I have been having a long running argument with myself about fire lighting.
I enjoy learning about different methods of conjuring a flame and there can be little that is more satisfying than mastering a new technique, but they are information to be carried rather than techniques to be relied upon.
There are methods that I can see great value in carrying as daily possibilities for igniting that “Emergency Fire” that we convince ourselves is necessary; similarly there are those methods which are just too finicky to warrant inclusion in my fire making arsenal. Lets look at the two opposing ends of the spectrum.
Worthwhile methods; For me the methods worth carrying are – modern, percussion & solar.
Modern methods – matches, lighters, fire-steels are just too convenient to omit, they have been developed to work and, while they need to be looked after and conserved, are the measure be which we compare all other fire lighting means.
Percussion methods – the carrying of a high carbon steel striker and a sharp edged flint, quartz or obsidian nodule can be one of the most ecologically gentle methods of ignition that I know – with a practised technique, you are unlikely to damage the flint edge and the pieces can last for years.
Solar methods – With the advent of flat plastic Fresnel lenses, there is no longer a need to allocate pack space, weight and care of a glass magnifying glass. An A5 or A6 sized Fresnel lens will fit almost anywhere in a shoulder pack or rucksack and with the right weather conditions, be merely held at the right distance from a tinder bundle to bring about a fire.
These methods rely upon learning a simple technique and the preparation of suitable tinder nests, but once mastered, can be relied upon for all but the most dire circumstances.
Un-Worthy Methods; electrical, chemical, compression & friction methods.
Electrical methods – the carrying of equipment dedicated to electrical methods of fire lighting are in my mind, little more than a waste of luggage space. Knowledge of the method is worth having but the number of times that the technique is of use is surely in the minority. It is likely that a gas lighter will contain a piezo-electric crystal to ignite a gas flame, and if the associated kit of fine wire wool or thin metal foil is carried, it can be ignited from other electrical sources – however the recent advocacy of LED powered lighting means that torch (flashlight) batteries are able to be smaller and of lower voltage than with incandescent lamps.
Chemical methods – these are stored in my “last chance” knowledge bank. The combination and use of common carried chemicals to conjure fire will, by definition, negate the use of these chemicals for their primary purpose.
Compression methods – the employment of a fire piston in the British climate does not lead to a rugged system of fire creation. They require constant maintenance to ensure success and even then only supply a tiny ember that itself requires an ember extender in order to ignite a tinder bundle.
Friction methods – by doing down the friction methods of fire lighting, I am placing myself in danger of being outcast from any Bushcraft supporting community. However, after learning both bow and hand drill techniques, it became evident that it needs both regular practise and suitable materials to be successful to any percentage degree. The expression of energy required to achieve viable embers on a regular and predictable basis, becomes this methods limiting factor – while I occasionally do practise the technique, I find that I cannot treat it anywhere near as rugged a method as the worthy methods mentioned above.
These methods rely upon delicate balances of skill, experience and resources – which do not lend themselves well to being rugged and reliable.
The creation of fire in the outdoors will fall into one of two categories; “emergency” or “playful practise”. If I am involved in an emergency and need to conjure fire, it will be by any method that I find to be convenient at the time as the creation of that fire will be the most important thing at that time and place. If I am merely practising however, then I am at leisure to use any method I desire and, within reason, can afford to fail a few times before the need for a cup of tea becomes more important than the practise of fire lighting – at which time I will again resort to any method that I am sure will achieve the required result.