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The comfort of a warm outdoor fire in the backcountry also offers the adventurer the ability to cook food and add light to the dark of night.
Anytime you go adventuring with your friends, family, pet or decide to take a solo trip, there are always a few essentials that should be in your backpack.
At the top of the list is the ability to make fire!
Learning to Make a Fire
My dad was always big on my brother and I being able to take care of ourselves in the woods. He was adamant that every mountain man should have three different ways of making fire at all times.
As soon as my brother and I were old enough to trek in the woods on our own, we practiced this primitive skill every chance we had.
Fire needs three elements to come alive.
The combination of all three is a recipe for a glorious heat source to warm your body, dry your clothes, make coffee or cook a hot dog. Having three ways to make an outdoor fire may seem redundant, but that’s the point.
You should always have a backup plan. Also, none of these items that I’m about to mention take up a lot of room in your pack or are heavy, so be prepared.
3 Ways to Make Fire
The three “go to” fire building items in my kit include, waterproof matches, a bic lighter and a fire steel.
At any time, if mother nature decides to potty on your adventure, one of the three methods of creating fire you have with you is bound to work.
Not all matches are created equal.
Paper matches (book matches), small box matches and matches from the grocery store will all produce a flame in ideal situations.
These same matches often DO NOT work in damp conditions or after you and your pack have taken a drink in a creek or river. Having waterproof matches increases your odds of starting a fire in the snow and rain and reduces the number of matches needed to get the job done.
In all honesty, my match containers often have a blend of regular matches and waterproof matches so that I can choose which one to use based on my current weather conditions.
A lighter can be a quick and easy way to get a fire in a hurry.
With a flick of your Bic, you can have an instant flame ready to go to work.
A lighter can also be handy to light a small stove, melt the end of a frayed shoelace (550 cord) or act as a quick flashlight.
Keep in mind that lighters also have limitations and can’t be relied on every time. When selecting a lighter for your high mountain adventure remember to KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid).
If the lighter gets wet, dry it out and keep using it. Remember to check your lighters frequently to ensure that they have fuel and are in working order before you leave home.
It is also important to remember that using a lighter requires fine motor skills and that they can be difficult to use when your hands are cold.
The fire stick is also known as a metal match, ferrocerium rod or a misch metal rod. No matter the term you decide to use, the thing makes hot sparks when you strike it with a hard piece of steel (like the back of your knife).
Perhaps the single best feature of a firestick is that it will work after being completely submerged in water or after a torrential downpour. Handy.
Unlike matches and the lighter, the fire stick can take more practice and preparation to build a fire.
In an emergency, the metal match would not be my first choice to get a fire going quickly but it does offer the adventurer a great way to build a fire and they last a long time.
Remember the rule of three and plan your three ways of starting a fire based on your skill. Keep it in your pack for your next adventure.
Using an Accelerant
With your three flame producing items nestled in your backpack, it is time to add an accelerant to your fire kit.
My family and I spend a lot of time in Montana’s high country during hunting season and we experience a wide variety of weather conditions, especially in the late season.
Often, building a fire is a necessity to warm up, dry our clothing or prepare to field dress an animal in cold temperatures and we need a way to warm our hands during the process.
Either way, when a quick outdoor fire is in order, the prepared outdoorsman stacks the odds in his or her’s favor by having something that takes a spark quickly, continues to burn after being ignited and burns even in inclement weather.
My ideas might be different than yours but I have used them for many years and trust their reliability. Find what works for you.
This marvelous brick of goodness is also trusted by the U.S. military to make a fire quickly and in all conditions.
Trioxane is packaged in a waterproof aluminum pouch that can be rationed instead of using it all at once. After opening the package, break off a small piece to add to your tinder bundle and then fold the package up for later use.
A match, lighter or fire stick will bring the magic material to life and burn hot enough to get your fire going. It is portable and very effective.
Like Trioxylene, Wet Fire comes in a waterproof package that is impervious to moisture and can be easily ignited.
Wet Fire tabs are smaller than Trioxylene and you will use one tab for each fire. They are portable, have a good burn time and are inexpensive.
Remember the groovy fondue parties that your parents used to throw in the 1970s? If not, you didn’t miss much, but you might not understand what Sterno is either.
Sterno comes in both small and large cans and is used to heat or keep food warm for a long period of time by lighting it and placing it under the food you want warm or melted.
Once the lid is removed, a small amount of the gel can be removed with a stick and ignited with any of the previously mentioned items.
In an emergency, it can also be burned in the can for a long-lasting heat source. Steno is not as portable as other accelerants but a small can in your pack offers options and one container can last many seasons.
Lint with Petroleum Jelly:
Excluding your belly button, large amounts of lint are easy to come by. Every time you clean the filter in your dryer, save the lint in a coffee can and use it for your own custom fire-starting recipe.
Lint alone does not hold a spark very well but adding petroleum jelly to your fuzzy ball of lint makes an easy to ignite and long-lasting fire starter.
Carry some of these homemade lint balls in an old medicine bottle or a zip lock bag in your backpack and use them to create an outdoor fire on your next nature adventure.
Remember the rule of three again and include three forms of accelerant in your fire kit for your next adventure.
How to Carry Your Matches
Keeping your matches dry and ready for action on your adventure is a must. This requires some sort of container to carry them.
Each of the following methods below is an effective way to carry your matches, keep them out of the elements and have them easy to access when you need them.
A quality match container should be durable, waterproof and have an area to light your match built-in.
I look for something with an O ring or a lid that fits tightly. Whatever you decide on, make sure that it is something that fits your needs and gives you a place to strike your match.
Homemade Shotshell Holder:
An old family method for carrying matches has been to combine an empty 16 gauge and 12 gauge shotgun hull.
The 16 gauge shell fits very snug inside the 12 gauge shell and offers a tight waterproof-ish seal.
Additionally, the base of the shotshell makes a perfect place to strike a match.
The container is inexpensive to create and materials are abundant. Melted beeswax or paraffin wax can be melted and added to the inside base of each shell for added waterproofing.
For best results, it is also a good idea to remove the area of the shotshell that was crimped. This ensures that the container is not too long, making the matches difficult to get out, and increases the waterproof seal.
A sharp utility blade will make this job quick and easy. The beauty of these match holders is that you can make plenty of them for your vehicle, side by side, four-wheeler, boat or backpack(s) for pennies.
There are a few other homemade methods that you can find in this post full of camping hacks.
Vacuum Packed Fire Kit:
Finally, one other method that I have created for carrying matches and accelerant for starting a fire on our outdoor adventures is the Vacuum Sealed Packet.
Using the small vacuum-sealable bags from Cabela’s, I first seal some matches that are taped together in the bottom ⅓ of the bag. The top ⅔ of the bag is used for two lint balls with petroleum jelly and some dry wood shavings.
In combination, this is a flat and compact fire starting kit that can be stored anywhere. Unlike my example, I would recommend sealing waterproof matches and a strike pad in your pouch.
Like putting on snow chains before you get stuck, in a survival situation, build the fire before you really need it.
Being prepared with 3 different ways to build an outdoor fire will give you the confidence to seize your adventure.
You want an adventure. You don’t want an experience that threatens your life. Be smart. Stay safe. Go outside and explore!