Carry the means to start and sustain an emergency fire. Carry both  matches in a waterproof container and a butane lighter. They must be absolutely reliable.

Fire starters are indispensable for igniting wet wood quickly to make an emergency campfire. Common fire starters include candles, chemical heat tabs, and canned heat. On a high-altitude snow or glacier climb, where firewood is nonexistent, it is advisable to carry a stove as an additional emergency heat and water source.

Matches: produces a flame by itself.
Cigarette Lighter: when filled with fuel (lighter fluid, butane) can produce a flame.

Modern alternatives:
Magnifying Glass: needs easily ignited tinder toat will accept an ember (spark) and produce a flame. A small plastic Fresnel lens is almost weightless.
Ferro  Rod or Metal Match (modern version of Flint and Steel): needs easily ignited tinder toat will accept an ember (spark) and produce a flame.
Battery and Steel Wool: needs tinder.

Primitive alternatives:
Flint and Steel: can produce a spark, but needs char and tinder to nurse the spark into a flame.
Friction by Wood (bow and shaft, hand shaft, etc.): can produce an ember, but needs tinder to produce a flame.

A Practical Fire Maker

What is a practical fire maker for the Ten Essentials Kit? Something small, lightweight and utterly reliable.

Of the items mentioned above, matches and lighter and possibly flint sparker meet the requirements. Le’s explore each one.

Matches, when kept dry, are the first choice as it is lightweight, small and utterly reliable in producing a flame. It is easy to use and requires little training.

Do NOT select paper matches. Paper matches absorb water from the air rapidly and become soft and useless. Cold, shivering fingers find paper matches impossible to control and strike properly. Stay with wooden matches.

Waterproof matches with a striker strip, wrapped in Saran plastic wrap or kept in a waterproof match case is a good choice.

Butane lighter is a good second choice. It has some disadvantages. It is larger and can run out of fuel. Select a mini butane lighter with its valve protected from accidental engagement.

Do NOT select a piezo-electric lighter; select the older flint striker one. If a lighter runs out of fuel, either by usage or by leakage, a flint based lighter can still be used with tinder to create fire; the piezo spark is too weak to be used without volatile fuel, such as butane or gasoline.

The Ferro Rod is acceptable only as a backup choice to Matches or lighter as it requires more skill and tinder to produce a flame.

For more information on creating fire from sparks and embers, go to Spark-Ember

Fire Starters

To create a fire, you need properly stacked fuel (ex: kindling) and a flame. The problem is how to get the flame to ignite the wood.

On a windy or rainy day, coaxing a small flame to ignite even a twig can be a chore. A match flame only lasts for so many seconds. By lighting a fire starter that will maintain the flame under the kindling, you increase your success rate enormously.

There are countless things that can be used for a fire starter, the problem is to select an item that is lightweight, small and reliable to carry.

Practical Fire Starters

Candle stub: Useful for a long lasting flame, a source of wax sliced off with a knife. Do not shove the entire stub under the kindling, otherwise you’ll waste it all on one fire and have none for your second fire. How much or little to carry is entirely up to you.

Trick birthday candle: These are the candles that you can’t blow out because it has a self-reigniting wick. Carry several since they’re small.

Heat tabs of various types: Use the Esbit Trioxine or the WWII Hexamine tabs or whatever brand you like.

Cotton balls coated with petroleum jelly (Vaseline): Smear petroleum jelly (pj) on 100% cotton balls and store in a 35mm film can or similar container. Each one will catch a spark and burn 3-5 minutes.

Wax soaked corrugated cardboard: Melt wax in a small pot or a double boiler (a tuna can inside a saucepan with boiling water), soak 2 inch squares of corrugated cardboard in the wax, and stack 2-3 high on waxed paper (sandwich wrap). When it has hardened, cut the waxed paper into little biscuits of 2-3 squares. To use, fray a corner and light it, place it under the kindling, wait a minute and enjoy a nice fire. The waxed cardboard will light and burn even in a misting rain. For a nice campfire starter, insert a strike-anywhere wood match into a corrugation before you soak in wax.

Anything else you may wish to use. Commercial tinder, dry BBQ starters (which is just sawdust in wax), whatever you desire.

A Big Fat BUT

But all this is useless unless you are capable of and have practical experience in building fires. Practice and test yourself …repeatedly…until you can start a fire with ONE MATCH in various conditions. Try a sunny day, windy day, rainy day, cold day until you are confident in your skill. Otherwise you’ll use up all your matches and still have no fire. There are many resources on the web on how to build fires. Use them.

In my Ten Essentials Kit, I carry

A dozen waterproof matches
A mini-butane flint lighter
A small ferro rod
A trick candle and several pj-coated cotton balls.

Jim Yuen 3/18/2002, edited: May, 2008


Ways to create an ember

  • Friction
    • bow drill
    • plough
    • Rudiger roll friction fire
    • hand drill
    • pump drill
    • fire saw
    • fire thong
  • Percussion
    • flint and steel
    • ferrocerium
    • silicous bamboo
    • primer and gunpowder
  • Solar
    • lens
    • reflector
  • Electrical
    • Battery and wire or steel wool
    • Spark
  • Chemical
    • glycerin and potassium permanganate
  • Friction (Chemical)
    • matches
  • Compression (PVT)
    • fire piston tube

See Wikipedia article on fire making