View Full Version : Fire Starting Gear Roundup

12-13-2009, 09:58 AM
Hey guys, I thought some of you might be interested in this article posted on Military Times Gear Scout. It's broken down into 4 categories, and you'll need to click onto "Read the rest of this entry" at the bottom of each category.



Buck W
12-13-2009, 10:59 AM
Very useful article, Mel.

I agree with the choice of the Light My Fire Swedish Fire Steels. They have them in larger sizes as well.

On the tinder side one can roll their own using cotton balls (make sure they are NOT the non-flammable kind :) ) and knead them in vaseline.

On the stormproof matches I've had good experience with REI's version which was not in the test.

12-13-2009, 11:02 AM
Thanks Mel, lot of good info.

12-13-2009, 02:17 PM
My own observations:

Flints: NB: flints and the magnesium (if you use this type) will chemically react to salt water causing rapid deterioration. If your kit will be exposed to sea water, use either the Aurora or one of the smaller flints stored in a waterproof matchsafe.

Aurora flint ($20) has a rod with a high amount of magnesium in the alloy carried in a screwtop cylinder sealed with an "O" ring. Produces heavy shower of fat, long-lasting sparks. Cons: the attached striker doesn't work well. I'm going to try re-sharpening the blade when I get access to a grinder.

All other types are pretty much the same thing. Embedding the flint in magnesium gives you a larger handle and the magnesium can be shaved to enhance the tinder. Magnesium is very light and easily blows away. Best is to pull your tinder apart a bit forming a nest, shave some Mg into the center then close it up. The Mg will ignite as the tinder burns and won't blow away.

The Swedish striker is good, so is a piece of hacksaw blade, the back of the sawblade of the Victorinox knives and the heel of the blade of just about every other knife.

The SparkLite is the smallest striker for one-hand use. I have a couple of the original ones, brass with replaceable lighter flints, and they work well. Haven't tried any of the others.

Tinders: shreds of birchbark, wet or dry; shreds of cedar bark, dry; dry tinder fungus are all good naturals. Charcloth; cottonball-vaseline; dryer lint/wax are good DIY tinders. One overlooked but excellent spark catcher is a small piece of XF or XXF steel wool. I carry small supplies of tinder in the EzyDose ziplocks sold in pharmacies.

Kindling: small pieces of fatwood, splits of cedar shingle or Coughlin's Firesticks (strips of wax-soaked Celotex) all work well.

Matches: I don't like safety matches of any type. The small box strike-anywhere are good for starting stoves (carry in EzyDose ziplocks). Best are strike-anywhere kitchen matches, waterproofed by painting with nail polish. If you carry matches, use a matchsafe. The best is the K&M that also has a good button compass. The Marble's is also good, but harder to open with cold hands - I carried one for 50 years and the matches within (waterproofed with nail polish) are still good. The issue plastic versions with an "O" ring sealed screwtop are inexpensive, light, durable and effective as well as having a small flint in the bottom.

Lighters: The Djeep ($2) has proven to be the best and most reliable for me. Kept in a pocket in cold weather they work okay. The Zippo is an old, and very good standby but needs lighter fluid which evaporates when stored. Wrapping the Zippo with duct tape reduces the evaporation, but it's easier to carry a can of lighter fluid with you. (I keep a Zippo, extra flints & wick, and lighter fluid in the truck. The lighter fluid also fuels my Jon-E handwarmer. I've never tried any of the hyper-expensive butane models and probably won't.

Accessories: "inspirator" 18" or so of rubber tubing tipped with a 3-4" piece of brass tube dellivers the breath of life to a guttering fire precisely where you want it. Beats flapping your hat or rooting in the dirt any day.

A useful winter take-along for when you need a fire right now is a paper sandwich bag packed with a tinder packet (from my local dollar store) some birchbark or other long-burning stuff and some kindling sticks, along with a couple match bundles ( 6 strike anywhere matches waterproofed with nail polish or wax rubberbanded together). Pile up some firewood and larger kindling, open the bag, strike the match bundle and insert into the bag - then shove the whole burning bag under the stacked fire should get things going. You could also add a highway flare to be sure.

weekend warrior
12-13-2009, 04:57 PM

I've used the Doan magnesuim firestarter a bit and here's a few tips I've picked up along the way. For a striker, it's hard to beat a chunk of hacksaw blade. I squared off the spine with a diamond file leaving two nice sharp edges and left the teeth on the other side. The spine makes a great striker for the flint and the teeth scrape the magnesium off in nice thin curls.

Wax paper is kind of a must for catching the mag scrapings and it makes a nice tinder on it's own. I also rounded off the edges with a file just to make it a little more comfortable to carry in a pocket. That gave me a nice pile of magnesium to play with too so that was fun.

Salt water is really tough on the flint rods but fresh water isn't much better. I left my Swedish Army Firesteel in my pocket on a multi-day paddle. I stayed wet most of that trip as the water was low and we had to drag the boats a bit. By the end of the trip the firesteel looked like I'd dipped it in acid. While they will of course make a spark after a dunking it's best just to keep them dry if you can.

