Fire-Starting Problem!!

Posted by: Rusty

Fire-Starting Problem!! - 04/03/04 01:07 AM

I just got back from trying out my fire starting gear. The entire ground and trees were soaked and it was still drizzling. 1st I tried my zippo on some partially dried grass.- the flint was out! useless! But that was ok because i had many other methods.
-Next i tried regular matches (1st 3 broke) useless, didn't work on the grass.
-next i added some quick tab firestarters, they didn't spark up!
-Now i tried my Magnessium bar w/ flint, didn't work

Nevertheless.... my blastmatch would do the job..
Wrong... the steel stiker broke on the 5th stike!!!!!!!


How could all of my methods not work?
My Solo storm is a piece of junk and never works also!!

This experience really scared me because i couldn't even start a FIRE <img src="images/graemlins/frown.gif" alt="" /> I think i need to rework my firestarting plans because they never work when everything is wet!
Yes, i know very pathetic.
Any suggestions for WET WET firestarting??? (i can easily start one in dry grass obviously)
Posted by: Chris Kavanaugh

Re: Fire-Starting Problem!! - 04/03/04 04:05 AM

Don't feel bad Rusty, I've read many accounts involving indigenous peoples and seasoned outdoorsmen that failed too. Wet is wet, and combined with your catastrophic gear failures wasn't exactly a confidence building experience. My personal strategy is to carry a small bundle of fatwood along with my petrolatum soaked cotton balls. This is ( so far) enough to dry out additional gathered materials. Remember that a fire is only one method of keeping warm. Food and exercise will provide a measure of heat. Insulation and shelter in the form of clothing, survival or sleeping bag, tarp or small tent more so. A fire is always nice, but I think Jack London's protagonist in TO BUILD A FIRE should have dug a snow cave <img src="images/graemlins/shocked.gif" alt="" />
Posted by: Rusty

Re: Fire-Starting Problem!! - 04/03/04 04:55 AM

I will try too get some fatwood for my pack.

Furthermore,lighters, my SOLO Storm NEVER EVER works! i don't understand how a supported lighter can be such a piece of junk. But this just shows how unreliable some things can be! <img src="images/graemlins/shocked.gif" alt="" />
Posted by: Hutch66

Re: Fire-Starting Problem!! - 04/03/04 05:29 AM

For what it's worth, here's a tip for a fellow Zippo user: Slip a couple extra flints under the batting where you put the fluid and you'll always have a spark source at least.

Posted by: AyersTG

Re: Fire-Starting Problem!! - 04/03/04 03:28 PM

Well, it was a good thing that you went out and tried things. Is there someone you know who is extremely skilled at fire building? Sometimes an apparently difficult task can be much less difficult to master if a skilled person shows you how and then coaches you from here to sucess.

Some thoughts:

Wet grass is just one step above wet leaves, which are just one step above a wet sponge in my experience. Survey your surroundings and find better materials to work with - even prairies have woody brush and trees along aquifers and watercourses. Sometimes you have to get outside your first hand experiences; my paradigm in the upper Miss. Valley is trees trees trees - here's a trivial example of what I mean (with all the interesting bits amputated):

My Dad and I were in an extremely remote and rugged moutainous area of interior Alaska. We were several miles from camp, alongside the upper reaches of a glacier at the head of a steep erosion canyon just outside the lateral moraine. Dark was upon us and it was imprudent to return to camp for several hours (the moon would not be up until 6 hours later). An early snowfall had dumped a foot of wet stuff on everything the day before, and "everything" included the tiny little scrubby bushes that struggled out of the stony debris to the amazing height of... 8 to 10 inches. No trees - this was raw alpine terrain in the far north.

However, just before it got dark, I spied a seam of weathered out coal and lugged a cobble of it to where we were settling in. Raw, weathered out coal is not especially easy to light. I repeatedly bashed the cobble of coal on the stony ground until I had a double handful of small chips and flakes about the size and thickness of pistachio shells.

Dad and I gathered a hatful of woody stems from around us - as long as a pencil but much thinner. We stripped the bark from a handful, broke them, and pulled them apart. Laid a tiny fire and lit it, then quickly fed the rest of the twigs and the smallest chips of coal to it. Kept adding coal chips and in less time than it took me to type this, we had a nice small enduring fire of coal. (And we braised and ate one of our most memorable meals ever over that little fire)

That cobble lasted for the 6 hours it took to finish our business, wait out a drizzle, sky to clear, and moon to rise. Who thought of that? I don't remember - my Dad and I are a good team, so it was probably both of us. That was about 18 years ago and the only time since then that I have burned coal was a couple of years ago when my boys found a seam exposed in our backyard after a heavy rain (Rock Island Coal seam 2, I believe). So we made a small fire from it just so I could show them how Grampa and I did it. If we had relied on our upper MidWest growing up, Dad and I would have said, "Well, there aren't even any shrubs here, let alone trees - no fire for us."

The other thought (sorry for the windy post) is you said:

<< next i added some quick tab firestarters, they didn't spark up! >>

IME those light even after immersion. Did you fluff them up by pulling and teasing the fibers apart? Those are almost as good a starter as our homemade vasoline cotton balls (and a lot less messy). If I split the wood to matchstick thickness first, a quick tab will start completely wet and frozen wood on a cold January day.

