In a survival situation, you have to prioritize your effort and get the most urgent and important things going. At the top of the list is first aid. We aren’t talking about minor quality of life treatments here. This is basic life support kinds of first aid – breathing and bleeding – the things that are time sensitive within minutes as opposed to hours or days.

When critical first aid is stable, then you move on to the next category which is fire and shelter. In winter you focus on fire and then on shelter that will capture and hold heat. In summer you focus on shade and airflow, then on fire. You need to have a basic shelter and fire going within a few hours.

In some cases, it may be a challenge to get this work done quickly. You may be in a resource poor environment. You may get a late start with little or no daylight. You name it. So, having a few science-based principles and a few memorized tricks up your sleeve can make a big difference. Imagine how helpful it would be if you could get your fire going right away, so you could move on to shelter tasks.

I thought I would share some of the emergency tips and tricks up my sleeve for getting a fire going fast, using less common items as tinder or accelerants.

First Aid Kit

You probably have things that burn really well right in your kit. Cotton balls, alcohol wipes, gauze bandages and dressings, and Vaseline, are potent fire starters. So remember to go to your First Aid Kit and use your available resources.

In case you weren’t aware, home made fire starters constructed from Vaseline and cotton balls have been a well known backpacker trick for many years.

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Preparing to make fire starters from Vaseline and cotton balls

Hygiene Products

Feminine products, tampons, pads, tend to be slow but reliable tinder. Kotex pads are a good choice. Also in this category you’ll have good success raiding the medicine cabinet for rubbing alcohol, nail polish remover, and hand sanitizer. Actually hand sanitizer deserves a special shout out. Depending on the brand, its a miraculous napalm-like substance.

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Hand Sanitizer – Don’t try this at home

One more noteworthy mention in this category is lip balm. A tube of Chapstick, an improvised wick, and some muscle can quickly result in a long burning DIY candle.

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Best known in this category is the aerosol spray can flame thrower. The propellant is the flammable point of greatest interest here, rather than the substance the propellant is delivering. However, generally you can avoid aerosol food products, as they tend to use non-flammable propellants. You want hydrocarbon propellants. Things like paints and cosmetics are almost always excellent choices. Bug spray, sun screen, WD-40, and all sorts of chemical sprays are great choices too.

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Foods / Snacks / Condiments

Powdered nondairy coffee creamer is like magic fire dust. Sprinkle it where you need an accelerant and stand back. I’m not a coffee drinker, but when I was in the ARMY, I used to squirrel away coffee creamer packets from field rations. Opportunities for building a fire were rare, but when permitted, I used that creamer to get my fire going quick.

Fritos, Doritos, Cheese Puffs, and lots of other high fat chips make great fire starters. No one wants to sacrifice nacho cheese goodness, but when you don’t have normal tinder resources, use what you’ve got!

Bacon is a fantastic magical food, high in fat content. This one is a bit of a chicken and egg problem, as you need a fire to separate the fat and liquify it, but if you can manage that, you’ll have both a delicious treat and a collection of grease for future fires. Use this tip when the power is out, you’re getting low on combustibles, and you need to make your own light / heat until power is restored.

Garlic is a full of natural oil. Its a good burner. If you are desperate for kindling toss your garlic in the fire.

Orange peels are nice burners when they are dry. Even fresh orange peels will burn a bit due to the natural oil they contain – a fact that bartenders use to make certain fancy cocktails, or so I am told. When the peel is dried out, it burns much better, as you probably guessed.

In a pinch, if you cut an orange in half, eat the meat, save the peel, you could then use that bacon grease we talked about, or some used cooking oil, etc, and pour it into the orange peel half. If you were careful when digging out the orange, you kept a natural orange wick, but if needed you can improvise a wick from some other material. Viola – you have yourself a nice little orange candle. Rest an inverted clay pot over the top and you have a small heater.

Do you have any favorite tips and tricks, or less common combustibles you would recommend in an emergency?

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