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Reader Poll: What’s in Your Fire Making Kit?

Campfire on a Cool Autumn Night
Campfire on a Cool Autumn Night

I always carry a small fire-making kit when I go hiking. It contains a Light My Fire firesteel that can generate sparks and a small sandwich bag with vaseline smeared cotton balls as tinder that light easily and will burn for a few minutes, long enough to get the small sticks in my fire to stay lit. I like using the firesteel because it’s so much more reliable than matches (which trap humidity and fail) or even a butane lighter, which will run out of gas eventually or jam.

Whichever fire starter and tinder combination you choose, it’s important that you test them periodically to make sure they’re still in working condition and they’re compatible with each other. Don’t assume that every fire starter will work with any tinder , unless you test and verify that they’re compatible in advance.

For example, many people will tell you that dryer lint is a good tinder to carry when hiking, but that’s only true if the lint is from cotton clothing. Lint from wool or polyester clothing is much more difficult to light with a fire steel (try it), which is why I recommend people use cotton balls or cotton balls smeared with petroleum jelly, instead.

What type of fire starter and tinder do you keep in your fire making kit?

Please leave a comment below.

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67 comments

  1. A 20ml bottle of denatured alcohol and some cotton balls or some pine shavings does the trick. Same principal as yours really. I am not a big fan of open fires when hiking but on occasions its fun.

  2. Usually I just carry a lighter and/or matches in a waterproof box. The low branches of spruce are almost always dry and they work pretty well as tinder. Sometimes I carry a few tinderblocks made from sawdust and paraffin wax. They get the fire started fast and weight next to nothing.

  3. I carry an emergency survival bag instead of than fire starters. I live in Britain, you can’t assume that there will be trees when you have a problem.

  4. Hand sanitizer doubles as an excellent fire starter – slow hot burn and you’re probably carrying 2 ounces of it already. It will also work in open top style alcohol stoves as backup fuel. People may scoff at it as cheating but those same people bring some kind of tinder, which is cheating too but with something that only has one use.

    • The nice thing about Vaseline coated cotton balls are that they are multi use. Good for treating monkey butt or rubbing into you feet, but you make a good point about other tinder types.

  5. Hello from the UK

    I live in the Peak District area of the Pennines. This is where God first tested ‘rain’ and by all accounts the test is still ongoing !

    Thus all my walking and camping kit is regularly and thoroughly tested, and this includes my firelighting kit. Having tried most forms of firelighting for my little mKettle (a cup of tea on the hills ….. true Englishman here !) I’ve found what works and what doesn’t.

    I too use a firesteel buton ladies face cleaning pads soaked in melted wax.

    They make little wafers about 2 inches diameter and about 1/8″ to 3/16″ thick. 100% waterproof and they float too

    Folded in half a few times then ‘torn’ into the middle, the tiny strands of cotton wool light quickly and one disk will burn for about 8 or 9 mins — certainly long enough to establish collected tinder into a small fire above it.

    I use cheap supermarket (for my American friends, that like Walmart or similar) church candle type candles and chop them up, take out the wick and melt slowly not in my wifes favourite pan :)

    Dip / dunk cotton wool pads until fully soaked then lay onto greaseproof paper to set. A few days in the fridge doesn’t harm either as the action of the fridge also dries them out

    Try it and let me know how you get on

  6. WetFire and a small flint & steel to backup my baby Bic and natural debris.

  7. My tried and tested fire starter is inner tube cut into small strips..always burn even when wet..a little sooty at first but never fail to get a fire going..

  8. It’s very rare that I’ll actually start a fire. Actually, in the 4 plus years I’ve been section hiking, I’ve never started a fire, but I can’t say I haven’t enjoyed one when others have started it.

    I do think it’s important to be able to in a pinch. This year I’ve carried Coleman waterproof “Strike anywhere” matches and very flammable esbit cubes for my stove.

    Winter trips include a bigger / better stove able to melt snow, so I may try your cotton balls.

  9. beeswax imbibed cotton balls will burn for nearly 10 mins and arent greasy to the touch or to carry in your pocket. When fluffed out will take a spark to light. Excellent for pit fires or woodstoves

    • How do you “imbibe” the beeswax? Where do you get the beeswax?

