By The Coach, Contributing Editor
This article is written for the person that is new to the outdoors. It is a beginner article. I know the seasoned outdoorsman will probably know these skills but it is a good refresher.
There are few skills that I consider more important as knowing how to build and successfully light a camp fire. A camp fire can literally save your life.
A camp fire can be used to cook with, to keep you warm, dry your clothes, keep the wild animals away, signal with and keep the insects away and as a psychological comforter as well as many other reasons.
I can remember being a young boy, going camping. One of the things I really looked forwarded to was making s’mores, roasting marshmallows and hot dogs over an open camp fire using a freshly cut Willow branch.
My Grandfather told me that I had to learn how to build and successfully light a camp fire with just one (1) strike anywhere match. It took a while but I mastered the skill. I asked him, why just one match to light a camp fire. He explained that one day, being able to light a camp fire with just one match might save my life. It is almost time for me to start teaching my Grandsons this skill.
Whenever I go into the woods or during and post disaster, (hurricanes, etc.), I carry three (3) different ways to light a camp fire. If one fails or gets lost or does not work for whatever reason, you always have a back up to start your fire. Remember, one is none, two is one and three is even better.
This article will show you the many different ways to start a camp fire. I am sure there are many other ways to start a fire that I have not mentioned. If you have another way to start a fire that reliably works for you, great, use it. I know many of you already know this skill and like me have been building camp fires all of your life. This article is for the prepper that is just getting started and might want to know what options there is for starting a camp fire.
My favorite way to start a camp fire is still the strike anywhere matches. Some people call them kitchen matches. (Photo # 1) You can always tell strike anywhere matches because of its white tip. They are called strike anywhere matches because you can light them on almost any rough dry surface. If you plan on using and storing matches, this is the type of match you want to purchase. This is the only match that I use on a regular basis. I keep my strike anywhere matches in a brass match safe with a compass on top. (See photo # 1) The strike anywhere match is becoming harder and harder to find in my area of the country.
I keep the boxes of strike anywhere matches that I store in a good quality freezer zip lock plastic bag to keep them dry and the humity from getting to the match heads.
The other type of match is the safety match. You can only light them on the side of the box that they come in, on the dedicated striking surface.
The second item that I carry to start a camp fire is the “Bic” cigarette lighter with the flint striker wheel with the flame adjuster control. This is the ONLY type and brand name lighter that I use because they seem to be the most reliable lighter. (Photo # 2) The reason for this is if you run out of butane in the lighter, you can still generate sparks, to ignite the tender, to start you camp fire. Pezeo ignited lighters do not generate a spark that you can use to start a camp fire. Buy only “Bic” butane lighter and you will not be let down. NEVER carry a butane lighter as your single fire starting source. If the butane release lever accidentally gets depressed in your pocket or pack, ALL of the butane will be released. Then you would have to be proficient in starting a fire with just creating a spark from the flint sparker wheel on the lighter. It is always better to carry at least three (3) fire starting sources.
The third item that I carry to start a camp fire is a Magnesium Fire Starter. This is the one that I bet my life on. They have a way to produce a spark and tender all in one compact size bar. (Photo # 3) The Magnesium Fire Starter is my go to way of starting a fire when I must get a fire going under any condition. This device will start a fire in storming down rain or using wet tender. Some people hate these Magnesium Fire Starters because they say they cannot start a fire with it. The Magnesium Fire Starters do take a little practice.
The two reasons most people cannot start a fire with the Magnesium Fire Starter is:
- They do not use a carbon steel knife on the sparking bar to create a spark. Stainless steel does NOT work as well.
- They do not scrape a large enough pile of Magnesium. Make a fifty cent piece size pile of magnesium shavings, from the magnesium block, before attempting to start a fire.
First, using your knife, carefully scrape a pile of Magnesium, from the magnesium bar, onto a wind shielded flat surface. On one edge of the Magnesium Fire Starter is a black sparking flint type rod. Using a carbon steel knife, scrape the rod with your knife introducing the sparks that are created into the pile of magnesium. The resulting sparks catch the magnesium shavings on fire and those shavings burn a very intense, white-hot flame for a few seconds. Have your tinder close at hand. As soon as the magnesium catches fire, place your kindling on top of the magnesium flame. That is it!
The above pictured magnesium fire starter was purchased from “Harbor Freight” for under $5.00. Sometime, “Harbor Freight” places them on sale for under $3.00. You can purchase them in many different sporting goods and camping supply stores also.
One Magnesium Fire Starter can start many fires reliably. This is why the military packs these in all most all of their survival kits. The only other fire starting item that they pack in their survival kits is the Life Boat Matches.
DO NOT bet your life on any other fire starting item. Matches get wet or moist and do not light. Butane lighters leak butane in your pocket or pack and will not work when you need them the most.
The only reliable method of starting a fire besides the Magnesium Fire Starter is “Life Boat Matches”. Life Boat Matches also have Magnesium in them and they will burn, once ignited, and burn under most conditions. (See Number 3 below.)
DANGER: Once Magnesium starts to burn, there is NO way to put out the flame. If you get any burning Magnesium on you, it will continue to burn until there is no more Magnesium to burn. Burning magnesium has a flame temperature of 5400°F (2982°C). BE VERY CAREFUL WHEN USING THIS FIRE STARTER!
