The $10 Fire Kit For Your Bug Out Bag


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.

FIRE KITFinally 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.


  1. patientmomma says:

    Thanks for the article it gave me lots of ideas. Good gift for Christmas presents!

  2. Thomas The Tinker says:

    Ok… gonna do this. I have kits in each ‘trunk bag’. I’m going to see just how low $$ I can do this using every freebee or ‘layenroundthehouse’ I can come up with.

  3. JP in MT says:

    Interesting idea. And it’s not like I don’t have a BUNCH of small containers around here.

  4. Good article to ponder over. BTW: I never throw away lint from the dryer. I keep a large trash bag hanging on a hook in the laundry room plus I buy lots of cotton balls and jars of Vaseline. Vaseline has so many uses; buy lots of jars. For fire starting at the house, I have a trash can on wheels with all kinds of twigs. Can will keep them dry.

  5. TPSnodgrass says:

    I’m OCD about saving our dryer lint in zip-loc bags so much so, that I’ve made some waterproof (thank you food saver bags), fire starter kits from the lint, double-boiler(tin-can hobo stove on the deck) melted paraffin, small pine cones and the left over egg cartons. Grand kids call them “fire grenades” and LOVE to help make them. Oldest grandson took a bag to scout camp two weeks ago and used them all, worked even during a torrential downpour to start their lunch fire.
    I will enlist the assistance of the grand kids to help roll the vaseline coated cotton balls into the McDonalds straws we like to use for our survival storage for condiments(salt, pepper, sugar, etc) for single servings, matches and the like. Their fingers are far more nimble than mine at this point.
    Hadn’t thought of using a trash can to store the tinder/twigs et al for the fires, and rocket-type stoves we’ve got, was just using a five gallon bucket,. I LIKE the idea of another trash can on wheels for the “tinderbox”. Thanks DOCJ!! Have plenty of dead fall we are harvesting on property for wood burning needs. Picked up several wood cutting tools for cheap at a local “estate sale”. The deceased’s dusty and in some cases sort-of rusty tools, axes, saws, files, hammers and hatchets all were priced a t $1.00 A PIECE. I bought all they had, they were glad to sell them to us, we were glad to get them, figured need some extras for backup and the rest can be used for barter if need be. Picked up two cast iron dutch ovens unopened in their boxes for $5.00 each. Would have paid 4 times each that price and gladly. The hand tools, drill (brace and bits) I was beat out on by another fellow, didn’t mind though.

    • I have been making these “fire grenades” since I was a kid (minus the pine cones). We use them for camping trips. My kids were amazed at how long they burn and how they made even wet wood burn. Good find on the tools!

  6. Used prescription bottles are a great air tight container and take up little room. You can stuff enough fire making things in it to get at least 3 fires started if you don’t know what you are doing and many more if you do. The Dollar Tree carries 12 packs of wood matches, divided comes to $0.08 each pack. By using items already in my house, re-purposing and recycling I have made 16 mini fire kits for less than $5. If I were to try hard I might be able to convince myself to spend $5 for each kit by buying a bigger container but the items inside of it would still cost next to nothing. If you need an itemized list or ideas I would be happy to share.

    • BlueJeanedLady says:

      Hello Teresa. Yes, I’m interested as to your itemized list and idea recommendations for the fire starter kits – – – always open to learning what others can & do bring to the conversation. Please do share when you have the time to post such here. Thanks for the offer & the effort, Teresa! 🙂

    • I like the RX bottle idea. A bit larger than the film cans I used to use and smaller than the one-pound peanut butter jar currently used. Too, I carry bow-drill components in a freezer bag (just for organization), knowing I can cut any branch for the bow.
      Total cost for fire starting kit: nothing, since I ate the peanut butter and cut the components from trees in the yard.