      • Beeswax toilet seals can be bought for about $2 at most hardware stores.. You’ll have a lifetime supply of wax. The stuff is very tacky. To melt it, put a Mason jar in a saucepan with water and heat until the wax melts. If you want the wax harder, you can get violin rosin (it’s about $2, too), wrap it in a rag, smash it with a hammer, and aim for a 50-50 mixture of wax and rosin. I do this on an electric stove; I’m not sure it’s safe to use a gas stove. This recipe is actually for another purpose: if you add a few drops of castor oil to the mix, you have a high-quality fly tying.wax.

  10. Regarding fire starting tools: I read somewhere that “If you have one you have none.” So…my main tool is a magnesium and steel striker but it is backed up by the little lighter on which my duct tape is rolled and several books of matches randomly placed around my pack. For tender I used only paper birch bark until I wandered down to Southern Virginia where such stuff does not grow. Now I also carry a few 1/2″ squares of that waxy sawdust.

  11. Everyday is a small red BIC lighter that gets changed out after each trip. Backup is an old plastic 35 mm film continener two strike anywhere matches, two wax inpregnated cotton plugs, and a fire steel. Along with the sew kit and water tablets and fish hook/line and $20 and (don’t laugh) TP from an old MRE.

  12. Depends on how adventurous I am feeling when I look at my Choices collected over the years sitting in the gear Cabinet. I always carry a minimum of three methods of starting a fire no matter what I carry as the main source of fire.

    I’ve acquired many different ways over the years. I still have an original and the original box that goes with it, a Fire Bow or Drill I bought from another Scout who was moving away from my Boy Scout days in the 60”s. The design of the Bow is rather interesting, nothing like I see made today. Also a Boy Scout Flint & Steel Set still in the Box.

    I have a good supply of Strike Anywhere Matches which I am told I can get as much as $20 a box for at Swap Meets. My Old brass Zippo lighter I used in the Military with the Globe and Anchor on it. A mini-Blow Torch type lighter and a selection of new ones including a Charcoal Grill starter only 4 inches in length, works very well on Canister and Liquid fuel stoves, especially if yours has a tendency to “Flare up” and singe the hair off your knuckles like the old SEVA’s. I occasionally use a Flint & Steel with char cloth which I keep in a hand made leather pouch I made to store it in from back in the 70’s. And the old paraffin or beeswax impregnated Lint ball and a pack of Tea Candles which can be used in the Tea Candle Lantern, as a fire starter or a little bit of heat in a tent..I set it in a metal pot when burning it in the tent.

    My latest acquisition is a Philipino “Fire Plunger” made for a solid piece of black walnut and it is a beauty. It was created or invented in the Phillipines which a co-worker made for me after we talked about hiking techniques at lunch one day. He said his family used these almost every day before he moved to the United States legally and became a citizen and then served for 20 years in the U.S.Navy

    In my Backpack right now, which is always ready to go at a moments notice, just add water, is a Medication Bottle with Waterproof Matches and a backup Match Strike strip. A military issue Gel pack, and In the packs waist band pockets you will find a miniature Cigarette Lighter and a 20 x Magnifying Glass with a 1.5 inch wide glass lens. In the top Pocket of the Bag is a Magnisum Fire Starter with it’s accompanying steel bar.

    • P.S. Whom ever made that fire in the picture at the top of the page should be spanked..Those leaves on the ground should be cleared away to about 10 feet from the fire place…IF those are River Rocks, since it appears to be taken at the edge of River or Stream you must be careful the rocks do not explode as the one in the center left top looks to have done, it is the brown one that appears to have been split in half.

    • Hate to break it to you but there’s a box of 500 strike-anywhere matches sitting on my desk right now. Diamond brand, available in any fine supermarket.

      • Hate to break it to you, but in many States, Strike anywhere Matches were Banned from the Store Shelves, same with Fireworks..But I live in a FREE State now and have no fears of them being banned..and you can be ticketed, arrested, fined and jailed in many States for having them in your possession..So becareful what State you go hiking in…..

      • Please don’t spread false information.

        The type strike-anywhere matches that are banned contain white phosphorus, a highly toxic substance. Matches containing white phosphorus were banned close to a century ago. Strike anywhere matches manufactured in the U.S. since about 1914 contain red phosphorus with phosphorus sesquisulfide and are legal everywhere in the U.S. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matches#Replacement_of_white_phosphorus

        Look at this amazon link: https://tinyurl.com/powvtfu

        There are no location restrictions on shipping. The fourth question down covers the method of shipping.

