Fire is one of your most vital resources in the outdoors, nothing else in the history of the human species has been quite as revolutionary as the discovery and harnessing of fire, and it is as vital now as it ever was. In the outdoors only our requirements for air and shelter ranks above our need for fire.
Fire purifies our water by boiling, cooks our food, warms us and improves out morale, but how do we light one in the often adverse conditions we encounter out of doors? To light a fire you need three things:
Your preparation, planning and packing the right equipment on your outdoor adventures will provide you with two of those things; the heat and fuel but if you are short of oxygen then the fire is the least of your concerns.
When you head out doors on an expedition or a camping trip you might carry a stove or apparatus for cooking without having to light a camp fire but even these will need lighting so you should at the very least carry a lighter or matches. The problem with matches and lighters is that they are susceptible to the elements, to getting wet or being blown out in the wind. Luckily there are plenty of wind and waterproof options out there. They are often marketed as ‘storm proof’ and some really are excellent like this lighter available from DNA Tactical. To keep matches, which are easily destroyed by the damp, dry consider a waterproof container like this one or try dipping the match heads in molten wax to provide some limited protection from moisture.
Matches and lighter are always worth having close at hand as your source of heat for your fire but in case of emergency it’s worth learning how to use a firesteel and packing one on your outdoor adventures in case your primary means of fire lighting is lost or destroyed. Firesteels are just fun to use as well and allow us to go back to basics and practice our bushcraft skills.
Figure 1; A modern firesteel on the left and flint and iron pyrites on the right.
The advantage with fire steels is that they are impervious to water, they can be submerged completely for an indefinite period of time without any negative effects. A fire steel can be pulled out of a stream and immediately used to strike a shower of white hot sparks, this Ultimate Survival Technologies Strike Force model also has a compartment for tinder which means you can carry your source of heat and fuel in one convenient package.
Simple balls of cotton wool or tumble drier lint can be used as fantastic tinder for your fire, tinder is the very finest material that will catch the tiny flame from a match or the sparks from your firesteel. But if you are going to pack fuel for your fire in the first place it may as well be a tinder that gives you the best chance of lighting a fire, there are plenty of tinder’s available on the market that provide an even better option, they are often treated with a flammable compound such as petroleum jelly which allows the tinder to burn for longer and makes it easier to take a spark. There are several tinder options available including this fastfire tinder from DNA Tactical. These tinder tablets are a great option for starting your fire but don’t burn for long so you will need to rely on your survival skills to find fire wood and additional fuel for your fire, in an emergency you could also consider something like these fuel sachets which burn for long enough to boil water but which you will struggle to light with your firesteel.
Now that you have your fuel and heat combination you can light a fire anywhere, consider one additional emergency though; firesteels can’t easily be used with one hand like a lighter can. If you are injured using a firesteel might prove difficult so consider the blast match, which is designed to be used with just one hand.
With all this equipment and preparation there is no firelighting scenario you won’t be prepared for.