But I can't teach anyone how to start a fire in good conditions in a BBS post, let alone in tough conditions. Hope this gives you a couple of mental tips and that you find someone nearby who can coach you. No telling who that might be - my wife shouldn't have any clue, but it would not surprise me if she could start a fire underwater. Unconventional approaches, but she never fails to get a fire going when the chips are down. Ask around.

Good luck and don't give up!


Posted by: aardwolfe

Re: Fire-Starting Problem!! - 04/03/04 08:49 PM

Well, this is an armchair quarterback speaking (i.e. I've never tried starting a fire in such conditions) but it seems to me that trying to start a fire with wet kindling is doomed to failure.

Even in the wettest of conditions, you should not just assume that "everything is soaked". Look up, not down, as one regular here says in his tagline <img src="images/graemlins/smile.gif" alt="" /> I would not look for wet grass, but for thin branches off a dead tree. I would go first for the branches that were sticking straight up - less surface area exposed to the rain = drier branches. Anything on the ground is bound to be damp; branches off the ground, if they're dead (i.e. snap easily) should be dry on at least one side (I'll let you guess whether the top of bottom would be drier in a rainstorm <img src="images/graemlins/wink.gif" alt="" /> )

It's also my understanding that the primary reason for splitting firewood is to expose the dry inner wood which will burn more readily. This is why it drives me kind of nuts to see people splitting a month's worth of firewood and then leaving it stacked outdoors, thinking they're doing a favour for future campers.

It should be relatively easy to ignite a handful of long, thin twigs with an open flame. If you hold them vertically, with the flame at the bottom, then the fire will travel upward and dry out any residual moisture as it burns.

If you have a good knife (say, a Mora with a 3.5 inch blade) you can easily slice long, thin pieces off the side of a log by using it as a wedge, I've done it with dry pine and dry birch logs. The first time I did this, with a pine log, I used a rock to pound the back of the knife, but a friend told me this was a bad idea as either the rock or the knife could splinter. When I did it to the birch log, I used a smaller log as a hammer (sorry about the terminology, I believe the correct term is a "mull" but I'm not sure and I'm too lazy to go find my dictionary) <img src="images/graemlins/grin.gif" alt="" />

I think I may grab a couple of birch logs and toss them in the shower with me for a few days (you can tell I'm a bachelor, can't you? <img src="images/graemlins/wink.gif" alt="" /> ) and then see if I can get a fire going with them.
Posted by: indoorsman

Re: Fire-Starting Problem!! - 04/04/04 01:39 AM

That was pretty much my experience with the SOLO Storm too...junk. I'll take a 99 cent BIC over a SOLO anytime!
Posted by: benjammin

Re: Fire-Starting Problem!! - 04/04/04 11:26 PM

A ferro cerium rod or a flint, the back of my knife, some fatwood shavings or a quick tab and I can get a flame under all but the absolute worst conditions (like low oxygen, submerged, zero gravity etc.).

Recognizing and collecting the right kind of tinder for the situation, such as it is, is another key factor in your firemaking success. If grass won't work, find and try other items that look promising. Flexibility, ingenuity, and tenacity (never give up, never surrender!!!). These are the keys to survival.
Posted by: Glock-A-Roo

Re: Fire-Starting Problem!! - 04/05/04 01:55 PM

1. I second aardwolf's advice: "look up, not down for fire supplies". Here in the Appalachians, even on a warm dry day the forest floor is usually damp. Picking up most any fuel from the ground is often useless. Look for small twigs and such that are caught in tree/bush branches up off the ground.

2. This is 20-20 hindsight, but it's hard to see how your quick-tabs wouldn't even light, let alone get your fire going...?

Regardless, kudos to you for trying your gear & skills out ahead of time, in a controlled situation. Don't give up, and you will gain confidence that cannot be had by those who never try.
Posted by: paramedicpete

Re: Fire-Starting Problem!! - 04/05/04 04:16 PM

Some of you may remember my daughter’s science fair project last year was “Can You Make Fire From Ice” based upon the idea of turning a chuck of ice into a convex lens. We had problems with bubble formation, despite boiling the water and with inadequate sun.

This year her science fair project was “Can You Make Fire From Air” based upon the fire piston. At first I was going to have her construct one and test it out, but time grew short, so we switched to comparing tinder sources using the fire piston to act as the ignition/spark source.

In the fire piston itself, we used Tinder Fungus, since I have always been able to generate a spark with a few “hits” of the piston.

We tested cotton balls w/ petroleum jelly, a commercial fire starter, shavings from fat wood, tow and homemade linen char cloth.

We set the upper number of tries to six. If we started a fire with less than six tries, we considered it a success and did not proceed any further. The creation of an actual fire was considered a success, if we only could generate smoke or a smoldering mass we considered it a failure.

We were unable to start even a potential smoldering mass with the following items indiviulally: cotton balls w/ petroleum jelly, a commercial fire starter, shavings from fat wood and tow.

