Starting a Fire Without Your Survival Kit
A fire in an emergency situation can provide warmth, a method for cooking food and purifying water, a way to signal for help and can repel pesky insects. For these reasons, stocking your survival kit with at least three different methods for starting fires is essential. My gear includes waterproof, easy strike matches, a butane lighter, and a magnesium compound striker. I also pack steel wool and a battery, char cloth (strips of 100% cotton, lit on fire and snuffed out once blackened,) and dryer lint coated in paraffin wax. And there are flammable cotton balls and alcohol rubs in my first aid kit if I get hard pressed.Knowing how to start a fire with limited resources if something happens to your survival kit could help save your life. Build a fire only after finding a source of water and building a shelter. Prepare for the fire by digging a shallow pit and surrounding it with big rocks to contain the embers and retain heat. Gather your tinder, kindling and fuel and stack each separately near the fire pit. Build a teepee formation with the kindling, leaving a small opening at the bottom to insert your lit tinder. Interlock the pieces so that it doesn’t fall over once lit, starting with small thin pieces, and stack gradually bigger pieces around the outside. Once the structure is built, spark a small nest of tinder and insert it into the bottom of the teepee. Try the following methods of ignition.Bow Drill: Find a board long enough to work your bow and to kneel on. Cut a “V” notch on one edge of the board and form a depression in the board adjacent to the notch. Place a piece of bark under the notch to catch the embers. Form a bow from a green stick and a boot lace, and find a hard, thin stick about 2 feet long for the spindle. You will need a curved stone to use as a pivot at the top of the spindle. Curl the spindle around in the boot lace twice, place one end of the spindle into the fireboard, and put pressure on the other end with the stone. Twist the spindle with the bow using steady consistent strokes. Friction will heat the wood and form an ember. This takes time, so be patient. Once an ember is formed on the bark, place it in your tinder and gently blow to feed the spark. When the tinder ignites, insert it into your teepee.If there are at least two people in your party, forget the bow. Have one person hold the spindle with the stone while another holds the cord in each hand and twists the spindle. This will distribute the effort and conserve energy.Barring access to a boot lace or cord, the same idea can be implemented without a bow. Twist the spindle rapidly between the palms of your hand, starting at the top of the spindle and working down to keep pressure on the fireboard, and then repeat until an ember forms. This method requires considerably more effort and time.Flint and Steel: Striking carbon steel against a hard surface, such as a piece of flint or other hard rock, will create a spark. You may have chosen to put a flint and steel set in your survival kit. If you don’t have your kit, you can improvise this method. A chunk of flint, quartzite or other hard rock with a thin sharp edge will work. Using the back edge of your steel pocket knife, strike the edge of the rock in a quick downward motion toward your tinder to create a spark. If your knife is stainless steel, this may not work. Use the stone to strike an edge of your axe or hatchet instead. Do not swing the blade toward the rock in this case, as severe injury is sure to result. When several sparks have landed in your tinder, gently blow on it until ignited.Focused Beam with Lens: Using a magnifying glass, or eyeglasses, or even the bottom of a soda can, you can focus a beam of sunlight to create intense heat and ignite your tinder. If using something like a soda can, the surface must be polished first with a fine abrasive material (sand and a cloth, for instance) for optimum reflection. Move the lens in and out until the focal point of beam on the tinder is as small as possible. Adding some water on the lens will intensify the magnification. Once smoke is visible, gently blow on the tinder until ignited. Of course you need sunlight for this method, so it is not feasible at night or in cloudy conditions.As with any survival skill, starting a fire with unconventional methods requires plenty of practice. Try different ways to start fires before you are in an emergency situation. Pay attention to how long each method takes and how much energy they require. Preparing your survival kit with fire starters is key, but knowing alternate methods is essential for emergency preparedness.—Gary Jenkins—Gary Jenkins is a father and husband living in Oregon who is a wildlife rehabilitation and outdoor adventure enthusiast.