FAT GUYS IN THE WOODS: BLOG SKILL SERIES: Become a Fire Walker – Apache Match

You’ve probably noticed that I’ll often send the guys off on the morning of their solo day with some kind of fire carry method.  The ability to carry fire is an important survival skill for a variety of reasons.

First, if you can carry fire, you don’t have to recreate your fire start all over again.  It typically takes less energy and calories to carry fire than to start all over from scratch.  Survival is all about conserving calories.

Second, it’s not hard to imagine that you’ve used the last of your fire starting materials.  Maybe you only had 1 match?  Maybe you’re all out of char cloth?  The ability to travel with fire once you’ve created it could truly be a life-saving skill if you have no other means of making fire.

Thirdly, rarely is a survival signal fire built right at a base camp location.  Oftentimes, survival camps are built under the cover of tree canopies and near building materials.  Signal fires are built in opposite type places – out in the open where they can be seen by rescue planes, ships, vehicles or crews.  The ability to carry fire from survival base camp to a signal fire location could be the difference between being rescued or passed over.  When every second counts, you may not have TIME to start a fire from scratch at a signal fire location.


One of the easiest and most popular fire carry methods I know of is often called an Apache Match.  Primitive peoples both in this country and others have used similar methods to carry fire from camp to camp and even on long hunting/scouting trips.  This method of carry can last anywhere from several hours to several days.  I’ve heard rumors of Apache matches lasting for weeks but I would imagine that this is in fact a series of Apache Matches rather than just one.

The basic principle is to contain a burning coal inside of a tinder bundle.  By limiting the supply of oxygen and keeping the coal in a near-smothered state, it allows the coal and surrounding tinder to smolder for several hours.  I’ve had many Apache Matches last for 3-4 hours with little effort and maintenance.

Below are the steps to creating an Apache Match that is approximately 12 inches in length by 4 inches in diameter.  One this size can be expected to last anywhere from 2-3 hours depending on a variety of conditions – mostly how much oxygen the coal gets.

STEP 1:  The Coal and The Bundle


I typically use a bright red coal from the fire bed.  This is represented by a red 5-hour energy bottle cap in the following photos 🙂  The coal can be anywhere from 1″ to 2″ in diameter.  It can also be a collection of small coals.  This coal is embedded in between 2 big handfuls of tinder material.  ‘Tinder Material’ is the same as a tinder bundle.  In this case I’m using shredded cedar bark.  Grasses, cattail down, dried seed heads, dry inner bark and plant fibers would also suffice.  Even shredded newspaper would work in an urban scenario.

STEP 2: A Bun in the Oven


This photo shows the coal getting ready to be covered by 2 big handfuls of tinder material.

STEP 3: A Coal Sandwich


You can’t see it in this photo but the red ‘coal’ in officially embedded inside of the tinder material.

Step 4: The Outer Layer


Next, you need to add an exterior layer to the bundle.  This not only helps keep everything together but it also helps protect your hands.  These things can get a little hot when traveling.  The outer layer shown here is also cedar bark.  I left it in big strips versus ‘fuzzing’ it down to tinder material like on the inside.  You use any kind of bark really.  It can be dry or green, it doesn’t really matter.  I’ve even used cardboard before.  Don’t get too particular.

Step 5: Wrap the Bundle


Lastly, you want to loosely wrap the bundle in order to keep everything together.  This one is wrapped with willow bark but you can use anything – paracord, a hoodie drawstring, a shoestring, dental floss, plant fibers, yucca leaves, etc.  Don’t make the mistake of wrapping it too tight.  There is a delicate balance between too loose and too tight and only experience can tell the difference.  Too tight and you’ll smother the coal.  Too loose and the coal will spread through your tinder too fast.

Step 6: From Match to Flame


An Apache Match will require some maintenance and attention while traveling.  You may have to blow on it a little bit to make sure you’ve still got some heat.  You may have to tighten your lashings or even loosen them.  It’s important to check on it every few minutes.

Once you’ve reached your destination, making fire is as simple as unwrapping your Apache Match and blowing the tinder bundle into flame.  If you’ve done everything right, flame should be just a few breaths away.


I really believe the ability to carry fire is a necessary survival skill.  Would you like to see more posts dedicated to survival fire carry methods?  I’ve definitely got some tricks up my sleeve for carrying fire in Season 2!



Remember, it’s not IF but WHEN,



In many of the episodes of FAT GUYS IN THE WOODS, I instructed the guys how to ‘carry fire’ from base camp to their individual solo base camps.  Oftentimes, this was quite a trek through the woods and the fire carry needed to last up to a couple hours.  In the pioneer settlement themed episode with Dave, Andrew and Bill, we made fire on Day 1 using a YUCCA HAND DRILL.  When it came time to send them each out on their own, it was raining.  Making fire with a HAND DRILL would have been impossible under those conditions.  So, I decided to send them each with a couple of PINE FATWOOD TORCHES.  I didn’t get a chance on the show to really explain where I got these and how to find them so I thought I highlight that skill in this blog series.



The ability to source a torch that will burn upwards of an hour is a very important survival skill.  Not only can you use a torch to carry fire from one location to another but it has all kinds of survival uses.  It can allow you explore dark caves, hunt at night (frog gigging especially), travel at night, signal for rescue, and keep predators at bay.  It is an incredibly useful survival tool.


‘Fatwood’ is a term for wood (typically in the pine family) that has become saturated with sap, also called resin.  Fatwood is sold in stores and online as fire tinder and is an amazing fire starting material.  Pine sap is extremely flammable and wood that becomes saturated with it will burn for a very long time.  Fatwood makes an excellent torch!  Fatwood can be shaved into thin shavings and ignited with just the spark from a ferro rod.  Pine sap (dry or oozy) can be added to fire starting tinder as a flame extender and is a great substitute for PETROLEUM jelly when making PET balls (cotton balls soaked in petroleum jelly).  Below is a photo of pine resin oozing from insect drill holes in the side of this pine tree.



If you can find pine trees then you can find FATWOOD.  I find that many people are confused about how to actually find fatwood.  If you are, I hope to clear that up.  The easiest way to find FATWOOD is at the base of dead, low hanging branches on pine trees.


