Build the Ultimate Fire Starting Kit

January 15, 2014 by | 30 Comments

Starting a fire can often mean the difference between life and death; it’s critical in treating hypothermia, purifying water, and signaling for rescue, among other things. But even under the best conditions, turning a spark or ember into a crackling fire can be a challenge.

I’ve started fires in every environment using every technique you can imagine—from a primitive bow drill to a lighter and way more gasoline than was wise. If nothing else, this has taught me that it will be the most difficult to start one when you need it the most. How easily do you think you’ll be able to start a fire in the wind when you’re cold, wet, and shivering, with numb fingers? If you haven’t tried, you don’t know, which is why you need to train under a variety of circumstances.

There’s no need to make starting a fire any tougher than it already is. Can I start one with primitive techniques? Sure, but why the Hell would I want to? I regularly do it in my training, but I don’t have anything to prove in a survival situation, which is why I carry a fire starting kit with several tools to turn a small pile of tinder into a roaring blaze guaranteed to warm my extremities.

1.) You won’t find an easier way to start a fire than with a disposable lighter, and you can pick up a three-pack for less than a dollar.

Lighter

2.) Matches are a tried and true fire starting tool, but the matches from your last night of bar hopping won’t cut it—you need something that handles the elements better; these wind and waterproof matches are perfect for the job.

Matches

3. Magnesium bars are small, lightweight, and inexpensive, and with a knife or other piece of metal, you can quickly create a pile of magnesium shavings that will quickly ignite with a spark from the embedded ferrocerium rod.

Magnesium bar

4.) You might not think of a knife as a fire starting tool, but it is; it allows you to shave wood into tinder, make a bow drill, or utilize a magnesium bar. I always carry a knife suitable for my activities, but I also pack one of these Boker Magnum micro knives in each fire starting kit.

Boker Magnum

5.) Tinder is a vital component to any fire, and while you can usually find plenty in most environments, I’m not taking any chances. I stumbled across this packaged tinder from SOL at a sporting goods store and instantly fell in love. It will ignite even when wet in windy conditions and each piece will burn for about two minutes.

SOL Tinder-Quick

6.) If I’m stuck in a shitty situation for a really long time, my lighter may run out of fluid or I may use up all of my matches, but primitive methods will last indefinitely, so I include a 3-4 foot piece of paracord to build a bow drill.

Paracord

7.) Now I need somewhere to put everything and a 2″ x 5″ piece of PVC pipe works perfectly. Add two end caps, one cemented in with PVC cement, and you’ve got a weather resistant package that fits easily in your glove box or bug out bag.

PVC

Pack everything neatly inside and you still have about 1″ for additional tinder or other tools. (I recommend tinder.)

Fire starting kit

And here is the whole package…

PVC

So what do you pack in your fire starting kit? Let me know in the comments below…

Melanie Swick (a.k.a. Survival Chick) grew up wanting to be a rocket scientist, but when she realized she that required way too much math, she took to her second dream—spending time in the wilderness. Today, when she's not hiking, camping, or hunting, she's blogging about it. You can connect with Melanie on Facebook.

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30 Comments

  • Dave J. says:

    What do you think about a fire piston?

  • ClockworkDragonfly says:

    I like to keep a Zippo lighter in my fire starting kit as well as the above.

    While it’s true the fluid does evaporate out of them a bit too quickly for any long term storage, I like having them around for two reasons. First, they tend to throw a larger, more aggressive spark than most disposable lighters making them useful for getting a spark even when empty. Secondly, they will burn on almost any volatile fluid. I personally have used denatured alcohol, “moonshine”, diesel fuel, and the fuel they use in racing jet-boats all with acceptable results. A friend who is an airline mechanic claims to regularly use commercial jet-fuel in his, he says he picked that up when he was a mechanic in the Air Force, and there are anecdotes in place about several other flammable fluids as well.

    • Jeremy Knauff says:

      Great advice! I used to carry a Zippo when I smoked in my younger days. Your point about the larger spark is dead on! I’m curious, have you ever tried using one with any less-volatile fuels like vegetable or motor oil?

