I don't know about you, but I've found that when I'm out hiking, whether it's a multi-day hike or short day hike, my fire starting needs are pretty basic.
Typically the only time I need to start a fire is when I'm cooking or boiling water to heat up some dehydrated food, make some soup, or make a hot cup of tea. Occasionally I'll be at site that will allow a camp fire, but those types of sites are becoming more and more rare. So it's pretty much only for cooking that I need to start a fire.
The type of stove I am carrying with me will dictate the type of fire starting tools that I need to carry. For example; if I am carrying my Evernew DX stove and using it as a wood burning stove, I know that I will need to start a small wood fire using tinder and sticks or whatever is at hand. If I am carrying my Bud-Light alcohol stove, I know that I will only need something to ignite the denatured alcohol, which doesn't require any tinder.
These two basic fire starting scenarios cover over 95% of my needs for a fire starting kit or gear, so over time I have paired down the items that I carry with me to the point where I have, what I think is, a minimal approach that covers all my bases. you may have more exotic needs or prefer to carry more or less gear, but for me this has proven to be more than sufficient. Here is what I carry for fire starting:
- BIC® Classic disposable lighter - 20g
- AMK Spark Lite and Tinder Quik (4) - 9g
- REI Storm-proof Matches (5) and paper striker - 4g
- Total weight = 33g / 1.16oz
Sometimes, mostly when the mood takes me, I'll carry a Light My Fire Fire Steel (Scout) which weighs 21g and brings my total fire starting kit weight up to 54g / 1.9oz, which still isn't bad.
BIC Classic Disposable Lighter
This is what I use as my primary method of starting a fire. It's light weight (even lighter if you use a BIC-mini) and works equally well for lighting my alcohol stove or a small wood fire. I definitely prefer the BIC lighters to some of the cheaper brands that are out there because I've had several of those fail on me, like the Scripto Views. However, the Scripto Tiny Lite disposable lighters are really quite good and a great light weight option.
Wrapped around my BIC lighter is a short section of bicycle inner tube, which has a couple of clever uses IMHO.
- If you manage to find a very thin inner tube, like those used on racing/road bicycles, it will fit tight around the width of the lighter and serve as a great rubberized grip in bad weather
- If you cut the rubber inner tube into thinner strips (shown on the left in the photo) they can be used as extremely strong rubber bands, often referred to as "Ranger bands". These have all sorts of uses in a pinch
- Lastly, the rubber makes for a bomb-proof fire lighting material even when wet. If I am in an emergency (which is about the only time I would want to burn black rubber), I can cut a small strip of the rubber and light it with my BIC. It will burns steadily for at least 1-2 minutes which is plenty of time to allow me to start a good sized fire
Spark Lite Striker and Tinder
I usually carry an Adventure Medial Kits' Spark Lite flint striker and four tinder sticks in a tiny ziplock bag inside of my first aid kit. I like to carry it as a backup in case my BIC lighter runs out of butane or I lose it.
If you're not familiar with this, let me give a brief description of what it is and how it works. The square plastic body contains a long metal spring similar to the ones you find in a ballpoint pen. At the end of the spring is a tiny piec of flint, just like the flints you find in a Zippo lighter. The spring holds the flint against the metal wheel at the top of the striker. When the wheel is rotated/struck quickly in the correct direction (indicated by the two large arrows) it grinds against the flint and throws out a large set of sparks. Think of it as a BIC lighter ignition without the butane gas.
Accompanying the Spark Lite are four small pieces of tinder called Tinder-Quik. These are waterproof and take a spark very easily. Once lit they will burns for 2 to 3 minutes, plenty of time to get a warm fire going. Even though both the flint striker and the tinder are described as being waterproof, I like to keep them dry if at all possible - it makes things a lot easier.
There are two versions of the Spark Lite tool that I am aware of; there is the orange colored one that is made of plastic and is disposable, and there is a green metal version of the exact same size that allows you to replace the tiny flint when it gets worn down. The disposable one is rated to over 1,000 sparks, which seems more than adequate for my needs, especially as a secondary backup solution.
REI Storm-proof Matches
If you don't already have some of these bad boys then you should go get some! These are not your average storm-proof or wind-proof matches that you see being sold all over the place. These matches are practically impossible to stop once they've been lit.
I've carried these for a few years now and have only had occasion to use them, but when I did they have always gotten the job done. In fact, rather than me try to describe in words how bomb-proof these things are, take a look at this cool video that shows you exactly how hard these matches are to extinguish. This is not my video, so pardon the soundtrack.
After watching that video you'll want to get some of these. I keep four or five of them with me in a tiny ziplock bag, just to have as an emergency. Each box of REI storm-proof matches comes with two spare cardboard strips of striker material in addition to the striker that comes on the side of the matchbox. I carry one of these in the small bag with the matches. These are not strike anywhere matches -they will get chewed up if you attempt to strike them on rougher surfaces.
LMF Fire Steel - Scout
As I mentioned earlier, I only really carry this occasionally. Don't get me wrong, it's not because I don't like it or don't know how to use it, on the contrary I absolutely love using it - it's just more gear than I need to carry for my typical needs. Your mileage may vary, as they say.
This particular fire steel has been modified by me using some black Sugru. The LMF Scout model has a stick that is too narrow to fit properly into the sheath of my Koster bushcraft knife. So I used some Sugru to make the fire steel shaft wider at the top so that it would fit tightly into the flint stick holder on my knife sheath. The sheath is made to take the larger LMF Army fire steel - which I have since bought.
The LMF fire steels usually come with a cord lanyard and metal striker. I take those off and carry the fire steel on its own or in my pocket. I prefer to use the back of my knife as the striker as I'm usually never without a knife of some sort - but that's a whole other blog topic.
So that's it. My standard fire starting kit, which contains the BIC lighter, AMK striker and tinder, and the REI matches weighs in at a whopping 33g / 1.16oz. Of course I could probably remove one of the two backup options in order to lighten the overall kit weight even more, but I like all three of these options and I'm happy with what I've chosen.
What fire starting tools do you like to carry with you, and what are your particular fire starting needs?
Disclosure: The author owns these products and paid for them using their own funds.