Fire is, at once, heat, light and the ability to cook food and purify water and there are nearly as many ways to start a fire as there are uses for it. Below is a list of inexpensive firestarters. If you are assembling 72-hour kits according to our list, the survival whistle has, built in, both a small waterproof container and a flint that may come in handy for your chosen supplies and method. As you will see below, every method has its strengths and weaknesses, so it is advisable to have a back-up or two.
- These come in a wide variety of types—waterproof, windproof, strike-anywhere, strike-on-box are just a few. They are lightweight and easy to use, but once they have been struck, that is the end of their usefulness.
- Pocket-size lighter. Again, very easy to use, will hold a continuous flame for a longer period of time than a match will. The fuel will eventually evaporate, so check periodically.
- Magnifying glass. Will concentrate the rays of the sun and start a fire, but you must have sun—no firestarting at night or in the rain when you might need it most.
- 9 volt battery and extra fine steel wool. Can last for years, but must be protected from water and accidental shorting between the two terminals. Store separately! There are a limited number of arcs to create a spark. Instructions and video.
- Flint spark torch igniter. Cheap, simple, reliable and compact. If you purchase a unit with extra flints it can start many, many fires and requires no practice.
- Fire piston. Virtually unlimited fires, but more expensive (unless you make your own!) than most other methods. Requires practice.
- Flint and steel. Will also last practically forever, inexpensive and compact, but technique requires practice. Video here includes instructions on making char cloth.
Any method will work best with good, dry tinder material. Carry this with you if you wish to ensure firestarting success. Extra fine steel wool creates a very hot flame as it burns and is an excellent choice. Cotton dryer lint is the next best starter tinder and it is free!