Pine resin (sap)  tends to collect at these joints and will saturate the bottom few inches of the branch where it connects to the tree.  It will remain there long after the tree has died.  In fact, for this post, I am using the dead pine tree shown below which has been dead for over 10 years.  Notice the dead branches along the trunk.  This is where I will be looking for FATWOOD.  Even though much of the tree and the branches are dead and rotting, there is still fatwood at the base of many of these branches.



Here’s a closer look at a couple of the branches.


As I begin to hack into the base of one of the branches with my ax, you’ll notice that the wood inside has a rich amber color.  It’s also very dense.  This is fatwood and it is completely saturated with 10+ year old pine resin.


In the photo below you can clearly see the difference between the resin rich fatwood in the branch (left) as compared to wood that came from the trunk.


As soon as you cut into fatwood you can SMELL the rich pine scent and it is sticky to the touch almost immediately.




You can even see the pine resin glistening in the sun on the branch I collected below.  Once you’ve chopped a resin rich lower hanging branch from a pine tree, you have to prepare it for lighting.


It’s important to split the resin rich end to expose more fatwood surface area and allow oxygen to freely flow between the split.  This helps the torch to light and burn longer and more efficiently.


Once you split the end a few ways, press in some green spreader sticks to keep the splits forced open.




Depending on the size, a fatwood torch will burn for quite some time.  I’ve found there is a ratio to estimate how long one burns.  If the stick is 2″ in diameter, it will burn about  1 hour.  If it’s 1″ in diameter it will burn about 30 mins.  3″ = 1.5 hours.  Basically, divide the diameter in half and that’s how many HOURS it will burn.

FATWOOD is an amazing survival resource and is an unrivaled material in the natural world.  I hope this tutorial helps you be able to identify, harvest and use a fatwood torch!

Have you ever used FATWOOD to start a fire?  If so, tell us about your experience in the comments below!


Remember, it’s not IF but WHEN,


8 Solar Fire Starting Tips You Must Know – AND – a FREE gift from Creek

Using the sun to start a fire is probably my favorite method of fire starting.  It amazes me every time.  The sun is an incredible survival fire starting resource but getting the job done can be frustrating.  I’ve decided to compile 8 TIPS that you MUST KNOW when using the sun to start a fire.  Any one of these can make the difference between getting the job done or suffering the consequences of failure.  For a limited time, I’m also giving away FREE one of my favorite solar fire starting tools – no strings attached, no shipping fees, FREE.  But, I have a limited number so I have to put a time limit on it – only 24 hours.  Details at the end of this post!



I know this sounds obvious, but you must have FULL SUN when attempting solar fire starts.  It can’t be behind a mountain, building, clouds or even a thin layer of fog.  A powerful (or huge) solar lens may work with partial sun but rarely (if ever) will you have this kind of lens in an improvised survival scenario.  In my experience, the sun has to be completely visible with no obstructions.  It does not, however, matter where it is in the sky.  It works best when it’s at 12 noon in the middle of the summer and the sun it right overhead at it hottest point but isn’t necessary.  I’ve started solar fires when the sun low in the horizon in December with snow on the ground.  The sun DOES need to be completely and entirely visible.


Another obvious tip, right?  If I hadn’t seen so many people try to use wet or damp tinder in my courses then I wouldn’t list this tip.  The tinder you select MUST BE BONE DRY – especially when working in less than perfect conditions with less than perfect tools.


You must hold your lens (either magnifying or parabolic doesn’t matter) at a perpendicular angle to the sun’s rays.  The 2 lines in the letter ‘T” are perpendicular to each other.  Any angle less or greater than 90 degrees will reduce the amount of heat that you can generate.  The diagram below illustrates this a little better.


When you use a less than perfect magnifying or parabolic lens, the angle of attack is critical.  It’s so important to hold your lens so that it is directly perpendicular to the sun’s rays at the exact point where you are located.  The sweet spot is 90 degrees  and any angle less or greater than 90 degrees will reduce the efficiency of your lens and thus your ability to smolder tinder.


Light and heat are different types of energy but very much related when it comes to starting a fire using a solar enhancing lens.  With a solar lens we are trying to convert light energy into heat energy.  Understanding the physics behind why and how this works can absolutely save your life one day.  The color of the fire tinder you are using in conjunction with your solar lens can affect how fast or IF you’re successful getting an ember.  White or light colored tinder will REFLECT all or most wavelengths of light so the light is NOT converted to heat and the temperature of your tinder may not get hot enough to burn and smolder.  However, black or dark colored tinder will ABSORB all or most wavelengths of light, converting them to heat and increasing the temperature of your tinder.

Creek, does this mean I can’t use white or light colored tinder to start a solar fire?

No, it doesn’t.  In fact, we use light colored crushed up punky wood to start solar fires all the time in my courses here at Willow Haven Outdoor.  However, in a survival scenario, every detail matters and you may be working in less than perfect conditions with a less than perfect lens on a less than perfect timeline.  Anything you can do to gain a competitive edge and increase your fire starting chances is a good thing.  Choosing and using dark colored tinder is just one strategy that can help.

A few darkening hacks!  Below are some things I’ve done in the field to darken light colored tinders so that they absorb more light and thus get hotter faster.

  • Rub on dry dark dirt.  I’ve rubbed on dark dirt to make light colored punky wood darker before.  Don’t use MUD because your tinder must be dry.  In the photo below I’ve rubbed dirt on a napkin to create a dark spot for smoldering.


  • Rub on charcoal from an old fire.  Maybe your old fire has gone out or you’re able to find a charred log.  The charcoal from something already burnt can be used to darken existing dry tinder.  It can also be used as tinder!  Charcoal is a great solar fire starting material for getting an ember.
  • Use a pencil, ink pen or marker.  I’ve actually colored tinder in the field with a Sharpie marker before and it worked awesome!  The graphite led from a pencil works as well.  So does black colored ink.  GET CREATIVE!  In the photo below I’ve colored punky wood with a Sharpie marker for a quick and easy solar ember.