        Now look here: http://www.prlog.org/11783577-strike-anywhere-matches-remain-safe-and-legal-for-now.html

        This is from 2012. If you have a more recent source that contradicts, please share it. Or, you can contact the manufacturer directly to dispel your fears: http://www.diamondbrands.com/ContactUs.aspx

      • Spelt, When I was a Boy Scout (back when T-Rex roamed the earth), we used to dip the heads of these in paraffin. You could scrape off the wax & strike them . . . anywhere — even the heels of our shoes, or our jeans, as I remember. In Boy Scout camp we used to stick them in stumps and split/light them with hatchets & axes (needed good aim).

  13. I recently revisited Jack London’s “To Build a Fire.” What a chilling read! For me it’s a firesteel, miniBic for redundancy, birchbark, a couple of cotton balls. I would only start a fire in an emergency, and if it’s 50 below, I’m staying home.

  14. I always carry a lighter, some “waterproof” matches, and a little cotton to get things going if need be.

  15. A dug out fire pit is best…I have actually had rocks blow up and they stick to the skin! Once the fire is going good all it take is a little wind to increase the heat and the rocks pop..Once the fire is extinguished the soil can be replaced and the area looks natural again..I stopped having fires on camps due to conservation…they serve no real purpose for me any more..

  16. I enjoy making a campfire no larger than my cap, to get the cheer of a fire while leaving almost no trace and keeping it stompable, since I usually have a dry camp. It requires very frequent feeding, since the little sticks don’t last long, but it goes out quickly before bedtime.

    Here’s my overkill fire kit: Ignition: Mini-Bic in kitchen kit for convenience; Mini-Bic in pocket, so it’s always on me; sparking metal rod with no handle or magnesium bar, with 2.5″ hacksaw blade for scraping; and a book of paper matches in a pill baggie.
    Tinder: Alcohol fuel doubles as scout water; cotton dryer lint, dry for catching a spark; cotton dryer lint soaked in Vaseline for longer burn.

    • There is something wonderfully magical about a fire…sat out at night and cooking or just looking into the flames…i have taught my children the way to build and keep a fire..in the right place at the right time they are great..thats a good example Laurence..

  17. Vasaline Cotton bolls in straws, char cloth, Light my fire steel, Mini Bic lighter, and a few storm matches.

  18. I carry four wax impregnated cotton rounds, a mini bic, six uco storm proof matches, and a Photon Freedom Micro Light all in a small vacuum sealed bag. I carry this in one of the cargo pockets of my hiking pants.

  19. I have a 1oz squeeze bottle filled with a combination of cedar sawdust, petroluem jelly and mineral oil. It’s mixed thick enough with sawdust to be the consistency of jam. Squirts out nice, lights easily and will burn by itself for five minutes.

  20. A Light My Fire – although I have used it more often to light my propane pocket stove (which does not have a built-in piezo igniter) than to start a wood fire.

    BIC.

    Strike anywhere matches in a watertight container. I include a cutoff bit from an emery board in case I can’t find any appropriate “anywhere” anywhere (like during wet weather).

    If I am in birch country I will gather some birch bark off of ground wood while I am walking. Do not gather from a live tree – can be harmful for the tree and might be restricted where you are (might require a permit). If I see any pine trees oozing sap and might gather up a chunk of the pitch, too.

    If I am really in a flint and steel mood I will prepare some birch bark at home. Birch bark will naturally curl up into a little tube which I fill with wood shavings (in the old days – when pencils were made out of wood and I had school aged children at home – I would gather some out of the wall mounted pencil sharpener.) The shavings make a little nest to capture a spark and the birch bark provides a good hot follow on fire.

    My favorite is fat wood – I just buy a bag in the fireplace section of the home supply store. The size in the store bought bag is overkill, I will split them down to about the thickness of a wooden match. Lights quickly from a match or lighter and burns fiercely enough to light dry kindling without any tinder. (in favorable conditions – if it is cold, windy, and/or wet I make sure I have gathered a good range of tinder and kindling)

  21. I carry an Altoids tin with firesteel, waterproof matches, mini bic lighter, and some cotton balls with Vaseline all jammed in there.

  22. Bic lighter, waterproof matches and a small candle

  23. Does anyone use the trick birthday candles that won’t blow out? Are they any good?

  24. i keep it simple: ferro rod and striker, cotton balls soaked in vaceline and a good knife for making kindling.

