How to Build the Perfect Survival Fire
If fire was just a matter of striking a match, very few hunters would die from hypothermia. To sustain anything...
If fire was just a matter of striking a match, very few hunters would die from hypothermia. To sustain anything more than a flicker, you need tinder or kindling.
Tinder. This is defined as a substance that will glow from a spark. In nature, relatively few substances qualify: among them the true tinder fungus found on living birch trees and the false, hoof-shaped tinder fungus found on dead birch and aspens. You can make
“char cloth” tinder by burning pieces of old cotton jeans, then smothering the flame. Pure cotton balls, 0000 steel wool, and the lint from the trap in a clothes dryer will also glow from a spark and often catch flame, especially if it has been drizzled with candle wax.
Kindling. By contrast, kindling is a substance that will ignite from an open flame such as a match or butane lighter but is difficult to spark from a steel. The best fine kindlings in nature include dry grass, blisters of bark resin found on the trunks of pine trees, shredded poplar and birch bark, rusted needles from evergreens, and the -matchstick-size twigs that quill the lower trunks of spruce trees. You can produce a fine kindling called a feather stick by shaving any dry stick until the still-attached curls of wood resemble a shock of wheat. Commercial kindlings include fire-starting pastes and paraffin cubes.
The Perfect Fire
Before putting spark to tinder or flame to kindling, collect a double handful of twigs the diameter of matchsticks, one armful of pencil-size wood, and as many thumb-size sticks as you can bear-hug.
The easiest way to start the fire using either flame or spark is with a loose ball made of very fine kindlings. With a match or lighter, hold the flame underneath the ball until it catches. Or tuck a glowing tinder into a cavity in the ball. Then raise the ball, holding it in cupped hands, and blow that kernel of heat into flame.
Once you have the kindling burning strong, push it into a loose teepee of small twigs, adding the rest of the fuel as the fire grows.
A match does not produce the sustained flame necessary to reliably ignite marginal kindling, such as twigs, on damp or cold ground. However, a match can reliably ignite a kindling bundle of dry spruce branch tips held chest height above the ground.
Break off dry branch ends to a length of about 25 inches. Double back the fine tips and tie them to the larger butt ends. Cut a resin-soaked piece of bark (helpful, but not essential) and push it into the cavity where the dry twig tips aren’t packed too tightly. Strike a match, protect the flame from wind, and move it slowly back and forth under the bundle.
**Lessons Learned **
My struggles lighting a fire with matches reinforced the lesson that tinder and fine kindling are the most important components of a survival fire. In an emergency, you don’t want to have to reach farther than your pack to find it. A good woodsman knows that birch bark ignites even when damp, but unless he finds the right tree, he can die just the same. I also learned that anyone who tries to start a fire with cartridges will end up with no bullets.