Fire! A test for survival!

The next instalment testing the contents of my bug out bag: How to start a fire!

The essentials for survival: Water, Warmth & Food.

It’s no secret that the key ingredients to successful survival are clean drinking water, shelter from the elements, including warmth, and the ability to cook any food you can catch, but unless you’re stranded in a supermarket, for each of these you’re going to need a good fire.

The reality:

Fire can clean dirty water, keeps you warm, cooks your food and is a great moral booster. To survive in most emergency situations which require you to live outside your home, you must make sure the ability to make fire is contained within any bug out bag.

So how do you start a fire?


Image courtesy of Wikipedia

We need the three elements of the fire triangle. We have oxygen in abundance, so all we need to consider is the heat and fuel.

Fuel: Why not just use wood and a bit of rolled up newspaper? I hear you say. The idea is sound in theory, but in practice wood is heavy and you wouldn’t want to encumbered lugging around, sapping all your energy and slowing any journey. With a little luck it might be available where you intend to camp, or in an urban situation you may be able to find some other fuel, such as cardboard. Newspaper on the other hand burns very quickly and it great to help get a fire established, but it easily ruins if it gets damp.

Heat: A lighter, now that’s a good idea. Or is it? Lighters need fuel and they’re no good in the wet. Same with matches, there’s only a finite supply. So what should you carry in the bug out bag instead?

To start a fire, you generally need two types of fuel. A lightweight material which burns quickly, but catches alight with ease, and then a slower burning material which can really establish the heat, but often is more difficult to catch. In a non-emergency scenario, such as camping, a liquid fuel is both easy to light and will provide a hot flame, but the flame is only localised enough to boil a kettle of water, i.e. in a camping stove like the Trangia. When you want a full blown fire, you need tinder and heavy logs. Ideally you need a few different types of tinder, fast and slower burning, so once you’ve go a flame, it won’t burn through all the easily burning material quicker than you can get your main fuel to catch and get the fire roaring for the long night.

In my bag I recently added a resinated block of wood bought from a famous online store. It’s waterproof and with a knife you can easily carve off shavings to give yourself tinder. Or that’s what the label says! Yes the block of wood has a label. Yes I bought a block of wood from Amazon, telling myself it was special wood and well worth the price!

Now to the heat. A flint and steel does the job every time. You can use it to light your camping stove with a liquid fuel and is great as a source of ignition in many survival situations. It’s lightweight, you can use it if it gets wet and it will never run out.

So gather up some dried wood, put the knife, tinder block and the flint and steel together and you’ve got everything you need. Right? I’ve never actually done this before, so one sunny afternoon I thought I’d put it to the test.


It didn’t work.


The thousand degree sparks kept coming, but there was never any danger the wooden shards would catch. It soon became obvious I needed something which would catch much quicker and just at the time I was scratching my head, out walks my fourteen-year-old daughter into the garden where I sat frustrated around the flame free fire pit. 

“In girl guides we used cotton wool,” she said and walked back away from my huddle, warm only from the sun pouring down. Okay, I thought. Couldn’t hurt to try. I live in a house with three woman so we must have cotton wool somewhere. Five minutes later I return outside with a massive bundle of the stuff in my hands, ready and kinda hoping this wasn’t going to work. I pinched a ball from the end, carefully placing it on top of the resin soaked tinder.

Strike one. It didn’t catch and I felt a certain feeling of victory in my stomach.

Strike two. Still nothing, but now I felt the victory turning to frustration. If this wasn’t going to work then what would?

Strike three. Nothing. But wait, the edge of cotton wool went black, then within a breath a flame sprung to life, soon catching on my wood from Amazon. I had a flame and if this was a real situation, I had time to add the main fuel, I had time to get a proper warming, water boiling, meat cooking fire going!

I was impressed, as was my daughter too, who I caught watching out of her bedroom window, looking at me with a smile bright on my lips. I nodded. Yes, I’d give her the victory and shouted a well done as she disappeared back out of view.

So there it is. Two lessons learnt.

Lesson One. A pinch of cotton wool in a baggy, maybe two for good measure, is a great edition to the bug out bag.

Lesson Two. Test your kit. Know how it works, then modify and overcome the challenges when you’re comfy at home so it will work if you every really need to rely on it.

And maybe there’s a third in there somewhere…talk to your kids. Listen to what they say! Take pride when they’re right and know more about a subject than you!

Here’s a list of the rest of the kit, which I’ve updated with the baggies of cotton wool!

Keep an eye out for further posts testing the rest of the kit and see if I’ve made the right choices.

In the End…Why not read about what happens to IMG_3486a group of friends whose world collapses around them, forcing them to make difficult decisions just to stay alive. It’s not going to be comfortable, or an easy ride. Find out if they’ve got what it takes to survive when they’re no longer at the top of the food chain…

Here’s Season One to get you started!


Submit a comment

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s