When it is cold outside and everyone is shivering, sometimes even before shelter, nothing can be more urgent than getting a fire started. We have all been there and had to start a fire when everything was dripping wet. And when things are urgent we often don’t think as clearly as we might if we had more time. This is why having some good emergency tinder with you makes life a lot easier when in this situation.
Especially in a wet or rainy situation there are two things I go for first when preparing to start a fire. For kindling I look for tiny dead branches still on trees or bushes that can easily be broken off. If they are dead, but still attached to a tree or bush, they are generally completely dry, at least inside. For tinder, if I have not brought anything with me, I look for a dead log. A dead log will be soaked wet on the outside, but an inch or so in will be very dry. So I cut into the dead log with my knife until I get to the dry inside. Then I shave off a pile of very thin shavings from the dry inside. Dead pine tree centers will often be full of flammable sap which even makes lighting them easier. Sap filled pine heart wood is often called fat-wood.
In the rest of this article I am going to go over my favorite types of emergency tinder that you can purchase cheaply to have with you in emergency situations. These typically start very easy with a spark from a ferrocerium (or “ferro” for short) rod, and burn long enough to get your kindling burning. The below table of contents have links to each section of this article. Remember if after clicking on of these links you wish to get back to the table of contents simply hit your browser back button.
Table Of Contents
My Favorite Fire Starting Tinders are:
- TinderQuik Firestarting Tabs
- Fat Rope Stick
- Spartan Fire Tinder
- Wax Wood Stick
- Fiber Light Fire Tinder
- Final Thoughts
Fat-wood is the sap saturated center of dead dried pine logs. Fat-wood is a great tinder because not only is it light and easy to bring along, but in many areas of the country you can go out and find your own. For an emergency type situation you can bring along a stick or two as shown in the image on the left.
Of if you are backpacking, or for your bug out bag or 72 hour kit, you can scrape off a bunch of shavings and keep that in sandwich baggies so that you have amazing tinder that is very light, and dry in your pack. See picture shown on the right. The prices are very cheap for this kind of stuff on Amazon. Check out the prices with these links: Fat-wood Stick, and Fat-wood Baggies.
If you scrape off really fine shavings of Fat-wood, it will light very easily with a spark from a ferro rod. The thing I like most about Fat-wood is that because of the sap it lights really easy and it burns for quite a while. And since it is burning wood the flame is hot enough to get your kindling going in fairly short order as well. It has really worked well for me.
The best way to scrape shavings off of a piece of Fat-wood as shown above left, is to use the back of your knife rather than the sharp side of the blade. This will really give you fine shavings which will start even easier when using a spark from a ferro rod. That is the best way to do it.
TinderQuik Firestarting Tabs
The great thing about these TinderQuik Firestarting Tabs is they are extremely light weight. And if get some tiny dead branches from of a tree or bush, you can often start your fire with just one of these. These are basically just a treated and bound up cotton fibers. What makes them last a bit longer than a cotton ball is the fact that the fibers are treated and bound together tighter.
You will want to separate the fibers on the end that you are throwing your spark at and they will light just about like a cotton ball. Because of the treated bound fibers to me it seemed like they burned a bit longer than just a regular cotton ball. They seem to start better in moist conditions but will not light if soaking wet. So these you will want to keep in an air tight sandwich baggy.
These are a great thing to have in a bug out bag or a 72 hour kit. Remember in a bug out bag or 72 hour kit you are going to want multiple tinder options. These make a great one because of they are easily compressed and you can carry a lot without incurring any significant weight. If you carry these I would not have cotton balls as the other alternative. Choose two different types of tinder.
Fat Rope Stick Tinder
Okay I think the Fat Rope Stick is really really cool. These are bigger than they look. If used properly it is estimated that each stick will start about 85 to 90 fires for you. So these are also great to have in any type of emergency kit (like in your car) as well as in a bug out bag or 72 hour kit. Just make sure you have matches or a ferro rod, and a knife.
How these work best is if you slice the end of these off with a knife. You won’t want to try to slice it like it was a sausage you are wanting to cut in pieces. This is basically like a treated particle board inside. What you will want to do is just whittle off the very end of it like you were trying to sharpen the end like it was an arrow tip. Again just do the very end so that you can make this last for all 90 fires.
It also comes with rope fibers. So you cut these into two inch lengths and then peal the fibers apart and mix it with the wood shavings that you use as your tinder. Doing it this way you will get plenty of shavings to start your fire. With a ferro rod you will throw a nice hot spark on the shavings and you will be very impressed I think on how well they will light up.
