Prepping 101 – What’s the ONE most important skill for a prepper?
Knowing how to start a fire (and keep it going) is the most important preparedness skill you can have.
It covers so many of the greatest, most urgent threats to your life when SHTF.
Here are 7 ways to start a fire with unusual, often household items that you’ll want to know.
- What’s inside
- Starting A Fire With 7 Unusual (Many Household) Items
- The Rule Of 3’s.
- The Rule Of 3’s Is Dangerous
- Fire And Hypothermia
- Fire And Water
- Fire And Food
- How To Keep A Fire Going Once It’s Started
- METHOD 1: The Fresnel Lens Starting A Fire
- Fresnel Lens In Action
- METHOD 2: Soda Can Reflector To Start A Fire
- METHOD 3: Water In A Condom To Make Fire
- METHOD 4: Wood Hand Drill Starts A Fire
- METHOD 5: Steel Wool And A 9-Volt Battery
- METHOD 6: Magnesium Rod And Steel To Start A Fire
- METHOD 7: Cheap-O Lighter Starting A Fire
- Share this:
- Video of several unusual ways to start a fire
- Cool infographic of 7 ways to start a fire
- The Rule of 3’s — and how it could put you in danger
We all know how important fire is to our survival.
Fire keeps us warm, cooks our food, kills bad stuff in our water, and a TON more.
But this is just scratching the surface of why starting a fire is the most important skill for your survival.
Take your shoes off, pour a cup of something good, and get comfy! This is going to be an article you’ll want to read carefully — it just might save your butt!
Let’s dig in!
Starting A Fire With 7 Unusual (Many Household) Items
Knowing how to start and sustain fire is like a primal skill that pays off in a big way psychologically, as well as physically. It does all this while it’s saving your life!
It’s practically hard-wired inside each of us that when we’re in trouble — we will feel more at ease once we have a fire going.
But to get to the “why,” we first need to talk about the most immediate threats to your survival.
The Rule Of 3’s.
The rule of 3 is often referred to by Search and Rescue teams.
These are the men and women who go looking for you when you set off for an afternoon hike into the woods and don’t come back.
[Side Note: Knowing how most people will respond when lost, immediately following a crisis, is a fundamental tool that’s essential to have. It can help you find people to team with, AND it can help you avoid those unfriendly people who will be a threat or burden. Discover exactly what most people will do when the SHTF by reading this landmark study.]
Search and Rescue cite the rule of 3’s as a general guide to your most immediate threats, and how long you can survive without certain things.
I believe it can be a little misleading (and exactly how it is misleading I’ll touch on briefly because it could be deadly).
But as general rules of thumb go, it’s a pretty good one.
Rule of 3’s says you can survive:
- 3 hours without shelter
- 3 days without water
- 3 weeks without food
- Add to this 3 seconds without air.
And maybe most important, but not really a part of the rule: not 3 seconds without hope.
Why is the Rule of 3’s misleading? Aren’t these hard-and-fast rules?
The Rule Of 3’s Is Dangerous
When I think of the average adult “surviving” for 3 days without water, as described in the rule of 3’s, I think of someone who is lost and is staying put.
Hugging a tree, sort of thing.
They’re not doing a whole heck of a lot.
And most important – they’re waiting to be rescued.
An adult needs a minimum of 1 liter of water per day to keep things business-as-usual. That’s why this Camelbak was designed to carry exactly 3 liters.
If it’s hot, you’re exerting yourself, stressed, or basically doing anything at all beyond sitting still, you’ll need more water to keep your thinking clear. More like 1 gallon per day.
Go more than 12 hours without water and your decision-making starts to go a little haywire.
Same for food — go 24 hours without food and watch your decisions become a little wonky.
So while you might not die within 72 hours without water or 3 weeks without food, these deficits are going to have a negative impact on perhaps your most important survival tool – your thinking.
