Firecraft: 6 Survival Fire Starters

Life without fire is largely very hard, so procuring fire naturally becomes a number one survival priority in most situations.

Fire not only allows you to sterilize water, cook food, keep warm, and drives bugs away, but it also lets you wash your clothes in hot water, dry your clothes, and it tends to keep predators at bay. To this end, when it comes to preparing for the worst there is really no such thing as too many ways to start a fire.

Whether you’re packing a bug out bag or just stashing things away for the future like a good pyromaniac, fire-starting methods are one area where the old saying ‘variety is the spice of life’ really holds true.

Your options include lighters, matches, waterproof matches, flint and steel, firesteel / magnesium and even rubbing two sticks together. Note that, in the event you find yourself with sticks and nothing more, softer wood is generally easier to ignite.

When it comes to old-school flint and steel vs. the modern ferrorods, also known as firesteel, there isn’t much competition. Starting a fire with flint is a great skill to have, but it is harder and takes a degree of finesse, whereas ferrorods are quicker, easier to use and produce more sparks. The sparks produced by ferrorods are also hotter than those produced by traditional flint.

Lighters also come in several varieties. It’s good to keep a few standard, Bic-style lighters in your survival gear, but there are torch-style lighters available as well. The torch-style lighters tend to cost more, but usually they are refillable, and many are rated as wind proof or storm proof. Starting a fire in stormy, windy conditions is enough to drive anyone crazy, so investing a bit in a quality torch-lighter can be well worth it.

Having a good fire-starter is really only half the battle, though. To build a reliable fire, you have to have a fire-starter, some form of kindling and suitable wood. Since good kindling isn’t always available, you can save yourself a lot of headaches and effort by packing your own.

Here are some great tinder materials you can pack to help get kindling going:

  • Char cloth, also known as char paper, is a very popular tinder material used by preppers for decades upon decades. Made from vegetable fiber, generally linen or cotton, char cloth has been treated to become a very slow-burning fuel source with an extremely low ignition temperature. Char cloth only takes a spark to ignite it, and once lit can be used to light your other kindling and get your fire going.
  • Cotton balls are a common tinder item packed by preppers due to their light weight, compact size, and flammability. You can toss a handful of cotton balls into a double-sealed Ziploc bag; for added flammability you can soak cotton balls in petroleum jelly.
  • Solid fuel tablets are another popular tinder method; solid fuel tablets are compact, light-weight and dense enough that you can usually use one with a mini-stove to boil a cup of water; they burn hot, generally for 10 – 15 minutes.
  • Dryer lint; for those of the economic mindset, here’s a great use for what you otherwise treat as trash. Just wad your dryer lint up in a ball and toss it in a double Ziploc, but be warned because dryer lint usually burns rather fast.
  • Toothpicks, sold cheaply by the box in grocery stores everywhere, can serve as decent tinder to help get your kindling going; drop a few boxes into a waterproof bag.
  • Steel wool, especially the finer steel wool, can serve as a rather suitable tinder material but you’ll need a 9 volt battery to ignite it. To ignite steel wool with a 9 volt battery, sampling drag the battery over the surface of the steel wool, it will immediately spark and catch fire, allowing you to add your kindling and start your fire.

Once you have your fire-starter and your tinder or kindling prepared, you can build your fire. If you’re gathering materials from nature, be on the lookout for birch bark, sage and other herbs such as thyme and lemonbalm. Birch burns exceptionally well, especially when already dry, and herbs like sage and rosemary burn well and produce pungent smoke that deters bugs.

Avoid gathering material that is still soft; sticks should be brittle and easily broken, meaning they are dry and dead. Fresh growth and branches with green leaves still on them aren’t nearly as suitable for building your fire because there is a lot more moisture in the wood and leaves.

Once you’ve built your fire, elements of civilization will begin to return and you can resume feeling like something of a human being again.


This article has been written by Gaia Rady for Survivopedia.


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  • Good – now how to keep the fire going and perhaps pack a coal or two to make the next fire easier to get going.
    The Older Boy Scout Handbooks have a lot of good survival information (I don’t have first hand knowledge of the newer editions)

    • Just as important is to make your fire smokeless. You do not want tot attract attention and unwelcome company in a SHTF situation! THAT could cost you and your family their lives!

  • How about an article on a survival medicine chest with suggestions for what to do for prescriptions when the corner drugstore has shutdown

    • I watched a local presentation on what to do for prescription in a disaster. If it’s like a hurricane or something short term, talk with your insurance, doc and pharmacy so you have a 30 day supply. Along with that, get scripts so you can keep them in a secure carry bag. If/when ‘normal’ returns, you’ll have those scripts and/or if you run out beforehand, Red Cross or FEMA ‘might’ be able to refill, if not in full, in part.
      If it’s total collapse, you might begin to look into herbal medicines which grow locally. This will be the toughest time, especially for those with chronic conditions. We’re currently ‘socked’ in with round 3 of winter storms along with freezing rain, though this too will pass, I’m using this as a drill for what could happen.

