Mastering Firecraft: Finding Tinder Sources in Nature
You've seen me create fire using many forms of tinder. . .
or using tinder tabs:
We sell them both.
But what if you need a fire and find you're crazily unprepared -- without a tinder tab or length of jute?
No worries. Mother Nature provides a few options. Look around. You'll likely find multiple sources of tinder.
Here are a few items that are generally easy to find:
Dry Leaves: Look for dead leaves on the ground, especially those that have fallen from trees. Dry leaves are highly flammable and can catch fire easily.
Birch Bark: Birch bark is a great tinder material because it contains natural oils that make it highly flammable, even when wet. Look for birch trees and peel off the outer layers of bark from fallen branches or dead trees.
Pine Needles: Pine needles are another excellent choice for tinder. They are highly flammable due to their resin content. Collect a handful of dry pine needles from the ground or snap off dead branches.
Fatwood: Fatwood can be found in dead pine trees or old pine stumps. As the old pine ages, it hardens and leaches up high concentrations of sap/resin creating a perfect all-natural tinder. Scrape a section with a back of a knife or our fire flute to produce tiny shavings/dust that will ignite with a simple spark.
Grass and Dry Plants: Dry grass, hay, or other dry plant materials can be used as tinder. Look for areas with tall grass or dried vegetation and gather a bundle of it.
Tinder Fungus: Certain fungi, like the chaga fungus or tinder fungus, have properties that make them suitable for starting fires. These can often be found on dead or decaying trees. Remove a piece of the fungus and prepare it for ignition.
Cottonwood or Cattail Fluff: In certain environments, cottonwood trees or cattails can be a good source of fluffy fibers that catch fire easily. Look for cottonwood trees during late spring or early summer when they release their cotton-like seeds. Cattails usually have fluffy seed heads in late summer or early fall. Fluff from other seeds such as milkweed floss/down as well as dandelion fluff also work great!
I mean -- I was burning dandelions in my yard to kill the beastly weed but this could be used in the wild if you gather enough of the fluff and have some kindling set to go. You can see how fast they burn, so best to be ready.
No matter what tinder you choose, please respect nature. Always practice Leave No Trace principles and only gather materials that are already dead or abundant, rather than damaging live trees or plants.
Due to the high water content in live plants or freshly cut green wood, they won't likely catch a spark. And when placed in an existing fire, they'll mostly just smolder and give off a LOT of smoke. Great if you're making smoke signals. Horrible if you're wanting to stay warm or simply roast a 'mellow.
In addition to naturally occuring tinder, you may be carrying tinder and accelerants and not even realize it. That lip balm in your pocket works great when smeared on a leaf or paper. A napkin or square of toilet paper magically work as tinder, too. Here I spark fire using a napkin at a trade show -- not out of necessity... but it was fun.
Throw a spark, and voila! Fire!
Of course, it goes without saying to make sure your fire is setup in a safe area, free from unintentional fuel. And always have a way to extinguish the fire in a hurry if needed. Fire spreads fast. Don't set the forest (or table at the trade show) on fire!
Back to starting the fire. . .Once you've gathered up enough tinder (the Boy Scouts of America recommend 1 baseball cap full), then form a small, loosely gathered nest. Keeping it loose allows more surface area to be open to catch a spark and for oxygen to fuel the flame.
Before you throw down sparks, be sure kindling is at the ready (BSA suggests 2 filled baseball caps) to grow the flame from the quick-burning tinder to longer-burning, increasingly thicker pieces of wood. Once that kindling is aglow, the larger, dry logs, about the size of your wrists are ready to join in on the burning fun.
Fire mastery takes practice and can prove essential in survival. Practice your craft. Remember, in times of emergency, most of us do not rise to the occasion, but we do fall back on our training. Get comfortable starting fires using multiple sources of tinder.
Send us a pic of you using OE gear on your latest adventure. Tag us on Instagram @outdoor.element. See you on the trails!
What is your go-to tinder in the wild?