Good to Know: Survival Fire Starting Techniques

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Survival fire starting techniques are essential skills for anyone who spends time in the wilderness – whether it be the woods, mountains, or even in a regular neighborhood during a natural disaster.

This skill has come in handy up in the mountain area where we spend a lot of time, because ice and snow storms have taken out the power for days at a time. Fortunately, in our case, we have had numerous means to start a fire (and of course having a wood stove has helped!).

When you don't have heat at your beck and call...

But, what if you find yourself stranded in a storm, or lost in the woods? Up in the mountains of NH we’ve seen both situations reported more than once. When we are in the woods, on an annual canoe trip, or any other “adventure” that takes us away from civilization, we always carry what we call our “10 Essentials” – just in case!

Actually, it’s always more than just 10 Essentials; however, one thing that we always carry is a way to light a fire. We’ll talk about some fire starter kits that we’ve become aware of, but in the meantime, it is a good idea to learn some common survival fire starting techniques.

Here are a few methods to starting a fire for survival:

  • Fire Starter Kit: There was a time not so long ago when this was not a commercially available option. But today, there are many such kits available. That said, always carry a fire starter kit in your emergency survival gear kit. This can include waterproof matches, lighters, and commercial fire starters. These are reliable and easy to use, such as this popular Black Beard kit.
Best Fire Starter
  • Fire Steel or Ferrocerium Rod: A fire steel (also known as a ferro rod) is a metal rod that produces sparks when struck with a hard edge or scraper. Aim the sparks onto a tinder bundle to ignite it.
  • Flint and Steel: Flint is a hard rock that, when struck against steel (like a knife), produces sparks. Catch these sparks in a tinder bundle to start a fire.

(NOTE: You can see simple and inexpensive flint and steel kits at Amazon - similar to this "Fire Starter Survival Tool - All-in-One Flint and Steel Fire Starter Kit." 

  • Bow Drill: This is a primitive method where a bow is used to rotate a wooden spindle against a fireboard. Friction generates heat, eventually igniting the tinder. It requires practice and specific wood types. Check out the Bow Drill Fire Starter kit on Amazon!
  • Hand Drill: Similar to the bow drill, but without the bow. Rub your hands together to spin the spindle against a fireboard. This method is more difficult and requires excellent technique.
  • Fire Plough: Create a groove in a dry piece of wood (fireboard) and then forcefully plow a dry, softwood piece (plough) through the groove to generate friction and create an ember
  • Use a Magnifying Lens (aka "Solar Fire Starting"): Use the magnifying glass (or other clear lens material that can serve the purpose) to focus the sun's rays onto a small area, such as dry leaves or paper, to ignite them.

    As you may have guessed, this method requires clear skies and patience. Remember to move the lens to where the rays get focused to a bright, tight white spot, and then keep the lens in place until you see your tinder ignite. See the video below the article.
  • Electric Spark: If you have a battery and steel wool or a piece of flint, you can create sparks that can ignite dry tinder. 

Wrapping it up...

I think we can all agree that knowing how to safely start a fire using more primitive skills and tools when you don't have heat at the flick of a switch is an important survival skill.

Don't wait until you are getting ready to pack up for that backpacking trip to practice. Try a few of these methods and keep the materials on hand now. 

More than one of these methods wouldn't personally appeal to me since I'm more inclined to try one of the commercially available kits, waterproof matches, and a kit with the the flints and/or ferro rod. And, probably a magnifying glass because it's handy no matter what (like when I'm trying to get close up to remove a splinter haha). 

But, the point is, learn at least one or two of these methods. It could save your life.

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