American Survival Guide - - TABLE OF CONTENTS - By Jim Cobb

How to make a DIY fire kit

Of all the dif­fer­ent com­po­nents that go into a prop­erly packed bug-out bag, get-home bag or just an ex­ten­sive sur­vival kit, the fire gear is, to many, the most fun. We sur­vival types do love mak­ing fire, don’t we? Be­ing able to get a fire go­ing, even in less-thanideal con­di­tions, is an im­por­tant sur­vival skill. Fire will keep us warm and dry us out. It will cook our food and boil our wa­ter to make it safe to drink. It will light up the night, shoo away crit­ters and can be used to sig­nal for help.

Just as im­por­tant is the psy­cho­log­i­cal com­po­nent at work with cre­at­ing fire. Be­ing able to make and main­tain a fire gives us some con­trol over the sit­u­a­tion. This, alone, can boost the spirit.

For many of us, sit­ting by a camp­fire is re­lax­ing and com­fort­ing. In a true sur­vival sit­u­a­tion, this can calm us down and clear our head, al­low­ing us to make an in­tel­li­gent plan for what to do next.

Fire re­quires three in­gre­di­ents. The first, oxy­gen, isn’t some­thing you are likely to be car­ry­ing with you in your fire kit. Truly, what we mean when we say fire needs air to breathe is just to make sure you’re not smoth­er­ing it. A smoth­ered fire might smol­der, but you’re not go­ing to get much wa­ter boil­ing that way. Al­ways make sure you have good air­flow to your fire.


The other two pieces of the puz­zle are heat and fuel. For the pur­poses of cre­at­ing our fire kit, we’re look­ing at fire starters and tin­der to fill those roles.

A fire starter is a tool that pro­vides the ini­tial

heat needed to ig­nite the tin­der. This is the first step to­ward build­ing a sus­tain­able fire. There are sev­eral types of fire starters, of course, from the sim­ple to the com­plex. The key is to play around with a few dif­fer­ent kinds and choose the ones that seem to work the best for you.


Cig­a­rette lighter: All other things be­ing equal, noth­ing will get tin­der ig­nited quicker than a sim­ple cig­a­rette lighter. Most sur­vival in­struc­tors, no matter how hard­core their classes, will carry at least one lighter in their pock­ets or kits. Avoid the cheap ones sold three for a buck at gas sta­tions and con­ve­nience stores. They have a ten­dency to break or leak. Spend the ex­tra few pen­nies on a brand name, such as BIC.

Dis­pos­able lighters don’t like cold weather.

This can some­times be mit­i­gated by keep­ing the lighter in a pocket, close to your skin, or by hold­ing it in your closed bare fist for a cou­ple of min­utes. How­ever, noth­ing will help if it gets wet—other than the time it takes to dry out.

The lighter you select need not be dis­pos­able, of course. A Zippo or a storm­proof lighter is a great ad­di­tion to the kit. Just bear in mind that it will need to be filled with fuel in or­der to work. The Ex­o­tac ti­tan­light is a great op­tion in that it has two O-ring seals to pre­vent any fuel leak­age or evap­o­ra­tion.

Matches: These are the next best things to lighters. It should go with­out say­ing that pa­per matches aren’t the best op­tion for a fire kit. In­stead, opt for good-qual­ity, strike-any­where stick matches. You’re not go­ing to find the awe­some blue-tip matches that grandpa used, how­ever. As with so many things to­day, they just don’t make them like they used to. How­ever, the UCO brand strike-any­where matches are quite good.

When shop­ping for matches, pay very close at­ten­tion to the pack­ag­ing. I know more than one per­son who bought the strike-on-box va­ri­ety be­cause the pack­age was al­most iden­ti­cal to the strike-any­where va­ri­ety.

Storm matches, which are matches spe­cially for­mu­lated to light and burn in windy or rainy con­di­tions, aren’t a bad ad­di­tion to the kit. How­ever, they are more ex­pen­sive than the stan­dard strike-any­where kind, and they must be lit us­ing a spe­cial strike strip.

If you plan to add matches to your fire kit, con­sider stor­ing them in a crush-re­sis­tant and wa­ter­proof con­tainer. If you can find one, an old, plas­tic 35mm film can­is­ter works great. How­ever, you’ll have to cut down the matches a bit for them to fit. Oth­er­wise, the Ex­o­tac MATCHCAP is worth con­sid­er­ing.


Next on the list are fire starters that uti­lize sparks to light the tin­der.

