Fire

This started as a simple evaluation of fire starting options to evaluate for taking on a day hunt. It exploded into a pretty comprehensive list. If I’m missing an option shoot me an email, message, or leave a comment.

I found there are lots of products available for getting fires started.  If you simply want to start a fire, everything listed here will work.  However, not all the options are equally good in all circumstances.  Some don’t work in the wet and some don’t work in the cold.  Some require two hands to operate and some require a level of finger dexterity that cannot be counted on in an emergency.

I am looking at options for the following scenario: I am at 4-5k feet, in the woods, carrying a small daypack, hunting or scouting from a base camp I am intend to return to by nightfall. The weather has taken a turn to cold (as low as 12F) and/or wet. For some reason, perhaps an injury, I’m not able to return to base camp. I can only use one hand and the fingers on that hand are cold and not nimble. I’ve probably pushed myself too hard and finally realized I need to make my current location survivable until the morning. 

It is in this scenario that I am judging the the tools below. I plan on bringing a total of 2 or 3 of these options/combos. 

I’ve divided the items into 2 rough categories, Spark and Tinder. 

Spark – What starts ignition. Some Sparks, like road flares, are both. Since they start on their own I’ve categorized them here. 

Tinder – What will catch the Spark and hold the fire long enough to light the kindling I’ve gathered. 

Because the list grew much faster than I expected and is too long to sort though for my conclusions, I’ve put them here at the top. My first conclusion is the application affects the tool choice. There are some options on the list that are a bad fit for my day hunt but are great options for, say, a downed fighter pilot. Second, many of these tools are fun and “neat” but few are solving unaddressed problems. They strike us as cool and exciting but after the excitement wears off we see they are like many other products, and some are not actually as good. Finally, after all this I’m planning on bringing the following:

  • Bic and inner tube
  • Ferro rod and cotton balls
  • Buddy Burner
  • Zippo

I really liked the Lightning Strike system. It works well and is an intelligently planned out system. However, for my application it’s too expensive, large, and heavy and I think all the holes it fills can be filled by the Zippo.  However, I could see applications where it would be good e.g. vehicle emergency kit.  It’s still spendy though.

I really liked the Lightning Strike system. It works well and is an intelligently planned out system. However, for my application it’s too expensive, large, and heavy and I think all the holes it fills can be filled by the Zippo.  However, I could see applications where it would be good e.g. vehicle emergency kit.  It’s still spendy though.

Cool Finds

I am going to be getting a rope lighter.  They’re just cool and properly old school.  Cheap too!  Who knows, maybe it will bump one of my choice tools out from above.

I was happily reminded of the buddy burner. I was first introduced to this in the Cub Scouts with the Hobo Stove. It worked well.  That will be fun to get back to and build for my application.

Esbit/hexamine/trioxane stove.  While researching the Esbit tabs I found there are some really cool little stoves out there for them and that with these stoves, a few Esbit or trioxane tabs, and a pot-propping wind screen I could have a light stove setup that might be suited to my day hiking.  It can get cold up there and a hot cup of something just might be the ticket. I’ll have to to a cost benefit analysis contrasting a little stove setup with just carrying something like the Stanley 20oz Thermos.

