Firestarter kits – the complete guide
The easiest mistake a novice hiker can do is think that they don’t need a fire starter kit. After all, we’ve all seen the movies where a couple of sticks and a pile of leaves can make a fire, right?
Anyone who’s ever had to start a fire in the wild knows that’s not the case, however. Yes, technically you can also start a fire with random stuff in the forest. However, more often than not you’ll have neither the time nor the patience or skills to do so.
Instead, coming prepared with a nice and compact fire start kit is the way to go. So, here’s our complete guide on fire starter kits and what you need to know about them.
What is a fire starter kit?
On the surface, fire starter kits are very easy to explain – they are kits that’d help you start a fire. There’s a lot of variations, know-how, and different possible circumstances to them, however. As a result of that, almost every fire starter kit you’ll see online or in the hands of survivalists will be different.
A good fore starter kit should have the following basic characteristics:
- It should always be kept in a waterproof container. This is self-explanatory – lots of things can happen in the wilderness but your fire-starting tools should always be dry.
- It should be lightweight and compact. As you know from our other guides, when it comes to survival gear, there’s a lot you’ll want to take with you. That’s why it’s important that everything you carry is both lightweight and compact. The fire starter kit is no exception.
- It should contain at least 3 different methods for starting a fire. Whether you’re a novice or an expert, you should always be prepared for everything. This means not only having a backup but a backup for the backup too. That’s especially true for fire-starting tools. It doesn’t matter how much you trust your preferred matchbox or lighter. You should always have at least a couple of other methods with you.
So, what should a fire starter kit include and how does it work, really?
What do these kits do and how do they work?
Obviously, they start fires. How exactly, though? Well, it’s a 3-step process:
The spark & flame.
The first thing you need in your kit is a fire-starter. These can be two general types:
- Something that generates a spark. These methods rely on creating a spark that you can use to start a fire. Sparks can be tricky to work with because they are short-lived. Nevertheless, a good spark-creating tool can be invaluable, especially if you know how to use it.
The most common choices are magnesium rods and ferrocerium (ferro) rods. Both are rods made out of specialized metal alloys. Creating sparks with them is as simple as striking them hard into another metal surface. By such “striking” you’re oxidizing the rods which quickly raises their temperature up to 3,000 °C (or 5,430 °F). That’s when they start producing sparks.
Another thing you can use for creating sparks is a fire piston. It’s also known as a “fire syringe” or a “slam rod fire starter”. This tool is based on an ancient South Asian method for starting fires. The way it works is by compressing and rapidly releasing air between two metal tubes. The inner tube fits into the outer one as tightly as possible with the help of rubber coverage on its edges. The idea is that by compressing and rapidly releasing oxygen you are heating it up. The last step is to put a piece of tinder inside the inner tube which will create a spark from the hot air. It is a more convoluted and less effective method but it works. It’s also quite fun.
Flint and steel or “flint” fire sparkers are another good way to create sparks. They work similarly to the rods we mentioned above. Magnesium or ferro rods are generally better, however.
Another common trick is to use your flares if you’ve got any (as you should).
- Something that generates a flame. The easier first step to take is to have a fire-starter that generates a flame and not just a spark. Something as simple as a pack of matches or a lighter can do the trick. Hopefully, we won’t have to explain how lighters and matches work. Still, the lighters and matches in a survivalist’s fire starter kit should be different than those of an ordinary smoker. For one, they should be waterproof. But, even more importantly, they should be of the highest quality. Every time you go somewhere with your fire-starting and survival kit, check your fire-starting tools and make sure they work.
- An additional third option is to create ember instead of flame or sparks. Commercial or DIY fire starter kits usually don’t go for that, however, as it’s just not that effective. That’s why we count this one separately. It’s the “primitive” fire-starting methods such as using a fire plow or a bow drill that worked that way. That’s because, as “primitive” methods, that’s just as good as they got. Still, while you don’t need to bring a wooden bow drill with you, it’s a good skill to have – just in case.
A magnifying glass can also be used to create embers, of course. It’s not the fastest method but it does work. The main problem with it is that it only works on sunny days.
Holding the flame
Now that you have a spark or a small flame, the next step is to hold it. This is especially true if you’re using a spark-creating tool. Sparks are just too short-lived and small to start an entire fire. Instead, you should also have a small amount of dry kindling with you. Sometimes you’ll be able to find something suitable in the wilderness around you, sure. However, it is wise to have something with you too.
