A lot is written about fire in survival texts and I won't go into details about all the different ways of creating a fire, but rather the essential items you will want in your kit, and why.
Forget about matches. They are an outdated method for creating fire and are problematic. They take up a lot of space for relatively few "lights", and you may need to strike several matches to start a fire if the wind gets to them. They are prone to breakage. If standard matches get wet, they are useless. You can keep them in a waterproof baggy, with the striker, or you can buy or make waterproof matches, but as you will see, waterproof matches are not necessary.
Standard Cigarette Lighters
For roughly the same volumetric space as a standard packet of matches, you can carry a lighter. Carry 5 what the hell.
I have only ever bought Bic lighters for as long as I remember and for good reason - they are safe and reliable. Every time you need a new lighter, buy 3 and stash 2 away.
A quote from their site:
Every BIC® lighter undergoes more than 50 separate, automatic quality checks during the manufacturing process. This includes testing of each and every finished BIC® lighter by lighting and extinguishing it to ensure the lighter performs properly before it ever leaves BIC’s factory.
They boast around 2000 "lights" each* - far more than the 50 you will get from matches (unless you do that splitting the matchhead thing which is just stupid).
*unless you smoke bongs
And one of the biggest benefits of a cigarette lighter: they are WATERPROOF. Well, not entirely, if you get it wet it might not spark immediately, but it takes very little to get it dry enough to spark and sustain a flame - even if it has been fully submerged.
- Remove the child proof strip. This is easily done by levering it out with a small screwdriver or the tip if a knife. I do this anyway because I hate them. Leaving these strips on will provide some protection against getting the flint wet in the first place however.
- Put the lighter to your lips and suck air through the striker.
- Strike the flint without pressing the gas if you can avoid it.
Repeat steps 2 and 3 until you get a spark, at which point you will get a flame which will dry the flint completely in short order.
The entire process will take less than 30 seconds to get a flame from a lighter that has been completely submerged.
You don't need a fire-lighter every time you start a fire, but they are worth carrying for when materials are wet, or a little green, or you just need a little boost. I prefer to carry the fibrous kind, they are made from wood pulp and some sort of fuel. The ones I have are made from 45% wood fibre and 55% wax.
If materials are wet, circle them around the initially small fire and let them dry without smothering the delicate flame. Start with the smaller kindling on the outside surrounding the central fire, and the larger fuel surrounding that. Bring the outer material in as it dries and feed the fire, gradually building it up and providing more heat for the larger wet material surrounding it.
Larger sticks and logs on the ground that have been sitting in standing water will be wet on the outside, but will still be dry in the core unless they have been soaking in water for a long long time. Dry the surface of such materials next to your fire, with the smaller materials closer to the centre.
By following this logical process you will always be able to get a fire going in the wild no matter how long it has been raining.
Notes on Other Fire-Lighting Devices
Firesteel is a compact and convenient device. If you are skilled with it, you will get even more fires from it that from a cigarette lighter. While these tools don't last forever, they will last a LONG time, and are essentially waterproof and will produce a spark easily when wet. I definitely recommend stocking one or two of these in your kit.
Fire-Pistons are an ancient device for creating an ember with which to kindle a fire. If treated properly, a good fire piston will last a lifetime. While not completely waterproof, by design they are sealed tight when not in use, making it very hard for water to penetrate, even if totally submerged for long periods.
Zippo-style lighters are robust and will last a lifetime if properly cared for, providing you have spare flints and can find fuel for it. Substitute fuel includes:
- Alcohol: works well, but evaporates quickly
- Lantern fuel: hard to light, but will burn admirably when ignited
- Kerosine: works well.
- Camp stove lantern fuel: essentially the same as lighter fluid (naphthalene)
- Nail polish remover: probably would work
You may be tempted to try diesel or petrol (gasoline). Don't. Diesel won't ignite from a spark, and petrol will puncture your face with exploding lighter parts. If you have petrol and a sparking lighter, soak something with a SMALL amount, and ignite that.