Survival Skills: Tips on How to Make a Fire

How to Make a FireThis is a guide to building a fire-starting kit. It can serve well on its own, or it can be part of a larger survival kit or bug out bag.

Knowing how to start a fire is a very important outdoor survival skill, and should be done after a clean water supply and shelter has been taken care of.

Here are the items you could consider including:

A waterproof bag: Something to keep everything in. Backpacks work well.

A waterproof container: Get a plastic container with a sealable cover to house your more delicate items. Tupperware works well.

It should be of decent size to store everything.

Plastic bags: You will need individual plastic bags to keep various items separate.

Strike anywhere, waterproof matches: You should have 50 or more waterproof matches, stored in a plastic bag inside of a waterproof case.

Waterproof matches are important because weather conditions won’t always be ideal, and a little rain could ruin a whole pack of matches.

You can buy waterproof matches, or make your own. To do the later, light a candle and allow a few minutes for the wax to begin to melt.

Dip the striking end (red part) of the match into the wet wax, covering the head of it. Let the wax dry, and you now have a protective covering on your match. Simply scrape off when ready to use.

Striker: Next, you want a rough surface that you can strike your matches on. Find a piece of emery board or sandpaper, and store in your container.

Magnifying glass: This can serve as your secondary fire starter. On a sunny day, direct the sunlight through the lens onto tinder.

Adjust the angle of the lens to get the smallest point of light. The tinder will soon begin to smolder. Blow onto it to ignite.

A piece of flint and steel: A third source of ignition. Strike the steel against the flint over your tinder, to create a spark.

Tinder: You will need some tinder to get a fire started. Soak some cotton balls in alcohol, and let them dry overnight. Put them in a plastic bag and inside of the container.

Lighter fuel: Use a few sprays of lighter fuel to help get your fire going at the beginning. It’s especially helpful in bad weather conditions.

A good knife: Something small enough that it’s easy to carry, but large enough to cut tree branches.

An axe/hatchet: Large enough to chop logs.

A flashlight: This will help to get fires started in the dark.

Roasting sticks: For… marshmallows. And hotdogs.

Put electrical tape around the cover of the container, to really ensure it stays waterproof.

Practice getting fires started whenever you have the chance. It is a very important skill to develop.

Low Cost Prep: Homemade Firestarter

We like to highlight low cost and minimal effort preps that can have a high impact on your preparedness. Continuing this series, I am going to show you my absolute favorite fire-starter: PetroJelly Cotton Balls. This mini project is so simple and so cheap that there is no excuse for you not completing this one and adding it to your preps today.


The only materials you will need are 100% cotton balls, petroleum jelly, and a container. The container can be anything airtight like a 35mm film canister, Altoids tin, empty butter container, or even aluminum foil. Use the right size container for your needs. For example, I use a medium size plastic food container with a lid for the fire-starters for my wood stove, but I wrap 5 cotton balls in aluminum foil for my get home bags and backpack. Use your imagination and use what works for you.


A film canister works great for backpacks and BOBs. Get your containers ready and have them nearby with the lids off. You are going to have messy hands and you want to have everything in place so you you wont have to touch it much. Set out the number of cotton balls that you will be making. Its hard to make too many because they will keep for many, many years. Now simply smear the jelly on your hand and rub it into a cotton ball. Make sure you apply a liberal amount and that it is very soaked. Ideally, the outside is coated, but you can pull the cotton ball apart to reveal dry material. Take the covered cotton balls and place them in you containers and seal them tight. If you are using aluminum foil, wrap 5 or 6 cotton balls and press it down, fold over, and seal. It sounds simple because it is!

How to Use a Vaseline Cotton Ball Fire Starter?

A single petro-ball will easily start a fire. As a fire-starter, these little petro-balls can’t be beat. To use, simply remove one or more from the container, pull it apart slightly to expose some of the dry material, then apply a spark or flame. An individual petro-ball will burn with a moderately hot flame for over 5 full minutes. Even with damp tinder, a single ball is usually all it takes to start a fire and it requires very little skill or effort. I find these home made “Vaseline cotton balls” to be better than even the store bought fire-starters costing several dollars a dozen. Absolutely everyone should have several containers of these in their home, bug out bag, and vehicles.