Spark

  • Matches
    • Strike anywhere
      • +Light
      • +Cheap
      • -Require fine motor skills
      • -Not very windproof
      • There is some discussion whether they are as good as they used to be.  They can be made waterproof, while stored, by dipping in wax.  I’ve also seen suggestions for using nail polish and turpentine.
    • Weather/water proof
      • +Light
      • +Cheap
      • +Can be water proof and wind proof
        • There are many brands and they are unlikely to be equally good
      • +Elevation and temperature insensitive
      • I’ve seen a few versions and used a couple brands but they seem to have similar construction.  They have a wood match stick but extend the match head farther down the stick, i.e. roughly halfway, and that is what keeps it burning.  Some burn under water.
  • Lighter
    • Zippo
      • +Pretty light
      • -Fuel evaporates -> needs maintenance
      • +One handed operation
      • +Can be operated with gross motor movements
      • +Highly wind resistant
      • +Does not require properly prepared tinder
        • E.g. will light a piece of paper, twigs, scraps of cardboard, etc.
      • +Burns for a long time
        • Could be left burning as fire is built over and around it.
          • This could be dangerous and is NOT recommended by Zippo. I’d only do this in some kind of emergency and then fish the lighter out once it was no longer needed.
          • This may also wreck the lighter.
      • -Must be somewhat warm to work
        • Can be kept warm by storing near body
      • This is a surprise entry. I came across it quite by accident and realized it’s a strong contender. The issue for me is understanding the fuel requirements. Since I have one already I plan to fuel it up and see how many weeks it will last. In an emergency where everything is wet I could light it and build the fire on top of it, like the Überfire below. That’s pretty compelling to have Spark and Tinder in one package. As you’ll see, it won’t burn as hot as the Überfire but it will burn long. 
      • Alternate butane inserts:
        • Flame and spark wheel
          • https://www.amazon.com/VECTOR-Thunderbird-Yellow-Flame-Insert/dp/B008Z8W6BA/
        • Push button jet
          • https://www.amazon.com/Z-Plus-Extreme-Torch-Flame-Lighter/dp/B00ADTCJDY
      • Sealed case – will slow fuel evaporation and keep water out
        • https://thyrm.com/product/pyrovault-lighter-armor/
    • Bic/Clipper
      • +Light
      • +Almost always works
      • -Doesn’t always work
      • +Cheap
      • +Easily carry spares
      • +Does not require properly prepared tinder
        • E.g. will light a piece of paper, twigs, scraps of cardboard, etc.
      • -Must be somewhat warm to work
        • Can be kept warm by storing near body
      • -May be tricky to operate with sufficiently cold fingers
      • -Not windproof
      • Given its weight and size vs reward, this is a must bring. I will be bringing 2 or 3 with me.
      • What’s a Clipper? (Refillable and re-flintable, unlike a bic)
        • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clipper_(lighter)
        •  https://ferfal.blogspot.com/2019/02/clipper-lighters-7-reasons-why-they-are.html
        • https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=260&v=lm0-9OC4T3Q
    • Rope/Trench/Sheppard’s Lighter
  • Road flare / Fusee
    • +They burn in almost all conditions, once started, even under water (but not if held horizontally.  See FAQ below for more).
    • +Does not require properly prepared tinder and can skip some of the collection of smaller pieces of wood.
    • +Can double for signaling 
    • -Dangerous to handle
    • For more information on flare use go to:
    • There are road flares and marine flares.  Road flares are meant to be lit and set on the ground whereas the marine flares are intended to be held in the hand for signaling.  I haven’t been able to get a read on the weight for either but the road flares seem large and heavy.  I think I have seen small flares but not for sale.  This option looks like it is worth further research.
  • Fire steel / Ferro/Ferrocerium Rod
    • +Light
    • +Small
      • Or at least can be
    • +Wind, water, elevation, and temperature insensitive
    • -Generally requires two hands
    • -Needs properly prepared tinder
      • E.g. a sheet of paper won’t likely get started on fire with a ferro rod the way it could with a lighter
    • Which one?
      • There are many options available.  While I like the idea of a hefty ferro rod, the mysterious pigmonkey recommended the the smaller Light My Fire Scout.  When you don’t have strong evidence to the contrary, you would be wise to follow pigmonkey’s recommendations.  Too, the Scout is supposedly to be issued to Swedish soldiers who train extensively in the cold.  It’s probably equal to my environmental challenges. 
  • Lightning Strike
    • +Wind, water, elevation, and temperature insensitive
    • -/+Big
      • It takes up more space but makes it easier to use with impaired dexterity.
      • There is also a Mini Strike
    • +Self-contained kit of striker and tinder
    • +Can be operated one handed
    • +Not terribly dependent on fine motor skills
    • +Focuses shower of sparks
      • Will probably require fewer attempts to get fire started
    • -Needs properly prepared tinder
      • E.g. a sheet of paper won’t likely get started on fire with the Lightning Strike the way it could with a lighter
    • https://www.hollandguns.com/index.html
    • https://youtu.be/2eQmknbvAAA
  • Blast Match
    • +Wind, water, and temperature insensitive
    • +One handed operation
    • -Technique dependent
    • -Requires fine motor skills to apply the correct amount of pressure to striker
    • -Requires very firm object, like a log or rock, to press striker against
    • -Needs properly prepared tinder
      • E.g. a sheet of paper won’t likely get started on fire with a ferro rod the way it could with a lighter
    • -Require pretty significant force to operate.
    • I’m disappointed in this product.  I had hoped it was a spring loaded striker that functioned like a stiletto, where you pressed the ferro rod into the housing and with the press of a button the rod would spring out showering an area with sparks.  As you can see from the video it is exactly the opposite.
    • https://youtu.be/X771dRsP2rE?t=360
  • SOL sparker
    • +One handed sparking (Prepping the tinder may need two hands)
    • +Cheap
    • +Light
    • -Needs properly prepared tinder
      • E.g. a sheet of paper won’t likely get started on fire with a ferro rod the way it could with a lighter
    • -Included tinder needs to be fluffed up
      • Fine motor skills required for the gauze cylinders
      • Could pre-fluff the tinder
        • -?Would it stay fluffy?
      • Could be used with other tinder
  • Zippo – Emergency Fire Kit
    • +One handed sparking
      • Once the lid is off
    • +Contained system
      • Holds tinder in handle/body
    • +Floats
    • -May need two hands to open tinder container or get cap off striker
    • -Tinder (stored in device) needs to be fluffed up
      • Fine motor skills required to fuzz up the little pellets
      • Could pre-fluff the tinder
        • -?Would it stay fluffy? Especially in it’s little container
      • Could be used with other tinder
      • Is tinder water proof?
        • Probably not since they advertise how the system keeps the tinder dry.
    • -Needs properly prepared tinder
      • E.g. a sheet of paper won’t likely get the fire started the way it could with a lighter
    • https://www.zippo.com/products/emergency-fire-kit

