The Last Firestarting Kit You’ll Ever Need!
Going along with the most important thing in a survival situation (shelter) is your ability to start a fire. Without fire, you lose a great resource for warmth, the ability to boil water (making it drinkable) and also ability to cook food (sometimes also very important to make safe to eat). But how many people are actually prepared with both the knowledge and skills to build a fire in the wilderness?
Surprisingly few people have actually practiced making fire. In fact, I’d guess that most people think that if you have a lighter, you simply light it under a log and in a matter of moments, BAM! You’ve got a fire! But even if you have a lighter with you, nothing could be further from the truth. There is more to it than that.
For the sake of time, lets focus on firestarting tools on this post and leave the how-to’s for another day. After all, if you don’t have the tools, the how-to’s are completely pointless.
First of all, when you consider the tools needed to start a fire, you’ll want to think of this in two different ways. There are long-term tools and short-term tools. Short-term would be things like matches, lighters, etc. We’ll skip over the short-term and discuss long-term firestarting tools.
The following kit is what I personally have with me in my cars, camping equipment, 72-hour kits, BOB’s, etc. I’m including a picture of everything, which all fits in the bag, with room to spare. Several individual components are stored in tiny plastic bags to keep them as dry as possible.
The kit includes:
I’ll also throw a lighter in there for convenience, with the knowledge that it is not a primary tool, but something to use temporarily (it WILL run out).
When looking over this list, you’ll see that there are multiple methods of starting a fire. Some will pretty much last forever, others will only last for a decade or so if used regularly. But if used properly, you’d have the materials to start fires every day for well over 100 years.
Starting out, let’s begin with the foundation of this kit, the char cloth. Char cloth is cotton (or various other materials, including rotten wood) which is cooked in a metal container without sufficient air to catch fire. It becomes a type of charcoal which catches a spark very easily. No matter what environment you live in, whether it be in the woods or the desert, or even an urban environment for that matter, you will never run out of materials needed to make the char. However, you will need a metal container, preferably like the Altoids-like container pictured above to cook the char in. Once cooked, keep it dry and it will be a life-saver when it comes to starting fires.
The next items are built upon that, although they do not necessarily need char to be used (although it is much easier).
The firesteel (ferrocerium) gives out 5500 degree F (3000 C) sparks when scraped with a scraper, knife or any other hard, sharp object. These showered sparks, when aimed at kindling or char, start a flame almost immediately. But if the kindling isn’t dry or is not a very flammable material, it may take several tries. When aimed at char, once is more than enough to catch a spark and create an ember. The size I use will last over 12,000 strikes.
Char Cloth Ember
Once an ember has been caught in the char, it burns like the end of a cigarette would burn. It’s not a flame, but an ember which can ignite some type of material. This material could be unraveled jute twine (like pictured in the kit), straw, dry grass, dry moss, etc. Simply shape the material into a shape of a “nest” and put the burning char cloth in the middle of it. Then fold the nest over it so that the char’s ember is in the middle of the nest bundle. Then slowly blow into the nest, varying the amount of air that is needed based upon the material (usually pretty good amounts of wind). The nest will begin to smoke, then burst into flames. Hopefully you have other kindling (small twigs, pine cones, etc) ready to utilize for the fire. (We’ll get more detailed in this with pictures/video at another time).
Flint & Steel
The flint and steel is my favorite method of fire starting. And although many think it is very difficult, with practice, it is very simple. And it takes me back to the days of the mountain man, or even the Vikings, who used this method. Flint and steel consists of two parts to make the spark. A piece of steel (striker) and a hard, flint-like rock. The piece of steel is scraped against the sharp corner of the rock. The spark is actually a small sliver of metal that is broken off the steel because the sharp rock was stronger than the steel. It is NOT from the rock. This hot spark is captured by the char cloth that is held against the rock or in a manner that catches the spark. Then from there, the same method of starting a fire is accomplished as described with the firesteel. The strikers will generally outlast you as long as you take care of it and keep it from getting rusty.
Another method of starting fires that I keep in my firestarting kit is a magnifying glass. Anyone who has tried starting a fire with a magnifying glass without the help of char cloth or some other similar material will find that it is usually only good for burning ants and creating a lot of smoke. But with char cloth, an ember can be created in less than a second! Of course, the magnifying glass doesn’t use any resources other than the sun and is therefore good for as long as you have the magnifying glass. It never runs out. This is the method I use when starting a fire when the sun is out to conserve my other resources. But that is also the limitation…it only works in daylight.
The twine that I carry in my kit is jute twine. I only use this when I am desperately needing something to make a nest of and my other alternatives are all wet. Just pull the twine apart into a nest of small stings until it is a bundle of individual strands all bunched up into a nest. When the ember from the char is placed in the middle of this and you blow on it, it will burst into flames. Have your other materials ready to add to this before you get it burning because the flame will not last very long without additional fuel.
The candle in my kit is a 7-hour candle. It’s purpose is not for light nor warmth. But this is used to dry off kindling when everything is wet. Once a sufficient amount of kindling has been dried out and a reasonable fire has been built, the fire will dry out the rest of the wood. Place future wood beside the fire so the heat dries it out for future fuel.
For extra char, I choose to use cotton material. I have found that 100% cotton mop head strands work great and can be found for a very reasonable price. Other materials such as demin (like from Levi’s) works great as well. When this cotton runs out, there are a multitude of other materials that can be used. It would be wise to experiment with natural materials where you live to see what works good and what doesn’t (sage, willow, yucca, cottonwood, etc).
So there you have it. A fairly brief explanation of what I like to keep in my own personal firestarting kits wherever I go.