Many Anthropologists agree that three (3) of the most important and influential events in human history were, tool making, the invention of the wheel, and finally, the taming of fire. Of these, fire allowed our forbearers to illuminate the night, kept predators away, provided heat for comfort, and allowed them to cook food. It could be easily argued that fire is one of the cornerstones of civilization, culminating through thousands of generations in the ability to forge tools and by blending various metals, in creating stronger alloys. Fire (though seemingly archaic), is a vital part of modern life, whether applied to industrial plant(s), the boilers or incinerators in large buildings, or even the gas burning stoves in restaurants and homes, all require a flame.
There is no substitute for mastering fire making without tools, however, fire making implements available today allow even the most novice outdoors person in becoming a virtuoso, with minimal investments of time and effort. While original fire starters were comprised of a combination of flint and steel or similar elements, tools available to modern consumers have become incredibly advanced. By striking the two materials together, sparks are created and combined with tinder to get a small, stable burn going. As the tinder achieves an optimal burn rate, fuel is then slowly added, a little bit at a time, until a stable flame of the desired size is achieved.
Whether rubbing two sticks together (applied friction), or using the most advanced survival fire starter available, starting a fire involves the same steps that our distant ancestors used. It can be thought of as a "linked" chain of events that needs to take place in a particular order for each new event to occur. To create a fire, four elements are required: a heat source (spark), tinder (a material that combusts very easily/rapidly), and a fuel source (can be just about anything, but will not ignite on its own), and finally, oxygen. That's right, plain ol' O2, just like all other life on earth, which makes sense if fire is thought of as a living/ breathing entity.
A spark that is thermally stable is the first item needed, and one of the most common sparking mediums used today is magnesium, done for two (2) reasons. First, magnesium creates sparks very easily and secondly, the sparks that result are very high temperature. Additionally, magnesium can be scraped into shards or shavings which, when a spark is applied, ignite rapidly and become a high temperature and quick burning form of tinder. Most of the spark generating tools that are commercially available today are affordable, incredibly light weight, and some can be used one-handed.
On the tinder side of the triangle, there are many things that can be utilized. Dry leaves or grass, small twigs and sticks, or even dryer lint from an automatic dryer, all are things that can be utilized as tinder. Modern advancements have led to the creation of tinder materials, which are vast improvements over any of the natural environment items noted. Modern tinder materials come in small, individually wrapped packs or bundles that ignite easily, create a very hot flame, and yet burn long enough to combust small, damp pieces of wood. There are even some that will do all this, and while aflame, remain cool enough to be moved with the bare hand. As long as hands are kept from entering the flame itself, the tinder pile can be moved even while lit. They can also be stored in very high temperature surroundings without igniting, making them incredibly practical as well.
Modern tinder materials available today are inexpensive, easy to store, and will last almost indefinitely with little or no degradation in performance. Since modern fire starters are now so advanced and easy to stock, it is easier than ever before in human history to have the tools necessary for creating fire ready to go in your car, your backpack, your junk drawer at home, in your camper or any other place you might be able to logically keep such materials.
There are many different instruments that could accomplish any given task, but none will ever be as effective as a specialized tool specifically created to accomplish only one task, and do it as efficiently as possible. Fire starters are no exception and ultimately to ensure that there is no guesswork in the ability to create a fire, investing in these highly useful and affordable tools and materials is something that will never leave you cold and in the dark. Let there always be fire!