bark add a flash or flare to the fire – so enough twigs must be placed on top to catch before the needles are all burned.

    2. Any part of the birch bark – indeed! That stuff just “burns”! I have so much of it around here that I don’t have to be concerned about finding tinder… Lots of pine trees and needles too. Hopefully no one drops a match on a dry day!

    3. When I attended Arctic Survival School at Eilson AFB, Alaska we were taught to take our knife blade and rub the white side of Birch Bark into a fine powder. Once you have about a Tablespoon of it have your other tinder ready. Strike a spark to it and it flares up like gun powder. Hot and fast. In order to pass the course, we were given 5 minutes to gather tinder and kindling and then were giver 30 seconds to light it with flint and steel. This was at a temperature of 10 below zero. We were not allowed to shave the magnesium bar.

      1. Now can you imagine trying to do that after having just fallen in to a cold body of water while it’s cold outside? Not fun. Hypothermia sets in real fast. Which is why it’s very advisable to never go out alone in such conditions.

  5. Birch trees are some of the best. The bark is great for writing on, and with enough time and effort, make great canoes. The great thing with fire building with it is that you have the rest of your firewood there also, just needing to be cut down.

  6. Training is all so very important in fire-starting, Birch Bark, cotton balls, TP, no matter what it is you use, you also need the knowledge to maintain the fire once the sparks fly, those shavings will only burn for a short time.

    I personally like Cotton Balls for a backup, but Dryer Lint is good, also try shaving/scraping most any dry tree bark like you would Birch and you’ll get a very fine ‘fuzz’ that will start well.

    I do agree the oils in the Birch Wood are nice, ‘Fat Wood’ is a good one if you can find it, shave it like you would Birch and see what happens.

    Around here there are not many Birch Trees, except the neighbors, not sure they would be happy with me if I harvested the bark from their decorative tree in the front yard… HAHAHA oops…

    NRP

    1. NRP

      Okay you tree deprived desert dweller – does any part of a cactus burn? I’m not familiar with your neighborhood which begs the question – we should get to know our natural surroundings. Perhaps dog hair – why is Blue looking at you like that?

      1. @ hermit us

        There are a few things I have learned about Cactus;
        1. Yes they will burn and ya can make good fire-starter from them much like the Birch Bark
        2. Ya can get some get some GREAT liquor from the right ones if you know how.
        3. Do NOT fall into one
        4. The thorns can make for some emergency needles for stitching ya up if needed.
        5. Most of the fruits are edible and very good, as are some of the plants themselves.
        6. Did I mention, don’t fall into one?

        Yes, actually Dog Hair is also a good fire-starter. But it burns very VERY quickly.

        And lastly Yes, we have trees around here…. Just not the big-uns like y-all have back east. Till ya head about 30 miles north, that we get the HUGE Pines and all them fancy trees…

        Although I do have quite a lot of Pinion Pines, and Junipers that hit 20-30 feet…

        Pinion Pine is very rich in flammable sap, and burns VERY HOT… Ya can actually just light a log with a match if it’s weeping.

        NRP

        1. NRP

          Thanks for the good info. I have stepped on cactus that came right through the soles of my hikers. I now wear better boots.

          Good comments from Cali on the TP trail. Could be a good business – a TP and firewood stand along the trail.

  7. As we come up on the summer travel season, I would like to tell readers of this blog that well travelled trails are easy to follow because of their lack of burnable material to be found close to the trail. Tough to get lost on these trails.

    The trail I observed this on was the Pacific Crest Trail within the southern/central sections in California. This trail saw so much traffic during the summer, anything burnable or could be used in a fire was gone. the trail itself resembled a freeway with no asphalt and, late in the season, you could see fire rings of blackened rock and see bits of used TP sticking up from shallow mounds.

    Like the book: Blue Highways (by William Least heat Moon) I have had my best experiences hiking on the smaller side trails away from the large crowds. There you can find dead and down wood or ,better yet, standing dead wood and dead branches. Plenty of resources to practice the firestarting skills. The lakes and streams in the less travelled areas were also much more likely to have fish well into the summer season. The farther you hike from the road’s end, the more likely you will find wood to burn and fish to catch.

    When you ask directions from the ranger, remember that most of them grew up in the city and/or were educated in a college town or University. I was the ranger that grew up hunting and fishing in a rural area. Within my district, that made me rare. Generally, there will be someone on staff that is a hardcore fisherman who gets out in the backcountry and knows where to go and resources available. Most of my co-workers came from the San Francisco Bay Area or Los Angeles.

  8. Birch trees are nice to look at but don’t last long, ice/snow load bends them permanently, they also usually die less than 12 inches, good fall and spring woodstove burns, fast hot and short. Easy to cut, yellow Birch too. I’m always picking up the Birch “paper” from my yard chucking it in the woods, have used it to start fires, works nice.

  9. @ NRP, something tells me that point #2 and #3 may be related! Not that you would know of course!

  10. The wetter the climate, the more I used my axe or hatchet and carved “fuzz sticks” out of small sticks of kindling. When leaving a cabin for the day or going to sleep at night, I would leave the wood in big chunks and split kindling off the big block in order to expose the (usually) dry wood beneath the outer exposed areas.

    In the morning or after I arrived home, I would split off some wood and make some kindling and some fuzz sticks to get the fire stared. It is a little extra knife and axe work but after a few weeks or months of doing this, it becomes instinctual. Dry wood just split off a round is always the best to work with.

    Some of my city-raised co-workers thought I was being lazy or rude because I did not leave a pile of pre-cut kindling for them. I have also been known to take a few pieces into the sleeping bag with me when it was extremely cold. Most of our kindling was pine of some type. Easy to work with using a saw, knife and axe.

  11. We collect enough pine cones to fill 2 garbage cans every year. We try to get them when they are full of sap. Imagine my wife’s surprise when I asked her to go for a walk with me & then pulled out those super market plastic bags to fill with these wonderful sticky pine cones. 8 of those bags to fill 1 garbage can. PCP (pine cone picking) a great family outing.
    The pine cones make a great fire starter. Take a handful plop em in the woodstove either for a new fire or on the coals in the morning, a bit of kindling, and that’s all we need.
    Sometimes we will find a log yard up in the hills and scrounge up the Birch bark too.

  12. Birch trees around here are called the tree of life… bark is used for fire starting, basket making, bark used for primitive shelters, and the tree is a source of syrup, edible leaves and buds, logs for log cabins and plywood, firewood for cooking and heat, making furniture, Chaga tea from the fungus that exclusively grows on it with anti-cancer properties, and black birch eatable inner bark and tapped for birch beer. Did I miss anything?

  13. Birch bark is probably very good, but rich lighter pine wood can’t be beat as a fire starter. Good fat pine has enough turpentine in it to be a fire hazard. It can be found pretty easily here in rural East Texas if you know how to look for it. I keep a supply of it near my wood pile. The best pine came from the old growth of long leaf pines. It will still burn even when wet. A few splinters is all it takes to start a fire in my Ashley heater. When burning in a camp fire it produces black smoke and soot so stay upwind of the smoke.

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