The Virtue of Fire
In most survival situations, fire is a true asset. A fire will give you light, warmth, help purify water, signal, dry wet clothes, cook your food and make a pleasant companion. From the Boy Scouts to the National Park Service to the mountaineers of old – you’ll find matches and fire starters on every list of essential items to have with you in the outdoors.
Of course, fire can be a dangerous thing. Everyone should exercise caution when building a fire to make sure that it stays contained, and perhaps even forgo building a fire if conditions are too dangerous.
Building a fire is so important, we believe each person should carry multiple means for starting a fire. For instance, you could keep a disposable lighter and a metal match in your pocket and storm proof matches in your backpack.
Light My Fire Firesteel A metal match is always an essential item to have because it’s nearly fool-proof. It has no mechanical parts to break, it doesn’t matter if it gets wet and it’s good for literally thousands of strikes. It will work when nothing else will. Simply scrape the striker down the ferrocium rod to produce a shower of sparks that will ignite your tinder. Remember that you can keep the striker stationary and draw the flint towards you to keep from disturbing your tinder.
Matches, particularly survival matches, are important as well because they produce a flame. A flame will dry out tinder that is slightly wet, making a fire easier to start. Survival matches are always the best choice because they’re designed to light even after they’ve been wet and in windy conditions. Pro Force Survival Matches, for instance, burn for 12 seconds, even in the wind and rain. There is also the added benefit of low cost – matches are inexpensive. Just make sure you keep them in the proper container, and remember that you can only start as many fires as you have matches.
We also think it’s a good idea to carry a disposable, butane lighter. It’s a practical, inexpensive, one-handed fire starter that produces a flame. It is the right item to have for routine use such as lighting a candle or a stove in normal conditions, and it’s also a backup to your matches and metal match. Just keep in mind that they are not completely reliable. They don’t do well at high altitudes; they tend to lose fuel over time; they won’t work immediately after being submerged and you can’t take them on an airplane. Keeping the lighter in a small container will not only keep the lighter dry, it will also keep you from accidentally releasing the fuel. The extra room in the vial can be used to hold tinder.
Nearly as important as the fire starter is your tinder, and there are several varieties and quite a few homemade concoctions to choose from.
One type of tinder consists of natural fibers bundled together and impregnated with proprietary formulas of waxes and petroleum products. This tinder needs to be pulled apart to expose as many of the individual fibers as possible. These exposed fibers will more readily accept a spark from a metal match. Tinder-Quik and Coghlan’s Emergency Tinder are two examples of this.
WetFire Tinder BurningOther tinders are engineered with chemicals that have been formed into cubes, such as WetFire Tinder. This type of tinder needs to remain sealed until use for maximum life and is easier to light if some of it has been crumbled into a powder. This type of tinder burns hotter than other tinders and does well in wet conditions.
Finally, there is the ever-popular petroleum jelly/cotton ball homemade tinder. Simply impregnate a 100% cotton ball with petroleum jelly – but not too much. Let experience be your guide, and place it in a plastic vial of some type. PJ cotton balls work quite well, burn for several minutes, light easily, and cost almost nothing.
If you’ve run out of tinder or have forgotten to bring some, your first aid kit could have some items that will work. Alcohol pads, gauze bandages, even antibiotic ointments with a petroleum jelly base can all be used as improvised tinder.
Candles are also a form of tinder, and quite a few people will cut about an inch off of an emergency candle and keep it in their survival kit for warmth, light, and fire starting purposes.
There are a number of natural tinders – tree bark, pine needles, dried grass, or even an abandoned bird’s nest. All of these elements can make good tinder if conditions are right. In a wet environment, natural tinder can be made by splitting a stick length-wise with your knife, exposing the dry, inner wood. Use your knife to slice this dry wood into small shavings that will readily accept a spark. Be careful that your shavings do not fall onto the wet ground, as they will absorb moisture. Use a rock, a piece of cloth or a piece of dry bark to capture the shavings.
Although it is possible to start a fire with natural materials, actually doing so is difficult, uses a great deal of energy and requires instruction and much practice. The most practical way to create fire in the wilderness is to take a dependable fire starter and tinder with you. Remember, often when you need a fire the most is when it’s windy, cold and wet.