We were successful the very first time using the char cloth and tow, which we then added to the fat wood shavings. We had a nice fire going within minutes. Pete
Posted by: MartinFocazio

Re: Fire-Starting Problem!! - 04/05/04 04:32 PM

My son and I routinely tromp out into the woods behind my house to have an "adventure". I bring the backpack that I keep that's sort of a hybrid Every Day Kit/Car Kit/Personal Survival Kit/Bugout Bag/Diaper Bag/Equipped Dad Bag.

In that bag, you'll find a wide range of devices that are useful for fire starting.

In the last "adventure" it was raining, it had been raining, and was going to keep raining for hours more. Still, as is our custom, I was going to build a small fire to warm up. We always get one going, in all weather, including heavy rain.

First, and most importantly, is a huge supply of decent tinder and kindling. You need much more than you think. Especially when it's wet out, you're going to need it just to get things going. Next, into the ever-popular plastic ziplock bag or a trash bag or something to keep the rain off, I shave dried sticks I found up high on trees and such with my knife, so they stay dry until ready to light.

Another key to success is a means of protecting your little fire as you get it going. We usually build a fire ring that's fairly deep out of some stones, if that's not an option, I've found that a small fire pit with a bit of a vent trench is a pretty reliable way to keep the small fire started. If it's really raining hard, I build a small lean-to style canopy (tiny, just a few sticks and some greens over the windward side of the fire to keep the bulk of the rain off, this really helps, and once the fire's really going, it burns off.
I also make sure that I'm patient. Sometimes I'll sit for 20 minutes feeding tiny strips of wood into a tiny fire that's just sputtering along until I get enough of a thermal mass to really light stuff bigger than a thin strip of wood. I've found that even with a Trioxane tab, you can't really build a decent fire that will last until you have a solid base of coals to heat and ignite things.

Finally, I always surround my fire with more firewood to dry it out some. This is expecially important in a smaller fire, since you will need a fairly steady supply of small wood to keep it going.

Posted by: X-ray Dave

Re: Fire-Starting Problem!! - 04/05/04 05:40 PM

A small candle can be used to dry out the tinder or supply a flame long enough for it catch.
Posted by: Anonymous

Re: Fire-Starting Problem!! - 04/05/04 07:18 PM

Ahh, the Solo Storm. Worst lighter I ever tried. I bought one before a backpacking trip based on positive comments on the site. Ouch. Maybe I got a bad batch, maybe they've gone downhill? I couldn't get the damn thing to light, in my house, the first night. I finally get back to the store to return it, and I get a new one. Mind you these are in a locked cabinet that none of the employees at this newish store seem to know how to open, they finally disassembled the case for me and got one out--vowing to never use that case again. <img src="images/graemlins/smile.gif" alt="" />

Anyhow, once bitten, twice shy. I get as far as my truck in the parking lot before I try again. This one hardly sparks at all, and the gas valve won't close without fiddling to pull it back up! Yeah, that's safe. I was livid when I took it back, I ended up apologizing profusely to the poor clerk for being in such a bad, loud mood over it since it wasn't really her fault.

So, for $25, I found an Eddie Bauer-branded Colibri at Target. It has a lanyard hole, a fuel level window, and is reasonably water-resistant. It always lights on the second try. Other than that, I bought a $10 "pocket butane torch" that works like a champ. Of course, I still carry a lot of backup.

The moral of the story is, try every piece of technology that you buy for a kit. You want to know it's crap before the store won't take it back, and certainly long before you need it. Just about everything is so cheaply made these days. Especially if it's sold < $50 it seems. Cheap BICs have much simpler technology than piezo ignition Solos and Colibris. Much harder for them to fail.

Oh, and one more plus for the cheap BIC: TSA won't let you on a commercial flight with a refillable lighter.
Posted by: Anonymous

Re: Fire-Starting Problem!! - 04/06/04 02:44 AM

Perhaps a piece of clothing along those lines, T-Shirt, shorts, the pockets from your pants, anything that might be dry. One usually has something on them that is dry that they can do without.
Carrying a few alcohol swabs in your fire starting kit could help tremendously and more likely to catch fire easier than some of the other fire starters.
There is creativity in desperation..........sometimes.
Posted by: Anonymous

Re: Fire-Starting Problem!! - 04/06/04 01:27 PM

As a health care worker, alcohol wipes are abundant. In my limited testing, they do light quickly, but burn out quickly, and generate little heat. I piled some magnesium shavings on a wipe, and lit it with my strike force. The wipe died long before the shavings ignited. Other wipes may burn longer, but I am not impressed.
Posted by: Anonymous

Re: Fire-Starting Problem!! - 04/06/04 03:12 PM

Have always worked fine for me. When possible, I squeeze some of the alcohol out to help ignite other material such as impregnated cotton; I view them as longer burning matches, easily ignited. Not the end all, but has helped me when needed.
Posted by: aardwolfe

Re: Fire-Starting Problem!! - 04/07/04 12:55 AM

How many alcohol wipes do you use? Just the one, or do you use multiple packets?

What do you ignite them with? A ferrocerium rod or a match? (Not trying to be insulting, just trying to eliminate the obvious.)

