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,



  1. I’ve always wondered how charcloth was made – thanks for this!

  2. I’ve only made charcloth with an old Altoids tin (with a small hole in the top made by a nail). Probably will find more cans in the wild than Altoids tins in the event I lose my char cloth maker! Can’t wait to pass this on to the Troop!

    BTW – I used to carry the char cloth in the Altoids tin as well, but this made a terrible mess in my kit when the char cloth would bounce around and break up. I found an old plastic “chew” container on the trail one day and transferred the char cloth to it – no more mess in the kit, and it keeps the char dry in between uses.


  3. Charcloth – To make charcloth or char-rope I use cotton clothesline rope, with the nylon core pulled out. Coil it in an old shoe polish tin with a tiny hole in the top. Drop it in the fire and remove as soon as it quits jetting smoke. Immediately tape the hole. A great container as well, though I do like the discarded chew tin idea.

    I tear off a half inch or so of char rope and that seems to work just fine, just got to be quick with your tinder bundle. Another reason for a bit more rope in the pack, cotton rope.

    Just recently discovered your site. I like your style of teaching and information transfer. I especially appreciate your conclusion to this article. We can never be over-prepared. It seems, to me, that the essence of a survival approach is flexibility, applying what you learned in other, likely differing, situations to the new challenge. Thanks.

    Once you stop learning, you start dying. A. Einstein

    • Mike- I’ve never thought of using cotton rope. I have to try this – thanks for the tip. Creek

    • I’ve never tried cotton rope before. I’ll give it a go this weekend. Sounds like it burns a little faster since you say you have to be quick with the tinder bundle, though.

  4. I today used jute twine dipped in wax,made a whole bunch(more then I needed and made a bit of a mess of stove,but hell,single at moment,can get away with it!).Watched a video from Paul@hedgehogleatherworks that I found that Creek mentioned on this site.This stuff is great fire starter,took a piece and left in the snow and damp drizzle we have in these parts for a hour,unraveled it and fluffed,two hits with baby fire rod and nice long waxy burn.I am leaving a piece out over night and tomorrow will use it to hopefully build a fire with for most part wet stock.Though I have a bunch stuffed in a small capped bottle in bag I believe you could have this in a wet container and would be fine,hell,a few pieces in any pocket for a hike would take no room and be a great help if fire needed quickly.I do have one piece in bottle unraveled as if I need a fire badly may be too cold and shaky to carefully pull apart.I could see making char stock on the road if necc. but have my wax twine for that first couple of fires,hopefully!.

    • Success!The piece left in rain and snow over night worked excellent.Keep in mind doing this with a tiny key ring striker,was using the best dry branches /wood in a snowy/still moist air environment,very satisfying,highly recommend.I am now on to decide the next get a fire going quest.

      • Congrats James!

      • Thanks,and thanks for all the excellent videos/skills information.I look at the new skills being gained as not getting out of my comfort zone but expanding my comfort zone.I am contemplating the wood in my area for a bow drill project.As a carpenter have truck loads of hand/power tools but am going to do with just my knife,should be a interesting challenge as all I have made with a single knife wood wise is a tooth pick and a toothbrush(or what passes for one when mine not available!).

    • I’ve seen that vid and really liked the idea. I haven’t done it yet but glad to hear you’ve had success with it. Thanks for sharing – Creek

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