Starting a fire in a survival situation is one of the most important skill-sets to learn. Having no real experience with the best of fire starters, tinder, knowledge and practice, you doom yourself and potentially your family from the start.
Like rifles and guns in general, experts agree that the type of firearm is not as important as being well practiced and familiar with it. The skills and knowledge on how to start fires is critical to your survival, and even more-so in the fall, winter and early spring for over half of the US. Even deserts can become bone chilling at night under clear skies.
Cold & Wet Are Bad For Survival Odds
Even in the deep south such as Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Texas, a stormy or wet night in the 70’s 80’s and 90’s can drain your bodies core temp fairly quick overnight, reducing your chances of survival in a bad situation.
The sub-tropic conditions in the deep south on a very humid, or wet/foggy night can drop by and average of 15 degrees. That is pretty substantial and dangerous. Place yourself on the ground and you have a recipe for disaster and magnifying the effect even further.
Know The Tools & Techniques
Survival situations could be short or long term, so you must be prepared for any situation from hours to days to months. For this reason, you should have multiple skills, tools and knowledge.
While most focus on the tools, they are absolutely worthless without the ability to produce tinder that will help you start a fire, the tools or fire starters are completely worthless. Having the knowledge of tenders without the needed skills to provide a hot spark or flame is just as useless.
The US military teaches soldiers in a pretty brutal training block on how to start fires in the wild. If the US government spends days and millions of dollars teaching troops how to start fires in adverse conditions, maybe more should take the time and effort to practice with your tools, develop skills and knowledge on starting fires.
Bow & Friction Methods Are A Pain In The Ass
I am not advocating the bow or friction method with wood since it has such a huge learning curve, but you do need to understand fire, how it’s started and the tools and knowledge needed by the average person to survive natural disasters. So let’s discuss reality.
You’ll see many people on YouTube and prepping sites showing you how to make and store tender with wood shavings, cotton, petroleum jellies and candle wax. Others use chemical based fire starters and make dozens of these types of tinders to help get a fire going strong, but what happens in SHTF situation where you could be months, or even years?
What if you have stockpiles and caches with these different types of tinders to start fires, and the situation carries on for months. What if you have them spread out at different locations you can’t get to? It’s not unheard of in survival situations, where natural disasters, man made disasters, financial collapse or other scenarios.
You can only carry so much in a bug out bag, not having the skills, knowledge and small but simple tools to ignite a fire, you reduce your odds of survival by a couple of orders of magnitude.
The Different Types of Fire Starters
There are 2 basic types of fire starters: igniters and accelerants. You will want to be carrying a combination of these at any given time and which one you end up using will depend on what type of situation you’re in.
Igniters are the thing that you use to make the flame in the first place. These are literally where you start with producing fire.
For simplicity’s sake, we’re not going to cover starting a fire with wood friction methods, such as bowdrills, hand drills, fire plows, or fire saws. These are things you should practice, but for the purposes of this article, we’re going to focus on things that are easy to buy or obtain and have a very short learning curve to them.
Flint & Steel
Ferro-rod starters (also colloquially known as flint & steels) are a pretty old method of starting a fire. It’s not quite as old as the wood friction fire method, but not too far from it. You use these by shaving off pieces of the metal rod that are heated by the friction of the strike. When you “point” these super-heated metal pieces at your tinder, that’s how the fire is started.
Modern “flint & steel” fire starters aren’t really made of flint, hence the name “ferro-rod”. They’re actually made of ferrocerium, because the sparks stay hot longer and it’s easier to make a fire with them than it is with flint.
Fire pistons are nice to have, as well. Take your tinder and place it inside of the metal tube and insert the rod portion of the device. As you rapidly depress the rod into the tube, the material inside of it is heated to the point of ignition. These work best with char cloth, although they can be used with other types of tinders.
Ah, matches. The old standby.
Matches work almost without fail and are pretty cheap to purchase in large quantities. The only bad thing about matches is that each one is really only one time use… but one good thing about them is that you can save the sticks and use them as tinder later if necessary. They will catch easier because they’ve already been lit. If you’re going to keep these around, grab the “strike anywhere” type just for simplicity’s sake.
There are generally associated with smoking cigarettes and since about 20% of the US population still smokes, they’re fairly easy to come by. They’re easy to use and almost everyone has used one at some time or another, so you’re probably already familiar with how they operate. Even if you have all of the other fire starters mentioned here, you should still have a couple of these.