I've tried alcohol wipes a couple of times and I wasn't too impressed either. I get them whenever I teach a First Aid course, we use them for cleaning the mannequins, but I don't know if I've ever managed to ignite one with a FeCe rod.
Posted by: Anonymous

Re: Fire-Starting Problem!! - 04/07/04 02:24 AM

No problem.
I just used a match. I don't try and make it any more difficult than need be. As I said previously, I just consider it to be a longer burning match, used to ignite other combustables. I have only had to use them twice, but I used three each time (this was all I had in my FSK each time) all at once. Not my favorite way of starting a fire, but they did work in a pinch.
But by all means, go with what impresses you.
Posted by: Anonymous

Re: Fire-Starting Problem!! - 04/07/04 02:41 AM

Just did a timed test.
One swab burned for about 50 seconds with what seemed to be close to a 4" flame. For the last 10+ seconds the flame decreased until it went out. Burning time at least 60 seconds.
Becton Dickinson #326895, expiration date of ? none shown.
Listed as Thicker, Softer.
Can't say this is what I used in the past, but they are what I have in my kit now.
I imagine with any excess alcohol squeezed out, the burn time would be less, might also decrease with age.
However, plenty of flame to ignite TP or other combustables to start a fire.
Someplace on this site I have a post about FSK in a Can Keeper, or something to that effect, with a modified version of a FSK.
Posted by: Anonymous

Re: Fire-Starting Problem!! - 04/07/04 04:59 AM

I didn't time my experiment, but I'm pretty sure the burn time was no longer than 30 seconds or so. I will try again, and note the time, manufacturer, etc.
Posted by: benjammin

Re: Fire-Starting Problem!! - 04/07/04 05:20 AM

Okay, check this out:

I have one of these. I tested it out. I followed the instructions, and operating the striker is quite intuitive (easy to figure out even without instructions).

I lit the cotton on the third strike. It burned for about 5 minutes. The cotton was sitting in water (just as a test), and didn't burn completely, but enough to have worked for firebuilding I think.

It was actually easier pulling sparks out of this unit than it is with the standard metal match and the back of a knife blade. The price is right, too. It is now part of my daily pack, and I will get another couple for gp.

If you can't get a fire going with this little gem under all but the worst possible conditions imaginable, you likely will not with anything else save for a working butane lighter and a pile of dry tinder. <img src="images/graemlins/wink.gif" alt="" />
Posted by: Anonymous

Re: Fire-Starting Problem!! - 04/07/04 05:53 AM

The one I just tested did not burn itself, probably because I had it on a concrete floor. Appears that it was just the alcohol burning off.
So, it seems that the burn time would be dependent on the material used to make the swab and the amount of alcohol it holds. Also, if it were suspended in some way so that air could get underneath it, as it most likely would be when starting a fire, it might have burned faster.
Burn time might also depend on the age of the swab, how well packaged/sealed, etc.

Have to send this one in to "Watch Mr. Wizard" to get an official test done.
Posted by: Anonymous

Re: Fire-Starting Problem!! - 04/07/04 05:56 AM

Looks neat.
Worth adding a few to the kits. First time I have seen this.
Just in time for my REI rebate dividend.
Posted by: Paul810

Re: Fire-Starting Problem!! - 04/07/04 06:30 AM

Okay, check this out:

I have one of these. I tested it out. I followed the instructions, and operating the striker is quite intuitive (easy to figure out even without instructions).

I just bought one recently too. It works well to throw a spark, certainly well enough to light the tinder. Remember though, It is also a permanent match. Put a little lighter fluid in the hole in the plastic case and once the cloth wick on the metal match part gets saturated you can light it like a match on the flint. This means not only do you have a ferrocium rod, but basically a waterproof zippo......with the ability to keep the fluid longer. Keep in mind though that it is a bit dangerous which is probibly why it isn't mentioned in the instructions. (When you light it this way keep your finger over the hole and make sure the match is completely out before you put it back in) However, I see it as a much better version of a Zippo for survival purposes. You get the ability to use different fuels like a zippo, but you have a waterproof, non-leaking, non-evaporating version. It's like having the best of a Zippo and a Bic in one. <img src="images/graemlins/cool.gif" alt="" />
Posted by: Anonymous

Re: Fire-Starting Problem!! - 04/07/04 10:35 AM

Yup, it's the plastic version of the old Permanent Match, bundled without the normal instructions with some paraffin (wax) soaked cotton tinder cylinders very similar to those that come with the Spark-Lite. Best guess is that it's the cheapest source Coughlan's could find for a ferrocerium sparker of any kind.

I like the Permanent Match, though some have responded very negatively. I've carried one backpacking since the late '60s, and have a few in PSKs now. I find it much easier to use for starting fires, lanterns and stoves than a lighter, since it does operate more like a match. Obviously, if the fuel runs out, you still have a ferrocerium sparker.

It's not perfect- I've never had a safety problem with it, but then I've only used lighter fluid. I've read of other people using gasoline or white gas, which strikes me as dangerous. I've only used the plastic version, and it's held fuel without evaporation for several years, but I haven't tried the metal versions- I'm suspicious of whether any welded, brazed or soldered seams would really be vapor-tight over time, but I don't really know. They would seem heavier. Obviously, if used regularly, they don't hold much fuel- they're tiny.

A bigger downside is that if you let the "match" part burn too long, it can quickly get too hot to hold, or the fuel will burn out of the wick and the wick itself starts to char.