  7. j.r. guerra in s. tx. says:

    Thank you for the great tips / ideas posted above, both in original and comments. One tip I can pass on from a bushcraft forum (thank you Alan Halcon) is a waterproof ‘shower cap’ of sorts :^) for keeping lighters water free. This cap can be made from spring clams from the plastic protectors. The 2″ clip can slip over the full size BIC lighter, the 1″ over the mini-BIC (this one is pretty tight though). It was also suggested that once you pull the cap over the lighter, pulling back to make sure the button is not depressed would be a good idea.

    Inexpensive fire tinder – cotton curtain sash cord soaked in paraffin wax. Melting the wax in a container immersed in boiling water, you soak the length of cord in it and after letting soak for a minute, pull out with implement (careful – its hot!) and hang to cool and dry. A single 1 1/4″ length will burn about a minute, allowing you to put your tinder above and start it up. Add more if your tinder is wet. These by the way make a pretty nice short term light source too.

    Inexpensive container – those M&M round and capped containers. Those can even be configured for a ‘necklace’ fire kit if you like.

    Thanks again for the above ideas.

  8. Happy Camper says:

    Coffee can with lid that seals- free from the recycling
    10x tea light candles – $2
    A bic lighter-$2
    Matches- $0.50
    Small spice jar- free from the recycling
    Fill spice jar with strained used cooking oil or fat- free
    1/2 inch fabric strips from an old sheet or pillow case- free
    Method: the tin will be mostly waterproof, remove contents and burn one candle at a time in the tin with lid off for radiant heat (add rocks etc for additional radiant heat). Twist a fabric strip to use as a wick in the small jar of fat, again this can be burned in the tin.
    However, most families could assemble this kit with items already at home.

  9. Excellent article on low cost fire starter kit. Could also be useful in other ways – hiking, camping, get-home bag, etc. Thanks!

  10. Sister Judi says:

    Good read! I save toilet paper innards and paper towel innards and stuff with dryer lint,have for a few years now ,stored in various containers around the house car woods.we also practice in dry weather wet weather wind.i love learning
    My car has gas masks Ebola masks water purifiers water food tools lights u name it bet I have it yep guns amo bible
    I travel a lot been caught in power outages floods hurricanes heat waves
    Just pure fun learning
    Practice now later will be too late

  11. You can take a small box of strike anywhere matches, remove the cover, fill the box, covering the matches with paraffin. Once it’s cooled, replace the box cover and combo waterproofed matches and tender if necessary. Just break off matches and scrape the paraffin off. I’ve also filled altoid tins with strips of corrugated cardboard with the holes facing up. Fill the tin with paraffin, making sure there is a bit of cardboard sticking up as a wick. Now you have a mini hobo stove.
    Also, something called uber matches: take a cotton ball, tear it in half. Wrap it around two wooden strike anywhere matches. Dip into molten paraffin so it’s all covered. Scrape the paraffin off the tips, strike as usual. These babies will burn a good two minutes. I keep a jar full on the mantle of my fireplace with a strip of sand paper glued to the top.

    • joecardio says:

      Ive been using the Altoids, or old tobacco tins with cardboard and wax for years. They are a godsend when you’re in a pinch and cold.

  12. Chuck Findlay says:

    Add a pencil sharpener, even wet wood is dry inside and if you put a pencil-sized stick in a pencil sharpener you can make a lot of tinder fast.

    Oh and by the way, I’m back from my week vacation .

  13. mom of three says:

    Thank you for all the idea’s, I will get a pad of paper and pencil, and start writing all this down. I think I will make one for each vehicle. 10 thumbs up!

  14. Victor Fox says:

    My own personal choices, from top order:
    1) zippo-like kerosene lighter (some quite nice chinese models around) = 3.00
    2) magnesium firestarter = ~5
    3) striker = ~2
    4) flint + steel + charcloth = just about free, you just need to find the right rock, a broken file, a tin, some old jeans and you’re good to go.
    total cost = 10.00

    Just make a redundant pack of these items and you may have all your bases covered.

