Survival Skills: How To Make A Torch

Hollywood always makes everything look so easy. The scene opens with someone stuck in a cave, tunnel, temple or another suitable backdrop for an adventure movie. Our hero grabs up a leg bone from an expired adventurer, wraps it in rags and lights the contraption on fire to create a torch that seems to last for the rest of the film.

As someone who has tried to make a lot of torches (not with human femurs, mind you), I can tell you that there is a little more to it than that. Not to worry, though: There’s an easy recipe for making a torch and the ingredients should be lying around the house, and even readily accessible when you’re camping.

But first, a little backstory.

I have been a fanatical user of primitive lighting for years now, especially on campouts and in teaching survival classes. I’ve learned over the years that with the proper wick (plant fiber) and any oil, you can make an oil lamp. Liquid or solid oil—animal, vegetable or mineral—all are effective in making grease lamps and oil “candles.”

But having almost burned the woods down on more than one attempt to make brighter light in the form of a torch, natural plant fiber kept letting me down. Torch heads made of rope, bark strips and a host of other rustic materials would leave small burning pieces of the torch in a fiery trail behind me. I just couldn’t find the right wick. That is, until I tried toilet paper.

Yes, humble and underrated toilet paper saves the day again. Since you probably don’t have access to the Kevlar rags and petroleum FX fuels like they use in the movies, try this recipe:

• One greenwood stick about 1 inch in diameter and 2 feet long

• 50 feet of toilet paper, any kind

• A cup containing 4 ounces of any cooking oil

Wind the toilet paper around one end of the stick, spinning it so that it resembles rope. Tuck the loose end of the paper into the torch head. The torch should now look like a giant Q-tip. By using greenwood, the torch head won’t burn the stick, which can cause the head to drop off and roll away, lighting everything in its path on fire. And yes, I speak from experience.

Now stick the paper-covered end of the torch into your cup of oil, letting the oil soak in for a good 1 to 2 minutes. Light the torch with a steady, open flame like a lighter or a campfire. It will take 30 seconds or so to light, but soon the entire torch head will be engulfed in flames. The average torch will burn for about 20 minutes.

Now you are ready to explore! Or have a luau, or whatever. Just be careful with the fire, and be prepared to put it out at a moment’s notice, in case of trouble.