I got my last batch from a vendor on eBay, and they seem fine. One of the more valuable bits of instinctive wisdom I've picked up from decades of backpacking and camping is a deep horror of relying on ANYTHING that came in a green cardboard package with a diagonal red stripe in the corner. Do it enough times, and I predict you'll develop the same reflex. <img src="images/graemlins/wink.gif" alt="" />
Posted by: Anonymous

Re: Fire-Starting Problem!! - 04/07/04 12:52 PM

Pretty comprehensive feedback.
Thanks very much for the input.
Posted by: aardwolfe

Re: Fire-Starting Problem!! - 04/07/04 07:44 PM

One thing that I noticed when I just re-read the post - the reason your Zippo didnt' work was because the flint was out.

Did you consider using the BlastMatch or the matches to ignite the wick in the Zippo? It would have given you a longer lasting flame than just the matches alone. In effect, you could use the Zippo as you would a candle.
Posted by: Rusty

Re: Fire-Starting Problem!! - 04/08/04 03:09 AM

I did try that(and it worked fine to a certain extent <img src="images/graemlins/smirk.gif" alt="" />) but the failure made me so mad that i wanted to reformat my entire fire starting methods.
Posted by: Rusty

Re: Fire-Starting Problem!! - 04/08/04 03:13 AM

Also, today i went out again (and the grass was dry) i use my cotton balls w/vas. 1st i got some dry grass started with a match and then i placed a "ball" in and i almost set my hand on fire when it flamed up <img src="images/graemlins/blush.gif" alt="" /> <img src="images/graemlins/blush.gif" alt="" />!!!!!!!!
Posted by: Anonymous

Re: Fire-Starting Problem!! - 04/08/04 04:23 AM

Okay, so much for the class on fire starting.
Our next subject is First Aid!

Just kidding! <img src="images/graemlins/smile.gif" alt="" />
Posted by: Anonymous

Re: Fire-Starting Problem!! - 04/09/04 03:06 AM

Tore the pocket out of an old pair of pants and took three alcohol swabs out.
Put them in the pocket and squeezed them to get the excess alcohol into the fabric of the pocket.
Took a wooden match (sorry, I use the easy stuff when I can) and lit the soaked portion of the pocket, holding it upright to let the flame climb the fabric.
Seems like it would work quite well, as the flame moved quickly through the fabric and most likely would start a decent pile of kindling.
The garage was not a total loss and the doctor said the bandages would be off in a week or so.
Now, about that First Aid class!
Posted by: aardwolfe

Re: Fire-Starting Problem!! - 05/10/04 10:33 PM

Man, I really suck at this survival stuff <img src="images/graemlins/blush.gif" alt="" />

Took a drive out to Banff National Park yesterday and drove out to one of the picnic sites by the lake. Figured I'd get some hands-on experience in lighting a fire, so I brought along my P-60 MFB, my new backpacking camp stove, my Volcano/Kelly Kettle, a couple of Birch logs, and an Ericsson sheath knife to split the wood. Oh, and some newspaper. What else? A metal biscuit tin, with holes punched around the outside, that I thought would make a kind of portable mini-firepit, a couple of dry cotton balls in a watertight compartment on my key chain, and (as it happened) a book of paper matches.

Weather was blowing snow - wind wasn’t gusting too much but the snow was more horizontal than vertical. There are no open fires permitted at picnic sites (and you need a $3.00 “fire permit” to have an open fire at the campsites) but I figured a Kelly Kettle didn’t count as “open fire”. Just to be safe, I chose a picnic table by the lake, away from the trees. With snow 4 inches thick blanketing the top of the table, and more coming down, I didn’t figure there was much of a fire hazard, but you never can tell.

I started off by using the isopropane/butane stove to melt some snow. Was able to light it no problem with the ferrocerium rod on the MFB, melted some snow to put in the Kelly Kettle. Then I scrunched up some newspaper, split some slivers off one of the birch logs (from toothpick size to maybe finger-sized) and dropped them down the “crater” of the Volcano.

Now for a flame. Well, I figured I’d try the cotton balls in my key-chain. The first attempt, the cotton ball just fizzled and turned black. Second attempt, same thing. Didn’t stay lit long enough for me to set fire to a thin twig. Okay, third time lucky? I put some newspaper in the biscuit tin, put the remaining cotton ball next to it, and struck a spark from the MFB. The edge of the newspaper did catch fire, but the wind quickly blew it out.

I tried making a “Napoleon hat” out of newspaper and scraping some magnesium shavings inside it, but that wasn’t as successful as I’d hoped, so I gave up on it. That’s when I found the book of matches in my pocket, so I figured I’d just take “the easy way out”.

Well, lemme tell you - those suckers don’t stay lit in a high wind. I thought I knew how to light a match in the wind - cup it in your hand to shelter it - but the only way I could get one to stay lit was to hold it right up close to my chest, and if I tried to move it anywhere - pooft! I went through half a book of matches and finally quit.