When using a solar lens, it’s all about the focal point!  This one is a deal-breaker.  The best way to get the focal point is to start with your lens very close to the tinder (at a 90 degree angle to the sun rays like described above) and slowly draw it back.  You will see the beam of light through your lens (or parabolic mirror) start to get smaller.  Keep pulling the lens away until the beam gets to it’s tightest possible point.  This is the point just before the beam of light starts getting BIGGER again.  This is the FOCAL POINT and it is at this point where you will start to create a fire.  Below is a 3 part photo series using a wallet sized Fresnel lens.






(Like my subtle photo plug for my new show on THE WEATHER CHANNEL called FAT GUYS IN THE WOODS premiering on Sunday August 10th?  Read more about it here: http://www.weather.com/tv/tvshows/fat-guys-in-the-woods/fat-guys-woods-weather-channel-20140708)

I’ve found it much more difficult (often impossible) to go directly to flame using many different types of solar fire starting tools.  Unless you have an extremely powerful lens, you’re just wasting your time trying to go directly to flame.  The best strategy it to create a burning ember using your lens – THEN – place that smoldering ember into a prepared tinder bundle and blow into flame.  However, this is easier said than done.  In order to do this you must know what tinders you can use that will produce a smoldering ember using a solar lens – THIS IS THE REAL TRICK WITH SOLAR FIRE STARTING!


If you only take away ONE TIP from this entire article, remember this one.  Smoldering tinder options are few and far between and must be chosen carefully.  Not all tinder will create a self-sustaining smoldering ember that can be dumped into a tinder bundle.  In fact, there are very few that will.  Below are my favorites.  REMEMBER THESE!

  • TINDER FUNGUS (CHAGA):  This is a fungus that grows exclusively on the BIRCH TREE.  It actually looks like black charcoal on the outside.  The inside is orange and very porous.  This stuff is the SHIZNIT when dealing with solar survival fire starts.  It smolders like no body’s business and has a very low ignition point.



  • PUNKY WOOD:  Punky wood is one of my personal favorites because you can find it in almost any environment on the planet.  It’s basically dry rotting wood.  You’ve probably stepped on this stuff a hundred times in your yard or on a hike.  Fallen trees dead branches all go through a stage of decay know as punky wood.  It’s easy to crush, powder and pulverize (see next TIP).  This stuff smolders very well and will produce a self sustaining ember.  You can grow a punky wood ember to be the size of a basket ball if you wanted by just adding more crushed punky wood.


  • POOP:  Yes, that’s right – POOP!  Not yours, though.  My favorites are rabbit, deer, goat and moose.  These particular animals produce some amazing solar fire starting poop.  They are like little processed balls of solar gold.  They are dark in color, made of tiny particles of dry grass and leaves and smolder incredibly well.  They must be DRY!  Fresh poo just will not work.


  • MILKWEED OVUM:  Now this is a jewel of knowledge that FEW people know.  Consider yourself one of the solar elite!  Milkweed ovum is the thin papery sheath that the fully milkweed seeds are attached to INSIDE of the milkweed pod.  This stuff is like nature’s tissue paper.  It has a very low ignition point and SMOLDERS!  Very few things in nature smolder and this is one of them!


  • TEA & COFFEE:  Yes, you can generate a smoldering solar ember on tea and coffee.  Finely ground coffee can make a suitable solar ember and so can the pulverized tea leaves inside of tea bags.  You never know when this urban survival tip can come in handy.



Many tinders work much better for creating a solar smoldering ember when they are pounded, powdered and pulverized.  These include but are not limited to punky wood and poops (ha!).  I’m not sure of the physics behind why but I’ve had better success of getting a self sustaining smoldering ember on some tinders when they are powdered into a little pile.  This is just a tip to keep in mind if all else fails.


I’ve been asking a lot from you guys lately – to review my books, watch my new show, share things with your friends -so I wanted to give something back.  It’s not much but it’s a solar fire starting Fresnel Lens (shown in the photos above) that I keep in my wallet.  It takes up hardly any space and is the size of a business card.  I’ve started hundreds of fires with this thing over the years and it works really well.  It’s also one of the few fire starting tools that the TSA won’t hassle you for when you board an airplane.  It’s also a great lens to get started with when learning about solar fire starts.


Remember, it’s not IF but WHEN,


Build A Guaranteed Fire Kit

Spring’s a comin’ and many of you are reorganizing your gear and kits for warm weather on the horizon.  I’ve written posts before about Survival Fire Kits but I’ve never listed suggested contents in detail.  In this post I’d like to share with you what I call a Guaranteed Fire Survival Kit.  When it comes to fire, I don’t screw around. I want guaranteed fire and I want multiple options to get it – no matter what The Mutha’ might throw at me.  This is my current fire kit and one that I believe is fairly thorough.  I’ve also listed the exact contents just in case you want to build your own or modify your existing fire kit.  The fully assembled kits are also available for those who may be looking for a turn-key solution: Creek’s Guaranteed Fire Kit


Below is a description of my Guaranteed Survival Fire Kit contents:

