Alright, I know most people know how to start a fire. However, I’m not talking about using lighter fluid and newspapers. I’m talking about how you can start a fire quickly if you need to. If you are stuck outside overnight with no shelter. Maybe you have been stuck outside for days and need to eat. Or you’re stuck in the woods and have run out of water and need a way to boil river water to make sure it is safe to drink.
The following methods are going to focus on small tools and materials that are easy to keep on your person or throw in your pack. They won’t take up much space, but in a worst-case scenario could help you get a fire started.
Starting the Fire
I like to carry three different ways to light a fire. Its a twice redundant system, but I like the peace of mind of knowing that if one fails I have other options.
- Matches are easy to use and can start a fire quickly, but regular matches are not suited for a survival kit. Instead, pick up a pack of stormproof matches and a waterproof match case. UCO makes a decent waterproof container with stormproof matches and a couple extra strikers. Store the extra strikers inside the case so they stay dry.
- BIC Lighters are always a good idea to carry. They don’t take up much room, work well, and you can wrap the body of the lighter in duck or medical tape which is always good to have more of.
- Ferro Rod – The Ferro rod is a small cylindrical rod made of ferrocerium a material that sparks very easily when it is scraped with steel. The sparks can get as hot as 5000 degrees Fahrenheit and can easily light combustible material. They feature a wood or metal handle and then the Ferro rod itself. I typically keep one affixed to my survival knife with either tape, a specialty sheath, or ranger bands (we’ll talk more about these soon). Many also come with lanyards or rope attached to them as well. The Exotac Ferro rod is just about the best out there. The handle features storage for tinder and the rod can be replaced if you ever wear it out. At $25 it’s a great buy.
Tinder and Combustible Material
We’ve covered what tools you’ll need to start a fire, but you will need some sort of combustible material to get the flame going long enough to light your kindling and wood. Here are a couple of my favorite options:
- Ranger Bands – These extremely durable black rubber bands were put into use by the US Army Ranger Regiment. They were originally made by cutting up bicycle tubes. The rubber material is much more durable than a standard rubber band, UV resistant, and holds weight well. I love using them to attach my Ferro rod to my knife sheath, seal up an Altoids tin first aid kit, or hold flashlight wires in place on my rifle. As a bonus, they are extremely flammable and will stay lit even in wet and windy conditions. You can buy packs of them for $10 from companies or just look for some old bike tubes for free. Either way, they will work the same.
- Cotton Balls With Petroleum Jelly – This is probably the single best and cheapest firestarter you will find. Take 3 or 4 regular sized cotton balls and soak them in basic petroleum jelly. Petroleum Jelly is of course named for the petroleum in it. Take your soaked cotton balls and put them in a small empty prescription bottle. After being lit, the petroleum jelly soaked cotton ball can maintain a flame for up to 9 minutes which is more than enough time to light kindling on fire.
- A Knife – This should always be on you when you leave the house, but in a survival situation where you need to start a fire will allow you to cut up sticks and logs to make kindling and can be used to strike a Ferro rod.
This list is not by any means exhaustive, but meant as a guide to get you thinking. We live in a modern world where we take light, heat, and clean water for granted. If you found yourself stuck in the wilderness would you have the tools you need to get a fire started?