In 1908, American author Jack London wrote the short story “To Build a Fire”, a wonderful story which demonstrates how the ability to start a fire in the wilderness can mean the difference between life and death. In London’s story, the main character perishes on the Yukon Trail because he is unable to light a fire. While most of us may never find ourselves in this situation, it is wise to prepare for such an emergency because fire is often necessary for survival.
Every hiker, camper, or backpacker should carry a fire-starting kit. Fire is not only necessary to provide warmth and for cooking, it is an effective way to sterilize metal instruments and to kill bacteria in drinking water. Fire can also be used to ward off wild animals, mosquitoes, and serves as a means of signalling distress in an emergency situation. Because of fire’s importance to survival, having emergency fire starters in your backpack is a must.
Why do you need a fire starter? In perfect weather conditions, starting a fire is quite easy. However, the times when a fire is needed the most are times of bad and inclement weather. Being unable to start a fire in snowy or rainy weather is an invitation for hypothermia and pneumonia. Fire starters, as the name implies, are items that ignite easily even under bad weather conditions.
There are many things that can be used as emergency fire starters. Most of these items are kept in a small plastic bag along with a few wooden matches. When adding wooden matches to a fire-starting kit, it is a good idea to coat them with wax, which will make them virtually waterproof. This fire-starting kit can fit easily into a pocket or in a backpack. Here are some common fire starters that can come in handy in an emergency outdoors situation:
1. Cotton balls. Natural cotton ignites easily when dry. Cotton balls are also very cheap and lightweight. The drawback to using cotton as a fire starter is that it is impossible to ignite wet cotton, and the flame produced is short-lived. In order to remedy this, some campers coat their cotton balls with petroleum jelly. The petroleum jelly burns slowly, allowing for a longer-lasting flame.
2. Newspaper. Shredded newspaper is also an effective fire starter that is cheap and lightweight. A rolled-up newspaper, bundled with string, is also an effective fire log.
3. Dryer Lint. Dryer lint is extremely flammable. After all, dryer lint is nothing more than very fine cotton particles. Many house fires are often caused by the ignition of dryer lint, which demonstrates the volatility of this inexpensive fire starter.
4. Tinder fungi. It may be necessary to start a fire using only what you can find in nature. Many species of mushrooms are known as tinder fungi because they have been used for thousands of years as fire starters. Tinder fungus is most often found growing on birch trees as a black, hardened mass. The scrapings of this fungus will ignite easily, even without a match or a lighter. Often, the heat generated by rubbing two pieces of wood together is enough to spark tinder fungi.
5. Moss. Dried moss is an exceptional tinder for starting a fire. Unfortunately, moss usually grows in moist conditions, making dry moss hard to find. However, in an emergency situation, knowing that dry moss is a great fire starter just may save your life.