One of the most underappreciated elements of a survival kit is waterproof tinder that will ignite easily and provide a substantial amount of heat once it has been set aflame. If you have ever experienced a cold night in the woods, you probably understand that the times when you need a fire most are also the times when it is most difficult to start one. For example: being in the woods on a winter night after it has been raining for several days would likely require the survivalist to use a fire in order to maintain his core body temperature. While I believe there is usually a primitive solution available, the caloric expenditure required to search for dry tinder in such conditions could be life threatening. For that reason, it is sound practice to have sure-fire tinder in your survival kit in case you get in over your head… which can happen to even the most experienced outdoorsmen.
Three Key Ingredients
There are many different ways to make tinder, and I recommend that you research and experiment with all of them until you find one that best suits your preferences. My personal favorite (at least for now!) is jute twine that has been dipped in melted wax and then sealed in a waterproof container. Jute twine is a brown natural cordage that is cheap and widely available through most hardware stores. The preferred wax is paraffin, which can be obtained at grocery stores… I use the brand “Gulf Wax”. Finally, the container can be any number of things but my favorite is a small screw top jar made by Nalgene.
Heating the Wax
Find an old junky pot that you don’t mind damaging because once you have melted wax inside it will be difficult to ever get it completely cleaned out. If you’d prefer not to use a pot then a used tin coffee or soup can should do the trick. Just put the wax inside and melt it on low heat. Be careful if you are using a campfire because it is more difficult to regulate the temperature and wax is flammable if it gets too hot… which can be very dangerous.
Dipping the Jute Twine
Cut your twine into lengths of about six inches each. Then throw the whole bundle into the molten wax and stir it around for a few minutes so that the wax can soak in and coat all the fibers. Then, simply fish the jute out and let it sit for about fifteen minutes so that it can completely cool down. I like to use a tweezers to pull the jute out so as to avoid burning my fingers. Also be sure to set the waxed twine on a surface that you don’t mind tarnishing, as you will undoubtedly make a small mess.
Packing the Container
Once your waxed jute has completely cooled down, it will be stiff to the touch. Double each length in half and push it into the container mid-section first. Once the container is too tight to pack by hand, you can push each individual strand of twine in using a small stick. Just force it into the container by pushing on the mid-section of the twine. Once your container is packed, seal it up and you now have fire tinder that will withstand the worst of conditions.
How to Use Your Tinder
When you are ready to use the tinder, simply pull out one of the six inch sections and unravel it into each of the individual strands. Then you can easily pull those strands apart with your fingers and then buff them in your palms until they are light and fluffy. Once the tinder ball looks like a thin hairy bird’s nest, it will be ready to take a spark from a ferro rod or any ignition source. It should burst into flames instantly. Be sure to experiment with the tinder well before you actually need to use it. You can adjust the amount depending on how much heat you need and how long you need it to burn. Being familiar with the burn time will allow you to use the appropriate amount of tinder without wasting through your reserves… which could be life saving in a long term survival situation.