  • QTY 1: Maxpedition EDC Pocket: The entire kit is packed in the Maxpedition EDC pocket. I love Maxpedition gear and this is a great little kit. It’s a 5″x7″x.75″ clam shell MOLLE compatible case with tons on interior storage pockets and loops for all kinds of fire implements. It’s made from 105-denier water and abrasion resistant ballistic nylon fabric and is built like a little tank. It makes for a great packable fire kit container. It’s also triple polyurethane treated for water resistance and has taped interior seams.
  • QTY 1: Char Cloth Tin: This is a 2 5/16″ x 3 11/16″ x 13/16″ metal tin (Altoids size) with a hole punched in the lid. 100% natural fabrics like cotton can be made into Char Cloth, which is an outstanding fire starting material. When you have a fire, it’s important to plan for future fires. This tin allows you to make Char Cloth and plan for future fires. See my article here about how to make char cloth: CREEK SHOWS HOW TO MAKE CHAR CLOTH
  • QTY 25: 2″x2″ 100% Cotton fabric squares. These can be used to make char cloth using the tin above. These are sealed in a water-proof resealable bag.
  • QTY 4: Tinder Quik Fire Tinder: These are a compressed, cotton based, fuel impregnated fire tinder. They are also waterproof. Each of these will light with just a spark and will burn for a solid 2 minutes!
  • QTY 15: UCO Survival Matches: These storm proof matches come in a sealed reusable plastic waterproof match case with 2 replaceable strikers. Each match will burn for 12 seconds. These are like matches on STEROIDS! They are also wind and waterproof!
  • QTY 1: 9-Hour Candle: Whether using this candle to dry fire tinder or shaving off the wax to be used as a fuel extender, this is an often overlooked piece of fire kit. This sucker will burn for 9 hours!
  • QTY 1: Light My Fire Mini Fire Steel: Light My Fire Firesteels are my favorite. They are made in Sweden and are a really great piece of kit. This one is good for 1500 strikes and produces sparks that burn up to 5,400 degrees Fahrenheit. This is without a doubt one of the best fire starting tools on the market. It is small, compact and effective. It will great sparks in virtually any weather condition on Planet Earth.
  • QTY 6: FireStix: These compressed fiber and wax impregnated sticks will light instantly with flame or sparks. They will ignite even when wet and are odorless. Great source of kindling in a pinch.
  • QTY 2: Fatwood Sticks: This all natural fire starter is one of the best I’ve used. These are harvested from stumps of pine (fatwood) from the highlands of Mexico. With their 80% pine resin content, these little guys are extremely easy to light and work even when wet. These burn long and hot and will light about any fire you can imagine. They ignite with spark or flame – must shave into shavings to ignite with sparks.
  • QTY 2: 6″ length of Jute Twine: These pieces of Jute serve as the lanyard for the Fatwood Sticks. Jute is one of the best natural firestarting tinders on Planet Earth. Buff up one of these 6″ Jute lengths to make an instant tinder bundle. Invaluable fire-starter! Will ignite almost instantly with sparks!
  • QTY 2: WETFIRE CUBES: This is a man-made fire starting tinder that will ignite even while floating in water – I’ve done it on national television! One cube can burn up to six minutes. I’ve even used one of these cubes with my Esbit Stove before to make Ramen Noodles.
  • QTY 1: Solar Fresnel Lens: The sun comes up every day and no fire kit would be complete without at least 1 solar fire starting tool. I’ve used these little fresnel magnifiers to start fires countless times. They are lightweight and easy to use. Use it on char cloth, deer poop, punky wood, tinder fungus or any other fire tinder that will smolder. These will not produce flame. You’ll need to create an ember and blow it into flame using a tinder bundle (like the JUTE TWINE).
  • QTY 1: Punky Wood: I’ve hand gathered this punky wood from the forest here at Willow Haven Outdoor. This can be used to create a BIG FAT EMBER with the Fresnel Lens listed above.
  • QTY 3: Cotton Discs: These cotton pads (make-up removal pads) are perfect for catching a spark or mixing with chap stick, petroleum jelly or pine sap to create a long burning fire tinder.
  • QTY 1: Steel Wool: Steel wool is another one of those amazing fire tinders. It will smolder with just sparks and burns VERY hot. Use this to blow a tinder bundle into flame. This will ignite even after being dipped in water!
  • QTY 1: 6″x11″x3″ 5 MIL Barrier Pouch: This heavy duty resealable pouch can be used to keep extra tinder dry or to store more fire starting tools. I can also be used as a water container as well.
  • QTY 3: 4″x6″x2″ 5 MIL Barrier Pouch: These heavy duty resealable pouches are a perfect added layer of water proof protection for water sensitive fire materials such as cotton disks and punky wood.
  • QTY 1: Disposable lighter: Uses are obvious
  • QTY 1: Carmex Lip Balm:  This can be mixed with tinder fibers (Jute/Cotton) to make the flame burn much longer – also known as a fire extender. Click here to read about how I make PET BALLS: Creek’s PET BALL Recipe

Hope you’ve found something here that’s useful.  Your turn – what’s in YOUR fire kit?

Remember, it’s not IF but WHEN,



Most everyone knows that dryer lint makes excellent Fire Tinder.   In not-so-perfect conditions, good fire tinder can be hard to come by in the woods.  Unless the Dyer Lint Tree is in season you might be have to find some other options.  Here’s a method I’ve used a few times in a pinch.

Fire Tinder From Your JEANS

That’s right, just rake the blade of your knife (or a sharp rock) at a 90 degree angle across your jeans and create your own lint.

A little pile of jean lint like this will ignite with just the spark from a ferro rod.  Or, you can use it to grow your ember when making fire by friction.  It will burn fast, though.  Mix it with some chapstick or Carmex Lip Balm and then you’ve got a fire tinder that will burn upwards to 30 seconds – longer if you scrape off a larger pile.

Just a quick tip for your mental survival files!


Remember, it’s not IF but WHEN,


PS – Knife used in this post: http://willowhavenoutdoor.com/store/products/mora-clipper-840-mg/

From BRANCH to BURN: An Impromptu Bow Drill Fire Photo Series

I mowed the lawn at Willow Haven today and had to get off the mower under one of our HUGE Tulip Poplar Trees to move some branches.  One in particular was dead and dry and got me thinking….  Hmmm….  So I grabbed my Blackbird SK5 Survival Knife and my Bahco Lapplander Saw and went to work.

A few sweeps of my Lapplander and…

A few slices with my Blackbird and…

Add in a length of Paracord…

Put the pieces of the puzzle together…

Get my spindle nice and seated…

That one chipped out on me so I did a second and also cut in my pie-shaped notch…

Now let’s get this party started…

Want a better look…?

Voila – Bow Drill Fire from a random branch of Tulip Poplar.


Join me at a Survivacation Clinic THIS SUMMER and learn this survival skill and MANY others!  Spaces still available.

Remember, it’s not IF but WHEN,



How your underwear and a pop can COULD save your life?!

Sounds pretty ridiculous, right?  Well… it’s actually not at all that far fetched.  You see, when it comes to survival skills, it’s all about understanding basic survival principles.  This is a big reason why I love to study and practice survival skills so much – once you know the principles behind why something works, there can be many solutions that lead to the same outcome.  A survivor must be creative and innovative. 

