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How To Identify the Best Fire Starter
When it comes to getting a fire going, whether it’s in your fireplace at home or at your camping site in the middle of the woods, you want something else to rely on other than matches. That’s why you should have the best fire starter on your side to ensure that you’re always having a roaring fire at the end of the day with half the effort of rubbing two sticks together. They’re also great to keep in a Bug Out Bag when you need to be on the move but can’t afford to lug around a lot of fuel.
There are many different kinds of fire starts to choose from, and it’s best that you have several with you in case one or the other fails. Having a fire not only helps to keep you warm, but you can cook any food you catch, dry your clothes when you’ve been rained on, and even boost morale. A fire can also be used to scare predators away, or even signal for rescuers.
Igniters and Accelerants
There are two basic kinds of fire starters, and they are igniters and accelerants. Igniters are what provide the initial flame and/or heat that get your kindling going, while accelerants help a small flame to grow into a larger one. Many of these fire starters will be divided into these two categories, as they are listed.
This is what you would normally think of (and have seen on television many times) when you hear the word fire starter. It is considered one of the oldest forms of building a fire, and involves the use of friction. By rubbing two pieces of wood together, heat is created between the surfaces and, over time, will get hot enough to get a fire going.
One of the great things about this method is that there are very few tools required. However, the downside to this is that it requires a lot of practice and effort to master and you may not have the energy to use such means every time you need a fire. Add the wet elements of the environment, and getting a fire going is next to impossible.
These kinds of fire starters are also quite old and date back to the Iron Age. Flint is used to strike at steel or iron, and the shaved pieces become super-heated from the friction. Applied directly to cloth, these small sparks can ignite the fabric and have a fire going in no time.
Instead of flint and steel, the more modern versions of these use ferrocerium alloy, as it creates longer burning sparks that will ignite much more readily.
A few upsides to this method are that it can be used even in moist conditions, it doesn’t take up a lot of space, and is very light. However, it does take some technique and practice to get the striking method down, so it’s important to become familiar with it first before you take it out into the field. One of the most recommended and affordable of these kinds of fire starters is the Survival Spark.
This is also known as a fire syringe or a slam rod fire starter, and uses the properties of thermodynamics to work. It consists of a thick-walled tube with an opening at one end. Tinder is inserted into the tube, and then a rod (which is used to prevent air from escaping). Pushing in the rod quickly causes the air inside to be compressed rapidly to the point that it creates a lot of heat and causing the tinder to ignite. The burning tinder is then quickly removed to get a fire going.
The fire piston has very few moving parts so you don’t have to worry about it breaking, and is also quite portable. However, the rubber seal can break down over time, and that can make the entire fire starter useless. It also does require some practice to striking the rod properly, and it doesn’t work on all kinds of tinder.
By simply manipulating and tilting the magnifying glass at the right angle can create a hot point of light, as long as you have some bright sunlight. The smaller the point of light you can make, the faster your kindling will start to burn. What’s most important is patience.
A magnifying glass is small and portable enough to keep in your pocket, and there are no moving parts to worry about. On the downside, it won’t work at night or on a cloudy day, so it’s best to have another fire starter with you as a backup just in case.
Battery and Steel Wool
This is good to have in an emergency when nothing else is working for you. Simply take a piece of steel wool, and touch both contact points of a 9-volt battery to it. It will ignite quickly and will provide good heat to start anything you’re using as tinder. It works by creating a current through the fibers of the steel wool and causing them to burn. It’s easy to pack and waterproof, and doesn’t require any skills or practice to get going.
On the other hand, you’re going to need to keep some kindling on hand to burn immediately, as the steel wool does not produce much of a flame.
Pitch and Fat Wood
Pitch is tree resin, and the most commonly used and most successful is that which you can get from trees in the Pine family. By gathering some pitch from live trees, usually through old wounds or broken branches, you can help to keep your fire going as well as making it bigger.
Pitch does require some exposure to open flame for a very long time before it will ignite, but it will burn for a very long time once it does. This can be used to help dry wood that is moist, or even burn wet wood when you’re desperate.
Fat wood is another option, and you can get this from dead trees. The flammable resins have already settled at the base of the tree, near the heartwood. Digging into an old stump can get you some good fat wood; you’ll know you hit pay dirt when you get wood that smells similar to turpentine. Both are easy to obtain if you’re camping in the woods, and is very effective in cold or wet conditions. However, you can’t pack it with you, as the stickiness will cling to the insides of your backpack, and will melt when it gets too warm.
Wax and Fibers
There are many survival kits that suggest using candle wax to prepare for your BOB, and they couldn’t be more right. Candle wax or paraffin wax burns for a long time and is easy to transport using the right materials.
One of the easiest ways to make your own firestarter is to take an egg carton, some drier lint, saw dust, or cotton balls, and cover the whole thing with wax. Not only does the wax help everything else to burn, but it keeps out any moisture while you’re traveling so you won’t have to worry about your materials getting wet.
Another method is what is called a shepherd’s lighter. It’s a 6-inch piece of jute twine that has been coated in paraffin wax. It is then inserted into a brass hose connector, and the ends are frayed out in order to expose the fibers and get it burning, usually with a flint and steel spark. The hose connector acts like a choke so that you can control the size of the flame, only using as much as you need so you’re not wasting the twine.
The great thing about the use of wax and fibers is that wax is cheap and seals out any moisture. It makes it easy for you to prepare for your trip beforehand so you won’t struggle with getting your fire started. However, you do have to remember to prepare them beforehand.
Gauze and Hand Sanitizer
Gauze can serve another purpose other than just cleaning wounds. Hand sanitizer is also something many people keep on their person, usually in their car, and is great for getting fires started because of their high alcohol content. Simply fold over a thick square of gauze and saturate it with hand sanitizer. Once it’s ignited, it will burn clean for a long time, helping to get your tinder ignited. These are items you’d probably bring with you anyway on your camping trip, so there isn’t much need to set aside time to prepare beforehand. However, there is no protection against moisture, unless you keep everything in a waterproof bag.
Petroleum Jelly and Cotton Balls
Similar to the above method, petroleum jelly and cotton balls can also serve as accelerants to help you get your fire going. A bag of cotton balls and a jar of petroleum jelly can get you a long way, however, and they’re both relatively expensive.
Simply melt the jelly and dunk the cotton balls into the liquid and let dry. Then, when you need them, simply pull out a few fibers and apply to your source of fire. Each one can burn for as long as 20 minutes. One downside to this is that the jelly is slightly viscous at room temperature, so it’s best to keep the dipped cotton balls in their own special bag to ensure that it doesn’t get all over your stuff.
When it comes to getting your fire going, it’s important to pay attention, plan ahead, and always practice good fire safety. There are plenty of forest fires every year that are started through careless practices, and that means loss of habitat for many of the creatures that live there. These fires can also spread quickly and even consume the homes of those that may live in the nearby area. Always remember to out your fires completely once you are done using them by kicking sand onto your embers and ensuring that there is no smoke when you’re leaving your site or going to bed for the night.