      • ClockworkDragonfly says:

        I’ve used some of the less volatile fuels in other applications (such as waste oil burners for metal casting) and find that they need preheating to become flammable enough to get any significant result. Because of that, I can’t imagine they’d be suitable for application as a replacement Zippo fuel source. That said, it might be possible to combine them with a more volatile fuel source to extend it. Perhaps next time someone just “gives” me an old Zippo to repair/refurbish for myself I’ll test some ideas out for “homebrew” Zippo fuels.

        • Jeremy Knauff says:

          Yeah, I’ve used them too in improvised lanterns, torches, etc. Let me know when you try them in a Zippo, I’d be curious to see how/if they work.

    • Wil Stewart says:

      if the zippo is to be carried for emergency and not used on a daily basis you can fill until the cotton is soaked then close the lighter and wrap electrical tape around the whole seam between the top and body to seal in the vapor.

  • Ridgerunner says:

    Steel wool and a battery from your flashlight works well, also.

  • Xenolith says:

    Nice kit. Too bad when you need it the most, say, falling out of a canoe and soaking wet, ALL your fire making tools are gone. Carry a bic in your pocket. A flint around your neck on a cord, a flint on your keychain, you should already have a knife on your keychain, belt, and pocket, and have cotton balls soaked in petroleum jelly in small containers on keychain, pocket, and even on neck cord if you can find a small one….(Harbor Freight!)

    When it comes to needing a fire, you can have every way under the sun, INCLUDING the sun, to start a fire, but if you lose your “Kit”, yer screwed.

    Come sit by MY fire, I won’t lose my makin’s….

    • Jeremy Knauff says:

      That’s a cute story, Xenolith, but if you can’t figure out how to find your pack after you tip your canoe, you need to put the Xbox away and spend some more time outdoors.

    • Sarah says:

      Xeno, you sound like a narcissistic douche.

    • ClockworkDragonfly says:

      You could have gone the mature route and simply said you prefer to keep your personal “kit” decentralized by spacing the pieces out, for fear (and that’s what it ultimately boils down to, fear of your own inability to keep track of your gear and your own inadequacies as an outdoorsman/prepper/survivalist/etc) of losing your gear. Instead you chose to childishly insult the author, devaluing your point and making you look like an asshole. Way to go. Very impressive.

      • RockG says:

        “if you can’t figure out how to find your pack after you tip your canoe, you need to put the Xbox away and spend some more time outdoors”

        “that’s what it ultimately boils down to, fear of your own inability to keep track of your gear and your own inadequacies as an outdoorsman/prepper/survivalist”

        I find these comments unnecessary, and borderline arrogant. When disaster strikes, anyone can fall prey. Skill is a wonderful and necessary thing to have, but it never guarantees anything. Any number of accidents or mishaps can cause gear to go missing. I think a compact, waterproof kit (that, I assume, would float if dropped and not weighted down) is a great idea, but decentralization is an easy step without much in the way of drawbacks (except maybe for lack of water/weatherproofing). If anything, I find it has a distinct advantage in that it doesn’t require one to have a dedicated pack to be available (meaning if you don’t have your pack on you every second of every day, you still have some options).

        Survival is about improving the odds, and never about certainty. With that being said, I think everyone needs to stop the “my idea is better than yours” posturing and try to see how each other’s ideas can improve their own odds.

        • Jenny says:

          No, RockG, it is Xenolith who is arrogant with his holier than though, condescending attitude, trying to make himself sound smart by putting others down.

          Nowhere in Jeremy’s article does it say that these are the only fire starting tools you need and not to carry anything else anywhere. If Xenolith was less of a prick, maybe the responses to his comment would have been nicer.

  • Mike says:

    Great article but I have a 2 objections/suggestions based on my own experiences.