What we’d recommend is that you always carry one or more of the following with you:
– Dry cotton balls
– Dryer lint
– Cotton balls in petroleum jelly
– Char cloth
– A homemade fire starter combination of cotton, wax, and petroleum jelly
– Fatwood (also known as “fat lighter”, “pine knot”, “heart pine”, and other names). It’s essentially just thin, dry stripes from the stump of pine or heartwood trees.
– Cattail heads or other fluffed up mix of shredded birch bark, grasses, and other dry plants.
– Jute twine
– Candles – yes, standard tea lights, 9-hour emergency candles, or even birthday candles can work. They don’t weigh much and are effective for starting a fire.
Most of these are very lightweight and compact. This makes them exceptionally easy to carry around. Just make sure they are in a waterproof container with the rest of your fire starter kit.
Yes, you can find similar things in the woods – dry foliage, pine cones, and more. However, you can’t be certain that you’d find them. So, having a bit of kindling with you at all times is just smart thinking.
All this is especially true for spark-creating fire starters as they only make sparks and not a stable flame. However, even if you have something like a lighter or a matchbox, it’s still smart to have some kindling with you.
Creating the fire
Once you’ve got a stable flame in your hands, the last step is to create a fire with it. To do that you’ll need whatever dry wood you have around you. This isn’t something you can realistically carry around in your survival backpack, of course. Instead, identifying and collecting the right fire wood, as well as building a flame is a skill you should learn.
What should your kit include?
So, these are the basic items that can go into a fire starter kit and the purposes they serve. Which ones of them should you get, however? This is largely dependant on personal preferences. Another factor to consider is where you’re going and what fire starter items are more suitable there. However, it will mostly fall on personal preferences.
A key rule for both fire starter kits and survival, in general, is to always go with what you’re comfortable. So, if you’re used to using a fire piston and you’re good at it – go with that. Ferro and magnesium rods may be better but if you’re not that good with them, opt for the piston.
Still, if we had to recommend three fire starters for a novice to use we’d suggest a ferro rod, a lighter, and a pack of waterproof matches. All three are very simple and easy to use while also being very effective. Take a waterproof tin can with some kindling and you’ll be set.
Commercial or DIY?
For both a novice and an expert, our advice is to go for a combination of both. When it comes to the fire starters themselves – lighters, rods, matches, etc. – it’s best to go commercial. This will guarantee the quality and the effectiveness of the fire starter.
When it comes to the kindling, however, there’s no need to go for something commercial. You can easily prepare any type of good kindling on your own. Just make sure to test it first. And, of course, to put it in a waterproof pack, can, or box.
As for the can or box themselves, they are one of the good reasons to go all-commercial. Commercial fire starter kits usually come with great waterproof boxes and tins, as well as with bags and other comfortable-to-carry goodness.
Still, nothing stops you from preparing your own DIY waterproof packaging. A good idea is to use an old thick plastic bottle with a wide opening. They make for good containers for compact fire starter kits and are made to be waterproof. As an added bonus, they are easy to hang on a backpack.
A good fire starter we’d recommend
Everyone’s kit is personal and should be built for the area you’ll be traversing as well as your personal preferences. However, every kit should also have at least one main fire-starting item that’s your go-to in most circumstances. Our recommendation for almost all circumstances – the Everstrkye waterproof match with a ferro rod.
Easy to carry as a key chain or hanging from a backpack, this match will always be by your side. Here are its main characteristics:
- Ferro rod, fuel, and wick – all in one. An “all-inclusive” kit, this fire-starter can light a fire all by itself.
- Compact and easy to carry. Carrying this fire-starter is so easy it won’t ever need to leave your side.
- Beginner-friendly. As easy to strike as a standard match, this fire starter requires no training or any particular skills.
- Excellent burn. Each hit with the ferro rod strikes at 3,000 °C (5,430 °F) and its flames burn at 315+ °C (or 600+ °F).
- No evaporation. The built-in O-ring at the neck of the fire-starter prevents the fuel from evaporating.
- Long-lasting. The match is capable of up to 15,000 individual long-burning strikes – enough to last you for years.
- It’s one thing for a match to work well in rain. But you can even soak the Everstrkye match in water and it will still work perfectly fine.
If there’s one drawback to mention about this fire-starter it’d be that it doesn’t come with its own kindling. And you do want to always have a bit of tinder in a waterproof container. However, as we covered above, it’s easy to make your own package of kindling to go with the fire-starter match.
And that’s about it. Hopefully, you’ve gotten at least a couple of good ideas and tips out of our quick article. The bottom line is that you should always have a good fire-starter and dry kindling with you. Whether you go with DIY or a commercial kit, make sure it works for you and for where you’re going.