Fire Starting 101 – Lesson 2 – Choosing the Right Fire Starter & Creating Sustainable Fire

Our focus is always on how to create a sustainable fire. It’s the challenge, it’s the need, and it’s the want to be near something we can’t live without.  It all begins by properly choosing the correct tinder, kindling, and fuel and then expands into an examination of the triangle of fire. Once those situations play out, it becomes a test of patience while watching the fire grow into something more, something sustainable. But what about the small flame, that initial spark, the wave of heat that started all of this? Fire Starters are just as important as the fire making process itself.

Be Prepared

We need to take into consideration how we are going to make a flame before we can grow it into something more, something sustainable.  There are endless ways to affect fire in a wilderness setting, everything from a match to rubbing sticks together. Being efficient means being prepared. Carrying fire starters into the field with you is of the utmost importance.  Taking a few things into consideration before leaving for any outdoor adventure can be a huge help!

1. Skill Level:

Fire making is simple if you understand the principles. The complexity of it begins when numerous variables are thrown into the mix. Is there rain or snow? Is it a swamp or the desert?

Fire can be affected by striking a sweetfire off the side of a box; it will give immediate flame and also provides a tinder source to extend that flame for a longer period of time.  A friction fire, on the other hand, requires an understanding of material sections, material processing, and technique.  Being realistic about your skill level can make a huge difference in your success.

2. Situation:

What are you doing? Where are you going? It is important to ask yourself these questions before ever leaving the house.  There is a huge difference between going into the backcountry of Alaska during the winter alone for 2 weeks compared to camping at a state park in the middle of the summer. Although the principles of fire are the same, the circumstances of creating fire are much different. In Alaska, you may need fire to save your life whereas in the state park you may need a fire to roast a marshmallow.

3. Environment:

If you can prepare for the specific environment you will be operating in you are that much further ahead. Cold wet conditions of a Pennsylvania winter are drastically different than the hot humid summer of Pennsylvania. In the winter wood is wet and frozen, possibly even covered in snow. This means it is going to take much longer to affect flame. Whereas the summer in Pennsylvania is humid and dry. Dried grasses, small sticks, and even thumb sized sticks will burn with ease and very little work.

4. Activity:

In what activity are you actually participating? Going on a 7-mile trail run compared to backpacking offers a wide variety of difference in activities.  On a run, you aren’t going to want to carry an extensive fire kit. Maybe at best 1 or 2 fire starters in your waist belt along with your gel packs. On the other hand, your hiking bag gives you much room for a wide variety of fire starters and will not be a hassle to carry.

5. Personal Preference:

Fire starting is like anything else, everyone has likes and dislikes. Sometimes you just don’t get along with a specific fire starting method and that’s ok. There is no right and wrong when it comes to creating fire, it is what works best for you and what you are comfortable using.

Fire Starters

There are so many choices when it comes to fire starting devices. One fact that remains constant is that having the ability to create immediate flame is critical. Having flame means having a fire. Unlike other fire starting methods, such as ferrocerium rods, flint, and steel, even solar magnification, and open flame sources take away the need for additional flame extenders or knowledge about natural material that is required with those methods to make a flame.

Ferrocerium Rod – The ultimate survival fire starter. This fire starter will give the user thousands of high intensity sparks. Under the hand of an educated user the ferrocerium rod is the woodsman most valuable fire starting tool. Wet, cold, dry, hot or humid this tool gives reliable heat to ignite properly chosen tinder sources.

Shop Titan Ferro Rod & Striker

Strikeable Firestarter with Tinder The Sweetfire lineup is great because it includes tinder along with an area that is able to be struck. This gives the user more time to adjust the fire lay or even ignite sub-par materials.

Survival Matches Matches are a great addition to any fire kit. They are lightweight and packable. They perform and give the user the flame needed when the materials and conditions are just right.

Stormproof Torch/Lighter With just the click of a switch you have a flame. Compact and reliable it gives the user flame without any hassle. With a long burn time, it allows materials to be ignited directly. This is great for users who are both advanced and beginners as it provides comfort knowing flame is always there.

How to Choose the Right Fire Starter?

The best way to decide what fire starter is best for you is to try them. Never get caught in a situation that you are using a fire starting method for the first time. That is a recipe for disaster.  Understand how each fire starter works and performs under a variety of conditions. It is not important to make an entire campfire every time you use one, just test them and get them to ignite, see how long they burn, and how they respond to the environment. From there you can begin to build your fire kit.

Variety is Important

So why carry a variety of fire starters. The answer is simple: versatility. Having a variety of fire starting methods at your disposal allows you to make smart decisions for future events. If you have time to gather proper materials, weather conditions are right, and it is not an emergency, a match may be best. It allows you to test your skills and have fun while still creating fire. Likewise, if an emergency happens the next night and you need fire immediately, you can pull out a Behemoth Sweetfire Match. It’s waterproof and stormproof plus it has built-in tinder for an extended flame.  Now even in sub-optimal conditions, you can work on building that fire without worry.

Safety First

Remember, going outdoors to recreate should be fun and exciting. Part of that fun is to be safe and well prepared. Carry equipment with you that is reliable and can help you in an emergency. Fire starting is a key element of survival and should be included in all of your outdoor adventures.

Stay in the woods,

About the Author



Dan Wowak, Owner and Instructor, of Coalcracker Bushcraft and the Appalachian Bushman School, has been an avid outdoorsman since childhood. His love and passion for the outdoors began while fishing and hiking with his grandfather in the hills of Appalachia. Over the years, he continued pursuing his love for the outdoors through backpacking, camping, hunting, and trapping. As time went on, Dan’s enthusiasm for the outdoors compounded with his drive for reaching his physical and mental limits. The collision of these two passions launched him into the unforgiving, highly dynamic world of survival and bushcraft. He spent years honing this craft and was driven to inspire individuals to pursue a love of wilderness skills. Dan has been formally teaching and sharing knowledge of survival and wilderness living for several years. Most recently Dan has had the opportunity to put his lifetime of knowledge and foundational survival approach to the test on History Channel’s Alone Television Series.