How To Start A Fire With Sticks at an RV Campsite

One of the best parts of camping is gathering together around a warm campfire. Whether you’re hoping to cook food over an open flame, share songs and stories, or maybe just roast marshmallows for s’mores, the fire often is the central gathering place at a campsite. But what if you forget to bring matches? Using the natural resources around you, we’ll teach you how to start a fire with sticks at your RV campsite.

Preparing to Start a Fire 

To get a roaring campfire, you’ll need to have your wood at the ready.

First, tinder will help turn a smoking ember into an actual flame. This is often dry grass or hay—something that will catch with just a mere spark. The next step is collecting kindling wood. This is typically small sticks and twigs that are no more than a finger in diameter.

From here, be prepared to add sticks of increasing size until finally, you can start adding big sticks and logs to your fire. Remember to go slow and be patient to avoid smothering your early fire. 

How to Start a Fire with Sticks 

With your wood at the ready, it’s time to gather the materials to start the fire itself. Here are three methods you can use to start a fire with sticks.  

Hand Drill Method 

The Hand Drill Method is the oldest and possibly toughest way to start a fire. Prepare for the hand drill method by gathering a flat piece of wood about ½ inch thick, at least an inch or two wide, and ideally long enough that you’ll be able to brace it with your knee or foot to use as a fireboard. 

You’ll also need a dead, dry plant stalk or piece of wood to be your drill. Be cautious of rough, dry spots or branches that may scratch your hands.  

To begin, spin the drill between your palms about ½ inch from the edge of the fireboard until you have created a hole that’s about ⅛ inch deep. Once you’ve successfully burned this pilot hole, use a knife to carve a notch into the edge of the board to the hole. The notch should resemble a piece of pizza. Place a thin, flat piece of wood or leaf under the notch to catch the wood dust that will be created. 

Spin the drill as quickly as you can between your hands and apply downward pressure. The wood dust will turn darker, and you’ll notice more smoke until, eventually, the dust turns into a little ember. Gently transfer this coal into the tinder nest and blow your starter flame into life. 

Bow Drill Method 

The bow drill method is another way of starting a fire with friction, but it’s easier than using a hand drill. You’ll need a fireboard and drill prepared the same as in the hand drill method with a small pilot hole and a carved notch. Instead of using your hands to vigorously spin the drill yourself, you can create a bow for a continuous spin. 

Use a thicker and slightly curved stick as the base of your bow. Tie a length of rope (at least eight inches longer than the bow) to both ends. When you wrap the drill exactly once in the middle of the rope or cord, it should be very tight. 

To support the drill, use a rock, small bit of hardwood, or other stone that fits comfortably in your hand. With your non-dominant hand, use this handhold to keep the drill upright and apply downward pressure while you quickly move the bow back and forth. This spins the drill quickly in place, heating the fireboard dust until an ember is formed. Place the smoking hot wood dust and ember into a nest of tinder and blow until you have a strong starter flame. 

Fire Plow Method 

The fire plow method is yet another way to start a fire with friction. This method relies most heavily on your strength and stamina, so you may want a buddy available who can step in to give your arms a break. 

For this method, you’ll need a long piece of wood that is flatter on the bottom. It often helps to brace one end against something and use your knees to hold the other end in place to keep the wood steady. Find a log that is dead and very dry softwood. 

The plow stick is also made of softwood and hopefully about as thick as your thumb. Look for something about 18–24 inches long. If you can press a fingernail into the wood and see a mark, then you’ll know the wood is soft enough. 

Then, grind the plow stick back and forth over about a nine-inch section of the wood. A groove or track will soon start to form that will make it easier to stick to the same section. Now, you can begin to pick up speed. As with the hand drill and bow drill methods, you create wood dust that will heat into an ember that can be transferred. 

Patience and muscle will win out with this method, so settle in and embrace the rhythmic back and forth. Good luck!

Safety Tips to Remember

Now that you know how to start a fire with sticks, it is important to note safety measures.
  • Look for specifically marked areas to start your fire, and always be aware of any fire prohibitions or restrictions in the area. 
  • When camping in your RV, be mindful of the wind and its direction before starting a fire. Make sure it is not too close to the RV or blowing towards your home on wheels.
  • Never leave your fire unattended.
  • You’ll need to put the fire out completely when leaving the site. With any of these fire-starting techniques, you’ll be able to get it going again fast when you return.

Start Your Adventure With Cruise America 

Starting a fire with sticks is a fun and rewarding camping experience. It can be a great tool for cooking up a delicious meal or creating life-long memories at your RV campsite. Ready to test your skills with one of these friction methods? Visit Cruise America or check out an RV rental location near you today to get started on your adventure.