Flint and steel: The tra­di­tional tools are flint and steel. A sharp edge of the flint is struck against the steel. This carves off lit­tle splin­ters of steel that are ig­nited by the fric­tion, and we see them as sparks fall­ing down into the tin­der. There is a bit of a learn­ing curve to us­ing this fire starter, but it doesn't take long to get the hang of it.

Fer­ro­cerium rods: Flint and steel are good, but a fer­ro­cerium rod might be bet­ter for some folks. Of­ten called "ferro" rods, these come in a va­ri­ety of sizes—from small enough to fit on a neck­lace or key­chain to


big enough to be used as a self-de­fense weapon. To cre­ate a spark, hold the ferro rod in one hand and the scraper in the other. Point the ferro rod at your tin­der and keep the rod just above it. Hold the scraper tight against the rod as you pull the rod back. This should send a shower of sparks rain­ing down to light the tin­der.

Nei­ther flint and steel nor ferro rods are af­fected by rain or cold.

Spark-lite, et al.: An­other type of fire starter in this cat­e­gory is the Spark-lite and oth­ers with sim­i­lar de­signs. These op­er­ate sim­i­larly to a dis­pos­able lighter, just with­out the fuel and with larger sparks. The orig­i­nal Spark-lite was in­vented by Oak Duke Nor­ton Jr. in 1979 and re­quired two hands to op­er­ate. About five years later, he came up with the one-handed de­sign we see to­day. The Spark-lite is avail­able in alu­minum, plas­tic and brass. Ex­o­tac re­cently came out with a sim­i­larly de­signed fire starter that in­cor­po­rates a small stor­age area for tin­der.



Mag­ni­fy­ing glass: Many of us played with mag­ni­fy­ing glasses and sun­shine when we were kids, burn­ing holes in leaves and such. That same prin­ci­ple can be used in our fire kits. A small mag­ni­fy­ing lens can be care­fully packed in a ban­danna or some other fab­ric for cush­ion­ing.

Fres­nel lens: An­other op­tion is a Fres­nel lens. While these lenses come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, the ones that are about the size of a busi­ness card or credit card work great for fire kits.

Nat­u­rally, these only work when the sun is shin­ing. Hold the lens above the tin­der and move it around a bit un­til you see a bright spot on the tin­der. By mov­ing the lens up and down, you can ad­just the size of that spot where the sun's rays are be­ing con­cen­trated. The smaller and brighter the dot, the quicker you'll get the tin­der to ig­nite.


The fi­nal el­e­ment needed for mak­ing fire is tin­der. Nat­u­ral types of tin­der in­clude things such as dry grass, pine nee­dles and dead leaves ... ba­si­cally, any­thing that is dead, dry and light. You should have at least a few dif­fer­ent types of tin­der in your

fire kit for those times you are un­able to source it from the wild.

Pe­tro­leum jelly and cot­ton balls: One of the most com­mon home­made types of tin­der is to add pe­tro­leum jelly to cot­ton balls. These work very well and light eas­ily. A great way to pack­age them is in an in­ex­pen­sive wa­ter­proof match case. Tie a piece of cordage to one cot­ton ball and stuff it down into the case; then, hold the end of the cordage out­side the case as you fill it with the rest of the cot­ton balls. Screw on the cap as nor­mal. To use, open the case and tug on the cordage. The bot­tom cot­ton ball will push the rest up­ward, and you can just pluck the top one off.

Dryer lint: Pro­vided your clothes are mostly cot­ton or other nat­u­ral fibers, dryer lint works well as tin­der. De­pend­ing on how many dogs or cats you have, there might be a fair amount of fur in the lint as well—which can lend a less-than-pleas­ant odor when it burns. How­ever, this dis­si­pates rather quickly. Keep the lint dry by stor­ing it in a plas­tic bag or other con­tainer.

Wet­fire Cube: This is a white pe­tro­leum-based prod­uct that ig­nites very eas­ily and burns hot. You don't have to use an en­tire cube, ei­ther. Just shave some off into a small pile and light it. The cubes are small and light­weight, so it is easy to toss sev­eral into a fire kit.

In­stafire: An­other store-bought tin­der, In­stafire works in­cred­i­bly well. It is a mix­ture of vol­canic rock, wood fibers and paraf­fin wax. In­stafire will light from a flame or spark and burns quite awhile. Pour the amount you want to use into a small pile and store the rest for later. What's nice is that In­stafire will light and burn, even when it is wet. In fact, it will burn while float­ing on wa­ter.