12-13-2009, 08:31 PM
I have been teaching some young students about fire bows: I built one and made it work - though none of them have been able to replicate it, not without trying. Indeed, even I have yet to attempt to make one with only found materials (i.e., no modern knife, no pre-made cord).

How has your luck been with this technique?

I have had the same flint and magnesium starter as my key chain for a couple of decades now... Never had any problems getting fire to go with it save for some extra effort required to protect the shavings from the wind.


12-13-2009, 09:16 PM
A quote from a famous survival instructor:

"The man who understands the bow drill never forgets his matches"

12-14-2009, 10:19 AM
For a bow drill material is the key. Use a split of dry, well-seasoned softwood as the base, cedar is a good choice. The spindle should be an equally dry, well-seasoned hardwood, hickory, ash, maple etc. The bow needs spring, hickory is good, with a leather thong as the string. A small hardwood burl makes the handpiece. Whittle the spindle ends, the handpiece bearing hole and the main hole in the base as close to half-round as you can. (If you want natural all the way, the front tooth of a beaver, mounted in a handle makes a good gouge.)

Assemble the pieces and bear down as hard as you can then bow away. Friction will eventually wear everything to mate. You should start getting a pile of black powder but getting everything to mate takes awhile and until the ends mate with each other you won't get much heat. Having to sit there, grinding away for an hour is what discourages most folks. Once everything wears in it works better. Use a small wood slip under the mainboard notch to catch the dust and eventually the spark. It does work and once you get a working set it will deliver a coal fairly quickly, however: "The man who understands the bow drill never forgets his matches" is very true.

Buck W
12-14-2009, 10:42 AM
A quote from a famous survival instructor:

"The man who understands the bow drill never forgets his matches"

Amen to that. Here in the Pacific Northwest the conditions under which one would most need a fire are the worst for trying to use a bow drill. Paraphrased from another famous survival instructor.

12-14-2009, 10:53 AM
I'd have to disagree with their recommendation on the Brunton Helios lighter. Mine is very unreliable at low elevation and flat out doesn't work above 7000' . It's the most expensive POS in my gear closet.

12-14-2009, 11:04 AM
Agree with Browtine on the Helios.

12-14-2009, 01:39 PM
I have not had ANY refillable butane lighter that would work both above and below 7,000

12-14-2009, 02:11 PM
I have not had ANY refillable butane lighter that would work both above and below 7,000

It really depends on the lighter. I worked at a cigar shop for 5+ years so I have dealt with all kinds of butane lighters, I also repaired lighters for customers when they were not working correctly. What I am most familiar with is the torch style with the sharp blue flame. These require more O2 than the atmosphere will provide above 7k. Also when you get into the colder temps the fuel will not convert into it's gaseous state very well. Think of trying to light a liquid fuel stove without priming it first. At lower altitudes, main problem you run into is bad gas. Most canned butane is only single or maybe double refined, these lighters require gas that is at least triple refined. The oils and junk will clog up the small orifices in the jet and they will stop working. There are a number of lighters that are better than others, but unfortunately quality doesn't link to manufacturer as much as it does the internal design of the lighter itself. I would never rely on them for a survival situation just due to the inherent problems that they have.

12-14-2009, 02:27 PM
main problem you run into is bad gas. Most canned butane is only single or maybe double refined, these lighters require gas that is at least triple refined.

Is a cigar shop the best place to find this premium fuel?

12-14-2009, 09:54 PM
They should have it there. The main brands of fuel would be colibri and prometheus. However if the shop sells the nicer lighters they will have some sort of high quality gas. Around here it's usually about $3 a can. They cheap stuff, Ronson, is usually $2 for the same size can. So it's not like its super expensive stuff. I would recommend bleeding out the tank on the lighter to get the old fuel out of it. Take a paper clip or small screwdriver and depress the pin in the center of the fuel port. Don't use a ballpoint pen, the gas will dissolve the ink and clog the port. After that, just fill it up like normal.

12-15-2009, 02:40 AM
I agree with Kalidas on butane lighters: Simply too unreliable to be relied on. The same applies to petrol (zippo etc) lighters.

In my experience, both butane and petrol lighters will fail in cold conditions, unless pre-warmed in eg pocket close to body (chemical 'hand warmers' should help). Pre-warming the lighter is iffy, though, as it may be insufficient, or have to be redone, if the fire doesn't start easily. The problem is that the liquid butane fuel will not gasify. A propane/butane 'winter' fuel mix, as available for some gas cartidge stoves, should help a bit, but is way insufficient for true winter temps. Liquid petrol lighters fail too in the cold in my experience. I suppose this is due to the reduced evaporation (and flammability) of the fuel at cold temps.

Also, most lighters will fail if soaked. Lighters with piezoelectric ('electronic') sparks should work more reliably than lighters with flint wheels, but in my experience the electronic ones also tend to fail when soaked. After learning this lesson, I've always tried to have at least one of the butane lighters I carry packed waterproof.

I don't have experience of high altitude, but I'm sure that the lower oxygen partial pressure causes problems for some lighters. Otoh, high-altitude should help butane lighters in cold conditions, as the butane will gasify at lower temps due to the lower ambient pressure. Incidentally, some manufacturers quote the performance of their gas cartidge stoves at high altitude and low temps, which is pretty misleading, as the stoves will fail at sea-level already at moderately cold temps.