If ever in a survival scenario, there are 3 questions that should always be running through your mind:

  1. Where will my next shelter be?
  2. Where will my next drink come from?
  3. How am I going to make my next fire?

In this post I am going to show you how to make one of the best fire starting tinders in the world from some cotton fabric (such as a pair of boxers) and any aluminum soda can (or pretty much any metal container).  This tinder is called CHAR CLOTH.  You may have heard of it.  I’m sure you’ve seen it used in old western movies.  You can make CHAR CLOTH from any vegetable fiber fabric – three that I can think of off the top of my head would be cotton, linen and jute fabrics.  By burning the fabric with limited exposure to oxygen, it literally changes the chemical make-up of the fabric and CHARS it.  After cloth has been made into CHAR CLOTH, it will smolder when hit with even the smallest of sparks.  I’ve ignited CHAR CLOTH in instances when I couldn’t get any other tinder to catch a spark.  The smoldering CHAR CLOTH can then be used to ignite a tinder bundle.

There is a big misconception when it comes to fire & survival.  TV is probably to blame. 

Many people think that as long as they have an ignition device such as a flint and steel or a ferro rod then they can start a fire whenever and wherever they want.  In a perfect world, this is true, but in the world I live in perfect is rare at best.  Survival fire is as much about preparation and planning for the future as it is about having the right tools. Never take fire for granted and ALWAYS think about where your next fire will come from.  How will you start it?  Do you have viable tinder?  Gathering or making tinder during the good times and planning for the bad times is a very good survival code to live by.  In survival, nothing is guaranteed, so plan ahead as much as possible.

Making CHAR CLOTH is at the core of this basic survival philosophy.  It requires a FIRE to even make it.  Making CHAR CLOTH in a survival situation when you already have a fire almost ensures you will have very good tinder next time you need to start a fire.  In the example below I will show you how to make CHAR CLOTH with an old cotton bandana and a pop can I found in a ditch.


 The first step is that you must already have a fire going.  CHARRING the cotton will require a fire.  So, before you starting assembling the items you need to make CHAR CLOTH, go ahead and get a fire going.  Once you’ve got a nice hot fire, start by cutting the soda can in half.


 Make sure the can is dry inside.  The end goal is to slide the upper part of the can OVER the lower part of the can to make little container that you can open and close.  It makes it easier to do this if you use your fingers and make a few crimps along the top of the bottom half.  This way, the top ‘LID’ slides on fairly easy.


Next, cut your cotton fabric into 1-2 inch squares.  Anywhere from 5-10 pieces is fine.  Put these into the bottom half of the container.


Before you put the top of the can on, make sure that you close the drinking hole flap as well as you can.  Just line it up as best you can with it’s original position.  This creates a nearly air-tight container with limited exposure to oxygen.  You do not want a completely air-tight container and the crack along the edge of the broken seal of the drinking hole flap is just about right to allow exhaust to escape while the cloth is charring.  The next step is to place the container in the fire.  Before you do so, slightly bend up the pull tab on the top of the can so that you can hook a little stick under it to easily remove it from the fire.  Your aluminum can container even comes with a convenient removal handle!


It won’t be long (sometimes just a few seconds) after you place the container in the fire until you will see smoke spewing from the cracked seal along the drinking hole flap.  This is what you want.  This means that your cloth is burning inside.  The whole process doesn’t take long at all.  Mine in this example was finished in under 1.5 minutes.  Once you stop seeing smoke coming from the can, you are all set.  If your fire is smokey and you can’t tell then just wait a couple of minutes and you should be good to go.  Then, hook the pull tab with your stick and remove the container from the fire.


Once your container has cooled enough for you to handle it, just twist off the top lid and take a look at your CHAR CLOTH inside.  That’s all there is to making CHAR CLOTH.  Unless you have a better (water-tight container) with you, the aluminum can also makes a really great carrying case for the CHAR CLOTH.  It’s not water-tight but it offers a fair amount of protection.



Throw a spark at your CHAR CLOTH now and see what I mean.  It ignites almost instantly and will smolder long enough for you to use it to ignite a larger pre-prepared tinder bundle.


As a survivalist, you must live in 3 realms:

  1. THE PAST: You must learn from the mistakes, successes, trials and errors you’ve had in the past in order to grow and advance your knowledge and skills.
  2. THE PRESENT: You must coordinate all of your skills, knowledge and resources in the present to stay alive.
  3. THE FUTURE: You must always be looking toward and planning for the future.  This involves predicting what might happen and also planning for the unexpected.

What are some other future survival priorities that you must prepare for in the present based upon your knowledge from past experiences?

Remember, it’s not IF but WHEN,


It All Starts With The Tinder Bundle

99% of the work for a successful survival fire is done before a single spark is cast.  Whether using a modern ignition tool or primitive methods, the most critical moments of the fire building process are the first 60 seconds of flame.  9 times out of 10, the quality of your tinder bundle will dictate your results.  Preparation is everything.  How well you prepare your fire building materials in advance will determine your rate of success – plain and simple.

I can normally tell a lot about a person by the type and quality of tinder bundle they select.  If someone chooses a crappy tinder bundle it is due to 1 of 3 reasons:

  1. Lack of know how or experience
  2. Lack of proper resources
  3. Ignorance (different from lack of experience)

There is a big difference between 1 and 3.  Lack of Experience is truly not knowing what to do.  Ignorance is knowing what to do and not doing it.  Laziness would fall into the ignorance category.  So would RUSHING and PANIC.

If you simply don’t have the proper resources in a survival situation to create a proper tinder bundle then there isn’t much that can be done.  However, I would argue that creativity is more important than perfect resources and can go a long way in even the most difficult of fire building scenarios.

Knowing the important qualities of a good tinder bundle is crucial in putting one together during not-so-perfect fire building situations.  If you lack experience in finding, creating or using tinder bundles then hopefully this post will help to lay the solid foundation you need.