Tin­der-quik Fire Tab: An­other ex­cel­lent prod­uct to con­sider is Tin­der-quik Fire Tab. It is sold un­der a few dif­fer­ent brand names, al­though the orig­i­nal was in­vented by our friend Oak Duke Nor­ton Jr., who gave us the Spark-lite. The Fire Tab con­sists of a small bun­dle of cot­ton that has been treated with chem­i­cals to al­low it to light fast and burn long. To use it, sim­ply pull the fibers apart to fluff them up and then light them.



As with many ar­eas of pre­pared­ness, what works best for one per­son might not be the ideal so­lu­tion for some­one else. The best ap­proach is to play around with the dif­fer­ent com­po­nents and see which ones seem to be the eas­i­est to use.

Keep in mind that when it comes time to use the fire kit in the field, it might be un­der less-than-ideal con­di­tions. It might be cold, windy or wet. You might be shiv­er­ing, soaked to the bone and ex­hausted. Prac­tice us­ing your kit com­po­nents un­til you can't get it wrong.

Strive for at least three fire starters and enough tin­der for sev­eral fires. Con­sider mix­ing up the tin­der types so you have a lit­tle of each. At a min­i­mum, in­clude at least a cou­ple of dif­fer­ent types so you have op­tions in the field.

As for kit con­tain­ers, these are as var­ied as kit com­po­nents. Some folks (in­clud­ing me) pre­fer a wa­ter­proof box of some sort. While it does add a few ex­tra ounces to the over­all pack, it pro­tects the con­tents from break­age, as well as wa­ter.

A com­pre­hen­sive fire kit will keep you warm, dry and safe ... and, ad­mit­tedly, it is fun to put a kit to­gether and use it.

A sam­ple DIY fire kit. From top to bot­tom and left to right: Ferro rod from HRK Ma­chin­ing, Spark-lite set from Sur­vival Re­sources, or­ange plas­tic match case with cot­ton balls in­side, Wet­fire Cubes from UST, ferro rod striker from Sur­vival Re­sources and...

Ty­ing a short piece of jute twine un­der the gas but­ton on the lighter pre­vents it from ac­ci­den­tally dis­charg­ing and com­ing up empty. The twine can also be used as tin­der in an emer­gency.

Above: Store-bought tin­der is an ex­cel­lent ad­di­tion to a fire kit. Left to right: In­stafire, Wet­fire Cubes and Tin­der-quik Fire Tabs.

Fer­ro­cerium rods come in many sizes. From left to right: Michi­gan Wild­fire, LT Wright Knives, generic, a mini and a full-sized rod from HRK Ma­chin­ing, and a ferro rod striker from Sur­vival Re­sources.

A match case will also hold tin­der. Tie a string to a cot­ton ball soaked with pe­tro­leum jelly and stuff it into the case, leav­ing the string hang­ing out­side. Stack more cot­ton balls on top. Then, pull the string to ex­pose the top cot­ton ball for re­moval.

Good match cases will keep your matches safe and dry un­til they are needed. The one on the left is plas­tic; the Ex­o­tac MATCHCAP is air­craft-grade alu­minum.

Ex­o­tac’s NANOSPARK lives up to its name: Sparks fly when you spin the thumb wheel.

Spark-based fire lighters—all of which are use­ful tools. From left to right: steel, flint, Spark-lite and Ex­o­tac NANOSPARK.

Above: Al­ways do what you can to clear the area around your fire to help keep it un­der con­trol. Be­ing lost in the woods is one thing. Be­ing lost in a for­est that is on fire is a dif­fer­ent matter en­tirely.

The “teepee” is one of the ba­sic fire lays. Cre­ate a teepee shape with your kin­dling, leav­ing a small open­ing on one side. Build a tin­der bun­dle, light it and place it through the open­ing into the teepee.

Us­ing a good-qual­ity dis­pos­able lighter is of­ten the eas­i­est and fastest way to get a fire started. Al­ways have a lighter in your pocket, as well as an­other in your fire kit.


Far left: Nat­u­ral forms of tin­der: shred­ded cedar bark on the left and fat­wood on the right

Far right: Us­ing the sun to light your fire is a great way to con­serve your re­sources. The mag­ni­fy­ing lens on the right can be worn around the neck by the at­tached lan­yard. The Fres­nel lens on the left is sold by Sur­vival Re­sources.

Near left: A ferro rod will send a shower of sparks down onto your tin­der. It might take a few strikes, but some­times, that’s part of the fun of mak­ing a fire.

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