    1) If you are going to buy a disposable lighter, buy a BIC and only a BIC. Lighters like the one shown, which are usually 3 for $1.00 have a tendency to leak all of the fluid out of them over time as well as have the wheel to the flint seize rendering them completely useless. They are also fairly fragile and crack easily. make no exceptions to the BIC lighter. It will cost less than $2.00 but I guarantee it WILL work. Preferably in bright orange or bright blue to make it easily found if dropped. I found this out the hard way when I dropped a white BIC in the snow. I found it in spring and it still worked just fine!

    2) If you are buying a magnesium fire starter, buy ONLY the original DOAN Tool and Machinery brand. I have carried (never got to use) the other brands that start with a “C” and the ferocium rod fell out of all of them! My fire starter was instantly turned in to a useless fishing weight. Bad thing to have when you need fire. I would also replace the chain with a strong key ring and, if you are like me, it will be on your key chain. I have had a Doan Tool on my keys for 15+ years. Rod is still in place and it is well used. Another thing to know about Doan tools is that you can use them with even a rock. You don’t absolutely need a knife or a piece of metal. These are helpful but a rock works too.

    Cheers.

    • Jeremy Knauff says:

      Thanks for the feedback, Mike! I’ve heard about the ferro rod falling off from a few people over the years, but I’ve never had it happen to me. Better safe than sorry though!

  • tax2death says:

    how about a small magnifying glass like we used as kids to fry ants.

    • Jeremy Knauff says:

      Yep, a magnifying glass works great most of the time and takes up little space. The only downside is that it won’t work when there isn’t a lot of sun out. 😉

  • Gurn Blanston says:

    Please show a (final) picture with the end caps on. Thanks.

    • Jeremy Knauff says:

      The final picture has the end caps on—they are the small ones that insert into the end, rather than over the top. I chose that type ather than the ones that slip over the top because they make the complete kit smaller and lighter. 🙂

  • Little Fire says:

    Think outside the box to what the author was pointing to.

    Start fires easier if you can.

    http://www.amazon.com/Five-Flags-Windproof-Torch-Lighter/dp/B004621FRU/ref=sr_1_16?ie=UTF8&qid=1390801444&sr=8-16&keywords=butane+lighter

    Regular refillable lighters if quality.

    Looking at these…

    http://www.amazon.com/dp/B008FDBGWA/ref=wl_it_dp_o_pC_nS_ttl?_encoding=UTF8&colid=3TYG0WH7KQ2A9&coliid=I20GF3TZNTWOVE

    Butane Fuel – Get it if you go the butane route.

    Matter of choice or mix and match zippo, etc.

  • Nolan says:

    Another thing that works good is stuffing an empty toilet paper role with your dryer lint. It makes a great fire starter, just have to put it in a ziplock bag or something to keep it dry.

  • Keith Jones says:

    It might not sound very manly but, tampons are great to have in your fire starting kit as well. Being sealed for hygiene also makes them waterproof

  • Steve says:

    Get some Duraflame fire starters and cut them into small pieces, they burn even if you get them wet. A road flare works great too.

  • Doc Hewett says:

    Here’s my 2¢ YMMV
    First off great article Jeremy, for a Jarhead you sure do write good.
    Now as far as kit, I stash mini Bic lighters all over the place in my kit. I, like Jerem, have made fire all kinds of ways in all kinds of places and the main thing I learned is making a fire without a lighter sucks ass, therefore I hope to never be in a position to have to do it that way again.
    On the other hand having knowledge of all the other ways to do it is a great idea, but even better if you have practical experience doing it. Reading this article is a good start but get out there in the woods in the daytime when it’s dry and learn to find tinder, kindling, feeder, and firewood and start a fire. Then when you can do that, do it in the dark, then while raining, then in the dark while rainin. … Etc.
    As far as alternative ways, why carry a battery and steel wool, or other methods requiring a battery when a lighter is smaller and more reliable? Why carry a bow drill setup when the point is to be able to make that setup in the woods? We live in modern times and have the advantage of some really good, light, and cheap methods of making fire, take advantage of those,and be prepared to improvise with other methods on the fly.
    I carry a few lighters, a ferro rod, and tinder (char cloth) and the knowledge of all the others and the experience of having done it.
    Again JMHO and YMMV
    Doc

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