Best Char Cloth to Start Your Fire

The first documented description of char cloth was by the legendary Hattori Hanzō in a ninjutsu manual written close to 500 years ago. The manual reads “Crumple cotton, silk, or paper until it is soft. Divide it into small amounts, and dry-roast it until it is black, paying attention that it doesn’t burn white. Keep it within a tightly covered container and be sure to always have some at hand.” There are many materials you can use to make it, but which is the best char cloth?

This is where we come in. We’ve researched the best char cloth, tested them, and now the results are in: the overall best, a budget option, a bulk option, and even a DIY option. If you need to quickly and easily start a fire, one of our picks will carry a flame.

Contents (Jump to a Section)

Kaeser Wilderness Supply char cloth rolls and tin as our top pick.

The Best Char Cloth

Kaeser Wilderness Char Cloth

Complete Kit, Heavyweight, and Versatile

A fast-igniting and long-burning cloth rolled into a well-thought-out and packed tin.

*Price at time of publishing; check for price changes or sales.

Steve Kaeser puts out a wide variety of bushcraft gear, but he really excels in the tinder department. Not only is this the heaviest weight and longest-burning char cloth we tested, but Steve also packs it in a tin so you can explore making your own. Not that you’ll need to any time soon, since this kit includes six feet of cloth to burn.

Here is what you get with the Kaeser kit:

  • 100% cotton canvas duck cloth
  • 15 oz fabric weight
  • 4 rolls 2″ x 18″ (total 6′)
  • Includes 2.5″ x 3.5″ x 0.8″ storage tin
  • 1.4 ounces
  • Made in the USA

It’s heavyweight, effective, and a complete kit so it’s easy to see why the Kaeser Wilderness Supply Char Cloth is the best.

25 squares of denim char cloth handmade by Mike as our starter pick.

Budget Char Cloth

Mike’s Denim Char Cloth

Simple, Inexpensive, and Effective

Precut squares of homemade denim cloth are an effective budget option and a prime example of DIY done right.

*Plus $4 shipping. Price at time of publishing; check for price changes or sales.

Mike is cooking up some quality char cloth in Manchester, New Hampshire. You can even save a bit of money if you go pick it up directly, making it the cheapest option by far. He packs it up in a Ziploc, so it’s not exactly a commercialized product, but the cloth is cooked perfectly and speaks for itself.

Here is how Mike’s homemade char cloth measures up:

  • Can add multiple amounts with fixed shipping
  • 100% cotton denim cloth
  • 5-16 oz varying fabric weight
  • 25 squares of 1″ x 1″ cloth
  • Made in the USA

If you are looking to test out some char cloth with your firestarter, Mike’s Denim Char Cloth is what you need.

Bulk char cloth from Outdoor Life Pro Shop as our bulk pick.

Bulk Char Cloth

Outdoor Life Char Cloth

Long Rolls, Low Price, and Effective

Stack multiple purchases with fixed shipping to get the best bang for your buck on bulk orders.

*Plus $5.25 shipping. Price at time of publishing; check for price changes or sales.

If you are stocking up on char cloth for any reason- whether it’s for your own survival kits or a Boy Scouts outing- this is the way to go. You can order multiple twelve-foot lengths and combine shipping to get great bulk pricing.

Here are the full specs:

  • Can add multiple amounts with fixed shipping
  • 100% natural cotton cloth
  • 10 oz fabric weight
  • 3 rolls 2″ x 48″ (total 12′)
  • Made in the USA

If you are looking for bulk-priced char cloth that works well, grab some Outdoor Life Char Cloth.

Everything We Recommend

Kaeser Wilderness Supply char cloth rolls and tin as our top pick.

Kaeser Wilderness Char Cloth

A fast-igniting and long-burning cloth rolled into a well-thought-out and packed tin.

Where to Buy

$12* at Amazon

*at time of reviewing

25 squares of denim char cloth handmade by Mike as our starter pick.

Mike’s Denim Char Cloth

Precut squares of homemade denim cloth are an effective budget option and a prime example of DIY done right.

Where to Buy

$4* at eBay

*at time of reviewing

Bulk char cloth from Outdoor Life Pro Shop as our bulk pick.

Outdoor Life Char Cloth

Stack multiple purchases with fixed shipping to get the best bang for your buck on bulk orders.

Where to Buy

$6* at eBay

*at time of reviewing

The Char Cloth We Compared

Our research narrowed the field down to several types and materials of char cloth that we compared: duck cloth, denim, natural cotton, silk, paper, wool, and more.

You can see our full list of review criteria below in the What to Look For section, with an explanation for each.

We considered a wide range of fabrics to char but quickly settled in on the best options after a few tests. We did not consider other materials, as we have a whole separate best survival tinder review.

We’re always looking for new and better solutions, so if you have a fabric or other material that you swear by, let us know in the comments. We review most of our tested gear annually so we can try to get it in the next roundup round and see if it will beat out our top picks.

What to Look For

The best char cloth has a few features to look for:

  1. Value
  2. Cloth Material
  3. Thickness
  4. Ignition & Burn
  5. Versatility

When you get the right blend of these, you can find a cloth that will reliably ignite at a lower temperature and carry a flame. Below, we break down what each of these features means for the char cloth types that truly set themselves apart.

