When you get right down to it, survival essentially means maintaining a safe core temperature for your body. Everything we do is geared toward that end goal. We eat food to provide calories to keep our bodies running. We hydrate so we don’t get overheated. We seek shelter from the elements so we don’t get too warm or too cold.
The ability to reliably start a fire is a critical survival skill. The job is made much easier if you have the foresight to assemble a small fire kit to keep in your pack. It doesn’t need to be huge and, in fact, the smaller the better. Remember, ounces lead to pounds and pounds lead to aching backs.
What I recommend you have in your fire kit is a minimum of three different forms of ignition and three different types of tinder. I often say that prepping is all about giving yourself options and that holds true with a fire kit as well as any other aspect of survival.
Let’s start with ignition tools. Your primary source of ignition will likely be a butane lighter. Why? Because they are incredibly cheap and very reliable. I would caution you, though, to spend the extra dollar or two and pick up brand name lighters, such as Bic. The ultra cheap ones you’ll find sold three for a buck at gas stations tend to leak and won’t last very long.
Next on my own preference list is a ferrocerium rod and striker. A ferro rod will light thousands of fires and is very simple to use. Hold the ferro rod in one hand and the scraper in the other. Draw the scraper down the rod firmly and direct the resultant sparks to your tinder. Alternatively, you can hold the scraper steady and pull the rod back towards you. A ferro rod will work in all weather conditions, which is a nice bonus.
Old fashioned flint and steel work very well, but the sparks aren’t usually nearly as large and hot as you’ll get from a ferro rod. Mankind has been using flint and steel for hundreds of years, though, for a reason – it works.
Strike anywhere matches, in my opinion, should only be considered as a back up to a butane lighter and a ferro rod. You can only carry a finite number of matches and, at best, you can light one fire with each match. Plus, while there are water-resistant types, even ones that will light in a monsoon, it can still be rather difficult to get a fire going with a single match when the weather isn’t cooperating with you. Once you get the match lit, you can’t reuse it.
In my own fire kits, I carry one or more butane lighters, a ferro rod with striker, and a waterproof container of strike anywhere matches.