Get lit

Never get stranded in the outdoors without a way to start a fire

bTony Webster

With all that can go wrong in the Canadian wilderness, being able to start a campfire can sometimes mean the difference between life and death. I spend a lot of time hunting moose and chasing trout in Newfoundland’s backcountry, so I always bring along matches, a lighter, a fire striker and some tinder. And I always keep at least one fire starter on my person in case I somehow get separated from my pack.


Fire striker

My favourite fire-starting tool is a Swedish FireKnife (pictured), which has a three-inch fixed blade and a fire steel stored in the handle—you simply strike the back of the blade against the steel to produce a 3,000°C spark. (There are also plenty of other types of fire striker available.) Of course, you will need something flammable to land those hot sparks on. Clothes dryer lint, cotton balls soaked in petroleum jelly and barbecue lighter cubes all work well. But what if you have nothing but the woods around you for tinder? Dry grass or moss will do in summer, but birchbark is my all-season favourite—wet or dry, it will ignite. With your knife, gingerly scrape the inside surface of the bark until you produce a few grams of fine powder, then strike a spark into it. Hot, lifesaving flames will burst forth as the whole piece of bark soon catches fire. Have a small teepee of dry kindling at the ready, and place the burning bark inside of it.



Strike-anywhere matches remain the easiest and most efficient method of lighting a campfire, so I keep a supply in a waterproof case in my pack at all times. As a back-up, I also carry a Zippo lighter (pictured), which works great until the flint gets wet or it runs out of lighter fluid. Some folks swear by their butane lighters, but butane is useless in cold weather.

aMalcolm Cullen

Bow drill

Although it does work if you have the patience and some dry wood—and you know what you’re doing—using the bow drill method to start a fire isn’t nearly as simple as it sounds. That’s especially the case after a mid-winter rain has soaked everything and it freezes up again—everything that looks dry is actually coated in ice. I consider this primitive method of starting a fire—basically rubbing two pieces of wood together—as a last resort, but it’s still worth knowing. Practise plenty before you head out, but even when you think you’ve got the technique mastered, don’t forget to bring along your matches, lighter, fire striker and tinder.

Learn the proper bow drill method at