Value: Cost vs. Benefit

The amount of money you spend on something as simple as char cloth shouldn’t blow out your entire budget. The cloth is cheap and can even be made with scrap fabric you may have around the house.

You never want to spend too much money on one thing when it comes to survival (or camping) gear. It’s better to diversify your equipment to make sure you are covered for a wide range of scenarios.

Cloth Material

Hattori Hanzō described several types of materials in the original char cloth manuscript including paper, silk, and cotton. Other cultures around the world have also made it with different textiles and materials.

Cotton appears to be the material to beat, but that still doesn’t narrow it down completely. There are several weaves, treatments, and types of cotton fabric that can affect ignition temperature and burn time.

Woven fabrics performed much better than knits, and more open weaves improved effectiveness- which makes sense since that increases the surface area.

There are varying thicknesses of cotton in both woven and knit fabric that also affect how the fabric performs.


Thicker fabrics are typically better, we found in our tests. Thickness extends burn time without drastically affecting ignition time depending on how open the weave is of the fabric.

Ignition & Burn

The main idea of char cloth is that the cloth itself has experienced ‘incomplete combustion’ due to limited oxygen while it was being cooked or created. We go into more details in the DIY section below, but this is important because it has decomposed into a bio-mass the scientific community calls bio-char. This is what allows it to ignite so easily despite its autoignition temperature still being higher than regular paper.

The burn time of the cloth is also important since the ember is slow-burning giving you plenty of time to ignite a bird’s nest.


While the main use is as a reliable tinder source, char cloth can have its limitations.

It is easy to tear, which is both good and bad depending on how you are using it, but the biggest downside is that it deteriorates very quickly if it gets wet. You’ll want to keep it in a tin or bag, which all of our suggestions include. These storage containers are also useful- especially the tin since you can produce more by making some yourself.

DIY Homemade Char Cloth

Char cloth is very easy and simple to make with resources you already have lying around your home.

To start off, you’ll need some 100% cotton fabric of some sort. You can use:

  • old t-shirt
  • cotton balls
  • cotton rounds
  • denim

Denim is our favorite since it is typically thicker, and the weave provides structure after the char. You’ll then need to find a tin to put the cotton inside of like a simple Altoids tin or tuna can (but not too packed, you want all of the cloth to turn black).

Poke a small vent hole in the can to allow gas to escape and it’ll be an indicator when the cloth is done cooking.

Last, drop the tin onto a campfire, grill top, or camp stove with the vent hole up. Let it cook for 15-30 minutes or until the flame at the vent hole is no longer burning.

Be careful when you remove the tin- use some sticks as tongs since it will be very hot and will take a long time to cool.

Once cool, you’ll want to pack your cooked cloth into a small bag or tin to keep it from getting wet.

CRH does a pretty good job of walking through the steps for DIY homemade char cloth:

Who Needs Char Cloth?

Char cloth is a niche resource to help with fire starting, and traditional tinder may work better for most people. That said, it works exceptionally well with some of the harder fire-starting methods, like fire pistons and magnifying glasses.

It can be used to meet our tinder suggestion for these kits:

Depending on your situation and resources, we also suggest considering for your:

It also comes in handy for camping, hiking, backpacking, bushcraft, and many more survival hobbies or projects around the house.

How We Review Products: We research thoroughly before selecting the best products to review. We consult experts in the field for a better understanding of what makes the gear great. Hours on end are spent field testing gear in stressful conditions. We assign performance criteria and impartially rate each tested item. You can support us through our independently chosen links, which can earn us a commission at no extra cost to you. After our review process, some of the items reviewed end up in our giveaways.

Sources and References

All of our experience and the testing we do to determine the best char cloth are useless without listing our research sources and references. We leaned on these for the book knowledge that we paired with our hands-on testing and practical survival experience:

Cummins, A. (2012). The Secret Traditions of the Shinobi: Hattori Hanzo’s Shinobi Hiden and Other Ninja Scrolls. Berkeley, California: Blue Snake Books. (Source)

Mountford, C., et al. (1941). Making Fire by Percussion in Australia. Oceania. Volume 11. Issue 4. Pages 342-344. (Source)

Shen, D., et al. (2009). The mechanism for thermal decomposition of cellulose and its main products. Bioresource Technology. Volume 100. Issue 24. Pages 6496-6504. (Source)

The Final Word

It’s hard to believe that the humble char cloth was passed down by actual ninjas, but that gives it a great campfire story. It makes starting a fire a whole lot easier but really shines with those hard-to-start methods like magnifying glasses, refractive mirrors, and fire pistons.

Here are a few other guides and reviews our subscribers have found helpful:

We presented quite a lot of information, but as always: if you have any questions let us know and we would be happy to help. Our research and testing found the Kaeser Wilderness Supply Char Cloth to be the best option given its value, material, thickness, ignition/burn time, and versatility.

Keep exploring, stay prepared, and be safe.

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The Best Char Cloth text over burning char cloth with our picks from the review.

Rusty Collins

I am an engineer, Air Force veteran, emergency manager, husband, dad, and experienced prepper. I developed emergency and disaster plans around the globe and responded to many attacks and accidents as a HAZMAT technician. I have been exposed to deadly chemical agents, responded to biological incidents, and dealt with natural disasters. Check out my full story here: Rusty's Story

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