The Best Types of Tinder that Give You Superior Fire Building Abilities
by Brandon Hunt
Fire starting is a skill in itself. It’s not really a hard thing to learn or do, starting a fire. But some practice is advisable.
Of course when I was a Boy Scout I had plenty of fire starting practice. My favorite part of scouting was going on the campouts. And one of the first things boys on a campout love to do…is start a fire.
Fire starting seems simple enough. However you should practice using different lighting methods with different tinder. A ferro rod takes effort to get the sparks needed for the tinder. You’ll want to know how easy different types of tinder, natural or commercial, are to light.
No worries…it’s easy
You don’t want to wait until you really need a fire in an emergency and finding out that sometimes starting a fire can be hard.
The problem with starting a fire is the misconception that it’s easy. Sure, if you have enough matches or lighters — eventually you’ll get a fire going. But that’s not what we’re after.
It’s all in what you carry
By now, if you have been reading our posts, or gathering supplies, then you know we’re big on preparation.
Also, this post is a companion piece to a previous one on building your own fire kit. I thought it might be good to go over different types of tinder you can include in a fire kit.
You can always forage for tinder in your immediate surroundings, though sources of tinder will be determined by the area. A wooded area offers more options than say…an urban environment.
Smart preparation would compel you to carry tinder that quickly and easily lights up or catches a spark. Fortunately there’s a lot of great tinder material out there, both natural and commercial.
Homemade and Natural
The following tinder suggestions are easy diy types you can make at home, and then there’s the tinder you gather in nature. I always feel it’s a good idea to carry a variety of tinder in a fire starting kit — you never know what will work best in a given situation. The list is by no means extensive but hopefully provides some ideas.
Dried grasses, twigs, pine needles, birds nests, etc.: This is the kind of stuff you’d find while out camping. You could gather some natural tinder to carry in your fire kit, it’s up to you, but I would first use what nature provides, and save the tinder in your kit for other times.
Fatwood: The best natural fire starter you can find. It’s harvested from old pine stumps and tap roots. After a pine tree has been cut or damaged the tree sends terpene-rich resin to the stump, or damaged area, where the resin soaks into the wood and remains there hardening. If you're lucky enough to come across such a stump, harvest the fatwood. And if you can’t find any, you can always buy some.
Char Cloth: This is a type of tinder you can make on your own. Here is a link to a wikihow if you want to make some. Basically it’s a small piece of fabric that is converted into tinder through a slow burn process.
Cotton Balls and Vaseline: This is quick and easy. Just coat some cotton balls in petroleum jelly and you have reliable tinder.
Potato Chips: Maybe it’s the grease, or other ingredients, but chips actually work quite well as tinder. Kind of makes you think twice about eating them, or at least wonder what ingredients are used since they light up pretty good.
Cattail Fluff: Cattails are plentiful and grow in many places with standing water, like ponds and marshlands. Collect cattail fluff from that brown, oblong piece at the top of the cattail (in case you weren’t sure what part to harvest).
Wood Shavings: Just like it says. Shave thin pieces of wood from a stick or a split log. You can do this at the campsite or even keep a small collection in your fire kit.
These days there’s almost endless options for commercially made fire tinder. There are some good options available. You may want to add one or two to your kits.
Tinder rope: There are all sorts of commercial tinder rope.
Pyro Putty: I like this stuff. It will light when wet and has a good burn time, at least long enough to get a good fire going. Made Phone Skope here in the U.S., Pyro Putty is a fibrous, pliable, sticky substance ( I don’t know what else to call it, cause it’s not actual putty) that makes starting a fire so much easier. It also comes in varying temperature grades, indicated by color that coincides with the seasons. As I said, I use this stuff to start fires when I go backpacking.
Magnesium Shavings: Small shavings of magnesium that catch sparks easily. Another great option for a fire kit.
Paracord Inner Strands: If you have paracord (which you should for its versatility) just know that the thin inner strands of the cord make for good tinder in an emergency.
Steel wool and 9v battery: It may not be your first choice as tinder, but it’s good to know and keep some around, along with a 9v battery. Plus it’s a fun way to start a fire.
Chapstick: Don’t like the tube of chapstick itself, rather coat some string or twigs with the chapstick. It should hold a flame long enough to light your fire build.
Fire sticks: These come in all sorts of types from boxes of small tinder bundles to fatwood sticks, or a composite material.
So many aspects of prepping can crossover into other areas like camping or backpacking. In fact many survival/preparation skills I practice while out camping. Whenever I have new items or methods to test, it’s to the woods I go. That’s what I did when I got my new fire starting items.
If you’re practicing or teaching a youngster how to start a fire, be sure to take all safety precautions. Wouldn’t want any accidental fires occurring.
From a preparation standpoint, having fire tinder on hand or in storage gives you options for starting a fire, whether you need it for heat or cooking.
Go out and gather your tinder and play with fire….in a safe manner that is.
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