There are 2 bad things about these:
First, they’re only good for so many uses if you don’t have a refillable type.
Second, even if they’re refillable, they have moving parts and are prone to breakage, especially if you get them wet. They don’t work if they get wet.
Plasma lighters are rechargeable little badasses. They work no matter what the condition is as long as they’re charged. Wind, rain, snow, doesn’t matter. Make sure you grab one of these… and a solar charger to keep it charged up with.
If you get a solar charger to go with this, make sure you grab the one that we recommended below. Many things that claim to be “solar chargers” aren’t really designed to completely charge up using solar power only, they’re designed to be charged with electricity and then “topped off” with solar.
Tesla Coil Lighter
Anker Solar Charger
The pro to having a magnifying glass with you all the time is that it never runs out of fuel or material to start your fire with. As long as you have adequate sunlight, you can take those beams and use them to heat tinder up to the point of ignition. If you can start a fire with something that requires no fuel of any kind and doesn’t degrade over time, why not use that instead?
The magnifying glass below is handy to have and fits in your wallet; you won’t even notice you’re carrying it because it’s the size of a credit card.
Pocket Fresnel Lens
Accelerants are great for when you have a small flame already, but you need to quickly turn it into something that you can use to cook with or just keep warm. In a survival situation, you don’t want to use up your ignition source on a fire that won’t stay lit. Here are some of the best accelerants.
This is good for refilling the fluid lighters that we talked about above, but it’s also great for putting on your tinder or kindling to make sure it lights up like it should. Just make sure you have a container that isn’t going to leak on anything else in your bag.
Zippo Lighter Fluid
Every household should have at least one tub of this stuff. It’s easy to use: just coat some cotton balls or other cloth in it and light it up. It’s oil-based, so it catches fire easily. I’ve seen a lot about vaseline cotton ball fire starters online, but I don’t see them as particularly practical to carry in a bug-out bag. While you technically can use it out and about, this is more of a bugging “in” type item to have around.
If you really want to use this for bugout purposes, though, use the petroleum jelly packets listed below, not the tub of it.
Rensow Petroleum Packets
There are a few different brands of these and they’re all solid fire starters to have on hand. They’re not cheap, but they’re definitely effective. One brand in particular, WetFire, can get a fire started even when it’s pouring down rain.
Esbit 1300 degree fire cubes will burn for about 12 minutes if you get the 14g version, 5 minutes if you get the 4g version. Which you get depends on you, but keep in mind that you’re only using these to get your main fire started: you’re not using these to maintain it long term. If you have the right kindling, 5 minutes of burn time should be plenty to get a fire started right.
Esbit Solid Fuel
Fire Starter Pucks
These fire starting pucks from Shefko are as easy to use as the fuel cubes that we talked about a moment ago. They’re easy to break up into pieces so one puck can be used to start multiple fires if you don’t want to use the whole thing to keep a fire going. Whether you’re looking for a fire starter or an accelerant, these are great to have around. A whole puck will burn for 30 minutes.
Shefko EasyFire Pucks
Granulated Fire Starter
Granulated fire starters like InstaFire are as convenient to have around as any of the other accelerants listed above. It’s easy to light and it stays lit even in up to 30mph winds; it will also dry out wet wood. The manufacturer claims that even if the material gets wet, it will even float and burn on top of water. In wet climates, it doesn’t get much better than this.
The downside is that there’s only so much of this that you can carry before it gets heavy. Carry a small quantity of this and use this when other methods fail completely.
TITAN SurvivorCord is truly a unique product. It combines 550lb capacity military paracord that’s 3/16” in diameter with 25lb fishing line, waxed jute, and conductive wire. This means that you have not only a great source of fire starting material with the waxed jute cord, but you also have a way to fish, a way to climb, and a way to trap game if necessary.
Getting a spark is one thing, providing enough oxygen to it to keep it going is another. If you’re using one of the more “instant” methods of starting a fire above, such as the fuel cubes, you may not have to worry about this too much. But, if you’re using ferrorods, a magnifying lens, or anything else that requires blowing on the flame to make it bigger, you’ll want one of these with you. The Pocket Bellows is great for being able to put a concentrated amount of oxygen in a small area.