Other Uses

Aside from starting fires, these petro-balls also will work as a source of petroleum jelly in a pinch. Use a jelly covered cotton ball to prevent chapped skin or lips, apply to a burn or to frostbite, or numerous other medical purposes. They would also be useful to apply a small amount of lubricant to various items. Having a fire-starter and an extra source of petroleum jelly in one package is a great dual-use item.

Now that you see how easy and effective these little petro-balls are, its time for you to make your own. I suggest making a couple and trying them out first. Experiment with the amount to jelly it takes to get a great flame that lasts over 5 minutes. Then make all you need! The point of the Low Cost Prep is to be minimal effort and high impact. I think you will agree that these little balls are just that.

Low Cost Survival Fire: How to Build a Swedish Fire Torch

Although the name suggests something you carry around to light your way like Indiana Jones, the Swedish Fire Torch is actually a very practical survival campfire.

Requiring only a single log, some kindling, and an axe or other tool to make some deep cuts into the log, you can have a long-lasting fire that you don’t need to constantly tend while you setup your camp or cook your meal. Owing to its design, it actually sits above the ground, providing protection from snow and water, as well as a modicum of protection from wind. As a final bonus, the top of this fire even has a convenient flat top that is great for setting a pot on to boil water or warm up a can of soup!

swedish fire torch

How to Build the Torch?

Gather your materials. Any medium-sized log will do for the main part of the torch, ideally one that is dry but not completely rotted. If you would like to cook with a pot or skillet, make sure that the top is reasonably flat and large enough to support the pot/pan you want to use. That log can also be used for shavings that you can use to start the fire, if other sources of kindling aren’t immediately available. A maul, axe, hatchet, or other even a wedge shaped rock that you can pound on to split the log round out the list.

So long as you have equal segments for stacking kindling, the number doesn’t really matter. Common splits are 4, 6, and 8, depending on preference.

Taking your cutting tool cut from the top of the log into the wood, splitting the top of the log into equal segments. The deeper into the wood you go the more kindling and airflow you’ll have for a larger fire, but if you have standing water or snow on the ground keep your cuts above the level of the moisture in order to protect your fire. Be warned that if you split the log completely you’ll have to bind it together with a metal band or piece of wire to hold it together again.

Pile in thicker shavings or pieces of kindling on the bottom of the slices, adding thin pieces of tinder in between each layer. If possible use sticks or shavings long enough to fit through the entire log and stick out slightly at both ends. Stack them in a crisscross fashion all the way to the top.

Taking the thinnest, most flammable shavings you have, pile this tinder on the top of the cuts in the center of the log.

Set the tinder alight, and ensure that the fire gets a good start. Once it begins going in earnest, you should not need to add any more material for several hours, as the fire will grow hot enough to feed on the log itself.

A Swedish Fire Torch can be used to cook delicious meals.

An alternative to using a single log and then splitting it: Make your own log!

If you find yourself in a situation where you don’t have the tools to split a log, you can still build a rough imitation of a proper Swedish Torch. If you have any flame-resistant bands (pieces of wire work great for this) you can simply take pieces of split firewood, a bundle of large, long twigs, or other flammable material and bind them together in a similar fashion. Always make sure that you bind it tightly enough to stay together, but loosely enough to allow consistent airflow for your fire. If you wish to cook on these artificial logs, you will need to flatten the top out by chopping off pointed tips and making a flat surface for the pot or pan to rest on.

If you’re careful with placement, you can use mildly flammable materials for your binding. I still recommend metal wire over string or vines.

And there you have it: the perfect survival campfire. It requires very few tools, uses little fuel, and burns for hours without needing tending. These actually operate on a principle similar to many expensive Rocket Stoves and although they’re one-time use only, they also cost a lot less than a metal stove. Try making a few for yourself and see how simple it is.

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