Flickering warmth to dry out your socks after a long, cold hike. Crackling heat to boil water and roast food. Bright, mesmerizing flames: the only thing that tempts you out of your sleeping bag in the morning.
Being able to start a fire outdoors is often part of the experience and, in emergency situations, can be a vital component of survival.
Here are a variety of fire starters you can either prepare ahead of time at home or use on the fly when a situation arises where you need a fire. Some of the best fire starters are made from simple items you can find at home or in nature, so you don’t need to buy fire starters.
unsplashCotton balls take a spark easily and burn well, but don’t burn for long. Add some petroleum jelly and it’ll burn hotter and longer, allowing you time to add whatever tinder bundle and kindling you have waiting. You can store these pre-prepared fire starters in a plastic bag, tin or pot. Anything with cotton will work, whether you have rounds, Q-tips or tampons with you. Simply unravel or rip them up a little to expose the cotton fibres and they’ll light like magic.
iStockDryer lint usually contains a lot of cotton, is light and plentiful, and takes a spark well. You can also dip this stuff in petroleum jelly or another type of fuel to make the flame last longer or stuff it into a toilet paper roll. Fluff up one end to catch a spark or flame, cover in kindling and light for instant fire.
matthew venn Flickr cc by sa 2.0Char cloth catches the tiniest sparks which, with a little blowing, turn into long-lasting embers. To make char cloth, use scraps of canvas or linen and stuff in a metal box. Heat over a fire or with a torch until flames start coming out of the sides. Blow the flames out, let it smolder for a bit and inside you’ll find black, charred cloth. Cut into squares and use it to catch a spark from a ferro rod, flint and steel, or apply a flame to the edges. Put the glowing ember inside a tinder bundle, blow and boom, fire! Brown bits won’t catch a spark; it must be blackened.
iStockSteel wool burns hot, fast, and makes a great ember to add to a tinder bundle. Light with any sort of flame, ferro rod, or flint and steel. You can even light it with a dead lighter: repeatedly scrape the lighting end against a flat rock with steel wool fibres in between.
unsplashHand sanitizer containing alcohol burns well, but be careful, because the flame can be hard to see. It doesn’t burn hot and, once the alcohol is burned off, it simply makes things wet. Still, it can be used in a pinch to produce a flame to light tinder with.
unsplashThis might sound obvious, but if you have a knife and dry wood, you can make fine shavings that catch fire easily with a flame or, with luck, a ferro rod, and burn hot and long. Even pencil shavings work. To help the wood shavings catch, mix in some cattail fluff, cottonwood fluff or thistle down, which take a spark from a ferro rod very well but burn out very quickly so they’re not super useful on their own.
The best wood to make shavings from is fat wood, which is the wood from inside the base of a standing dead pine. It is saturated with the resin and lights very easy, burns long and is amazing for lighting wet wood. Wood shavings soaked in something like paraffin wax takes a flame well too. Wad them up into small bundles when the wax is cool enough to handle, stuff a few in your pack, and you have a waterproof fire starter that will burn long and hot when you need it too.
unsplashCheck your cupboard. Certain snacks make good fire starters. Fritos, Cheetos, Doritos, Hickory Sticks, thin potato chips, rice cakes and veggie straws will all burn well, but popcorn is probably one of the best fire-starting foods. These snacks won’t start with a ferro rod, so use a flame for a mouth-watering way to start a campfire.
iStockWax paper, which is simply paper covered in a layer of paraffin, burns well. Don’t throw out the waxy wrapper from the fruit roll-up you ate on the trail! You can use waxed paper to create a little fire-starting bundle: roll dryer lint, wood shavings or another type of tinder inside and twist the ends shut.
iStockThere’s a reason those paracord survival bracelets are so popular: paracord burns. If you have paracord in your backpack, you can use it to start a fire. Rip out the individual cords, ruffle up well, and it’ll take a spark and burn great.
Egg Cartons and Cupcake Liners
unsplashMake little bundles guaranteed to start a fire by stuffing paper cupcake liners or egg cartons with sawdust, dryer lint or other tinder, and cover with melted wax. Light the paper liner or egg carton and these little packable parcels will burn bright and long.
These are just some of the many household and DIY items you can use to start a roaring fire, whether in the backcountry or in your backyard. Keep a small tin with a variety of options, matches, lighter and a ferro rod in your pack or car, and you’ll be ready to spark a warm fire whenever you need it.
Want to start a roaring campfire the easy way? Check out our Campfire-Building Bundle.