Emergency fire starting

matt s

I knew an old guy who always claimed he was a good boy scout and could start a fire with one match any time.

He also always carries a jug of "boy scout juice" (charcoal lighter fluid)

Seems like cheating, but actually it works, is easy to store, and the flash point is low enough to fairly safe.


birch bark (wet or dry)
sassafrass (dead or green)
dry cattail heads (a few hours in a car out in the sun (put it in an open bag))


Expedition Leader
Ever tried lighting a fire while you're half frozen from dumping your canoe? I carry a small flare/fusee in my lifejacket pocket and one in my backpack for extreme emergencies. Gather whatever wood you can find and shove the flare in and it will ignite even wet wood. Orion used to sell small flares labeled for this purpose but I haven't seen them lately. They were like half the length of a regular road or marine flare. I keep regular road flares in my vehicles.

It's easy to make charcloth using an Altoids tin. Cut the cotton fabric to size and layer it in the can. Close the lid and punch a small hole in the top. Place the tin on your grill next time you're grilling. You want to see a plume of smoke coming out of it, but don't let that plume catch on fire (it's basically woodgas). When it quits smoking, remove from the heat and let it cool. When you open the tin it should be charred but not ashen. It will tear easily so handle gently. It works great for flint and steel and also in firepistons.

You can also use steel wool and batteries or really any very thin wire. I've actually busted a bulb on a MagLight flashlight to demonstrate this (won $10 too). Obviously this doesn't work with the new LED lights.

I also like the Esbit stove fuel tablets. You can find military surplus ones for dirt cheap for a box of them and they come individually wrapped.

If you like a little work, you can make fuzz sticks by shaving small sticks (see the Boy Scout Handbook).

Strips of rubber work well and will burn for a while. Cut an old innertube into strips and you can use them to secure stuff or as emergency fire starters. On a side note, burning your tires produces a nice oily black smoke that works well for signaling in an emergency. Don't roast marshmellows over it, but in an emergency it's a signaling option.


2007 Expedition Trophy Champion, Overland Certifie
Ahh 1 more reason I am glad to be a cigar smoker..
I always have mulitple lighters on me, in my rig and in my packs..plus I know they work as I use them daily.
I also carry zippo fluid, spare flints and wicks. These all help with the fire making.

Great point on the flares, I have used them in snow....also great point on the stove tablets as those are in my emerg paick (but be aware they crush easily in a backpack)

Fire starting is such a huge part of survival...just as much for your spirit as anything else.
But having a cup is just as important. I would advise anyone making a fire kit to store it in a sierra cup so they have something to boil water, make soup or more.


I carry 35mm film cans, with vaseline soaked cotton balls stuffed in.

Pull out a piece of cotton about the size of a dime, pull it out to quarter size, and light it with anything - matches, flint and steel, sparks off a broken lighter, whatever. They work great!

Of course, a road flare will start anything, including wood thats been soaking in water for a year.


Expedition Leader
All good ideas. I like to start a fire with one match just to stay in practice.

But, when I was backpacking and we (had some really poorly prepared people who invited themselves along and shouldn't have been there) had a snowstorm stop us in our tracks, I didn't mess around. Broke some branches off the trees and dumped the white gas from the stove on it. Morale really improves quickly with a good fire.

Mr. Leary

Glamping Excursionaire
My Gore Tex always has a Bic lighter and a pocket knife in the pocket on my upper arm. I always bring 3 alternative ways to make fire. They usually are Bic, matches, and magnesium.

I agree with the rubber trick. I burns hot and for a while. I suppose if survival dictated, I would cut a chunk out of my sandal and use it as a fire starter ( I always have boots AND sandals when I hike). My first three alternatives have never failed me yet, and dried moss works well and is readily available where I usually hike.


Cotton balls saturated with petrolium jelly are the very best for any fire starting need. It will burn long enough to dry out wet kindling, Aluminum foil to place on the ground to keep water vapor off your fire is important also.

I am a member of the society of primitive technology and teach fire at several gatherings every year. I also teach at our SAR basic academy (which all new members must attend). I always have a bic lighter in my pocket but can start fires probably 20 different ways including rubbing sticks together.


last reply was good.
i do the same.
get some lint from the dryer -you can compact it into a small ball. weighs almost nothing.
use Jungle Juice (100% DEET) insect repellant - a few drops are flammable.
the combo of the two is great for fire starting - you only need a small spark - like a magnesium lighter.



Bic lighters will not light below -20* but a Zippo should. I also have a small airtight round tin I keep sawdust saturated in oil which goes up with just a spark.


Expedition Leader
Something that sparks battery flint whatever a bug repellant or other flammable other purpose liquid

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