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Backpacker Magazine – January 2012

Backpacker Bible: Make Fire

When disaster strikes in the backcountry, don't pin your hopes on prayer. Your ability to spark a flame could be the difference between survival and six-feet-under.

by: The Backpacker Editors

PAGE 1 2

Backpacker Bible
See all 10 skills every backpacker should know
{ True Believer }
Cody Lundin

“Of all the multiuse tools available, virtually none eclipse the adaptability and usefulness of fire,” says Lundin, who spent years honing primitive and modern wilderness skills, once lived for two years in a brush shelter, and founded the Aboriginal Living Skills Schools in 1991. “Ideally, carry three different methods for lighting fire,” says the author of 98.6 Degrees: The Art of Keeping Your Ass Alive.

>> Matches Use strike-anywhere matches, which can be lit on anything from a zipper to a rock. Coat your matches with paraffin: Dip them in melted-down candles, and dry them heads-up (prop them in Styrofoam) so you don’t get fat globs of wax that could hinder lighting. Your coated matches will burn twice as long (about 60 seconds) and with a larger flame than if uncoated. Now store them in a waterproof match safe, like Coghlan’s Match Box ($2,, and glue a piece of 400- or 600-grit sandpaper to the outside bottom of the safe. Don’t cram in so many matches that it’s hard to get one out with cold fingers.

>> Lighter Duh, right? But they’re not all created equal. Carry the flatter profile, non-childproof lighters because they a) typically have the adjustable flame option; b) have nonopaque bodies so you can see the butane supply; and c) are easy to operate with gloves or chilled fingers. Shop around: You want a lighter that has a blow-torch flame on high. 

>> Tinder Cotton balls lathered in petroleum jelly burn for up to six minutes—a huge advantage in damp conditions. You can buy ready-made tinder, but this DIY option is easy, fast, cheap, light, effective, and even multiuse (you have on-demand lubricant for gear and skin). Be sure to get cotton balls made from 100-percent cotton (yes, synthetic varieties exist) that are “triple size.” Rub petroleum jelly into the outside of the ball; you want to saturate the fibers but leave the center dry, for easier lighting. Need heat? Simply tear open the ball, exposing the dry center, and light. Store six to seven of these little fireballs in a film or pill vial.

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Star Star Star Star Star
Wandering Camper
Dec 13, 2013

Using the back side of your knife on the embedded flint will keep from dulling your blade when trying to light magnesium. The spark is actually pieces of metal from the blade and not the flint. The flint is a harder material and damages the metal, the heat is produced from the friction created by scraping these two hard objects together. Some magnesium kits come with scrapers too.

Star Star Star Star Star
Mar 26, 2013

the Scotch & S'mores is a great idea!

Mt. Man Cam
Sep 11, 2012

As any pyromaniacal Boy Scout could tell you, in an emergency situation a 9-volt battery stuck inside a pile of steel wool will light right up because of the short circuits that are caused by the battery. Couple that with shredded twine or some shaved sticks and you will have a great fire starter

Jul 23, 2012

ken NJ
Jun 27, 2012

If you take hand gel to clear your hands --- squirt a small amount on your tinder... the stuff burns and the flame last for a few minutes -- enough to get wet tinder and wood to burn...

My two cents!
Jun 07, 2012

We recently got to the campsite while raining for several hours. All wood and tinder was wet.

We took our lit propane stove and held it to the wet tinder. After the tinder and some small twigs were started we shut off the stove.

Needless to say we had a good fire after five minutes of slowly adding bigger pieces of wood. This worked quickly and trouble free.

May 24, 2012

Carry some jute twine as zipper pulls etc-- the stuff lights right up with a spark after you fluff it up ---and it is real cheap. Also tie a small piece around the button on a bic lighter to prevent it being depressed and losing butane and you will have it for tinder later.Also I have used everything and the absolute best fire start device is the Doan magnesium bar with flint.

Jonathan Kniskern
Apr 24, 2012

Cody is also on the acclaimed (by me) TV show, Dual Survival - a great show for anybody interested in survival skills. His pard Dave is the opposite of Cody, so it makes for interesting TV. They finally had to make Dave start the fires because it's just too easy for Cody - in any and all conditions! I like Bic lighters and bring a new one when I go - my only comment.

Apr 21, 2012

I just use storm proof matches that I keep in a waterproof match box with the striker inside. This is a back up to the 2 lighters I pack in a ziplock bag and a magnesium fire starter in case things go south.

As far as sparking tools, I have never had any success with them in wet climates but have never failed to start a fire with some fire paste and a lighter. Plus it is much more simple.

Feb 07, 2012

Good tip about old paraffin-dipped matches. All of mine are many years old. I better freshen them up.

Did you mean the paraffin degrades the 'phosphorous' rather than magnesium?

Feb 05, 2012

Practice. Practice. Practice. It's not always as easy as striking a match or getting a spark. I had my two sons who are scouts use a magnesium starter and other methods to lite our backyard fire pit. It quickly reminded them it takes some know how, patience and PRACTICE to get it right. Something you don't want to find out in a survival situation.

Feb 03, 2012

Jan 27, 2012

Regarding matches dipped in paraffin wax - CAUTION.

Over time the paraffin degrades the magnesium in the strike-anywhere match and they will not light.

Good to make a fresh batch before a trip, they do burn longer, but they will not work after a short time in storage.

Better to practice using a sparking tool. Burns hotter and works when wet.

My two bits!


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