  • a lighter out of fuel can still spark and ignite fibers from shoe string fibers to tee shirt fibers or any suitable tinder; welders torch igniters are a more robust sparker and have a little cup in which the steel and flint make the spark…these are cheap at any hardware store; the tinder could be placed in a rocket stove ..a very efficient cooker and heat producer ; rocket stoves are a very well documented thing on is mine

  • An article on soap-making starting simple using lye (sodium hydroxide),(or potassium hydroxide) and then if lye is not available how to make your own caustic to saponify the fats – how to render fat for soap.

  • I agree with BRUCE J. CAMERON on an article on a survival medicine. A lot of people have asthma due to city life.

  • Reply to Owen: Storing lye is very difficult and dangerous. Have read if you wish to store for soapmaking, store SOAP. It takes same amount of room and is safe. Also, store pieces of used soap in baggie…can make new soap with that.
    After all is used up, lye can be made by dripping water through wood ashes in a bucket with small holes punched in bottom.

    • How do you make new soap out of used soap?

      • Hi Ellen – Gather all your used soap. Put in a ziplock baggie. Add a *little* water so it turns kind of gooey. Squish together so it blends. Form it into whatever shape you want – a ball or a rectangle usually works. Open the ziplock bag and let it dry out a little, If you are in a hurry or added too much water, you can pour it into any kind of cloth and let the water drain out. But then you use some of the soap.

  • I think an article on how to purify water is a great one to read more on. It should be first on anyone’s list. We can’t live without it. There are several good water filtration systems on the market. Some are very expensive. This is a drawback when you’re on a very tight budget. The best one I found was a ceragrav. I got it from Jim mccanney on his website. It was $190 and came with 5 daulton ceramic candles. For those of you who know daulton has been making water filters since the 1700’s. I’ve been using the same one for 6 years and it still works fine. Another important article to me would be preparing your children for the time if you had to bug out. In the world we live in today most kids and teenagers have no clue how to be self sufficient. There are too many “gadgets” that keep their attention while indoors and they know nothing about the outside world. This also depends on the parents and their leadership to lead and teach their kids. Parents, this falls on you! A family that prepares together and works as one can accomplish anything in any event. It takes practice and dedication. 30 min out of your day to spend with your family and going over your plan is an investment in their safety as well as yours. We are not always together so if there is ever a crisis of any kind a family needs to have a “go to” place and keep close by your bug out bag. This way you’re not caught off guard. It doesn’t have to be hard core everyday drills. Once a week while eating breakfast or supper go over your plan. The less others around you know your business the better off you are. My opinion. Most folks aren’t prepared for any kind of disaster or crisis and this makes you a target in my opinion. It’s happened all over the world many times and will again. It is our human side that wants to help everyone in need. But then again if people weren’t so self absorbed in the world they could prepare just as you have. We all have the same opportunity to prepare for disasters or a crisis. It’s the ones that love their family and spend the time to teach them how to be prepared that do so. The safety and well being of your children should be first and foremost in your plan. I urge all you fathers out there to spend a little time away from the t.v. and other needless things to put a plan together for your family. After all this falls on your shoulders as you are and should be the example and leader of your family. I know single mothers with children that have great plans aside for them and their kids and who are prepared for any kind of event. I learned so much from a single mom and her plan and it gave me great respect and more drive to prepare my own. Great articles. Great info. May the father bless and keep you all safe.

    • Adino75 well said! I have to tell you too that sitting down discussing survival plans and techniques with your kids helps more than just them be prepared. My boys have come up with some wonderful, doable ideas for survival. These young minds have not been stressed out and beaten down and told for decades…ahh you can’t do that! So listen to them as much as you tell them. They just might be onto something. Great post my friend!

  • Way to fire folks…Some excellent suggestions. Keep them coming.
    And don’t forget the bark of the Juniper -Cedar tree dead or alive, easily shredded for you folks who live in the regions where they grow.

  • Pine pitch-wood is the best fire starter I have found in my 60+ years of outdoor experience. It will burn even if wet. If you live in a pine forest area (or can drive to one), look for old stumps or downed logs. Look for yellow or amber streaks in the wood — that’s dried pine pitch which is very flammable. The roots of an uprooted old log are full of pitch. With a bow saw, cut chunks of the yellow wood about 8 to 10 inches long. Then with a sharp knife or hatchet, split the wood lengthwise into pieces of matchstick to pencil diameter. Arrange a dozen or so sticks in a teepee shape. The sticks can then be lit with matches or a lighter (a large BBQ grille lighter works best). The pitch-wood sticks will burn fast and hot so be sure to have larger pieces of pitch-wood or any dry ordinary wood, lumber scraps, etc. to add to your fire as soon as it is burning well. Dead pine-needles and/or pinecones will burn well. Pine KNOTS (former branches) from a dead, decaying log make an excellent fire (smoky but plenty of flame). Knock the pineknots loose from the old log with a sledgehammer or a big rock. Add hardwood once the fire is going to reduce smoke and produce a hotter fire. Be sure to have plenty of wood on hand before starting your fire so it does not burn out while you are looking for more wood to add to the fire. Then sit back next to your fire and sip a hot toddy to warm your innards! (Pour boiling or very hot water into a mug and add several shots of whiskey — Ahhhh the world will soon look rosier!

