Fire is a pretty damn useful phenomenon. It provides heat, light, the potential to cook, and the ability to boil (and, therefore, help purify) water. Anytime you step into the backcountry you should bring a fire source with you. Mechanical lighters are very convenient, but I suggest also bringing some waterproof matches or a sparking rod – these are even more foolproof. It is also wise to bring some type of tinder to make life easier in the event you need some flames to keep warm, cook, purify, or all of the above. Below are a few tips and some links to products you might consider. (Note: I have no affiliation with any vendors or manufacturers.)
For tinder, I usually bring a few cotton balls with a clump of petroleum jelly saturated in them. Just take a dollop of jelly, about one-quarter or one-third the size of the cotton ball, and rub it into the cotton. This cotton will light quickly, and the petroleum will keep the fire burning much longer. Sometimes I will also use the wax from a small serving of cheese and wad a cotton ball inside that for a slow-burning flame. Other options to consider are candles or the lint from your laundry dryer (again, add petroleum jelly for better results). Esbit or other solid fuel tablets work beautifully, too.
If you’re relying simply on the elements around you for tinder, your best bet is something light and dry such as leaves, pine needles, dried grasses, or strips of bark. Tiny twigs can also do, but the smaller and dryer the better.
I will admit that I often only carry lighters with me into the backcountry, but I usually bring more than one. Frankly, that is a bad habit I aim to change. Waterproof matches and/or a flint steel should also be part of my kit. Here are examples of each:
Light My Fire Swedish FireSteel Mini. This Produces a 5,500-degree spark by scraping the steel plate (or a knife) against the magnesium rod. With good, dry tinder and low wind, a spark should be sufficient for making fire. In higher winds, make a windscreen of some sort - whether rocks, stones, logs, clothing staked into the ground, or a manmade device as used with a backpacking stove.
Where to buy: $10 at REI or Amazon.
UCO Stormproof Match Kit. These matches will work even after being submerged in water. They are longer than most (longer burn time) and the case has an integrated striker.
Where to buy: $7 at REI
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