    I also like to pack and carry a magnifying glass, for you can always save the more precious stuff for night time or rainy/cold days, while making fire with the sun. I removed the handle of mine and made a small cloth pouch, so I can carry in the pocket without anything sticking out.

    Don’t have access to strike anywhere or whatever specialty matches, and don’t see the need for them, but I like to have a couple of standard style matches, after watching how to turn them into “powder/primer” for crude firearms in some Asian country (Phillipines i believe). I have a small box of them here at the office and a 10 pack at home.

    The zippo style is superior to the bic (while I have a bic in my pocket right now) because you can safely reload it, it’ll light in the wind, and are more sustainable (ie, one lighter for a long time, instead of a new one after flint/gas is gone). Have some flints (i even scavenged them from old chinese propane lighter i find in the street), a bottle of fluid/kerosene and some wicks (even made of cordage) may last a long time. I still have my grandpas “binga” (brazilian rural name for the kerosene lighter, derived from a charcloth/flint/steel and cow horn device used to light fires in the past) around, but i don’t use it because of sentimental value, but it still kicks a flame.

    Just my 0.02;)

    • j.r. guerra in s. tx. says:

      Man, I forgot about those Chinese ‘metal match’ type of fire starters. Uses standard Ronsonal lighter fluid, unscrew and pull out a metal stick with soaked fabric and spark material on end. Wipe across side with flint rod – instant candle. Holds the fluid much lighter than an unprotected Zippo fwiw. I tested one of mine and even after six months, it still contained fluid and lit very quickly.

      • Chuck Findlay says:

        To save your Zippo type of lighter from drying out so quick you can use a piece of an old bicycle inter tube to put around it to stop it from drying out so quick.

        Search U-Tube for “Ranger Bands” to see what you can do with old bicycle inter tubes.

      • victor fox says:

        I saw these at while browsing for a new zippo clone . The concept in very good, but i’ll think i’ll stay with The tradicional lighter. I had an original zippo when younger but a sudden attack of “jeniusitis” made me give that fine lighter to a friend…. Lol

  15. Wonderful ideas. Good to be prepared

  16. axelsteve says:

    Keep a good sharp folding and fixed blade knife in your kit. Always good to have a couple of blades with you at all times.

    • A knifeless man is a lifeless man. – Finnish i think proverb.

      I always carry fire and knife, even when I’m in bare shorts and t-shirt. I often forget my phone, but never the knife. With these two items alone you can go through a lot of situations.

      In my EDC I have a nice folding 442c Buck and a office utility knife, whose blade I always re sharpen, instead of throwing. It has about 10 or so years and is my go to knife for just about anything, except heavier work/cooking/fishing. It costed me about $ 1. This way I save the edge in my better knives and it serves me well. I just sharpened a pencil with it at the office and it’s amazing how sharp and useful these little guys are…

      Mine looks a lot like this but is all black. Tactical, i guess LOL

  17. someone says:

    Good article.

    My own fire kit:
    tinderquik, wetfire, steel wool, fat wood, lifeboat matches, manila string, cotton balls, candles, vaseline, lighter, ferro rod, magnesium with imbedded ferro rod, lighter, Some birch and juniper bark, and alcohol pads. More than $10 but not much more and well worth it. More importantly I use it, a lot.

  18. Hopefully I never get stuck in a snow storm, but you never know. This is a good challenge. I like reading about the items you put in your kit! Thanks for sharing!

  19. Gary Fisher, RN says:

    Good article except this is America…..we measure in inches and feet, NOT in cm….we do NOT commonly use the metric system except in the medical field. Most folks have no idea what 14cm by 10cm by 4cm is. So for all of the regular Americans, you need a container 5 1/2 inches by 4 inches by 1 1/2 inches. I am curious however, why use the metric system in giving the size of container but use the “Imperial/American Customary”, (inches/pounds) in the rest of the article?

    • P. Mueller says:

      I used the measurements that came on the packaging from the manufacturer. It was made in China and they use metric. Should have done the conversion or pulled out the tape measure. Sorry.

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