    • And don’t forget reaching for that interior tinder inside small evergreen trees. It may not be wet and sure is great for getting that fire going enough to add those branches and logs.

  • Regarding using Steel Wool as a fire starter with 9v battery. Remember it must be kept dry. If the steel wool gets wet, it will rust. Once it has rusted, it will not light or work as a fire starter. Also, you should use “0000” steel wool for best results.

    • You don’t need a battery to use steel wool, it will light with a match and other hot items.

  • Save your toilet paper empty tubes. Stuff your dryer lint inside them. Gives you nice fire starters for your campfire. Keep in ziplock bag in your BOB. Cheap, easy to make, and cuts down on adding to landfills.

    • Thats an awesome idea, I throw away tons of both products. I will def save them now

  • I would hope to see in the near future more about survival medicine. I have prior medical training as a volunteer fire fighter; first responder and completed the course for EMT but changed career paths. If anyone could provide more info on medications to store for periods beyond an ambulance ride that could be purchased at feed/tack stores along with any pertinent info on shelf life and long term repercussions. I know that some antibiotics become toxic after a year but not familiar on the long term storage of other OTC meds and other types of pain killers and such.

    • I have been a nurse for over 20 yrs. Most meds are good long past exp date. Keep them in cool, dry place and darkness is better. { place bottles in brown paper bags} If you are comfortable with injections, go to any farm, ranch supply store and buy antibiotics, tetanus vaccine. You can also buy syringes and needles for intramuscular injections. You can buy antibiotics online from Canada and Mexico. I would recommend a variety. One like Z-pac, Augmentin and Cipro for respiratory inf. and one for intestinal inf. { Legitimate site have outlines of uses} I use different peppers, honey and oils as well, the pharmaceuticals are great to have in back up, but I believe the fewer times you use them, the better.

      • I do agree with having a working knowledge of what to use when there is no medical help available. I would be very interested in learning more. I have taken all the classes Red Cross offers. But the drugs that may be needed I have not a clue. Our home only has aspirin. Which I have learned you can get from the inside of certain tree bark. I enjoy the comments everyone makes. I feel mankind will survive with the help of each other 🙂

  • I have rarely had difficulty lighting the tinder. My problem has always been converting that into a useable fire.
    How about an article about what woods to look for, how big to cut the logs, how to stack them to burn best.
    Also, I know there are different ways to make fires depending on the purpose. Cooking versus warmth. At least I think I know that. Maybe some reliable information on the topic would be helpful.

  • Do not leave out ordinairy human hair, as tender for starting a fire! It contains oil, and is easy to start a fire with.

  • All these responses are great but basically relay various tinders. How many different ways can you get the spark to place in the tinder? Others that I have had success with that have not been touched upon are.
    Bow and drill (otherwise known as the fire bow)
    Hand drill
    Flint and steel
    Water filled balloon (or condom)
    Soda can and chocolet (works good in arid clime)
    Fire plow
    Fire rope
    I have used these methods with varying success but all produced a coal and all started fires in the aforementioned tinders.

  • I’ve been trying to develop a group of like minded people in the Lubbock Texas area for sharing ideas, recipes and independent living ideas. My husband and I are fairly new to prepping and would love to meet friends for SHTF preparation.

  • I tend not to drop many comments, but i did a few searching and wound up here Firecraft: 6 Survival Fire Starters | SurvivoPedia.
    And I actually do have a few questions for you if it’s allright. And, if you are writing on other places, I’d like to follow anything fresh you have to post.

    Could you list of all of your communal pages like your
    Facebook page, twitter feed, or linkedin profile?

  • A good tinder is the inner bark from a cottonwood tree. Find them along any creek/river in most states. Also, the tuft of cattails can be used to make flour.

  • Dryer lint is an excellent combustable – lightweight and easily ignighted by the sparks from a ‘dead’ lighter UNLESS – this is crucial- unless a fabric softener or anti-static dryer sheets were used. If the dryer lint smells fresh it’s useless. Dry a few loads without any added stuff in the dryer if you want to harvest your lint and test a little git from each batch before storing it blindly believing it will help you in the future. It also works best when it’s fluffed up.

    • THANK YOU! I was about to go collect my lint when I saw your comment. You saved me a lot of frustration.

  • A variation of the dryer lint one I’ve found to be great involves another “throw away” product. Almost everyone these days uses dryer sheets to when they dry clothes. These generally get tossed in the trash. When you take your clothes out of the dryer put them in a zip lock and save. When you’ve time take one, put somedryer lint in it, tie with tread and your set. The sheets burn much longer than just the lint.

  • Don’t forget Potassium Permanganate and Glycerin as a fire starter.