I did manage to light the Kelly eventually - by firing up the campstove and holding a stick of birch log in the flame until it caught fire. Even that wasn’t easy - the wind was so stiff that the stick blew out every time I took it away from the stove. Eventually, by shielding it with my hand, I was able to keep it going long enough to drop it down the mouth of the Volcano. Pretty soon, there was a roaring blaze inside, flames licking out the top - but the wood burned down to coals before the water even thought about boiling. I cut some more wood sticks and dropped them into the kettle, and pretty soon the fire was going full bore again; but again it died down. I cut some more sticks and dropped them in, but this time the fire was out for good.

Some useful lessons learned:

1. Practice, practice, practice. I’ve lit fires using the MFB and a sheet of newsprint in much colder conditions, but not nearly as windy. It’s much more important to be able to use one technique in many different weather conditions, than to be able to use a dozen techniques in one specific environment.

2. Shelter from the wind is really important. I might have had much more success if I’d moved the KK into the trees, for example - or even put it on the ground beside the picnic table, rather than on top.

3. Paradoxically, being warm and comfortable helps you think straight. For example, I was standing downwind of the picnic table when I tried lighting the stove. This meant that to light the match, I had to turn my back to the stove; then when the match was lit, I had to turn around into the wind. It never occurred to me to move the stove to the other end of the table, so that I could use my body to shelter it AND the match. As I sit here in front of my computer, this seems blindingly obvious; was I being stupid, or was the cold starting to get to me? (fwiw, I wasn’t hypothermic, or even close to it.)

4. You always need more firewood than you thought you would.

5. In a real survival situation, I would most certainly have used a propane stove to light a campfire. Use whatever you’ve got and don’t be embarrassed about it; your buddies would much rather poke fun at you in the mess than say nice things about you at your funeral. :-)

I’m going to head back out there this weekend for three days. (I get Friday off every second week.) I’m going to get a fire permit for all three days, hike out to a backcountry campsite, and (see rule no. 1 above) <img src="images/graemlins/wink.gif" alt="" />
Posted by: Trusbx

Re: Fire-Starting Problem!! - 05/11/04 03:38 AM

good luck and keep up the good feedback!
I too am a novice at fire starting and hope to learn from the more experienced members of our forum.
Of course, being in the tropics, starting a fire to stave off hypothermia is not one of the priorities, but important none the less for cooking, purifying water, signals etc.

Posted by: billvann

Re: Fire-Starting Problem!! - 05/11/04 01:39 PM

My first attemp with cotton balls gave me erratic results. That's when I noticed they were synthetic "cotton." It still burns, but not nearly as well.

re: wind. Tip the table on edge to serve as a wind break and shelter from the wind. I actually started to feel a bit cold and miserable myself just by reading your post. And you had the safety of your car nearby in case of failure, something that would not be the case in a true emergency.
Posted by: aardwolfe

Re: Fire-Starting Problem!! - 05/11/04 10:40 PM

A friend of mine blames it on my misspent youth. She says I should have started smoking when I was sixteen like a normal teenager; then I'd know how to strike a match in a high wind. <img src="images/graemlins/wink.gif" alt="" />
Posted by: bountyhunter

Re: Fire-Starting Problem!! - 05/12/04 04:35 AM


I tried smoking once when I was very young.

I quit because being the perfectionist that I was back then (I've since learned you can always put off perfection.), I was afraid I wouldn't be able to distribute all those shiny, black, sticky, lung stifling, tar spots in an even pattern on my lungs.

It would have been so embarassing to me to have some doctor I don't know removing my lungs and criticising the uneveness of the pattern of the tar spots. I was so sensitive about that back then.

Bountyhunter <img src="images/graemlins/smirk.gif" alt="" /> <img src="images/graemlins/frown.gif" alt="" /> <img src="images/graemlins/cool.gif" alt="" />
Posted by: Anonymous

Re: Fire-Starting Problem!! - 05/17/04 07:29 PM

For wet wet firestarting, the best thing I have is an adjustable bic lighter or a jet lighter that works well (but they don't last very long)...

With the bic, you can hold the flame for 30+ seconds and dry out your tinder with it. Then it ignites. For high winds, jet lighters are a plus.

Of course, if they're cold, they won't work... So what. Just put them in your chest pocket and they're always warm and ready to go. If they're wet, soaked in water or whatever, just dry them off. As soon as the flint is dry, they work again.

I don't like matches, and I don't like fanc firestarting devices. I carry this:

- adjustable, brightly colored bic (not a piezo-electric one, just a regular flint, non-childproof, and if possible the clear model so you see if there's any fuel left).
- Swedish army fire steel with cotton balls soaked with some vaseline on the outside
- Jet lighter (in very high winds only)
- fresnel lens (great for sunny days when you don't really need a fire <img src="images/graemlins/wink.gif" alt="" />)

I play with the fire steel and fresnel often, but never really needed them (yet). The adjustable bic is what the monolith in 2001 space odyssey was representing... The adjustable bic should have streets named after it. The adjustable bic has saved more lives than penicillin and anti-sismic constructions together...


