When it comes to planning out your fire starting kit, it’s a good idea to account for the types of situations you will likely encounter when you need a fire…specifically when it’s dark, cold or wet.
If you are needing a fire in a survival situation then it’s because you are wet and need to dry out, or you are cold and need to warm up…or both. Fire is useful for:
- Staying warm
- Cooking food
- Purifying water through boiling
- Drying clothes
- Keeping bugs away
- Boosting your morale
The issue we have seen time and time again with people’s fire starting kits is they are strictly geared towards getting a fire started, but don’t include enough pieces to keep the fire going until it reaches critical mass.
You need to have components in your kit that will help maintain the flame until your fire is large enough for your needs. This is especially true in damp conditions when it may take a while to get wet kindling going.
Thus, your bug out bag fire kit should include the following items:
- Ignition Sources
- Fuel Sources
The first thing you need in your kit is a way to get your tinder lit. The easiest way is with a lighter, but you will want to have a couple of other redundant options in your bag just in case. We recommend you have at least one of all 3 options in your fire kit.
Option 1 – Lighters
BIC Lighter – you can’t go wrong with the simplicity here. BIC lighters are cheap, lightweight and take up very little space. Regular cigarette lighters do have some limitations as they do not perform well in extreme cold or wet conditions.
Numyth Tohil lighter – an upgrade to the standard Bic lighter, this peanut style lighter tworks every time you need it. The Tohil was designed to give you a compact, well-made, long-lasting fire-starting tool. An o-ring seals the opening of the body, giving you watertight construction and keeping the lighter fluid from drying out while in your pocket or pack.
Option 2 – Matches
Stormproof Matches – regular kitchen matches don’t hold up well in wet conditions. Stormproof matches will burn despite wind and rain. You can usually get 15 seconds or so of burn time.
UCO Stormproof matches will even burn under water..not that you’ll ever be trying to build a fire in the middle of a lake, but it’s good to know they can stay lit in the harshest of conditions.
Option 3 – Sparkers
Fire sparkers typically use friction and either a magnesium or ferrocium rod (AKA ferro rod) to provide sparks for fire starting. These sparkers can generate sparks at over 2000° F, plenty hot to light your tinder to get a flame going.
Bear in mind that you will need to scrape the coating off the ferro rod itself before it will give off sparks. Here are a couple options that have had good results with:
With your ignition source in hand, you need something that will easily catch a spark/flame to get your fire going. Ideally your tinder source should dry and highly flammable. You don’t want to be dependent on natural materials like grass, pine needles or bark shavings.
Relying on natural tinder can be a serious problem in wet conditions. You need to carry something that will give you a guaranteed flame. This isn’t the Boy Scouts where you are going for a merit badge…this is real life survival.
Here are some options that will ignite quickly and give you enough burn time to get addition fuel in play. Several of these can be harvested from supplies you have laying around the house if you want to save cash and don’t mind going a bit low tech.
- Vaseline covered cotton balls – you’ll need to prepare a batch of these ahead of time. Keep them in a ziplock bag as they can be messing.
- Vaseline dressing gauze – these are flat, lightweight and come in an air tight package. They can also be used for dressings on a sucking chest wound.
- Exotac tinderTIN fatwood shavings – fatwood shavings can be easily lit with an open flame or with a little practice, a ferrocerium fire starter like the NanoSTRIKER.
- Dryer lint – you probably need to clean out your dryer anyway. Harvest some lint and put it in a ziplock for later use.
- Jute Cord – several paracord manufacturers now include jute cord strands in their product to be used in fire starting. Just the slightest spark will ignite this natural fiber. It works best if you pull it apart a bit until it looks like a bird’s nest.
- Tinder-Quik – these fire tabs are used by the military all over the world. They take flame quickly and are extremely lightweight. Be sure to keep them in an airtight container as they will degrade over time. Each tab burns for 1-2 minutes.
- Ferro rod shavings – in a pinch you can take your knife and scrape a pile of shavings off your ferrocium rod. These shavings will burn at extreme temperatures and can be all you need to move your fire to the next level.
- Duct Tape – not an item that you see that often in a fire kit, but it can be extremely handy and can make getting a fire started much easier. Not only will duct tape burn well and hold a flame, but you can also use the sticky side of the duct tape to hold you kindling in one place while you trying to light it.
Once you get your tinder going, it’s time to layer in a longer burning fuel source before you starting adding larger pieces of wood. Ideally you want a fuel source that will burn for several minutes…the hotter the better in case your wood is slightly damp.
Here are four of our favorite options for stoking the flame:
- WetFire Tinder Cubes – a universal lighting material that is safe, lightweight, and easy to carry. WetFire will light in windy or wet conditions and only requires a small amount of tinder to build a fire. WetFire cubes can burn up to five minutes giving you plenty of time to get your kindling burning.
- Trioxane Bars – formerly used in the military for emergency fires and to heat MREs, trioxane will light in even the most damp of conditions.
- Fatwood – made with high resin content wood, fatwood sticks are extremely easy to light, work even when wet, and produce an extremely hot flame. You can shave the wood down a bit to make them easier to catch fire.
- InstaFire – a patented blend of volcanic rock, wood pellets, and paraffin wax. This patented formula makes InstaFire water resistant for use in even the most severe weather such as rain, snow or high winds. InstaFire burns at nearly 1000 degrees and will dry out your wet wood.
Putting It All Together
You should keep all of your fire starting materials together in the same place. We use a Maxpedition Micro Pocket Organizer for ours. You can cut off the draw strap if you want to make the bag even more compact.
This organizer is water resistant, but you probably want to keep it inside a gallon ziplock bag for extra water protection.
In addition to our 3 ignition sources, tinder and fuel, we include 3 more items in our fire kit.
- Folding knife – good for prepping your tinder, or getting some shavings to help get your fire started. A small knife that can handle detail work is what you want here.
- Flashlight – many times when you need to make a fire it is because it’s getting dark. It’s not fun to try to get a blaze going when you can’t see what you are doing. You should have other lighting in your bug out bag, but a little redundancy can’t hurt. We removed the paracord zipper attachment from our fire kit and added a Streamlight Nano flashlight to the pull cord.
- Aluminum can – while it’s not the most high tech piece of equipment in your kit, an aluminum soda can is useful as a wind screen when you first get your fire started. Cut your can up ahead of time and put it in your kit. We cut the top and bottom off, then fold the rest into a flat package.
NOTE: We use the same fire kit in both our Bug Out and Get Home bags.
Keep lighters with fuel in them close to your body heat in cold weather conditions. The fuel can freeze in extreme conditions. If this happen, go to one of your back up ignition sources.
If you find yourself in a wet environment, start collecting damp wood and leaves and keep them in your pockets while you travel to help them dry out some before it is time to build a fire.
Keep your fire as small as you can while still doing the job of keeping your warm and dry. The bigger and hotter a fire, the more wood you are going to have to scavenge to keep it going. We’ll discuss some of the additional tools you’ll want in your bag for acquiring wood in the tool section of the guide.