Playing With Fire- The Tinderbox


I wanted to give you a quick look at some of the things that I have scrounged up in the way of easy, and dependable tinder. For a large tinder-stash I use a repurposed USPS mailing box. Whatever I find just gets added to the large box, and I refill my pocket tin from that as needed.

Clockwise from the top:

  • green jute gardening twine
  • birch bark
  • birdsnest
  • Sisal rope [center]
  • cotton dryer lint-  polyester won’t work
  • wasp nest “paper”
  • pine fatwood pieces

The more I go out in the field, the more my experience has shown me that I can always do without “more”. So I’m constantly trying to reduce the size of my carry. I don’t actually need to have very much tinder along to start several fires successfully. What I need is a container that is easy to pocket, so that I can add to it as I travel and to access it easily when I want to get my fire started.


The can on the left was an earlier solution, but was too tall to be pocketable.  It was quite watertight and great in my pack, but that was the whole problem, it had to be unpacked. However, one day last fall I picked up an empty snoose can down in the parking lot at the market. [Think Skol smokeless tobacco]. The three-quarter inch height, and super tight fitting lid make it perfect pocket tinderbox.  The only thing that doesn’t fit easily into the snooze can is the flexible pocket coil-saw with the ring handles. That is no big deal, nor great loss, as I discovered that it was not a very practical or useful item. I can work up my small firewood quicker with the camp knife.

Right now in my pocket tinderbox I have some rolled up balls of the cotton dryer lint, some squares of waxed cloth, a half a dozen thick matchsticks of the fatwood, and the little brown balls are tarred shipbuilders oakum [The loose brown fiber at the top of the photo is the tarred oakum.  It is what is used to caulk the seams between boards in wooden ship building. I found a box of it discarded down at the dump on Cape Cod years ago and actually used it when I built my home to caulk loose cracks that otherwise could’ve allowed cold air and insects in. It’s incredibly incredibly versatile material and makes an ideal tinder]. Underneath everything in the can there a few chunks of hardened pine sap. Each of those little balls of tinder provide enough material to fluff up into a pile the size of a golf ball. Also, I try to leave plenty of room in the canister for the addition of anything that I may find along the way as I hike that would make good tinder. And from the great results I have gotten from the “Flaming Dragon Turds”, I will probably toss one of them in there as well.

Over time I have used everything from an Altoid’s tin to a plain old plastic baggy for my tinder collection. The snoose can seems like the best solution I have found so far. An Altoid’s tin can let water in if you don’t put tape around the lid, and that’s inconvenient to peel off every time you want to use something out of it. I have held the snoose tin under standing water and it showed no signs of leaking.

For your own purposes, just look around and find something you already have to use as a tinderbox initially. You can always change it out later. You don’t have to have something made out of brass with a screwtop and a built-in magnifying lens that cost $35. The only important thing is to have your tinderbox WITH you. When you are actually carrying one out on a hike, its very existence down there in your pocket actually makes you look around and be more observant of things that might provide good tinder. Tinder-hunting is just one more item that allows you to become more involved with your wilderness experience.


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