Over the last few years, I have tried and tested many different methods of fire starting. Some methods work significantly better than others. In this article I will give my opinion on which methods I found to be the best and most reliable.
Primitive wood friction methods, including the bow
With a lot of practice you can get this method to work fairly well in good weather. However if there is any rain or windy conditions this method loses ground very quickly. It is good to know, but I wouldn’t count on it. If rubbing two sticks together to make fire was easy, or even just moderately difficult, the aboriginal people would never have developed ways to carry a live coal between camps!
I like matches, but they have two big drawbacks. One you only have so many of them and then they run out. Now I can’t reliably start a fire with every match. It depends a lot on conditions. Rain and bad weather will decrease your chances of starting a fire. I prefer strike anywhere or wind resistant matches like the REI Stormproof ones. If you choose to use matches, keep them in a waterproof container and practice, practice and practice.
The advantage of matches is that they are readily available and anyone can use them.
The downsides are that they deteriorate over time. Coating the heads with paraffin will extend there useful life. Another critical aspect is that the non strike anywhere matches require a special abrasive strip to strike them. If it gets damp, wet or worn out, the matches won’t work. Even strike-anywhere matches don’t always work.. You have to have something dry to strike them on.
They have some advantages, when filled they can light a large number of times. They hold up fairly well in cold weather. The downside to them is that they dry up rapidly in desert environments. The fuel evaporates.
I have a butane lighter in my every day carry, but I always carry backup for it. If conditions are good it will rapidly and reliability start a fire. The problem is cold, as the lighter nears freezing the butane gives off less gas and the lighter often fails to work.
If you were to fall into water that was at or near freezing, the lighter will fail immediately and will need to be warmed up before it will light reliably. Plus it takes a certain amount of manual dexterity to work the little wheel and if your fingers are numb you may not be able to do it.
Watch Survivor and you have seen this one. They use it every season and it works. I keep one in my kit as one of the fire starting tools that I carry. The idea is to shave off pieces of magnesium into a small pile, then ignite it with a spark from the Ferro rod. Water and cold won’t bother it, but where it is made and by who is a problem. There are big differences in how they work. The only one I will carry is the one made for the U.S. military by Doan. It is head and shoulders above all the others.
I carry a Ferro rod on my key chain. Ferro rods work, but I suggest that you get good heavy ones from a reliable supplier. Many of the ones made in China are substandard. They are a fairly reliable fire starter if you have good tinder. Fire starting is something that you need to practice and I am not talking about a sunny day, get out in the bad weather.
I like to carry a business card size Fresnel lens in my wallet. In good sunny weather they can be a good fire starter and they are also useful as a magnifying glass it you get into cactus or other prickly plants and have to remove some stickers.
Fire Starting Kit
Now in my fire starting kit, I always have at least a butane lighter, a Doan magnesium block, a Ferro rod and a waterproof match case of strike anywhere matches. In addition, I always carry two 35 mm film cans one is full of my secret weapon, cotton balls impregnated with Vaseline. These are the best fire starters that I have found. I will only use them if I had trouble starting a fire. The amount I can carry is limited. The second 35 mm film can is for collecting resin from pine trees. I t seems like I can always find some in my area and it works well. Depending where you live you may fill your spare can with other materials. But if you are dependent on fires. Collect good tinder every time you get a chance.
And again remember to practice.