Other methods of starting a fire are:
- A magnifying lens. (Photo # 4)
Using a magnifying lens to start a fire takes a little practice but is fun.
I used to play with these as a kid.
The problem with a magnifying lens is you need sun light to start a fire. You cannot build a fire with them at night, when the sky is cloudy or in the rain.
2) Flint and steel. (Photo # 5)
This method takes a lot of practice to be able to reliably create a spark, catch that spark and then turn that spark into a flame. This is a good skill to practice and master.
3) Life Boat Matches, (also called Windproof Matches.) (Photo # 6)
Windproof matches are also waterproof. These are dangerous, highly flammable, and expensive – around $4.00 for 25 matches. Be VERY careful with these matches. Once you strike this match and the flame starts, it is almost impossible to put the flame out until it burns itself out on its own. These matches burn for approximately 15 seconds, so have your tinder and fire starting material ready and close at hand. I consider these matches are the only other reliable way to ignite a fire other than using the Magnesium Fire Starter mentioned above.
4) Spark Lite (Photo # 7)
I do not know why anyone would want this device when you can use a “Bic” butane lighter with a flint sparking wheel. The “Bic” butane lighter can create a spark just like this device at any time if you buy the butane light with the flint spark wheel in it.
5) 9v Battery and Steel Wool (Photo # 8)
If you take a good 9v battery and simply touch both poles to a piece of steel wool, it will catch fire.
Place the smoldering steel wool into your tender bundle and blow into it.
I don’t consider this in the fire tender category because it is the steel wool itself combined with the battery that actually makes the fire.
Two things to remember:
1) The finer the steel wool the better it ingites.
2) It only takes a tiny bit of steel will for this to work. Use just enough steel wool to cover both poles of the battery.
6) Fire Plow (Photo # 9) Very Difficult.
This photo was taken from a military survival manual.
While it is a good thing to learn how to do, there are MANY variables to starting a fire with this method. Even the professional survivalist has problems starting a fire this way and can take many hours to start a fire.
7) Bow and Drill (Photo # 10) Very Difficult.
This photo was also taken from a military survival manual.
While it is a good thing to learn how to do, there are MANY variables to starting a fire with this method. Even professional survivalist have problems starting a fire this way and can take many hours to start a fire.
8) Book Matches (Photo # 11)
Book matches are becoming harder to find. Book matches are also hard to light unless you know the trick. To light this match, first tear off a single match from inside the match book. Then fold over the match book cover. Place the match head on the striking surface and then place the match book cover over the match. Putting pressure on the match book cover, this places pressure on the match head and holds the match firmly in place against the striking surface. Then with your free hand, pull the match quickly from between the match book cover and striker surface. If the match is not damp or wet, this method almost always works. However, it is hard to keep the flame going, so light your tender quickly before the paper match goes out.
9) Butane Grill Lighters (Photo # 12)
If you have a Coleman stove or lantern, this is the only way to light them easily, as far as I am concerned. They just make life a little easier. I keep a new one inside my Coleman Stove. You can also use them to start your camp fire. This lighter uses a pezeo igniter to light the butane.
10) Ferrocerium Rod Fire Starter (Photo # 13)
These little rods are great for creating sparks to start a fire. They also take up very little room in a pocket survival kit. They do take a little practice with to become proficient with to start a fire. They can also be sewn into the clothing that you wear in the field so that you always have a way to generate a spark. These rods can be soaked in water and still generate a spark.
There are other methods of starting a camp fire but the above are the most popular.
You MUST practice with any and all methods of starting a fire that you plan to depend your life on, before going into the field or before a disaster occurs.
Practicing all of the above ways to start a fire is a very good idea but it does take a little practice to become proficient with them.
If you want to learn how to use any of the above mentioned ways to start a camp fire, just enter the one you are interested in, into a computer search engine, do an internet search and you will find more information than you need.
NOTE: In the first part of this article, I told you that my grandfather taught me how to start a camp fire. He was always able to start campfires in almost any weather. I never could figure out how he accomplished this.
After many, many camping trips and campfires, I ask him how he accomplished this. My grandfather laughed and said I use my special camp fire elixir. It works every time!
I inquired as to what his camp fire elixir was because I had NEAVER seen him use it.
My grandfather laughed again and stated, what I did not tell you about campfire starting is that after making my fire pit and placing my kindling in it, I put my special camp fire elixir on the kindling. It works every time. My grandfather then reached into his day pack and pulled out a yellow can of Zippo lighter fluid. He stated I just squirt some on the kindling when you were not looking. My camp fires start every time.
I told him that all these years he taught me how to light campfires and stressed how important it was to be able to start a fire that could save my life, he had been deceiving me. My grandfather responded, you can build a camp fire in almost any weather and are better for it. Now you know another way to enhance your chances of success.
My grandfather continued, “I have taught you everything you know about campfire building! But I have NOT taught you everything I know about campfire building!”
My grandfather was a very wise man. I really miss him.
NOTE: The Coach does NOT receive ANY compensation, from ANY company, for using ANY product, named in ANY of his articles.