Tinder

  • Inner tube 
    • +Light
    • +Cheap
    • +Can be used for many things
    • +Impervious to water
    • +Wind resistant once started
    • -Does not burn extremely hot
    • -Does not burn exceptionally long
    • +Does burn for a good while
    • This is my standard tinder and I keep it with my bic lighter.  In most circumstances it works great.  I cut a strip off the inner tube and light an end on fire.  It gives off some black sooty smoke but burns reliably and, if I have set up the tinder bundle properly, gets my fire started.
  • VaselineCotton Balls
    • +Cheap
    • +Light
    • +Small
    • +Burns for a good amount of time
    • -Can be messy if not stored correctly
    • -Must be stored correctly to keep it from becoming damp
    • +Easy to store correctly (Just get a sealed container that won’t react with the petroleum jelly.  Film canisters work great, pigmonkey suggests a ziplock will do too)
    • These are awesome but don’t head off into the wilderness until you have tested them and know they will work (You can fill them with too much Vaseline and then they’re hard, very hard, to light) and how they will behave.
  • Haxamine Tabs
    • +Cheap
      • Especially the Coghlan brand
    • +Burns for 5-10 minutes
    • +Can double for fuel in a stove
    • +Small
    • +Light
    • -Stinks!
      • The odor will permeate any container it is placed in.
      • Esbit tabs in the foil sealed packages are much better but can still stink a bit.
    • -Moisture sensitive
      • Moisture will encourage the tablet to break apart
        • This is a problem if they are not sealed while stored
    • -Sensitive to wind
      • Should use with a screen of some kind.
    • -Fiddly to get started
      • Does not light readily
      • One of the ways to get it to light is scraping shavings
        • This makes for two problems two problems:
          • Dexterity is required (probably with both hands)
          • Wind can carry scrapings away
  • Trioxane tablets – (MIL-F-10805D)
    • +Lights easily
      • Flame always works and a ferro rod will work though it may take a few tries.  The Lightning Strike will likely light them first try.
    • +Comes sealed which keeps tablet protected, contained if it breaks up, and may prolong storage life
    • -Comes sealed which adds a potentially difficult step to getting the tab out in an emergency
      • One may wish to pre-cut the ends to facilitate tearing open the package. tearing open a prepped package is likely able to be done with one hand and teeth.
    • -More recent version comes sealed in bars that can be broken into 3 pieces.  After breaking first piece off, the remaining 2 are no longer sealed.
      • Could be messy but I don’t imagine a few days exposed to the air will kill the remaining fuel
      • In an emergency in poor conditions you will likely want to burn the whole thing anyway.
    • +Does not burn with black sooty smoke (unlike hexamine)
    • -/+Apparently has half the BTU’s per unit weight of hexamine BUT puts out heat faster.  See video below for a comparison of both in boiling water.  The results in a nutshell are:
      • Hexamine 30g (2 Esbit cubes) took ~19 minutes to bring 20oz of water to the boil.
      • Trioxane 45g (3 individual pieces in succession, not a bar) took 14 minutes to bring 20 oz of water to the boil
    • +Burns for about 10 per bar or 3+ minutes per piece 
      • The older, smaller tabs also burn for over 3 minutes.
    • -/+ Not exactly cheap but currently not so expensive that you couldn’t reasonably experiment with them before needing to use them.
      • It appears from my initial research that the exclusive source for these appears to involve the US Military.  There was a time, over a decade ago, when they sold for 15 cents per bar.  They cost much more now and if the military changes procurement they could become much more expensive or not available at all.  On the other hand, there may be a time when they are ridiculously cheap again.
    • +MIL SPEC states “There is no applicable shelf life for this part”
    • This actually seems like a viable tinder with multiple uses.  It looks like a reliable fire starter and a reasonable fuel for heating a pot of something.  The package adds fiddling to its use but its ease of lighting kind of makes up for it.  It is a lot more expensive than inner tube and cotton balls but it also appears to occupy a space closer to Uberfire.
    • Hexamine vs Trioxane video:
  • Magnesium
    • +Burns HOT
    • -Burns briefly and almost belongs in the Spark category
      • If you make a big pile it will last longer but not as long as a match
    • -Need two hands to efficiently make shavings
    • -Shavings are easily blown away by the wind
  • Tinder Quick 
    • +Sold as being wind and water proof
    • +Claimed to burn for over one minute 
    • -Need to pull tinder unit apart
      • Fine motor skills to tease apart
      • Likely need two hands
    • I guess these were/are used in MIL pilot survival kits.  They make sense to me in that application but don’t seem to be superior to inner tube and cotton balls.
  • Napalm Tinder
  • WetFire
    • +Waterproof – can catch fire while floating in water
    • -Not cheap
    • -Must be shaved into small pieces to catch fire from ferro rod
    • -Individually packaged in plastic/aluminum like packaging that looks like a potential PITA to open.
    • https://www.ustbrands.com/product/wetfire-tinder-12-pk/