How great of an impact, no one can say (and I hope none of us ever has to find out the hard way).
But here’s why the ability to start a fire is the most important skill any prepper can have:
With fire you can cover pretty much all your bases.
Fire And Hypothermia
The first danger to your life is hypothermia. This is what kills most of those lost hikers you hear about on the news.
Hypothermia happens when the temperature around you drops, either from bad weather or nightfall, and you’re not able to maintain a healthy core body temperature.
Coma and death follow.
It happens fast and that is why they say 3 hours without shelter.
The shelter is used kind of loosely, in the sense that anything that will keep you from losing that core body temperature and becoming hypothermic (generally staying drying helps you retain your body heat, too) will do.
But it needs to happen fast (within 3 hours of the temp drop)
Making a fire helps to combat that.
Fire And Water
Next immediate threat to your survival is water.
As I mentioned before, although you might survive for 3 days without water, you do not want to be relying on that unless you absolutely must.
Water is heavy. It’s difficult to carry enough even with a kickass camelback like this one to make it for even a few days. You’ll probably need to rely on your environment for water at some point.
And the biggest concern to your immediate health with water is bacteria, viruses, and parasites.
Fire can kill all of that.
So, knowing how to start a fire will save you here, too.
In fact, boiling water is the gold standard form of water purification against microbiological organisms.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t do anything for chemicals or heavy metals, but you do what you can when you can.
Boiling water, a rolling boil for one minute, kills all those bad guys unless you are at a certain elevation above sea level.
Fire And Food
Next on the list of immediate threats is food.
While foraging is a great skill to have, at some point you’re going to want some protein. One of the best sources of protein in the wild is game meat.
But unless you’re into steak tartar, raw eggs, and sushi, you’re going to really like starting a fire.
This doesn’t even touch on how the ability to start a fire is a commodity when SHTF.
It can be used for protection from predators (including humans), help cauterize a wound to stop bleeding, sterilize instruments, provide light, and many more things that I can’t think of right now but that would come up when SHTF.
One last bit.
You’ll need to know how to not only start a fire, but how to get the fire going, and keep it going.
How To Keep A Fire Going Once It’s Started
This is actually much harder than it sounds, especially when the weather isn’t being kind (exactly when you’ll need it most)
Keeping the fire going is a real challenge.
You’ll want dry materials, and if possible, some heavier more dense material.
You should also be focusing on how to start and maintain a fire in several different weather conditions.
Again, think of an appropriate shelter — one that you won’t catch on fire.
METHOD 1: The Fresnel Lens Starting A Fire
The fresnel lens was developed by a French physicist Augustin-Jean Fresnel for lighthouses. It works by combining more of the available light and making the collected light more powerful.
I’m not a physicist. That’s my layperson’s understanding of how a Fresnel lens works.
If you’re very curious, Wikipedia has a whole page on the fresnel lens here.
You use a Fresnel Lens exactly like you would a magnifying glass, to focus the sun’s rays onto one spot of well-aerated, fluffy tinder like a cotton ball or some paper.
They can be cheap, lightweight, damage-resistant, and easily packed. Fresnel lenses require bright sunlight, some fluffy tinder, and some time.
Once you see it smoke and smolder, a very gentle, light puff of your breath can help catch the tinder to start a fire.
Focus the sun’s rays onto one spot. It’s important to keep the beam and your hand as steady as possible.
Fresnel Lens In Action
In the video below he uses a great method.
He rolls the paper up, so there’s plenty of air and space in between each part of the paper.
Notice that the paper is a dark color. The darker the color, the more that material will absorb the heat and energy from the sun.
Once it’s been smoking for a few seconds, he gently puffs some air onto the smoldering paper.
He does this by squeezing the roll, but gently puffing some of your breath will also work.
As it’s heated up, he then waves the paper roll back and forth to get a LOT of air moving over those hot spots. It isn’t long before he has an actual flame and has started a fire.
