When the Fire Won’t Light

I spent this last weekend teaching survival to about 200 kids at Scooter’s Youth Hunting Camp. I was quickly humbled when after 4 hours of non-stop rain, I couldn’t hardly get my demo fires to light.

When I teach survival to kids, I teach it from a kids perspective. I also want them to get a hands on experience at lighting fires. I demo several methods including dryer lint, steel wool, shotgun shells, and cotton balls with petroleum jelly. There was so much moisture in the air, that even under a shelter protecting us from the downpour, I could barely get a light.

I don’t carry matches and prefer to use a striker bar such as the one produced by Light My Fire. Unfortunately, my shipment of strikers didn’t come in and the kids (as well as me) were forced to use another generic brand of fire starters.

Not every condition is perfect and there are times when you have to light up a fire it is going to be wet, cold, and miserable. But teaching conditions for a first time fire starter should be perfect. It is also embarrassing when your “expert” can’t get his demo fire going. So to make it work, here are a few tricks I used.

Use body heat to dry your tender-

I like to use alcohol swabs from first aid packs as a field expedient candle wick. But when they get wet- they are hard to light with a sparking divice. I placed these my (dry) shirt pocket so they would be protected by my gortex jacket and start to dry. Make sure that your body is not wet from the rain or sweat- otherwise – it won’t work.

Dryer lint absorbs moisture-

Even in plastic bags, dryer lint absorbs moisture and becomes difficult to light with a sparking device. I found if I spread out the lint prior to sparking it does much better.

Use multiple sources and stages-

I felt like a mad scientist in some parody. I found that I could use a shotgun shell to get my alchohol swab to light, which then would get the dryer lint going. Also steel wool and a battery could help me get the cotton balls going, so I could get wind-proof candles ignited, which I would then use on moss or a birds nest. It was entertaining.

Once conditions started drying a bit, I could get cotton balls with petroleum jelly going only if sitting on a raised surface such as an Altoids tin

By the end- 99% of the participants could get a fire going with petroleum jelly and cotton balls.

There will be times you have to try different methods and techniques, and in some cases use a combination to get a survival fire going. I always recommend practicing in all conditions. It will raise your skill set as well as provide the confidence needed when it counts.

Checkout the podcast at for more information on survival and adventure in the outdoors

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