Emergency cold/wet weather fire starter

For that situation where you MUST get a fire started and the environment is against you.

  • Überfire 2oz.
    • +It looks like it works
    • -It’s $20-$30 PER FIRE.
      • This makes using it and understanding it an expensive process.  As an emergency fire source for downed pilots I think it makes a lot of sense, especially when you can collect taxes to pay for it. You may be able to smother it and use it again but then you have less burn time available for the next use.  It’s not a bad idea, and if I were sending a city slicker into the boonies, alone, I would throw one of these in his pack, but why would you do that to someone?
    • https://www.topsknives.com/uberfire-2oz
  • Buddy Burner
    • +Cheap
    • +Burns for a long time
    • +Puts out a good amount of heat and should be able to dry out wet, or at least damp, wood
    • +You can practice with it
    • -/+ Depending on the can you use it may be heavy and large.  However, you could get, And I would suggest getting, a screw top can.  For the price of an Überfire you can get a whole stack of screw top cans off Amazon.  
    • -Can be a little hard to get started.
      • My thought is to couple some other form of tinder, like the cotton balls, for starting, kind of like the Überfire setup.  This of course will require testing.
    • PRO TIP: many of the examples I’ve seen prepare the cardboard incorrectly.  Before you role it up you want to strip one side off the cardboard.  This will leave the other side and the corrugations.  Then it will roll up nicely.  Also think about sticking a birthday candle in the middle to help get it going.
    • http://blog.utahscouts.org/camping/buddy-burner-scouts-first-stove/
    • I’ve got to say, while I think the Überfire  is cool, I think the buddy burner is almost as good and a fraction the cost.  If you have a tuna can, corrugated cardboard, paraffin, and access to a kitchen, you have what you need.

Stove possibilities

Stove possibilities discovered in the process of assembling this list.

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