  25. Mini bic as primary.
    Fire steel as backup.
    Film canister of cotton balls coated with Vaseline.
    A knife capable of splitting 2″ sticks to get to dry wood, and create a pile of shavings. Usually a Opinel #7 since it weighs 1.25 ounces.

  26. Gas pressurized lighter,firestater cube(individually wrapped type). Waterproof matches as back up. All contents stored in a zip loc bags placed inside a Tupperware container.

  27. Matches in a plastic case to keep them dry
    Fire steel
    Dryer lint

    I always have some lip balm in there, and could put it on the lint if need be.

    I usually use a lighter for my primary fire lighting. I keep the zip lock baggy just in case.

  28. You guys trust lighters a whole lot more than I do. Damn things jam on me.

  29. Aside from all the things you guys already mentioned, my new favorite is a refillable butane torch. It’s 6 1/2″ long X 1″ wide, weighs 2.2 oz. It’s a push-button electronic ignition, and it stays lit without holding the button, so you can reach in with it and move it around without singing your fingers. The flame is adjustable, and two modes: flame & torch. The flame gets pretty long, as does the torch, and the torch focuses into a pinpoint at the end, so it’s VERY hot, and windproof. I would recommend avoiding the $12 Chinese version (which I have), as it’s a little quirky. There are very well-made ones out there. I also carry an assortment of the usual suspects as backup & redundancy.

    I really prefer cooking over a fire, where permitted — that’s the only reason I build them, usually (of course, a survival situation would be different). I prefer to find stealthier sites that are not established, and when I leave you would never know I was there. I’ve found that the sites with established rings tend to be pretty close to the trail, and you lose a lot of privacy, but we often get in very late — even at night — so it’s easier to use those sites. I don’t scatter the established rings — usually they are so established it would take a lot of work, and it seems better to leave them than for someone else to reinvent the wheel and maybe cause even further damage.

    A little off-topic, but I saw a YouTube video where someone built a reverse stack, with the biggest stuff on the bottom, gradually working up to the tinder on top, and then you light it. Has anyone tried that? I’m interested in trying it the next time I build a fire. It looks like it requires less tending, at least at first.

    • Yes I have as a matter of norm or routine when building a fire on wet ground and or on top of snow. It works very well. In my experiences, I needed twice the amount of small kindling to keep the fire going until the bigger stuff caught fire..Just remember that when gathering wood, that you will need twice the amount of thumb thick kindling to get the bigger stuff burning…

      • We got a portable fire pit for the back yard as a gift this summer, and I tried what you might call an “hourglass” stack”. I made a reverse stack, and then started building up again on top of the tinder. What a fire! It was a mini-bonfire (contained in the fire pit) — I love that :-) And it lasted a LONG time without tending.

  30. When you really need a fire, in drenching rain, cold, with hypothermic hikers, fussy and delicate methods won’t work. I carry a mini-flare that burns HOT for about 5 minutes plus. I’ve only had to use it once, and it worked like a charm. Everything was wet, but in three minutes we had a hot fire and hikers well on their way to being warm and dry.

  31. I keep a mini Bic in my cookset as my main firestarter, and keep waterproof matches and a firesteel in my survival kit. I use vaseline soaked cotton balls as tinder (they’re great, also cheap), but like a recent trip after a rainstorm when everything was wet, I gave up on the cotton balls and used an esbit tab from the cookset. I use esbit or alcohol stoves depending on the cookset, so those fuels are always handy for firestarting.

    • Gina – esbit is a great firestarter and I usually carry a cube or for the same reason (cooking and firestarting), but you can only start it with an open flame like a match or lighter. Doesn’t work with a firesteel.

  32. I keep several methods of fire starting on me just in case. Firesteel, mini bic lighter, and a bag of dryer lint all sealed in a small ziploc. If the lighter fails (which they will either run out of fuel when you need them most, or completely seize up) then that is what the firesteel is for. I carry alcohol on me for my alcohol stove, so if I’m having a particularly hard time getting something started, a little splash of alcohol on the lint will get just about anything going. Here’s a top tip. If your bic lighter seizes up, try rolling the flint striker against a rock.

  33. I keep a fire steel and matches in a water proof container in my first aid pack and a Bic lighter with my stove and cook gear. I probably should be packing some cotton balls and vaseline, just in case, but usually, where I hike, there are enough birch trees around, if its an emergency, I can get some bark.