I have broken this post into 3 main sections:

  1. Tinder Bundle: DEFINED
  2. SAMPLE Fire Tinder Materials: Store Bought, Homemade/Scavenged, & Natural
  3. Fire Tinder Extenders & Accelerants: Increasing your chances of success


A tinder bundle is the very first fire starting materials you will try to ignite when building a fire.  It should be the finest, driest, lightest and most combustible gathering of materials you can get your hands on.  Below are the key attributes of an ideal tinder bundle:

  • DRY! DRY! DRY! (only exception is when your tinder is mixed with an extender or accelerant)
  • Fibrous:  Thin fibers burn easily and quickly – the more hair-thin fibers the better.
  • Not too small.  Some tinder bundles can go up in smoke pretty fast.  If your bundle is too small, your window of opportunity to get other more substantial kindling materials lit is very short.  I always try to start with an tinder bundle at least the size of softball if possible.

The single purpose of a tinder bundle is to catch a spark or flame and burn hot enough long enough to ignite larger kindling pieces.  I believe the test of a truly worthy tinder bundle is one that can catch on fire with just a spark or ember (such as from a fire by friction set, ferro rod or flint and steel).  If it requires the use of an open flame such as a match or lighter then it is lacking in one of the qualities above. When it comes to tinder materials, your creativity is the limit.


Tinder materials can pretty much be divided into 3 categories.

CATEGORY # 1: Store Bought Fire Tinder

 There is NOTHING WRONG with buying fire tinder products.  There are some AMAZING products on the market that I highly recommend for keeping in your survival kits, emergency kits and Bug Out Bags.  One product, for example is called Wet Fire.  This material’s flamability is absolutely unreal. It will even catch a spark and burn while floating in water.  I keep a few cubes of wet fire in every single survival kit I own – including my Bug Out Bag. 

WetFire Fire Tinder

WetFire Fire Tinder

Another great store bought tinder is called Tinder-Quik or Spark-Lit.  These are compact little fire tinder tabs treated with some kind of chemical accelerant and are very effective. 

Spark-Lite Store Bought Tinder

Spark-Lite Store Bought Tinder

Some other materials that also work as excellent tinder in even the worst conditions are:

If you are able to produce any kind of spark or ember, these store bought tinders I’ve mentioned above will pretty much guarantee you a fire. 

Steel Wool Fire Tinder

Steel Wool Fire Tinder

I highly suggest packing 1 or more in your survival and emergency kits.  1 Cube of WetFire is a part of my daily EDC.  I carry it packed into a Pill Case on my keychain.  However, if you are ever in a situation when you aren’t so fortunate to have store bought fire tinder available… you will need to rely on your ability to improvise and scavenge for good tinder.  This is when understanding the qualities of a good tinder bundle start to really come into play.


 One of the most reliable fire tinders I’ve ever used is a homemade product – cotton balls mixed with petroleum jelly.  We call them PET balls here at WillowHavenOutdoor.  I’ve done a post about how to make them – it’s not rocket science – here is the link if you want to read it: Cotton Ball and Petroleum Jelly Fire Starter

Cotton Pads for Fire Tinder

Cotton Pads for Fire Tinder

Cotton balls or cotton pads are the perfect tinder bundle consistency – extremely fibrous.  The cotton balls by themselves are extremely flammable, but they burn really fast when lit.  The petroleum jelly acts as what’s called a FIRE EXTENDER.  It basically becomes a fuel that enables the flame to burn longer.  I will discuss Fire Extenders and Accellerants later.

So… what are other items that could be scavenged that have similar properties to cotton balls???  Here are a few that come to mind:

  • Dryer Lint (or collected lint from your pockets)
  • Unraveled fibrous rope or twine such such as JUTE TWINE
  • Gauze Bandages
  • Tampons and Maxi-Pads
  • Diapers
  • Cigarette Filters


Tampons as Fire Tinder

Tampons as Fire Tinder


Dryer Lint or Pocket Lint as Fire Tinder

Dryer Lint or Pocket Lint as Fire Tinder


Scavenged Cigarette Filters as Fire Tinder

Scavenged Cigarette Filters as Fire Tinder


Unravelled Jute Twine

Unravelled Jute Twine

CHAR CLOTH is also another excellent homemade fire tinder.  CHAR CLOTH is made by charring 100% cotton cloth.  There are many excellent YOUTUBE instructional videos on this – just search HOW TO MAKE CHAR CLOTH on youtube if you are interested.  It’s a simple process and a good tool to have in your bag of fire making tricks.

Most papers can be rubbed and twisted into a fuzzy ball of excellent tinder material.  Depending on the type, it may take a little working but it can be done.  Paper is in essence a bunch of small fibers matted together.  Fabric is also woven of small fibers and threads.  One time in a pinch for a tinder bundle, I raked the blade of my knife at a 90 degree angle back and forth across my jeans and with each rake a little pile of fibers collected at the base of my knife blade.  I was creating my own lint.  After a while I had a small bundle of fibers in which I used to catch a spark.

Once you understand the key properties of the tinder bundle, you can start to think about things and products in terms of whether or not they the have potential to be good tinder materials. “BUSHING” fire tinder between the palms of your hand helps to break it up and expose the small fibers that are so important.

 CATEGORY # 3: Natural Found Fire Tinders 

If you know where to look, Mother Nature can provide you with amazing fire tinders no matter the season.  The list of natural found tinders can go on for pages.  While I will give you specific natural materials that have worked for me, it’s not important that you know these exactly.  It’s important that you understand the similar characteristics that make these items good fire tinders.  No matter where you are in the world, plants and natural materials can be found and used as fire tinder.  Knowing the attributes and not necessarily the name is what is important.  With a few key exceptions, think FLUFFY and FIBROUS.   Below is a photo list of some excellent natural found tinder materials.  Take a moment review their similarities:

Dried Thistle Seed Heads

Dried Thistle Seed Heads


Milk Weed Seed Head 'Down'

Milk Weed Seed Head 'Down'


Unknown Plant Dried Seed Heads

Unknown Plant Dried Seed Heads


Unknown Plant Dried Seed Heads # 2

Unknown Plant Dried Seed Heads # 2


Cattail 'Down'

Cattail 'Down'

 Even in the spring and summer months, many dried seed heads can still be found from the previous fall and winter season.