That said, I find that butane lighters are still most worthwile to carry, as a single butane lighter - if it works - equals many boxes of matches in endurance. My solution is to use butane lighters (whether fancy torch type or cheap ones) for starting fire, and carry an ample reserve of the more expensive storm matches (aka lifeboat matches) waterproofly packed as backup.

I find that fire steels (flint, ignitor rods) are too difficult to use in difficult conditions with less-than-perfect tinder. Just try starting a fire with a magnesium/fire steel lighter in rain, high wind, wet snow and soaked wood... Otoh, I guess that if one would insist on using fire steel rather than matches, one would have to become a skilled fire maker... ;) (Never mind the bow-stuff. In the past the presious fire was saved, eg in smouldering mushrooms, and carried along).

What comes to bought, or self-made tinder, that is carried along rather than found from the environment: I find it a mixed blessing. Some of the tinder stuff works very well for starting fire in difficult conditions. So well, that if used regularly, the skill to find and use natural tinder will degrade. Very good to have as backup, though. Otoh, some natural tinder readily found from (some) environments, like shavings of resinous wood, works very well in difficult conditions.

Finally, fire starting is an art where skill typically matters much more than equipment, assuming that at least some working matches are available.

12-15-2009, 10:09 AM
and old timer trick is to take a box of strike anywhere matches and encase them in a solid block of wax. well maybe a half box. i use foil to make a cup so the wax doesnt run and then wrap the block in the foil. to use a match cut one off with a knife. if a fire is needed bad strike the whole block. i have a block left that i have had since the 80 s. and still carry it. i tested one a few years ago and it worked.

12-15-2009, 10:16 AM
and old timer trick is to take a box of strike anywhere matches and encase them in a solid block of wax. well maybe a half box. i use foil to make a cup so the wax doesnt run and then wrap the block in the foil. to use a match cut one off with a knife. if a fire is needed bad strike the whole block. i have a block left that i have had since the 80 s. and still carry it. i tested one a few years ago and it worked.

Good trick, I like that one. I have covered the heads of matches with wax, but not a whole bundle. I will have to try that.

12-15-2009, 10:46 AM
Bundle 8-12 strike-anywhere matches and dip in wax for an emergency fire starter, strike the bundle and shove into the kindling. Mix the wax with wood shavings or dryer lint to increase the burn time.

The wax in the box is a great way to store matches undefinitely in the camp box, the cabin, or the cache. They will last for many, many years - even submerged.

12-15-2009, 12:25 PM
I just tracked down strike-anywheres (looked in three different states to find them!). I need to try the wax blocks idea. Maybe I will buy some small strike-on-box match boxes and fill them with strike anywheres, dryer lint and wax.

Another idea I have seen is to use drinking straws (big slurpy style are best). Heat and seal the end, then stuff some dryer lint or cottonballs and strike anywheres, then seal the other end (make sure not to light off the matches). I bet adding some wax would only make it better--waterproof even if your seal isn't perfect. I wish I remember who to give the credit to, I might have seen it here.

12-15-2009, 04:48 PM
Exposure to air and humidity will deteriorate matches. They should last if you don't break the seal on the box, but embedding with wax is guaranteed. Back in my Boy Scout days we came across a wax block of matches in an abandoned cabin. There was some folded newspaper next to it, dated around 1910 IIRC (this was 1955). The newspaper was pretty well gone but the matches were fine.

Waterproofing individual matches with nail polish will also preserve them indefinitely.

12-15-2009, 07:14 PM
Ralph, were those waxed matches inside a jar or tin? I would have guessed that mice and other critters would eat the wax.

12-15-2009, 07:27 PM
As I recall they were in a wide-mouth jar. Do mice eat petroleum based waxes?

12-15-2009, 08:51 PM
they may not 'eat' it but they will surely chew on it. i have repaired many a lead cable chewed up by mice, sometimes through plastic and tar to get to the lead. i think i may have seen wax candles chewed up once. ya just cant tell when or what they will chew.

those individual alcohol wipes that come wraped in foil light easy and burn for a while,too. i have read the oil wipes in foil for guns are good.

anyone ever try to start a fire with a rifle, smokeless that is?

12-16-2009, 08:00 AM
Rifle? no. But when I was young and stupid I pulled a .22 cartridge apart with a vicegrips and used the powder. Lucky I didn't put my eye out... or lose a finger.

mice will chew on ANYTHING and EVERYTHING. I have seen them go through tin if given enough time or motivation.

12-16-2009, 09:42 AM
In theory, if you pull the bullet and empty the powder, loosely stuffing a cotton ball or bit of cloth will catch a spark if you fire the primer. I tried it once, years ago, and found that even the primer blew the cotton away. In an emergency I suppose I might try it, but, given the rest of the stuff I carry with me routinely, don't see much need for it.

12-25-2009, 11:36 PM
If you look around, you can find the Misch metal or ferrocerium rod stock and make nice fire sticks. RAT Cutlery has a nice looking fire kit but I have not handled one yet.