The ability to start a fire is extremely important in any survival situation. Fire is necessary for heat, water purification, cooking meat, and making signal fires. Any “bug out bag” or survival pack should have multiple fire starting tools. The best tools are ones that are simple and easy to use under less than ideal, and often stressful, situations. Over the years, after much real world experience living in remote areas, I’ve settled on a few fire starting tools that I always keep in my pack. Here they are…
Strike Anywhere Matches
Matches are pretty hard to beat for starting fires quickly. Most of us first learned to start a fire using matches. Familiarity is a great thing. I keep strike anywhere matches in a waterproof plastic match holder with a rubber o ring on the cap.
This might be even more fool proof than matches. Lighters are easy to use and as long as you hold the gas release trigger with your thumb, the butane lighter produces a steady flame. Disposable lighters are inexpensive and I like to have a couple stashed away in my gear. I keep one in my coat pocket, one in my pack, one in my shirt pocket, and any other place that sounds handy. Its hard to beat a cheap Bic lighter for consistent flame.
Matches burn up and lighters run out of gas eventually. For this reason I like to keep a ferro rod in my kit. These tools produce a very nice shower of very hot sparks. While matches or a lighter are my first choice, this tool comes in third. I really like the small Scharade model. It fits in the smallest of pockets and works quite well. Just scrape the striker steel down the rod and watch the sparks fall!
I’ve carried one of these things since I took my first trip into the Alaskan backcountry over 17 years ago. Not the easiest way to start a fire and it takes some practice to use. I mostly use it, not as a sole fire producer, but as an aid. If I’m dealing with damp tinder and have few matches, I’ll scrape off a little pile of magnesium shavings to help things along. There are a lot of potential shavings in one of these blocks.
I’m a guy that likes to have a few back up options in my toolbox. A fire piston is a fascinating yet simple tool that will produce a glowing ember using nothing more than some char cloth and air pressure. This tool requires a lot of practice and should only be used as a last resort emergency in my opinion. It is not something you want to use to quickly start a fire after pulling yourself out of a frozen lake! I have a Trayer Wilderness Multi-Flame fire piston that can be attached to my rifle sling. This way, if I lose my pack and still have my rifle, at least I have some way to build a fire. The Multi-Flame tool is not only a fire piston but also a bit driver, pistol cleaning rod, and hand auger. You can read more about it HERE
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