Little critters can also manufacture some excellent tinder bundles for you if you know where to look.  Birds and small rodents build nests that typically make excellent tinder.  Often, bird nests will dry quickly because of the high exposure to winds, etc.  Even when the ground is wet I’ve found dry bird nests nestled in bushes and trees.

Bird Nest Fire Tinder

Bird Nest Fire Tinder

 You’ll find that birds and other small animals are very picky about nesting materials and choose only the finest and softest little twigs and leaves.  These choice items just happen to be perfect for catching a spark or ember.  Small rodent nests also make awesome tinder bundles.  These are typically hidden under logs, brush-piles or even hidden in a small underground burrow.  Even though they can take a little work to find – they are almost ALWAYS DRY.  Rodents don’t like to sleep in a wet nest and go out of their way to build it in a dry area.  With a little effort you can uncover a dry tinder bundle ‘rodent nest’ even in a down pour of rain.

Dry Rodent Nest Found under a piece of old plywood

Dry Rodent Nest Found under a piece of old plywood

Several tree barks make excellent fire tinder as well.  Birch Bark is one of the best tinder materials on the planet and will light with a spark even when damp.  The oil in the birch bark is extremely flammable.

Birch Bark as Fire Tinder

Birch Bark as Fire Tinder

 The resinous bark of a Cedar Tree also makes excellent tinder.  I’ve found the best way to collect this is to scrape the bark with your knife at a 90 degree angle.  This scrapes the bark off in almost a ‘fuzzy’ consistency which is perfect for catching a spark.  A little effort goes a long way.  Further rubbing cedar scrapings between the palms of your hands helps to bring out the thin fibers.

Flame Extenders and Accelerants

Mixing fire tinder with a little bit of something flammable will drastically increase your odds of getting a flame going.  There are 2 basic categories here: EXTENDERS and ACCELERANTS.  Extenders burn slow and steady.  Acccelerants are more volatile and tend to burn very fast.

Some sample Fire Extenders are:

  • Chap stick or Lip Balm
  • Petroleum Jelly
  • Many hair pomades
  • Fat (lard, grease or rendered animal fat)
  • Wax
  • Pine Sap

You will find that mixing your tinder with a fire extender will serve you 2 purposes:

  1. Your spark will catch faster and better
  2. Your flame will burn longer – giving you more time to catch small twigs and other kindling materials on fire

Fire accelerants, on the other hand, are much more explosive.  Your spark will catch fast and your bundle will burn fast.  Accelerants can really be helpful in the ‘not-so-perfect’ situations such as when it’s wet and damp.  Some example excellerants include:

  • Gasoline
  • Alcohol / Hard Liquor
  • Perfumes
  • Some mouth washes
  • Many cleaning supplies
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Tons of other chemical products such as paint thinners


Perfume or Aftershave as Fire Accelerant
Perfume or Aftershave as Fire Accelerant



Hard Liquor as Fire Accelerant
Hard Liquor as Fire Accelerant

 If you find yourself in an URBAN SURVIVAL environment you might have access to a huge variety of fire accelerants.  Use them to your advantage.

The best .99 cents you can ever spend.

Buy some cheapy disposable cigarette lighters.  They are typically only .99 cents or so.  Put one in EVERY KIT and Back-Pack you own.  Keep a few in your car, on your boat and on any other mode of transportation you use.  Pack them in your suitcases.  Get in a habit of carrying one in your pocket as EDC.  A .99 cent cigarette lighter is the easiest way to start fire.  Yes, it doesn’t work well when wet or in high altitudes but I’ll still take a lighter over any other fire tool any day of the week.

At my BOB MMXII Clinics  I will be going over fire tinders and theory in great detail.  If you are interested in attending, check this page for upcoming clinic dates: BOB MMXII.

Any questions on Fire Tinder Bundles?  Comments?  Leave them below.

Remember, it’s not IF but WHEN,



The Best Fire Starter Money Can’t Buy: PET Balls

When it comes to fire tinder and fire starting materials, I could probably write a book on all of the different natural and store bought materials I have used – some working better than others.  However, for the purpose of this post I am going to focus on what I think is the most effective and economical home-made fire tinder/starter available.  Here at Willow Haven Outdoor, we call these very cheap & very effective fire starters PET Balls.  This stands for Petroleum Balls. 

Put simply, a PET Ball is a wad of dryer lint saturated with petroleum jelly.  In my experience, a PET Ball will successfully take a spark from almost any ignition device (flint & steel, fire steel, match, lighter, friction coal, etc…) even in horrible conditions. 

These are hands down my # 1 recommended carry for fire tinder/starter material – even above anything you can spend your hard earned money on at a store.

  I keep a container of PET Balls in both my Bug Out Bag and also my excursion pack.  They are SIMPLE & CHEAP (REALLY CHEAP) to make.  Below is the process.

The Raw Materials

PET Balls Raw Ingredient: Dryer Lint

PET Balls Raw Ingredient: Dryer Lint

The first ingredient is completely FREE and abundantly available – Dryer Lint.  Dryer lint is the perfect consistency to use as a fire tinder material.  It’s fluffy, fibrous and highly flammable.  This, combined with run-of-the-mill Petroleum Jelly, makes for an incredible fire starter combination.

PET Balls: Dryer Lint + Petroleum Jelly

PET Balls: Dryer Lint + Petroleum Jelly

The Process

When mixed with dryer lint, petroleum jelly acts as what’s called a FUEL EXTENDER.  By this I mean that it allows the flame to burn longer than normal.  The fibrous dryer lint is what catches the flame and the petroleum jelly acts of a fuel source and allows the flame to burn longer and slower – giving you more time to feed the small flame with little twigs and wood shavings that you have already prepared.  Without the EXTENDED burn time, your window of opporunity goes up in a flash of smoke – literally! It’s possible, but more difficult. Petroleum jelly can be a fuel extender for many different materials including cotton balls, cattail down, milkweed down, dried grasses, etc… I always carry a tube of CARMEX Lip balm in my pack for this reason.  CARMEX is a petroleum based lip balm and can be mixed with a variety of tinder to make excellent fire starters.

