Survival Skills – Fire Starting
Of all of the survival skills that I write about, being able to start a fire is very high on the list of what you should learn how to do. Some of the other skills are more intuitive than fire starting, like building a shelter or finding direction, but in my opinion your ability to start a fire in any situation can make the difference in survival or failure. Fire provides warmth, light, visibility to rescuers, a sense of safety, the ability to purify water, and the ability to cook meat. All of these things are critical to survival.
In this post I am going to talk about fire starting with a product that I offer, the ESEE Advanced Fire Starting Kit, but the techniques can apply to any fire starter. I happen to like the ESEE Advanced for several other reasons, it is more than a fire starter, it is a mini survival kit. It is made from milled aluminum, it is a water tight capsule with room enough to store some tinder, fishing hooks, line, or other things you might want to store inside. It includes a button compass which is screwed into the end, basic survival instructions on the body, and a lanyard for carrying or attaching to your gear. In my opinion this is one of the best products out there today for the novice or experienced outdoorsman to carry.
Regardless of your sparking device, the procedure for getting a fire started is the same. To start with, you want to gather all of your fire building materials together before you attempt to start a fire. First you must find tinder to catch your spark. I always have some form of tinder with me, like char cloth, cotton balls smeared with petroleum jelly, or brass polishing cloth. If you aren’t carrying any of these, you will need to find dry, fibrous material like dried grass, cattails, inner bark from a tree, or even lint from your pockets. If you can find a bird’s nest, that will work very well.
Once you have found your tinder, gather enough fire wood to get the fire going well enough that you can leave it to find more fire wood. You will want a small bundle of twigs no larger than the diameter of a hanger, then some the size of a pencil, and gradually build your way up in size. These pieces will burn quickly once ignited, so be sure to have enough to build a bed of coals to get larger pieces of wood burning. I can’t stress enough how important it is to gather your fire wood before starting the fire, the last thing you want is to get a spark going into tinder, then have nothing to add to it to keep it going.
Now that you have all of your materials ready, it’s time to spark the fire. One mistake most people make is striking the fire rod with the striker. Instead you hold the striker still and pull the fire rod quickly away from it. This allows you to position the spray of sparks directly where they need to go. If you scrape the striker against the rod, most times you will scatter your tinder bundle with your forward motion. It’s a very common mistake, especially since it’s called a “striker.” You can get a fire going by raking the striker down the fire rod, but if you do that, you should have the fire rod solidly touching the tinder bundle.
When you get flames going, slowly and carefully add the smallest twigs, gently building up the flames enough to burn larger twigs, and continue the process until you have a good fire going. Before you leave the fire, make sure it is burning well enough that it can be left unattended.
The most important part of this entire process is practice. Practice starting a fire before you need to be able to do it. It’s one thing to read about it, or even memorize everything you have ever learned, but once you actually do it, and can do it repeatedly, you will have the confidence you need when the time comes that you really need this skill.