by P. Mueller
It all began this past winter while watching the national news. Apparently an older couple decided to try an untested short cut home from a nearby casino. This short cut happened to be through a lightly traveled mountain pass. Did I mention there was a blizzard going on at the time? Well, there was. You know what happens next. The folks got lost and their car became stuck in the snow and they weren’t going anywhere. They must not have believed in being prepared for situations like this because they had no useful supplies with them, not even a bit of food, water or matches.
After hearing this story, I decided that I would build an inexpensive fire kit for each of my vehicles, and while at it, another for a prepper friend whose birthday was coming up. Since there are typically higher priorities for my cash, I thought I’d challenge myself to build a waterproof fire kit for under $10. And the challenge was on.
The first step was to comb the internet websites, blogs and YouTube for ideas. To say there are a lot of great ideas is an understatement by far. There are tons of styles and types of containers alone, from mint tins to plastic zipper bags, along with content suggestions too numerous to name.
As stated earlier, the container had to be waterproof, so mint tins and the like were out. I browsed an on-line retailer for containers and found dozens, so once I refined the search by cost, I stumbled upon a 14 cm x 10 cm x 4 cm, waterproof plastic container for $5 with free shipping. There went half the budget and I hadn’t even started on the contents. But that was okay because I knew that I had many of the contents already in the house. I bet you do as well. This hard plastic container is water tight and closes securely against a rubber gasket with a locking latch; a prolonged submersion test was performed on each to verify that fact. The completed kits were placed into freezer zip bags as a first line of defense anyway.
Since I was already at the on-line retail site, I ordered small, but stout, 2” ferrocerium flint rods with red plastic handles and an attached striker. These cost about $3 each and also had free shipping.
While waiting for these items to arrive, I set about pulling together the rest of the contents of the kit. In an empty coffee can, I’d drop items as I found them, not knowing if they would actually be used.
Finally the day came when the items were delivered; the assembly process could now begin. The
first step was to pull out the 550 paracord that’s kept on hand for miscellaneous tasks and projects. The container had a cheapie cord which definitely needed replacement. After watching various on-line videos, I decided on an attractive braid called the Cobra Weave. According to the video, there was approximately one foot of cord for each inch of braid; three feet of cord would be sufficient. That should also be enough for a bow drill cord, if needed. I attached a medium sized split key ring on one end and connected the other end to the box. Now the kit could be hung in a tent, a car or from a go bag,
By this time, the rest of the needed materials had been gathered so it was time to get to work. Below is the kit inventory broken into three categories: ignition sources, tinder and miscellaneous.
Disposable butane lighter – This is your standard, full sized Bic lighter, not the mini or the cheapie. I guess the mini would work, but in an emergency situation I would want as much fuel as possible. The lighter does have a leash clip cover with a split key ring to protect against the fuel being inadvertently released. The leash clip and lighter cost approximately $2 each.
Ferrocerium flint rod – There are many options to choose from when you order these. I needed something that would fit in the container, but would not be so small that it would be tricky to grip and strike with cold hands. The two inch rod I found fit the bill. This particular model had a red plastic “winged” grip that made holding the rod very easy. The rod itself is also quite stout so there are lots of strikes before it is worn out. The metal striker was attached with a small bit of elastic cord and I knew I could do better. Out came the paracord as a replacement. It is important that the rod and striker are not separated because one without the other is useless. I know you could use a knife edge, but that assumes you have a knife.
Lifeboat matches – Here I cheated a bit. I already had the matches so I didn’t need to buy them. I wrapped six matches in plastic cling wrap along with the striker pad cut from a matchbook. For those who don’t know, lifeboat matches are waterproof and can be ignited even when wet. Make sure that the matches can’t rub against the striker or each other while in storage to avoid accidental ignition.
Matches – Again, these I had from a previous camping trip. I took a small matchbox and replaced half of the stick matches with waterproof camp matches. My thinking was that having different types gives options. Just make sure the striker on the box works with all of the matches in the kit. On one of the Alaska reality shows I watch, one gentleman said that he prefers paper matches in the freezing cold, so I included a book of plain, old paper matches.
Cat tail – Last Fall while out golfing, I came across some dried cat tail at the end of the season. I broke a couple off and stuffed them in the golf bag; now I had a use for them. I cut a section long enough that it would fit snuggly in the lid of the container and stay there. Once I wrapped it in plastic wrap, it stayed in place nicely.
Char cloth – This type of tinder intrigued me. I’d seen it work in videos, but had never made any or started a fire personally utilizing char cloth. Now was a great time to acquire a new skill. Using an old, clean t-shirt, I made enough for three patches, each 2”x 3”. Once completed, the cloth was placed into a small brown paper envelope to minimize the mess. Due to space restrictions, I can’t go into the actual process here. That could be a whole post on its own. It is simple to do though.
Cotton balls with petroleum jelly – This was a bit of a project. I cut large drinking straws into 1.5” sections and stuffed it with half a cotton ball slathered in petroleum jelly. The ends are then sealed using a lighter and needle nose pliers. This eliminates the mess and keeps the jelly from drying out or getting all over the rest of the contents.
Jute twine – This I use around the house to tie up plants or wrap packages. I cut an 18” piece and wound it tightly around two ten penny finish nails driven into a piece of scrap lumber. It snuggled next to the cat tail in the lid. There is just enough friction to keep both firmly in place. I realize that 18” is not a very long piece, but it should be enough for a fire or two in an emergency situation. More twine could be stuffed into the voids of the container when done.
Wet Fire – Individual tabs are sold at a big box hardware store nearby for $1 each. These things are great; they burn while wet. Better living through chemistry indeed.
Aluminum foil – 18”x 24”piece folded neatly so that it could be slipped on the side of the container taking up virtually no room. The foil is very handy if you need to start a fire on a wet surface. Spread this on the ground and build up from there.
Candle – This is a 4” long cylindrical candle with the diameter slightly smaller than a dime. The family got these at a church function and it was a perfect fit. The candle can be used for multiple purposes including light, heat and melting snow to make water.
550 paracord – The usefulness of this item in any emergency kit goes without saying. All together the kit consumed about five feet of cord. I used what I had on hand, but there are fifty plus sheath cover colors including a real cool reflective variety. By the way, don’t buy the cheap stuff, you’ll regret it later.
All in, I spent $11. Drat, I missed by $1.00. That’s okay though because I had a blast putting this kit together. I combined many things I already had into a potentially lifesaving kit. There are many items that you could substitute in your kit. Maybe you can get birch bark in your area or prefer fat wood or dryer lint and a magnifying glass. Customize the kit to fit your needs.
Take the $10 Fire Kit Challenge, I dare you! Make mods to this kit like wrapping it in duct tape (itself a nice fire tinder) or connect items to the key ring.
Oh, I almost forgot, the stranded folks finally made it out a week later. Hungry and cold I would imagine, but wiser for the experience.