Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Simple Survival Fire Kit.


My recent article on the simplicity of the Soviet soldier’s kit made me think about some of the items that are not included in the equipment list. Specifically I thought about fire kits. An idle moment on the internet turned up commercial fire kits with nearly a dozen different types of tinder. They also came with a big price tag!

We all know fire is important for survival, but what do you actually need in your fire kit?

One of the most useful items you can carry are disposable lighters. Zippo lighters are touted as “the professional’s choice” but in my experience they seem to need frequent refilling. For the same price you can have dozens of disposable lighters that keep their fuel until it is used. Take a look around your local pound store and you’ll see them being sold in multiple packs. Invest in a few of these. Place at least one lighter in each emergency kit that you have. Put one in each outdoor coat that you own. Throw a couple in the glove compartment of your car. A disposable lighter will give your many more ignitions than the equivalent weight of matches.

The only real objection to disposable lighters is that there can be a fairly broad quality margin. Some disposable lighters seem to last for ages, others do not. Allow for this by having a pair in your main fire kit. A butane lighter that has run out of fuel can still provide a useful spark, and can be operated one handed unlike a traditional flint and steel. I have come across claims that butane gas lighters will leak in low pressure environments. This may or may not be an actual problem if you are a mountaineer. For the rest of us lighters are a very practical source of fire.

The second thing your fire kit should contain is tinder and something to carry tinder in. Ideally your tinder container should be waterproof. A 35mm film container is close to ideal. Ideally the lid should be attached to the container body so it cannot be lost. A strip of cord or plastic and some superglue solves this. While film containers are not as common (or cheap) as they once were they can still be found from on-line sources. They are sometimes marketed as “geocache” containers. While researching this I was stunned by a site asking £123 for 15 35mm containers!

Alternate Containers: One reader of this blog informs me he can scrounge pill bottles from local pharmacies. Another suggests that the little tins that the glucose test strips for diabetics come in can be used. I have access to 50ml screw-capped centrifuge tubes but to my mind these are a little too big. At least one brand of storm matches comes with a container that might be suitable. Buying the container alone is nearly twice the cost of buying it filled with storm matches! Not sure if the cheaper examples have a screw-thread cap. however.


Pack your container with cotton wool. Melt some Vaseline in an old spoon over a gentle heat. You will probably find Vaseline in the same store you brought the cotton wool from. Pour the Vaseline on the cotton wool. Pack that down, put fresh cotton wool on top and melt more Vaseline. Keep repeating until your container is full of Vaseline-impregnated cotton wool.  Cotton wool is an excellent tinder. The Vaseline helps repel water and extends the burning time. You will only need a little, which can be teased out before ignition. As you use up the cotton wool you replace it in the container with “found tinder”.

“Found tinder” is anything that you find in the field that can be uses as tinder. It includes thistle or dandelion down, clothing fibres, scrap paper, woodworm dust, sawdust, shredded spent matchsticks, bird down, belly button fluff and many other materials. Some  outdoorsmen prefer to have a second container for found tinder. You want to keep your found tinder dry. Dry it near a campfire or in the sunlight when opportunity presents itself.

Candles are a useful addition to a fire kit. A small bundle of birthday cake candles is nicely compact. Whenever you strike a match use it to light a candle. If your fire won’t light with the first attempt with a lighter use the lighter to light a candle and use this for a sustained source of ignition. Candles therefore conserve your supplies of matches or lighter fuel.

The final item I would include in the fire kit is a magnifying lens. This can be used for fire-starting on sunny days. “The only fire-starter on Earth that isn’t!” Your compass probably has a magnifying lens on its baseplate but it is worth including an additional one in the fire kit. I recently picked up five Fresnel lenses for £1.99, less than the price some companies charge for one, so shop around. I confess I have not started any fires with these yet since as soon as they arrived the sun disappeared!

The above is a fairly basic but capable firekit:-
  • A pair of lighters.
  • One or two tinder containers.
  • Vaseline soaked cotton wool.
  • Bundle of birthday candles.
  • Fresnel lens.
Store in a waterproof plastic bag.

Some of you will note that this kit does not contain some of the more traditional survival fire-starting items. There are no matches or storm matches because I believe the lighters are more space efficient. If you have matches, by all means use them! There is not flint and steel because the lighters can do the same job and are more effective. If you already have one, carry it. I have a waterproof match container that came with a flint glued to the side. Unfortunately it is a little too narrow to make a good tinder carrier. If you do not have a flint and steel invest in some lighters and the other items first. Shop around for a flint and steel if you want one. Prices vary considerably and some will cost you the same as a score of lighters!

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