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Fire building is one of those skill sets that can make or break a survival situation. With so much riding on your ability to produce flame, it makes a lot of sense to plan for your own success by building a dedicated fire starting kit. It’s easy and fun to do, and you probably already have all the stuff laying around the house.

The three basic parts of this kit are the container, the ignition sources, and the fuels. Note that the last two were plural–you’re going to want the extra insurance of multiple fire starting implements and several fuels to burn.

The container can be anything watertight and easily transported. This can range from a small Pelican case or similar waterproof box; a small, wide-mouth plastic bottle; or even a zip-top freezer bag.

Once you have your container, add your ignition sources. At a minimum, you should include a lighter, a box of matches, and a spark rod. The lighter is the best of the bunch for most fire building situations. The open flame can be used to dry out damp tinder and kindling, catching it ablaze without much trouble. There really isn’t a situation in which matches are a better ignition source than a lighter, but I like the matchbox for redundancy and for the fact that those matchsticks provide kindling if you need to burn a few of them, or even the whole box in a pinch. The spark rod serves as the indestructible back-up ignition source. It won’t light the variety of materials that matches and lighters will, but the spark rod will work when the lighter and matches have failed.

The fuels should be as diverse as your ignition sources. Some dry cotton balls, drier lint, or gauze can take the role of tinder (your primary fuel for fire). I also like a candle nub and a tube of petroleum jelly. The candle can be lit and used as a fire starter by itself, or the wax can be dripped onto tinder or kindling for a wet-weather fire boost. The petroleum jelly can be smeared into the cotton balls to make long-burning fire starters, plus the jelly is helpful for a number of first aid and survival chores. You could pre-make the petroleum jelly cotton balls, if you like. But the summertime heat here in the mid-Atlantic always melts the petroleum jelly, causing it to seep through all but the most watertight containers. This melted jelly has ruined enough boxes of matches for me that I now carry the tightly sealed tube of jelly and the dry cotton balls separately.

Got any tricks for fire building that you swear by? Take a second to tell us about your best or worst fire starters in the comments.

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