Making PET Balls is a very simple process.  The first step is to slather a big scoop of petroleum jelly on a descent sized chunk of lint like you see below.

PET Balls: Step 1

PET Balls: Step 1

 Then, with your hands, vigorously mix the 2 ingredients until the dryer lint is completely saturated. 

PET Balls: Step 2

PET Balls: Step 2

 Finally, simply roll the saturated chunks of dryer lint into small quarter sized balls.

PET Balls: Finished Balls - Ready for a spark.

PET Balls: Finished Balls - Ready for a spark.

When you are ready to use them, simply pull them apart to form a small nest – stretching out the fibers a bit.  Then, land a spark right in the middle and watch the magic.

Packing & Containers

Choosing a container for your PET Balls is pretty basic.  I prefer a waterproof container – even though PET Balls will successfully take a spark even when damp.  You can use any small container and jam in as many PET Balls that will fit.  There are several good small container options in the SMALL TRAVEL SIZE section at most pharmacy stores.  You can also get creative and use containers such as Altoid Tins and old film canisters.

PET Balls: Container Ideas

PET Balls: Container Ideas

 Once you choose a container, the more PET Balls you can fit, the better.  Jam them is as tight as you can get.  If I were using the Altoid Tin below I would cram in at least double that many.  It helps to saturate the dryer lint even more.  Besides, these little fire-balls weigh virtually nothing and can be life savers in damp & rainy weather conditions.

Sure there is excellent fire starting tinder available at camping and outdoor stores.  But why spend $10 on something when you can spend virtually $0 and a few minutes to create a product equally as effective.  This is exactly what being a survivor is all about – using the resources at hand to meet your basic survival needs – in this case, FIRE.  A BIG lesson from a very simple project.

Hope you found this post useful.  Comment below and tell me and other readers what has worked for you!

Remember, it’s not IF but WHEN,


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Bug Out Survival Fire Kit


The ability to make fire is such a critical skill for any survivalist.  Whether on a planned camping trip or in an extreme survival scenario, fire can make or break an experience and could certainly be the difference between life or death.  I have spent more hours than I can count on my hands and knees blowing a tinder bundle – eyes burning from smoke – desperately trying to get that first ignition.  I practice “the skill” of making fire as much as I can.  I practice in all kinds of conditions using all kinds of tools and sets.  I use modern tools such as matches & fire steels and I use primitive methods such as bow drills and hand drills. 

Over the years I have tried to become familiar with making fire in almost any environment and condition.

  When I spend time in the wild, I always carry with me what I call my “Fire Kit”.  It is a 8″ x 4″ x 2″ Army Molle Pouch filled with a variety of fire making tools and implements.  I keep a similar kit in my Survival Bug Out Bag – only it is about 1/3 the size with less tools.  

Creek's Fire Kit - Closed

Creek's Fire Kit - Closed

Let me preface this post by saying that I ALREADY KNOW this kit is overkill.  While I am a big fan of redundancy (especially when it comes to important things such as fire), I am aware that this kit contains many more items than I need to get a fire going.  However, the main purpose of this kit is to practice using different tools in different ways and in different environments and having this kit with me at all times gives me the opportunity to do just that.  I try to start a fire in a different way each time.  Sometimes I use modern tools from my kit, sometimes I use natural tools that I gather while in the bush and other times I use a combination of both.  Having different tools and kit items on hand gives a lot of flexibility and provides more learning opportunities. 

Creek's Fire Kit - OPEN

Creek's Fire Kit - OPEN

I always have a mini sparker, matches in a waterproof case, and a lighter in my fire kit.  Each of these offers their own set of challenges when making fire.  I will often create scenarios while camping.  For example, I sometimes pretend that I only have 1 match left and this forces me to really make that 1 match count. 

Always challenge yourself when making fire because you never know if a time will come when it WILL BE a challenge.


Mini Sparker, Matches & Lighter

Mini Sparker, Matches & Lighter

In addition to the above, I also keep a Fire Steel in my kit.  Many times I will use this tool with tinder that I’ve gathered in the bush such as cattail down, birch bark, dried grass and the list goes on and on.  I’ve even tried starting a fire using a shed snake skin.  It was actually very flammable!  A fire steel can generate sparks in the worst of conditions and I’ve started fires in miserable environments using this tool.  If you haven’t already – become a MASTER OF THE FIRE STEEL.  I keep the store-bought compressed wax wood fire tinder in my kit just as a back up if I’m ever in really wet and rainy conditions and I have to get a fire going.  I’ve never had to use it yet but it’s there if I ever need to. 

Wax wood & Fire Steel

Wax wood & Fire Steel

I also pack petroleum jelly soaked cotton balls in my kit.  You can also use dryer lint to make a very similar tinder.  This is quite possibly the best fire tinder I have ever used.  It works with a very tiny spark and will burn even when damp.  You can make it by simply mixing cotton balls and dryer lint with petroleum jelly.  I keep mine in a little container. 

CARMEX lip balm is petroleum jelly based and works as an excellent FUEL EXTENDER.  You can mix it with any natural tinder such as cattail down or milk weed down to increase the burn time.  Read my post about using CARMEX as a Fire Extender.  Natural fiber twine such as the JUTE TWINE shown below also makes an excellent tinder bundle.  I’ve started countless bow drill fires using a jute twine tinder bundle. 

Again, it’s about challenging yourself with different materials.  Experience is the key!


Survival Fire Tinder

Survival Fire Tinder

So to sum up the lesson in this post I would say it is this: 

Never start any 2 fires the same way! Do something different each time.

Building a fire kit and keeping it in your pack can help you become a better fire crafter.  It’s really about having the tools to experiment.  Speaking of tools, 1 tool that I have not mentioned that I use almost every time I build a fire is my knife – typically a Mora Knife.  I don’t keep it in my fire kit, but I NEVER go into the woods or on any trip without it. 

Hopefully this is useful information for you.  Would love to hear your thoughts.

Remember… it’s not IF but WHEN,


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