In the wild, man uses fire to survive. In the backyard, with a few beers, a setting sun, and a light breeze, man uses fire to live. Either way, there’s something childishly satisfying about watching a fire grow, taming an element that could simultaneously kill you if a spark lands in the wrong spot, or sustain you the next time you’re deserted in the wilderness.
Hakim Isler, a survivalist recently dropped into a remote part of India with no clothes for 21 days as part of Discovery’s reality show Naked and Afraid, wants to teach you how to start a fire the right way – not by turning a knob to ignite the gas, but on your hands and knees, head tilted to blow oxygen into a tiny spark that’s ready to engulf strategically placed twigs. Here’s all a guy needs to start a fire…the right way.
Suitable tinder has to be small, light, and dry. For a backyard blaze, Isler says newspaper works just fine.
It gets a little trickier when you’re a survivalist on your own with minimal materials. “You could use birds nests or things of that nature,” he says. “You could take bark off certain trees and shave that down to be really fluffy. The key is it needs to be really dry.”
Whatever you use, you need enough tinder to make a “grapefruit-sized ball.”
Channeling your best Boy Scout knowledge, get small twigs that are durable enough to stand up in a “teepee” formation. Then place the grapefruit-ball of tinder inside. Kindling is easy to find in a dry forest, but problems arise when everything is wet (more on that later). As the flame grows, you can start adding bigger and bigger twigs and logs.
If you don’t smoke – and if you still do, why? – the easiest way to start a fire is using a lighter. But lighters can (and do) malfunction, or they just aren’t readily available (particularly if you’re dropped in the wilderness with no clothes for the sake of good TV).
Isler says without a proper lighter, you need to start moving down a list of options with increasing difficulty to catch a spark. The first being a flint and magnesium rod. “Nine times out of 10, you will catch a spark with one,” Isler says.
Left with nothing, you can fashion a bow drill from wood and some type of cordage – a rather complicated method that requires a ton of patience (learh how here). Although Isler says if you prepare right it shouldn’t come to that. In his car, his home, and his survival backpack, he always carries something suitable to catch a spark. “Have one of these things available and then if all else fails then you go to the harder stuff, but that's a last resort,” he says.
You’re tinder will need some extra help if the ground is damp. Use cotton balls, or even the lint from your dryer, dipped in Vaseline (which is fairly combustible) to get a stronger flame going. For kindling, dig next to tree roots to find dead limbs buried under the dirt.