Continuing with the series “Contingency Kits”, I want to address a few major categories that will be common across a wide variety of missions or environments. I say common because while you may carry something that falls into this category it can be used for different purposes and in different manners based on where you are and what you are doing. My point in this approach is to get the user thinking about what they need based on the circumstances they may find themselves in.
This entry will cover the Fire/Heat category. This category is pretty broad because of all the things that fire/heat can be used for such as morale, maintaining body temp, signaling, light, cooking food, sterilizing/pasteurizing/sanitizing water and equipment, destroying sensitive documents or equipment, etc. Because of the wide variety of uses there are hundreds of ways to harness this power from a ferro rod to a thermite grenade and everything in between, you have to be careful in deciding what is appropriate for your application.
Below I have photograph a variety of fire/heat tools:
While most survival kits will include a few matches, a ferro rod and striker, and maybe a fire starter or fuel tab I don’t think many consider the usefulness of such items in their expected environments.
Ignition sources: Manufactured ignition sources have a variety pros and cons. Matches are generally easy to light but can go out rapidly from wind and are functionally one time use. Lighters can be used repeatedly but may be damaged by moisture or impact and may not give a good indication of being out of fuel or the fuel may be lost due to evaporation or incidental activation. Ferro rods and flint and steel are great at being resistant to the elements, impact damage, and they are multi-use but they require more skill and it is functionally impossible to light a candle directly. Flares and thermite are great for an intense fire but are hard to control and bulky for lighting a small campfire but excel at signaling and document or material destruction. Water activated and non-flame heating elements can be lumped into this category but have limited use generally associate to heating water or food, supplementing body temps, or limited applications in signalling. These are great when you need a no-flame solution to a niche problem but generally should not be used as a stand alone solution.
Sustainment: Choosing a fuel for sustainment is just as important as choosing an appropriate ignition source as some fuels are not functional in certain environments or with certain ignition sources. Pocket lint is great for use with most ignition sources to get a ‘birds nest’ started to light larger fuel but it will not burn for very long and doesn’t work well when it gets wet. Add some petroleum jelly based product and it is slightly more difficult to light but moisture resistant and will burn longer. Dense wood based fire starters similar to fire logs will burn for a while and are fairly moisture resistant but require a lighter or the full burn time of a match to ignite. FastFire tabs are water resistant, light easily with a variety of ignition sources and can be extinguished and reignited easily although they are not recommended for cooking food whereas esbit tabs can be used for cooking with a pot or pan but are harder to light initially and more difficult to extinguish and relight. Candles are great because they are easily controlled and generally water resistant but they are difficult if not impossible to light with ferro rod or flint and steel. One item I am really fond of is the vaseline gauze, it is easily lit with a match or lighter, able to lit with ferro rod and with a little practice can be turned into an improvised candle. I get an average of 7-8 minutes out of one, not great but decent and easy to carry.
Choosing what to pack: I like to carry a variety of options that offer some redundancy. A common kit for me is a small bic lighter with the child safety mechanism removed, a ferro rod and striker, and matches for ignition sources and FastFire cubes, a vaseline gauze, and a candle for sustainment. This kit allows me to start a fire in the woods or jungle or in an urban/cave/man-made structure environment I can sit in a modified Indian style around the candle to stay warm, use the vaseline gauze packaging reflector with the candle as a directional light. This is a pretty generic kit that covers a pretty broad realm of environments BUT remember to be very analytical when examining your mission or trip to evaluate your needs. Sometimes a road flare and a squeeze bottle of kerosine is more appropriate.
In all cases, I recommend practicing the use and application of tools and techniques before you are freezing and losing dexterity or trying to burn up a disabled vehicle in a non-permissive environment and realize your techniques suck.
Until next time, stay sharp.