Anyone can just throw a box of matches or a butane lighter in his survival kit and hope for the best. But why not take a few minutes to build out a proper fire-starting kit? Here are some essentials that will help you start a fire in any conditions, good or bad.

Ignition Sources
These will provide the initial flame or spark to start your fires. Butane lighters are a great choice, and waterproof or “survival” matches are a nice back-up (although there are many more fires in a lighter than in a matchbox). Ferrocerium rods (aka spark rods) are another good back-up, and while they will light a number of materials on fire, they aren’t capable of setting everything aflame. The sparks tend to bounce off smooth or solid tinder sources like crumpled paper or even dead leaves.

Dry Fuel Sources
The best dry tinder materials are fluffy and/or fibrous, properties that help them catch fire quickly.

Some great choices are:
Cotton balls
Dryer lint
Shredded inner tree bark
Paper towels
Steel wool

This final selection—steel wool—can be lit with sparks from a spark rod, or, as we covered in a previous video, electricity. A battery that produces three volts or more will light up steel wool when you touch the material to the positive and negative terminals. Nine-volt batteries are the best choice, because of their higher voltage and the close proximity of the negative and positive terminals.

Extended Fuel Sources
These waxy, oily, or greasy materials will help your initial flame become a long-lived fire. Vaseline (or any type of petroleum jelly), fire starting packets (like Wetfire cubes or grill starter packs), candle wax, and the ancestral favorite “fat wood”—a piece of resin-filled evergreen wood that burns a long time even when wet—are all great fuels.

Do you have a fire starting kit or module in your emergency gear? Let us know what you’re packing. As always, be careful with fire—it’s a tool, not a toy.