Check it out.
The advantage here is the fresnel lens’s ability to increase the power output of that solar radiation.
You can get an inexpensive pack of 10 compact, lightweight Fresnel lenses here
METHOD 2: Soda Can Reflector To Start A Fire
This one is kind of neat.
Soda cans are all over the place and are often free, too. You’ll need to buff and shine the bottom of the soda can until you get a highly reflective, mirror-like shine to it.
One way to do this is with chocolate. Yes, chocolate.
A small amount of chocolate rubbed into the bottom of your soda can with a cloth or rag will buff that can bottom like you wouldn’t believe — repeat it a few times and you’ll have a “mirror-like finish” in no time.
Do NOT eat the chocolate after it’s come in contact with the can. Seriously. The chemical changes can make the chocolate very bad for you, even toxic.
But you can also use very fine sand, clay (better), a little toothpaste, and even sometimes your spit (depending on the amount of oxidation on the can).
Buff and shine the bottom of the can with a cloth and whatever other stuff you have.
You’ll need to experiment with the best angle and height, to get the reflected beam of sunlight as intensely bright as possible.
Focus the sunbeam until it’s a very bright spot on your tinder. Be as still as you can.
Just like above, when you see smoke, give it a gentle puff of air and you’ll start a fire.
Here’s the soda can in action, starting a fire:
METHOD 3: Water In A Condom To Make Fire
Condoms are a great survival tool. They can be used to store water, as a flexible tie, as a tourniquet, and many other things.
Keep a bunch of them in your pack. You can get a bunch pretty cheaply here.
You want the good old fashion simple latex condom. A natural non-latex condom may work, too.
With the condom filled with about one cup of water, tie it off like a water balloon.
Next, you’ll want to compress the condom into a lens-like shape.
Think magnifying glass.
Again, you’ll have to experiment with getting the right shape to focus the sunlight into a powerful beam.
A little trial and error and you can get that condom into a magnifying glass shape.
You can test this by shining the concentrated sunlight onto your skin. Don’t burn yourself!
But you should be able to use a little bit of exposed skin to tell if you’re concentration the beam of sunlight well enough to start a fire.
METHOD 4: Wood Hand Drill Starts A Fire
This is old school. Which is kind of why I like it.
You’ll take two different types of wood, one soft and one hard, and grind the hardwood into the soft until it makes and heats up enough softwood “dust” to ignite.
Sounds simple, right? Sadly, it isn’t.
This one will definitely take some practice.
I’ve written an extensive article on hand drill fire-starting, with videos and detailed instructions, so I won’t repeat all of that here.
Just keep in mind that everything must be very dry. Any moisture, anyplace, and it won’t work.
METHOD 5: Steel Wool And A 9-Volt Battery
This method is VERY straightforward.
It’s also just about as easy as it gets.
Fluff up your steel wool just a little bit and touch it to the two terminals of the 9 Volt battery.
Obviously won’t work if the battery is dead. But assuming you’ve got some juice in the battery left, the steel wool will heat up and “spark.”
These sparks will easily catch some flammable, lightweight tinder and start a fire.
METHOD 6: Magnesium Rod And Steel To Start A Fire
Here’s a method really popularized by the Swedish Army (yes, The Swedish Army).
Scraping steel along a magnesium rod will produce a spark that’s about 3000 degrees hot.
This thing will literally work in ANY weather.
But it takes a little force, and you need to strike the magnesium in the direction of your tinder.
It takes a little effort, and you’ll probably want to be familiar with this method before you need it. But it works.
I had one of these in Boy Scouts. It was pretty cool!
You can get a very useful one of these at Amazon HERE.
METHOD 7: Cheap-O Lighter Starting A Fire
This last method needs to be covered because it truly can save your butt.
These plastic disposable lighters are lightweight, last, a while, are easy to pack and carry and are inexpensive.
Get a ton of them and keep them everyplace.