Posted by: goon

Re: Fire-Starting Problem!! - 10/07/04 07:46 AM

A tinder that I have found to be plentiful in my area and usually dry enough to work with is the outer bark from a grape vine. It dries up and just sort of hangs on them in a fibery mass until it falls off. The best way to light it is to fluff it up by rolling a mass of it in your hands, then make sort of a birds nest out of it. I usually use charcloth or a match to light it. Once you get that stuff burning, you end up with a determined, smoldering, hot mass of fire really quick. It will even smolder long enough for you to go get some fuel if you have to. I usually light it, build the "framework" for my fire, then blow on it a few times. It lights the whole thing up every time.
Only mention it because it is a good alternative to dry grass and even better IMO.
Posted by: dBu24

Re: Fire-Starting Problem!! - 10/07/04 12:18 PM

I AM NOT an expert in polar conditions survival techniques but from the little I do know, I can tell that in a severe snow storm or similar thing, it is rather useless to attempt lighting a fire. Under these conditions you'd better spend your efforts in building a proper shelter like an igloo. To warm yourself up inside the igloo, dress up with dry clothes, get into that thermal sleeping bag, consume a few chocolate bars and "do the bycicle". In no time you'd be sweating.

In sub polar conditions, you may still light a fire with the bark of birch trees- They ignite readily even if wet. In sub tropic places, there are some thorny bushes that will also ignite if green.

In places like Patagonia, for example, there is very little chance to light a fire out in the woods: there rains 360 days a year and everything is soaked like a sponge. Better get a Primus stove. easier to find fuel than "tinder'.

The best advice is that if you plan a serious adventure, do your homework. Less than that, and if you go out just for your amusement, stay within reasonable range from the nearest Holiday Inn and Pizza Hut and away from life threatening situations.
<img src="/images/graemlins/wink.gif" alt="" />
Posted by: aardwolfe

Re: Fire-Starting Problem!! - 10/11/04 05:51 AM

Well, fwiw, this wasn't a real blizzard and there wasn't enough snow on the ground to build a snow shelter. What snow there was, was too wet to be of any use in building a snow cave or any other form of shelter.

I've never been to Patagonia but I find it hard to believe it would be significantly harder starting a fire there than on, say, the Pacific Coast Trail.
Posted by: Anonymous

Re: Fire-Starting Problem!! - 10/11/04 12:27 PM

Well here are my fire starting experiences:

Back in the English summer of 2002 I fancied myself as getting ?average? at creating fire with my Swedish Fire Steel. I had it proudly attached to my knife sheath so where my knife was fire was too.

While scouting up the hill towards my local pad of trees is I gathered pieces of straw of the land and seeds of nettles bushes. Once between the trees I?d put the nettle seeds on top of the straw and would get my rod out. Only two or sometimes three strikes were needed to ignite the seeds (how can Ray Mear only do it with one?). The underlying straw would be picked up by my hands and cupped so that the straw would cover the top of the burning seeds and off it went?

I was proud it didn?t need any supplements from my PSK, only materials used.

Average was not the word that came to mind when I practised my fire making skills in the Scottish hills during the late summer of 2004. Unable to find straw or seeds I was looking for natural alternatives. The best I could come up with was dead bramble sticks which were still of the ground and using my knife to create slithers. Also created feather sticks in as kindling. This didn?t work even though it is softwood (it grows fast). Also had a newspaper with me in case with which I couldn?t even light it! Nor with candle from PSK or with lighter TERRIBLE! <img src="/images/graemlins/blush.gif" alt="" /> <img src="/images/graemlins/blush.gif" alt="" />

Lesson learned: learn to use a range of different materials.

When I go out camping I have a small fire lighting kit packed into a small waterproof container (old British army NBC container which held eye washing fluids). It contains a candle, rubber strips, hexamine fuel (excellent fire starter!), BIC lighter, some wax and three fireworks (create loud bangs more as a signalling device than fire starter).

In addition to this I carry a few long dry sticks of fire wood where I can take shavings of to use as tinder and the sticks itself as kindling. Once the fire is going I can split new sticks, lay it to the heat source and have dry kindling for the next fire.

Now even though the Zippo has had some negative publicity on this forum (not this thread) I am still contemplating owning one.


Posted by: goon

Re: Fire-Starting Problem!! - 10/11/04 02:34 PM

I have found greased cotton balls to be as close to fool proof as it gets for me.
Posted by: brian

Re: Fire-Starting Problem!! - 10/11/04 02:47 PM

My favorite commercial tinder is Tinder Quick. Recently I have been trying to carry less gear so I carry lots of stuff with multiple uses and I have no redundancy. With that in mind what I have found to work really well from even a small spark is the little 1"x1" alcohol pads that come in most first aid kits and can be bought at the drug store in boxes of 100 or more. They burn plenty long enough for me to light a fire with under almost any conditions and the are also effective for cleaning cuts and scrapes.
Posted by: Burncycle

Re: Fire-Starting Problem!! - 10/11/04 03:47 PM

I keep 2 spare flints in my zippo for just such emergencies <img src="/images/graemlins/grin.gif" alt="" />

Just put them in that place you squirt fuel (I usually remove them while fueling, then put them back after)
Posted by: bountyhunter

Re: Fire-Starting Problem!! - 10/11/04 06:12 PM


I don't know what type of filler material is in your Zippo, but mine has what appears to be cotton batting with a compressed formed cotton cover over the batting with a hole in it for clearing the flint tube. I put my flints (5) under that cover so it is between the batting filler and the cover and in that way, I do not have to remove or worry about the flints getting lost when I refill with fluid.

