You’re 7 miles into the middle of nowhere on a day hike. It rained the night before, and the trail is a muddy mess as a result. One more mile to go until you reach the waterfall, and then you’re scheduled to turn around so you can make it back home by nightfall.
And then you slip.
You wake up an hour later in a daze, with a headache and a badly sprained ankle. You’re going to be stuck there for the night, and since it’s still early spring, you know the temperature is going to get very cold very fast. You need a fire, and you need it now.
In situations such as these, a proper fire-starter kit is essential. Furthermore, this kit should easily fit in your pocket so you’re guaranteed to have it when you need it.
Make Your Kit Convenient and Easy to Use
Before you start gathering equipment for your kit, however, you’ll need to set some guidelines. When putting such a kit together, there are three main characteristics it needs to have:
- It needs to be convenient to carry.
- It needs to be usable by somebody inexperienced in fire-making.
- It needs to come with a backup plan.
Convenience matters. We’re creatures of habit, and when something is made convenient, we’re more liable to use it. You’ll be likely to have a well-planned and user-friendly fire-starter kit on your person when you need it most if it’s convenient to carry. Make your fire-starter kit small and light. Nobody wants a massive ferrocerium (“ferro”) rod and a bundle of tinder bulging out of their pockets. If that’s what you’re relying on, it’s going to be sitting on your nightstand while you’re out shivering in the woods.
You’ll also need to make sure your kit can be used by someone other than yourself. If you’re out with your 8-year-old child and you need to make a fire but a bad fall has left you with a broken bone, your child will have to be able to start the fire with your kit. So, you’ll need your kit to be as user-friendly as possible.
Finally, you’ll need to have a backup plan for your kit. Have you ever had a job you were trying to finish when your primary tool broke? Perhaps your one and only drill battery died, your chainsaw went dull, or your auger ran out of gas. Without a backup plan in any of those situations, you’d be toast, wouldn’t you?
That’s why you have an extra drill battery, keep a chainsaw file handy, and carry extra gas. View your fire-starter kit in the same way. A fire starter is a tool that can break just like any other tool – and will at the worst possible time.
And when you need to build a fire, it’s not a minor inconvenience to lack a properly working fire starter, like it is when your drill battery dies. It’s a potentially dangerous problem. That’s why a backup plan is essential.
My Fire-Starter Kit
BIC Mini Lighter
I think BIC lighters are a fantastic addition to a pocket fire-starter kit. They work, cost a little less than $1 each, and are as light as it gets. I usually carry a BIC Mini (or sometimes a regular-sized BIC lighter) on my person at all times. This is my primary fire starter. The ability to generate a flame for an extended period of time is a boon to fire starting in difficult weather, and with a simple $5 investment, you can have these little lighters all over the place.
A rubber band placed around the thumb plate will keep it from accidentally getting pressed and leaking lighter fluid. You’ll want your lighter to work when you need it most, and this is my insurance policy for that.
The rubber band will also help keep the BIC secure in your pocket (an anti-pickpocketing trick I learned long ago).
Überleben Zünden Fire Starter
Here’s why I like this ferro rod over others. For starters, I’ve found it to be the perfect size for everyday carry. You can easily stick it in a pocket and forget about it without having to worry about it poking into your thigh all day. The handle is large enough that it has a comfortable grip, giving users a way to create sparks without feeling like they’re playing with a G.I. Joe toy.
Speaking of sparks, this rod generates plenty of them. I’ve tried out several different ferro rods, and I’ve come to the conclusion that the Überleben Zünden is one of the best. The more sparks created, the better your chance of ignition on the first strike. The Zünden shines in these types of scenarios.
This ferro rod is actually thick too. I don’t have to worry about it snapping in half like I would with a lot of the skinny ferro rods on the market. Combine that with an economical price (around $18), and I think you’ll agree this is a winner.
If all else fails and the ferro rod snaps in two, the attached paracord could easily be used to fashion a bow drill for a more primitive fire starter.
Vaseline-Soaked Cotton Balls
High-resin wood shavings, dryer lint, commercial options – I’ve tried all kinds of fire starters. While they all work, I’ve found that Vaseline-soaked cotton balls are the easiest option out there. I can get these lit with one strike of a ferro rod. They burn for well over a minute, they’re cheap, and they pack down well.
I can typically store about eight of them in an old prescription pill bottle. All I do is smear a cotton ball through a jar of Vaseline and then stuff it down into the bottle. It’s as simple as that. Thanks to the childproof lock on the lid, I don’t have to worry about the bottle opening up in my pocket and creating a greasy mess.
Since these are on my person 100 percent of the time I’m in the woods, should I ever use one to start a campfire, I can easily make more once I get back to the house. If you do the same, you won’t have to go to a store and purchase more fire cubes – and this convenience means you’ll be more likely to have what you need on your person when it matters most.
Furthermore, I don’t know the health consequences of having chemical-laced cubes rubbing against your skin all day long. With Vaseline-soaked cotton balls in a bottle, that’s not something you’ll have to worry about.
As I’ve mentioned, having a backup system is vital. There are 1,001 reasons why you should carry a knife on your person at all times, and in a wilderness setting, one of those reasons is so you can make your own tinder. Let’s say you take a tumble. Your BIC lighter has cracked and leaked out all of its lighter fluid. You have no idea where your pocket-carry tinder is. What you do have, though, is your ferro rod and your knife. You have a backup.
By whittling small shavings and scrapings of nearby dry sticks, you’ll be able to make a tinder puffball that will easily light and help you build a lifesaving fire in a pinch. A knife should always be on your person – it’s one of the most versatile tools humankind has ever invented – and fire creation is yet another reason why.
I carry a Cold Steel K4 with me at all times. This knife is lightweight, it has a low profile, its blade length is legal in my region, and it has served me well on numerous backpacking trips for the better part of a decade.
The Total Package
Everything combined weighs in at 7.4 ounces and can easily fit into a single pocket without making you feel as if you’re wearing MC Hammer pants.
Your ability to start a fire in a survival situation is going to be one of the key indicators of whether you can get by out in the wild. This fire-starter kit will help you do just that. It’s light, it’s convenient, and it includes multiple layers of built-in security.
And in a survival situation, that’s exactly what you’re looking for.
Aden Tate is a full-time writer and part-time farmer. When he’s not tending to animals, he can be found wandering the woods or reading about George Washington. He’s the author of The Faithful Prepper: A Christian’s Perspective on Prepping.