Let’s Talk Tinder

Posted on: April 1, 2016

Being able to get a fire going in different weather conditions is a critical survival skill. In many situations, fire is what you’ll need to keep you warm and dry you out. Not to mention, skill with fire making is an excellent boost to self-confidence.

Tinder is a crucial element of any fire making kit. I look at tinder as sort of the bridge between your spark and your kindling. Whether you’re using a butane lighter, strike anywhere matches, a ferro rod, or maybe a primitive method like the bow drill, none of them will light kindling straight away.

Fire making works in stages. Your spark lights the tinder, which in turn lights the kindling, which lights the larger fuel. You really can’t skip a step along the way, either.

What makes a material good tinder? The short answer is it has to be something that will light easily from a spark or small flame. It should also burn long enough to get your kindling going. Some types of tinder you can find on the trail include cattail fluff, seed pod fluff, dried grass, and fatwood. That last one goes by many names, including fat lighter, lighter wood, pine knot, and others. Basically, it is pine that has a large amount of resin trapped inside. Using a knife, you scrape or shave off bits. They’ll light off a spark or flame without any problem.

Unfortunately, sometimes it can be difficult to find tinder when you need it most. If it has been pouring rain for the last several hours, it can be near impossible to scrounge up dry, fluffy material. This is why most instructors, including myself, recommend keeping a stash of tinder in your various and sundry survival kits.

Now, there are several options for packable tinder, both commercially produced as well as homemade. For the latter, I like cotton balls soaked in petroleum jelly or cotton make up remover pads coated in wax. Both work very well. While the cotton material will burn quite easily all on its own, the petroleum jelly or wax extend the burn time a lot. Jute twine coated in wax works great, too. It burns far too quick all on its own, in my opinion.

On the commercial side of things, there are two products I particularly like and recommend. Instafire is a granular material that is all natural and easy to use. Simply pour out a small pile and light it with a spark or flame.

It burns quite a long time and will easily light your kindling. One thing I really like about Instafire is you can divide it up into smaller containers and spread the wealth, so to speak, between your different kits.

WetFire cubes are also quite good. You don’t need to use an entire cube for each fire, either. Simply shave off a small pile of material from the cube and light it up.

Some time ago, I did several tests of different commercially available fire starting materials and WetFire was one of the ones that burned the longest. It is very easy to light, too.

Here’s what I recommend. First, always have a small ziplock plastic bag in your kit. When you stop for breaks while hiking and such, take a look around and see if you can collect some bits of natural tinder. Keep it stored in that plastic bag until you need it. In addition, have some tinder you’ve brought from home ready to go in your kit. Consider this your backup or reserve source of tinder. Use the natural stuff you find along the way first, if available. This way, you’ll always have some in your kit that you can rely upon when you absolutely, positively have to get a fire going quickly.

Practice using different types of tinder under varying weather conditions. You may find that some materials work better for you than others. For example, many people like to use charcloth but I often have trouble with it. To each their own. If you find a particular type of tinder really works great for you, make sure you have plenty of it stashed in your kits.

2 thoughts on “Let’s Talk Tinder

  1. I like to make fire starters out of old candles and wood bits.
    Go buy a crock pot from the thrift store
    Throw all your old candles into it and melt on low
    Take scrap 2×4’s and cut into 4″ pieces and split those into french fry size bits and dump them into the crock pot
    Fish them out and let them dry and put them into baggies.

  2. Alcohol pads work great too and they are cheap. Plus they have other uses and are compact enough to fit anywhere.

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