With all the growing interest in the survival industry there are dozens of different fire starters on the market. Everything from fancy ferro rods, fire pistons, blast matches, and even electronic igniters. However; without a proper understanding of how to select and prepare natural tinders these fancy gadgets become nothing more than expensive sparklers.
Don’t get me wrong, survival gear is vital, and could very well save your life. The problem is we develop a false sense of security when we purchase these items without putting in the adequate dirt time to hone the skills necessary to operate them. For example anyone can take a ferro rod and light a cotton ball on fire, but what if they were told to go out into the forest and try to use a ferro rod in the rain with only natural materials?
Knowing what natural tinder to use, and having the ability to go out collect and harvest it is vital to being able to survive in harsh conditions. Below is a list of my favorite natural materials to use for fire starting.
Cedar bark is amazing due to it’s ability to be lit when damp. It is extremely fibrous, and because of it’s resinous nature it produces a hot flame aiding in lighting damp kindling. Simply scrape the outer bark from the tree, and create a softball size birds nest tinder bundle. Cedar/Juniper trees grow in abundance across the nation, and can be found in several different climates and elevations. It truly is the go to for fire starting.
Fatwood is bushcraft gold when it comes to fire starting, and is the king of wet fire. It burns super hot and last a long time. Fatwood is a resinous enriched dense pine wood that can be found in the roots and base of limbs. It can be a challenge to harvest, but once you do you wont regret it. I prefer to gather fatwood from the base of limbs of dead standing pine trees. Once this material is processed down to a 4-6″ pile of fine scrappings it will light very easily with a spark. Another option is to make a feather stick from a section of the fatwood.
Birch bark is an amazing fire starter. It is rich in resins and comes off the tree like sheets of paper. I have used paper (white) birch and river birch. Both work extremely well. I find the river birch tree most often in areas that collect water – river beds, valley bottoms, marshes, and other moist areas. Peel off the bark in sheets, and scrape it to reveal tiny fibers that will light with ease.
Cattail would be considered a flash tinder. It takes a spark easier than any of the previously mentioned tinders, but it burns extremely fast. Cattail is best mixed with cedar bark, pine needles or grass. You will find this amazing plant in still standing water such as swamps, ponds, or lakes. Process out the cattail heads by crushing or wringing it which will expose all the tiny fibers. Hit is with a spark and watch it go up in flame.
Polypore mushrooms make excellent tinder fungus. Look for dried mushrooms that look like shells, fans, horse hooves, or shelves. On the underside of the mushroom it should not have any gills. It should look like tiny pores, similar to pores in the skin. I have found these mushrooms on dead and alive trees, but they are usually found on trees with a dense overhead canopy. The tinder fungus is not the best for lighting, however; it is one of the best materials for transferring a coal or extending a fire.
Additional Natural Tinders
Pine Needles, leaves, and grasses are also descent options for tinder. The pine needles and leaves can be a challenge because they do not make a good bundle, but they are better used to extend a fire once you have flame. Grasses often times contain moisture, and can be challenging to light, but they work good when mixed with other fibers. Old Man’s Beard (Usnea) is another type of tinder that people sometimes use. For me it has extraordinary medicinal uses. I would rather save this amazing lichen, and find something else.
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I hope you found this Natural Tinder blog to be educational and informative. Be sure to watch the companion video below, and show your support by liking, sharing, and subscribing. Thanks Justin “Sage” Williams
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