Build Your Own DIY Fire Kit

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Build your own DIY Fire Kit with just a few supplies. | via www.TheSurvivalMom.comWhen you get right down to it, survival essentially means maintaining a safe core temperature for your body. Everything we do is geared toward that end goal. We eat food to provide calories to keep our bodies running. We hydrate so we don’t get overheated. We seek shelter from the elements so we don’t get too warm or too cold.

The ability to reliably start a fire is a critical survival skill. The job is made much easier if you have the foresight to assemble a small fire kit to keep in your pack. It doesn’t need to be huge and, in fact, the smaller the better. Remember, ounces lead to pounds and pounds lead to aching backs.

What I recommend you have in your fire kit is a minimum of three different forms of ignition and three different types of tinder. I often say that prepping is all about giving yourself options and that holds true with a fire kit as well as any other aspect of survival.

Ignition Tools

Let’s start with ignition tools. Your primary source of ignition will likely be a butane lighter. Why? Because they are incredibly cheap and very reliable. I would caution you, though, to spend the extra dollar or two and pick up brand name lighters, such as Bic. The ultra cheap ones you’ll find sold three for a buck at gas stations tend to leak and won’t last very long.

Next on my own preference list is a ferrocerium rod and striker. A ferro rod will light thousands of fires and is very simple to use. Hold the ferro rod in one hand and the scraper in the other. Draw the scraper down the rod firmly and direct the resultant sparks to your tinder. Alternatively, you can hold the scraper steady and pull the rod back towards you. A ferro rod will work in all weather conditions, which is a nice bonus.

Old fashioned flint and steel work very well, but the sparks aren’t usually nearly as large and hot as you’ll get from a ferro rod. Mankind has been using flint and steel for hundreds of years, though, for a reason – it works.

Strike anywhere matches, in my opinion, should only be considered as a back up to a butane lighter and a ferro rod. You can only carry a finite number of matches and, at best, you can light one fire with each match. Plus, while there are water-resistant types, even ones that will light in a monsoon, it can still be rather difficult to get a fire going with a single match when the weather isn’t cooperating with you. Once you get the match lit, you can’t reuse it.

In my own fire kits, I carry one or more butane lighters, a ferro rod with striker, and a waterproof container of strike anywhere matches.

Tinder

Now, on to tinder. It is important to include a supply of ready-to-use tinder in your fire kits as you never know what the conditions might be should the time come you need to get a fire going NOW. If it has been raining all day long, it could prove difficult to find dry plant fluff and such. So, carry a few different packages of tinder in your kit.

Cotton balls soaked with petroleum jelly is an old standby. They are popular because they work very well. Dryer lint is another common tinder, whether soaked with petroleum jelly or left dry. Some people have noted a bad or acrid smell when using dryer lint, due to the presence of human or animal hair and different types of clothing fibers. Personally, if my life is at stake, I’ll put up with a bad smell for a couple of minutes if it means I can get a fire going.

Charcloth is very easy to make, you can find an endless list of videos and articles detailing the process online. Just about everyone has a few old cotton T-shirts they could cut up to use as charcloth.

Jute twine is a dual purpose item. Any good cordage is always welcome in any survival kit. Plus, if you unravel a piece of jute twine and fluff it up, it makes for excellent tinder. It burns rather quickly, though.

Magnesium shavings burn very hot. A very common piece of kit is a block of magnesium with a small ferro rod attached to the side. The idea is you scrape off some magnesium, aiming for a pile about the size of a nickel or so, then light it with sparks from the ferro rod. What I’ve seen more and more people doing is scraping the magnesium ahead of time, filling small plastic pouches with the shavings. Not a bad idea, really.

My own preference is to use dryer lint and/or cotton balls, supplemented with jute twine and magnesium.

Creating a Fire Kit

What I also recommend is stashing a few small ziploc plastic bags in your kit. As you make your way through the bush, you’ll likely come across things like birch bark, dry moss, dry lichen, and other fluffy plant material. Gathering some of it and using it when you need a fire will help preserve your other tinder for times when such natural materials aren’t available.

The next time you are shopping at a thrift store, take a look at old camera cases. They make excellent pouches for storing your fire kit. At my local Goodwill store, these cases are typically priced at a dollar or less. The idea here is to put together a small kit containing what you’ll need to get a fire going when you need it the most, saving you time from searching through your pack for everything.

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Jim Cobb is a disaster preparedness consultant and author. His books include Prepper's Home Defense, The Prepper's Complete Book of Disaster Readiness, and Prepper's Long-Term Survival Guide.

14 thoughts on “Build Your Own DIY Fire Kit”

  1. I have often seen the cotton ball/petroleum jelly idea. Do I just smear a bunch on a cotton ball, or do I melt a little (being careful of fire) and “soak” my cotton balls that way? Thanks

    1. Better yet soak them or dryer lint with candle wax. Squeeze out exes wax roll into cylinder shape. When needed cut off a piece, fluff end and light.

  2. Gale,

    What I do is toss a small handful of cotton balls into a plastic sandwich bag, then add a healthy dollop of petroleum jelly. Squish it all around to get the cotton balls covered in the jelly, then remove and put into the container of your choice. If you have them available, old 35mm film canisters work great.

  3. We use cotton balls drenched in leftover candle wax to start our grill at home (I don’t like the taste of lighter fluid), but it takes several of them to get it started. While useful in a pinch, I don’t recommend them for an emergency kit. Haven’t tried the petroleum jelly yet.

    I also want to echo the advice for buying Bic lighters. As a smoker, I’ve sworn by Bics for 35 years now. I’ve tried the cheaper ones, and they fail at the worst times. We had a large freezer bag of assorted lighters that someone accidentally dropped in the dog’s bowl. Since the bag was sealed, we assumed everything inside was dry. By the time we discovered our error, the cheap lighters were rusted so badly they couldn’t be used. Every last one of the Bics still worked.

  4. The Amazon link to “Jute Twine” listed an associated purchase of wooden gift cards. Would they make acceptable tinder?

  5. Kitty, I don’t know that wooden gift cards would work very well. I’d rather see you packing cotton balls, jute twine, that sort of stuff as I know from experience those work.

  6. Along with several different sources of ignition I like to keep what we call fire dust in my kits. A simple mixture of kerosene coated pine shavings. Super light moisture resistant easily combustible and reasonably long burning.

  7. We do the cotton ball and petrolium jelly then wrap in small piece of foil. Each pack can be scored with an X peeled open and ready to scrape in some ferro rod and start. Then for tinder we make wax blocks. Egg cartons stuffed with cotton drier lint then pour melted wax over let cool. Then split egg cubes apart. These are good because when combined with the foil packets, you have enough heat to get even damp wood going. (I buy old candles at garage sales for pennies for this project, melt in camp fire in tin can)

  8. We use the 100% cotton (yes, there can be a big difference if there’s synthetic fibers in the cotton balls or lint), 100% cotton balls are cheap, and we consider them important enough to spend the tiny bit extra for. We either dip or smear them in Yellow petroleum jelly, it also has medicinal uses. We keep 2 containers, in first aid & fire. We each carry a Bic, Blast Match or Spark-Lite, ferro rods, and old style flints & steel. Tinder-quick, cattail fluff, treated cotton balls, and jute cord (Cordage that can be cut & fluffed if needed) for tinder. Our fire gear is in 3 small bags each, 2 on us, one in our packs.

    We carry a small German made pencil sharpeners made of magnesium, and use them on small twigs for a great tinder. So far we’ve never scraped the sharpener, but it’s there if needed.

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