I tend to think that being able to start a fire is a pretty vital skill, don’t you? Unfortunately, fire starting is not always easy. Weather conditions, skill level, type of spark and type of tinder all have an influence on your success rate.
Let’s talk about tinder. Tinder is some sort of highly ignitable material that will catch fire quickly and easily from a spark and sustain it long enough to get a real fire going. Using tinder properly is critical to sustaining a fire and this is where rookie survivalists frequently fail. You can’t only be good at starting a fire in dry weather conditions where an abundance of tinder and firewood exists; you have to be able to start one just about anywhere.
I classify tinder as follows:
Natural Vs. Man-Made
Natural tinder includes things like dry leaves and grass, vacant bird nests, tree bark , pine needles and tree shavings. There are 2 rules for using natural tinder: it has to e dry and it has to be dead. Man-made tinder includes paper, especially manufactured tinder and DIY tinder supplies (like Vaseline-dipped cotton balls). Both types of tinder can be great for starting a fire.
Prepared Vs. Emergency
Prepared tinder is something you bring with (whether you buy it on Amazon or make it yourself) or something you find and keep while you are bugging out (for example, you collect dry grass or bark if you can see that rain is coming). Clearly, having tinder prepared in advance is preferable.
Highly Flammable Vs. Less Flammable
Some things just ignite better than others. Crispy dry grass ignites a lot better than thick tree bark. You want the tinder to be flammable, but there is a caveat (I will address it below.)
Long-Burning Vs. Short-Burning
Different tinder has different burning life. Some tinder materials ignite on contact with the spark (try tissue!) and some take their time (have you ever used bark?)
The caveat is that unfortunately, there is always a tradeoff between flammability and “burn life”. The best tinder has a good balance. Also, I should mention that it is not uncommon to use a couple of types on tinder in the same fire.
So, what are the best tinder materials that have goo flammability and burn rate? I favor these:
- Birch bark
- Birds’ nests
- Vaseline-dipped cotton balls
- Dryer lint
- Ultimate Survival Technoogies WetFire Tinder– this is a commercially manufactured tinder product that ignites in all weather
- Perhaps the best thing about it is that its burn life is actually longer when it is wet
- Four Seasons Survival Tinder– this is a pretty popular survival tinder choice, not to mention it is used by the military
Is there really the ultimate survival tinder? I think that what tinder is best for you depends on your situation and what is available. Always carry prepared tinder with you when you are hiking, camping or bugging out – it is so much easier than scraping off tree bark or trying to find dry grass.
To your survival,