Making Fire - A Survival Essential
The ability to make fire is one of the most important components of survival. Fire keeps us warm, it dries us out, it lights up the dark night, and it is a great way to improve morale and reduce stress. Every survival kit, no matter the size, should have items to aid in making fire.
Fire Making Essentials
Fortunately, there exists a wide range of products that allow you to easily get a fire going. Strike anywhere matches and/or butane lighters are among the most popular. Very inexpensive, easy to store and transport, and fairly reliable if cared for properly. Every bushcrafter I know carries either or both. Sure, it is great to know how to friction start a fire, such as when using a bow drill or a fire plough. But, when you want a fire quickly, a lighter or matches is the way to go.
Second to a butane lighter, my preferred tool is a ferro rod. One rod will light hundreds if not thousands of fires, once you get the hang of it. They are easy to use, you simply scrape the rod with the striker and sparks fly off like it is the 4th of July. But, directing those sparks to where they'll do the most good takes practice.
There are also blocks of magnesium with ferro rods attached, which can be handy. Magnesium burns fast and incredibly hot, easily lit with a spark from the ferro rod. What you do is scrape the block with a blade to create a small pile of shavings, about as big around as a quarter. Then, use the scraper to send sparks from the ferro rod down into that pile.
In addition to ignition tools like ferro rods and matches, your fire kit should have a quantity of ready to light tinder. If it has been raining all day long, it might be difficult to find fluffy, dry tinder in the wild so it is best to have some with you, just in case. Dryer lint or cotton balls soaked in petroleum jelly is one of the most popular types of homemade tinder. It lights very easily from a spark and burns long enough to get the kindling started in all but the most severe weather conditions.
Another option is to purchase commercially produced tinder like Tinder Tabs. They work really well, just pull apart or scrape them a bit to rough up the fibers and light it with a spark. Wet Fire tinder is even better. They consist of small white blocks. You shave some material off a block and light it with a flame or spark. What is really cool is Wet Fire tinder lights even when soaking wet.
Don't Make this Common Mistake
One of the most common mistakes I see when teaching people how to make fire is they forget to gather all of their materials before sending down the first spark from their ferro rod.
They'll get the tinder lit just fine, but it burns out while they're scrambling around gathering kindling and fuel for the fire.
Have a good pile of twigs, bark, and other kindling within arm's reach when starting a fire, along with larger branches for fuel. Once you get that first spark glowing in the tinder, you don't want to leave it for any reason until you have a roaring fire going.