Camping & Survival

Handy, Dandy Fire-Starting Kit

Green package with fire and yellow lettering and a silver image of a magnesium stick

Fire is extremely important if you are hiking or camping, especially if you find yourself in need of heat, light or the protection fire can offer.

Making a fire can be extremely difficult or downright child’s play, depending on what you have available and the urgency your need.

If you think about it, making a fire is a science project because a fire, any fire, needs the same four basic ingredients to start:

  • Spark
  • Tinder
  • Fuel
  • Oxygen

Throughout the years, I have tried many ways to start fires; some were a little unconventional, such as using a can of soda and candy bar, while other methods were extremely simple, such as using a lighter or striking a match.

Package of waterproof safety matches with a black label and white and red lettering

Like many of you, some of my fire-building attempts have failed miserably, while other tactics were effortless. The truth is that, for those who regularly venture off the beaten path, we never know when we will need to build a fire. Speaking from experience, even the best lighters sometimes fail, and matches, even waterproof types, may not strike.

Making my share of mistakes taught me to err on the side of caution and always carry in my daypack or hunting pack more than one fire-starting option.

Being prepared with a few lightweight, grab-and-go fire-starting options that are easily contained and organized within a capsule is not overly difficult. The key is to keep it simple and basic and have several options just in case your usual go-to methods fail.

In my fire-starter kit there are, on average, five different items to generate a spark and several other items that make good tinder. And if there is any available space inside the container, I stuff it full of anything I may need to help with the fire-building process.

An added bonus for me is that everything is packed together in a plastic container, such as a large prescription bottle or a plastic can like those that hold grated parmesan cheese. Since the overall weight is minimal, that little homemade fire-starting kit will go just about anywhere I go.

Green package with fire and yellow lettering and a silver image of a magnesium stick

Spark Starters

  • Slender, lightweight refillable lighter
  • Waterproof matches. If I cannot fit the entire box inside my kit, I tear off the striker strip and place the strip only inside the kit.
  • Flexible plastic magnifying sheet. A magnifying glass is bulky, so I carry a lightweight, flexible, unbreakable-plastic magnifying sheet, such as the type used to read fine print. It easily rolls up, can be trimmed to fit inside a container and works just as well as glass to focus a beam of sunlight on to tinder.
  • Magnesium stick
  • 9-volt battery

Tinder Things

  • Cotton balls covered with Vaseline
  • Pieces of wax and lint-covered cardboard. I make my own by covering scraps of cardboard with lint from my dryer and then pouring candle wax over the pieces small enough to fit into my container.
  • Scraps of steel wool to use with the 9-volt battery. Be sure to keep the 9-volt battery and steel wool separated until you are ready to start a fire.
  • Wax paper or tissue

Share your favorite ways to keep fire-starting materials handy in the comment section.


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Comments (2)

  1. Unless you keep the oxygen flow, to the same pressure that’s surrounding you, I won’t not recommend increasing the oxygen flow beyond 1/2-liter/minute. Unless you want to live, too tell about it.

  2. We seem to have gone full circle on this subject. We covered it a few months ago and I’ve had to light fires under some pretty extreme conditions. My friends say I’m a pyromaniac because I usually have it going while they’re still screwing around.

    I carry my trusty Zippo even though I gave up smoking years ago and a tiny container of lighter fluid in my field pack. I also like to flick my Bic on occasion. It has never failed me yet. As far as the magnesium steel spark generator is concerned, I carry one of those too, but only as a last alternative. Unless you get that brown or gray painted coating off the magnesium rod you might as well be scraping two stones together.

    After seeing a friend rip off hat had become a hot smoldering pack I decided to carry the same things but not packaged together. I haven’t used Vaseline because my cotton balls light easy enough. In the wind might be an exception but it hasn’t been a problem yet. the dryer lint works and both take little space but I’m not a fan of steel wool and a battery. We think that may have been what got things going in my buddy’s pack.

    Something I don’t recall any one mentioning before is the refillable long nosed bar-b-cue lighters you can find almost everywhere. They have an adjustable flame. After a friend burned off his mustache and eye brows trying to light a fire I put one in my field pack and bug out bag. I figure the further you can stay away from the fuel the safer you’re going to be.

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