Fires keep us warm, get us dry, cook our food, act as a signal and make us feel good.
Anyone can eventually get a fire going but getting it done quickly can be a life-saver, or at the very least get everyone warmer sooner. The “one match fire” works with practice, but carrying a minimal amount of fire-lighting stuff is a better idea.
Bic lighters are very dependable and small enough to carry one in your pocket and a couple more in your pack or survival kit. Because they are mechanical, they sometimes break or run out of fuel so as a back-up always carry wooden “strike anywhere” matches in a water-proof container. Glue a small piece of fine sandpaper under the lid as a place to strike the matches.
The real secret to fire lighting success is tinder (small twigs, old man’s beard, bark, paper, etc.) that ignites easily. You should always have this stuff with you when you are out on the land. If you are hunting or fishing, you should have the regulations booklet with you and it’s made of paper.
Tinder can be carried in a zip-loc bag to keep it dry. Cotton balls soaked in Vaseline can also be carried in a waterproof container. These are never-fail fire starting tinder.
Other non-commercial instant fire material includes dryer lint, duct-tape, chain-saw chips dampened with kerosene (carried in a small plastic jar) or sawdust/chain saw chips coated with melted paraffin. Use egg trays to make these and just break off what you need to get the fire going — one is usually enough. One or two sections can be carried in a zip-loc bag or a jar, and the whole egg tray can be carried in your boat, truck or ATV.
Having a saw, or especially an axe, will provide everything else you need to start and keep the fire. Lots of kindling (the smaller the better) and smaller wood should be split and arranged over the tinder to allow good air flow and wind protection before striking a match or flicking your Bic lighter.
After lighting the tinder and getting the kindling and small wood flaming, you usually have a few minutes to gather and split some larger fuel to maintain the fire. If the fire is to last a while, especially through the night, a lot of fuel must be gathered. It is very difficult and potentially dangerous to gather wood in the dark so be greedy and gather more than you think you’ll need for the night. Everyone in the party should be involved in the wood-gathering.
A reflector of stones, a stump or a natural bank will direct the heat and block the wind and weather. Even a tarp is an effective reflector but it must be far enough from the fire to keep it from burning or melting.
When it comes to making and maintaining a fire, a little preparation can make life a little easier.