And this stuff has about a seven minute burn time even with just shaving a tiny bit of tinder from the stick. And you can drench this with water. Even the fiber and wood like shavings are completely water proof. You can poor water on them and then immediately light them with just a ferro rod and a piece of steel. I absolutely love this.
Spartan Fire Tinder
The Spartan Fire Tinder is a very interesting type of tinder. Not only will it light a fire for you, but you can use it to patch your tent, lubricate your folding knife, or just use it as a reusable wick to light your tinders. Now if your like me after hearing all those things it does you are saying “what?” But it really does all those things. Let me explain.
This is a material covered in a special kind of flammable wax. If you have a small hole in your tent you can put one of these over the whole and heat it with something like a bic lighter. Don’t heat it enough to burn it, just to melt the wax. As you heat it the wax will melt to the side of your tent and will attach itself to it. Then your Spartan Fire Tender looks like a square patch you put on your tent. And it works quite nicely as well You just want to do a good job of melting the wax and pushing out the air bubbles. (Be sure to hold the flame near the Spartan Tinder, not your tent fabric.)
If you folding knife is getting a bit rusty and not opening very easily, your Spartan Fire Tender can act as a lubricant as well. Simply roll up the tinder into a tight roll so that it looks like a birthday candle or a cigarette. Then light one end and hold it horizontally. The wax will drip off. If you let it drip into the joint of your folding knife and then open and close the knife a few times, your knife will function more easily.
The Spartan Fire Tinder lights very easily with a spark from a ferro rod. So some people light this and then use this as a wick or a match to light other tender they have that is not lighting as easily. Then as soon as the other tinder is lit, they put out the fire on their Smartan Fire Tinder, and stick it back in their wallet to use again next time. This is so light weight and good for multiple things, this should be included in every emergency pack in my opinion.
Wax Wood Stick Tinder
The Wax Wood Stick is another cool tinder that is worth having. As the name describes it is basically a manufactured wax infused wood stick. It is designed to work similar to natural Fat-wood. One really handy thing about the shavings you scrape off of a Wax Wood Stick is that they are completely water proof. Fat-wood shavings are basically water proof as well because of the sap in the wood. But Fat-wood sometimes does not have the sap evenly distributed through the wood. Since this is a man made product the wax is infused equally throughout the wood so all of it is completely waterproof and works really well.
Another nice feature of these sticks is that they burn really hot. So they do a really effective job of igniting the kindling you have it burning under. How most people use these is you just scrape off the shavings with the back of your knife. That way you get really fine shavings. This works better than using the sharp blade of the knife to whittle shavings off, however both ways will work.
If you want to use this on a back packing trip or in a bug out bag or a 72 hour kit I would recommend scraping off a bunch of shavings in advance and put them into small plastic sandwich baggies. This way you don’t have to carry the heavy stick in your back pack. Just be sure to scrape off enough so that you have plenty with you on your trip. Scraped shavings will be like carrying cotton. You will be able to carry a lot and it will not weigh hardly anything.
Fiber Light Fire Tinder
The Fiber Light Fire Tinder is one of my all time favorites. This is very fine wood shavings left over from wood shops that has been infused with wax. So literally you can pour water on this and then it it will still light immediately with a spark from a ferro rod. It is really really slick.
If you notice in the image there is a metal canister and a paper pouch. The metal canister is what you carry it in. The paper bag or pouch is a refill supply. So this is like taking a Wax Wood Stick from above and scraping off a whole bag of shavings for you. You don’t have to do it for your self.
So this metal canister is something that you want to have for a bug out bag or a 72 hour kit. If I was going to take this backpacking since weight is a premium, I would empty out the canister into a plastic Ziploc sandwich baggy and take that instead of carrying the canister.
When planning for a specific emergency scenario you want to think of things like shortest and longest possible time lengths that you think the emergency may last, and plan accordingly. Just like you do not want to carry a large heavy ferro rod firesteel on a backpacking trip, you probably won’t need it in a 72 hour kit either.
Similarly carrying a heavy piece of Fat-wood would be over kill for your 72 hour kit as well. But scraping off a bunch of shavings in advance and putting them in Ziploc sandwich baggies could be just the ticket. Also you will want to have multiple tinders so that you do not have all of your eggs in one basket. In our 72 hour kit example you might have a baggy full of Fiber Light Fire Tinder as well as a baggy full of TinderQuik Firestarting Tabs. And in my opinion every scenario should have a Spartan Fire Tinder bag since they are so light weight and versatile.
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