  34. A small bic lighter is always in my first aid kit, checked before each trip. I have had the same one for years. They’re proven to be the best for lighting fires. Has plenty of fluid in it too. If I plan on having a fire on a trip I’ll bring the cotton balls & Vaseline or dryer lint but generally I don’t have fires.

  35. Fire Starter: cardboard egg carton (egg half), stuffed with lent, then filled with melted paraffin wax. Now you have a twelve pack of fire starters. I brake one off, wrap it in foil and toss it in my first aid kit. Stays lit a long while and makes starting a fire effortless.
    Matches usually, Lighter sometimes.

  36. FireSteel.com has a large selection of FireSteels from very small to very large. This can really help if you want to save space and weight. Plus these rods give very large, excellent sparks.

  37. Thanks, very timely post. My wife has been diligently collecting lint from our clothes that are mostly polyester. I going to check the lint right now and add some more cotton balls to my fire starting kit.

  38. learned this one from Dave Chenault of Bedrock and Paradox: Fill up one of those tiny nalgenes (2oz?) with dryer lint. Squirt denatured alcohol to soak the lint, then close the top. It will last forever, and a small amount goes a long way. I pull a piece out with tweezers and use to light the fire. Works amazingly

  39. Hi Phil and Tony from the Peak District.
    I hadn’t come across the idea of using these button wipes before. So i bought some button nail polish removers. (I don’t use nail polish btw). And soaked them in candle wax.
    My first attempt, when lit lasted for about 3 minutes. The wipes are about 50mm diameter and about 0.25mm thick.
    For my second attempt i let the first coat of wax cool and then i dipped the pad again in the wax. This time when lit it lasted just about 6 minutes. Quite amazing really.
    I didn’t get anywhere near 9 minutes but 6 is enough to get a fire started, so my test was successful and your idea Tony is a good ‘un. Thanks.

  40. Two tiny ziplocs each of a lighter and Vaseline cotton balls.

  41. I hate the idea and principle of disposable items so I switched to using a Numyth refillable lighter which doesn’t have the same issues as typical Zippo-style lighters (waterproof, doesn’t allow fuel to evaporate, easy to attach to things, etc.). Though a bit heavier, its robustness makes up for it (can be used as a short term candle too). With that in my hip belt pocket, I keep a ferro rod and fresnel lens in my ditty kit along with few pieces of ready made tinder. Based on the comments here, I’m going to start making my own tinder a la the wax/jelly infused cotton balls.

  42. Vaseline cotton balls packed into a small section of a plastic drinking straw, which is then melted shut. When ready to use, the end is cut open and a small amount of the cotton ball is pulled out. It catches a spark easily, and the shape acts as a sort of candle. They are waterproof of course, and because they are self contained they aren’t as messy as just cotton or dryer lent in Vaseline (though not as clean as anything in wax).

  43. My fire kit is a ferro rod with a gorilla tape handle (the tape burns if necessary), an orange Bic lighter, two small bags of char cloth, and a magnifying glass lens wrapped in a small sock that protects it from scratches and can be turned into char cloth if needed. It all fits in a round pipe tobacco tin that has a small hole poked in the top that itself is a container for making more char cloth. It’s about 2 and 1/2 inches across and 1/2 inches tall–in wet conditions the small hole required at the top for making char cloth can be covered in wax to make it fully waterproof. Depending on conditions I may also carry small cotton wafers dipped in wax that make great fire starters on their own.

  44. Used small birthday candles and old wine cork with a small hole in it for emergency. If very wet you can stick the cork on/into the ground and inserted candle is 2 – 3 inches out of the wet. Very little weight for the convenience. Gives some time to get the fire established. Can often be used as a torch where a disposible lighter can get hot with use especially with teaching children.

  45. I keep a Crown Royal felt bag for my fire bag. I keep a bit, a Zippo, water proof matches, a fire steel from firesteel.com 1/2 X6 inches blank with a scraper, magnesium also from firesteel.com, cotton balls and Vaseline works great, dryer lint from cotton fabric and never walk by a bitch tree without gathering as much peel bark you can. I also carry some of those Coghlans Fuel Tablets. Small tablets but saved our rear ends in Quetico National park in Canada. Rained for a week straight. Everything was wet. Pulled wood from a beavers den and those tablets was all we had that could start a fire.

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