Posted by: Burncycle

Re: Fire-Starting Problem!! - 10/11/04 08:48 PM

That's what I mean, I guess I just worded it poorly <img src="/images/graemlins/smile.gif" alt="" />
Posted by: Anonymous

Re: Fire-Starting Problem!! - 10/12/04 12:39 AM

Tuck'em under the cotton pad, between the pad and wadding, and you don't have to worry about losing them when you refuel, they'll just ride there 'till you need 'em.

Posted by: TRex

Re: Fire-Starting Problem!! - 10/12/04 12:59 AM

At the USAF survival school one of the training revolutions was to build and maintain a fire in very wet conditions and do it in the quickest possible time. It had been raining and snowing for over a week, everything appeard to be soaked. The instructors took us over to some trees and proceeded to remove dead dry branches from the lowest portions of the tree. There were bunches of the stuff. We all had great fires in no time flat.
[color:"black"] [/color] <img src="/images/graemlins/smirk.gif" alt="" />
Posted by: Anonymous

Re: Fire-Starting Problem!! - 10/12/04 01:10 AM

I learned that little trick in the Scouts (Boy, not Sealous), evergreens work REALLY well, the green outer needles will even burn wet, and the dry inner twigs/branches will go up like gasoline.

Posted by: dBu24

Re: Fire-Starting Problem!! - 10/12/04 02:41 PM

Oh well....... but again, under such conditions, lighting a fire is of little use.

NOW, a tip: I was a heavy smoker for some 30 years (quit now for 3 years) and believe me, there's nothing easier to ignite/ difficult to extinguish than a good cigarrette. And a skilled smoker sure knows how to light a smoke.

Once I showed some colleagues how to lit once on a speeding open jeep. Hold the upper end of the cig together with the head of a match (any cheap ordinary match) and strike them together on the matchbox. Usually one attempt is enough. Now, we all know that a cigarrette can set in fire a whole forest.....
Posted by: Anonymous

Re: Fire-Starting Problem!! - 10/28/04 02:07 PM

My sister was in college and went on the ROTC camping trip as a guest. Her boyfriend of the time was in and wrangled her the OK to attend somehow. They get to the campsite and setup tents etc. It gets dark and no fire yet. Weather has been wet before the campout and ground wood is wet.

She gets out her flashlight and starts walking around shinning her light up in the trees. Others ask what she is doing. "Gathering firewood" she replies. Lots of laughter and jeers.

She was in a pine forest. She was collecting "Squaw wood". As already mentioned pines often have small branches at the lower levels that are dead but still attached to the trunk. Pine sap/resin is flammable and is stored in dead branches. SInce the branches are above ground, any wind that blows helps them to dry out quickly. Even after rains, the top may be wet but the bottom is often dry. So called Squaw wood because reportedly indian squaw women would collect it. It is available in size from 1/2 a pencil thickness up to about wrist size. Most anyone can easily reach it and break it off the trees. She collects an armload of dry kindling and precedes to lay a fire. Once her kindling was burning well, she added the larger but wet "firewood" that became dried and heated by the fire and eventually burned.
Posted by: GoatRider

Re: Fire-Starting Problem!! - 10/28/04 03:35 PM

Re: Squaw wood.

I used to do that a lot, it's really easy to get dry wood that way. But then the Rangers made us watch a video before going into the BWCAW, and you're not allowed to take wood from standing trees, even dead wood, even from dead trees!

I used to wonder about that, thinking "what's the harm, it's dead anyways". But as I've gotten more aware of wilderness esthetics, it's just part of what makes campsites and human impact more visible. You can see a campsite from across the lake for many reasons like that.

Actually, more recently I've taken to not even making a campfire when I camp. Tromping around in the woods looking for downed wood causes a lot of impact around the campsites, cooking over a stove doesn't get the pots all black, and my clothes don't come out all stinky. It's better for my lungs too. But most importantly, it turns my attention outwards in the evening. Instead of turned inwards towards the campfire in the evening, we turn the other way, and enjoy the wilderness which we are there to see. It's amazing watching the day animals going home, and the night animals coming out.

I'm glad I have the skills to find the wood and start fires, though. And I still carry a small hatchet, saw, and firestarting gear, just in case. In an emergency, I'll take dry branches from trees, despite the rules.
Posted by: Anonymous

Re: Fire-Starting Problem!! - 10/28/04 08:44 PM

dead wood is home (or food) for many small animals <img src="/images/graemlins/smile.gif" alt="" />
Posted by: brian

Re: Fire-Starting Problem!! - 10/29/04 02:11 AM

I gather wood and make fires probably more than I should and I do it primarily for practice and these days, mostly just when it's wet out or I'm freezing my butt off (or both). I think it is extremely important to practice my skills and keep them up but yes this does bring up many moral dilemas as I have touched on before with other important survival skills such as hunting and more specifically trapping. There's no way to win, your "skills" are nothing (IMHO) if never practiced but it is also wrong (IMHO) to damage the land or it's inhabitants when you are not forced to. But you (or at least me) try to find the balance and deal with it as best you can.