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Do you carry a backup fire starter? What and Why or Why Not?
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Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Re:Alcohol gel hand cleaner to help light a esbit on 02/21/2014 23:45:40 MST Print View

Most hand cleaners are 60% or better, so 70% sounds good to me. I've used Purell with no problem.

I just tried a couple generic brands we have around the house with 62% and 65% alcohol and both were easy to light. I imagine there might be some with additives that may make them harder to light and/or burn well. Pretty easy to test.

The hand cleaner trick is something I use for backup. I normally light an Esbit cube by picking bit up and flaming the end with a lighter.

Rick Sutton
(rickcsutton) - MLife

Locale: Midwest
Re:back up fire starter on 02/21/2014 23:57:34 MST Print View

Dave - I couldn't agree more. I do want as light of a pack as I can and I will continue to look for ways to make it lighter. However, aren't we just talking an ounce or so here or maybe even grams for real safety if needed. For an area like this, it just makes too much sense - at least for me. If this extra weight ruins my trip, maybe I should just stay home - smile.

Rick Sutton
(rickcsutton) - MLife

Locale: Midwest
Re:back up fire starter on 02/22/2014 00:06:43 MST Print View

Dale - Does your method of holding an end and lighting the other work as well when it is windy? Maybe the wind only effects the initial lighting and won't effect an already lit tab as it gets placed down on the ground. I have a Trail Designs cone and usually have lit the tab while it is sitting in the little stove stand and wind can really play havoc on my bic mini in that situation even when I try to block it with my body or pack.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Re:back up fire starter on 02/22/2014 00:14:54 MST Print View

My inclination is to turn my back to the wind and curl around whatever I'm lighting. It is much easier if you get the flame under the Esbit.

Never lit your cigarette while riding your motorcycle, eh?

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Re:back up fire starter on 02/22/2014 00:50:55 MST Print View

A completely different alternative is a magnesium bar. You use a knife blade or hacksaw blade to whittle little magnesium flakes off into a pile of tinder. Then, if you can get any sort of flame onto the flakes, you will have a very hot fire with a very bright light, but only for seconds. It is also good for night signaling.

The little brother to the magnesium bar is magnesium ribbon, and it weighs just about nothing. If you can hold it directly over a flame, it will catch and burn similarly, but since it is a ribbon only 3mm wide or so, it will rapidly burn up the ribbon. Therefore, it is much better in the night signaling department and less perfect for starting a bonfire.


Glenn S

Locale: Snowhere, MN
Fire Starter on 02/22/2014 01:14:45 MST Print View

"Never lit your cigarette while riding your motorcycle, eh?"

Haha! I smoked for 30 years (quit 6 years ago) and it made me the awesome firestarter I am today! ;-) I also learned that there's no such thing as a wet bic. Just keep rolling the wheel over your Levis really fast (or a smooth branch) and it'll dry out and start throwing sparks in no time.

Edit: Not that you'd be wearing Levi's in the backcountry, but there's lots of branches.

Just weighed the Mini. 8 grams for the rod and 6 grams for the striker.

Edited by Glenn64 on 02/22/2014 06:08:58 MST.

Rick Sutton
(rickcsutton) - MLife

Locale: Midwest
Re:back up fire starter on 02/22/2014 08:40:33 MST Print View

Bob - thanks for the magnesium bar idea. I did watch some YouTube videos on that system and then wondered if my derma safe razor blade knife which is all I carry would even work on it.

Glenn - Thanks for weighing the Light My Fire Mini. At 0.6 oz that seems nice, although, there are so many reviews on it not being durable enough and that is a bit frightening, if and when I'd need a spark.

Does anyone use the Spark-Lite Firestarter? With the firestarter weighing 0.19 oz and the Tinder Quick tabs at 0.024 oz each it would seem like the lightest "emergency" firestarter not to mention I could use it with a broken hand if needed. At the same time, my fall could have broken my leg as well making it possible to get wood to light it with - smile.

Travis Bernard
(DispatchesfromtheNorth) - M

Locale: Ross River
Firesteel on 02/22/2014 10:23:08 MST Print View

I just weighed my firesteel. I'm pretty sure it's the Light My Fire Scout and on my scale the firesteel alone is .6 oz and with the striker it's .9 oz. There is always the option of getting rid of the striker and using something you already have available in your pack to strike the steel with. A roughed up spine of a knife works pretty well.

And Rick, my suggestion if you do go the firesteel route is to use it as your main source of fire. I carried mine around as a back up for a few months before realizing that I wasn't that good with it. To use a firesteel well takes a lot of practice so if you are going to carry one you might as well use it regularly so that you're confident you can get a fire going if need be. Plus, it's a great way to impress people who have never seen one used!


Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Firesteel on 02/22/2014 12:40:24 MST Print View

A sharp 90° edge on a knife spine will do the trick. I'm not afraid to use the very bottom of a knife blade for a striker. In fact, I have altered a couple with a semi-circle to fit the diameter of my firesteel.

I like the strikers on the LMF Scout 2 and the Exotac firesteels. I settled on the Exotac polySTRIKER due to the long handles on the steel and the striker and the stowing feature for the striker. 0.49oz with the Triptease lanyard.

Exotac polySTRIKER

Here's my fire starting gear and I would use them in about the same order.

Mini Bic in vinyl holder with some light line to make it fit better and an o-ring for a safety: 0.69oz

K&M long match case with compass, UCO storm matches and strikers, and a "no blow out" birthday candle: 1.46oz

Exotac polySTRIKER: 0.46oz

Small vial of alcohol get hand cleaner from my hygiene kit: 0.4oz

Bison Designs spy capsule with 5 Tinder Quick tabs packed in tight 0.42oz

Orion 5 minute fire starting and signal flare in a Seal-a-Meal pouch: 3.8oz

Fire staring gear

Like the hand cleaner, there are other items in your pack to aid fire starting: toilet paper, food wrappers, cooking oils, antiseptic wipes and gauze from your first aid kit, etc. It's good to think about these options before you are stupid from cold and fear.

I do always carry a 3"-3.5" pocket knife or a 4-4.5" fixed blade Mora knife.

Glenn S

Locale: Snowhere, MN
Re: Re:back up fire starter on 02/22/2014 16:19:55 MST Print View

I'm going to play around with a fresnal lens this summer. Won't do any good unless it's a bright sunny day of course, but for 2 grams i'll like having the magnifier along for my poor peepers anyway. Haven't tried starting fires with a magnifier since I was a kid, so it should bring back memories :)

Dan Yeruski
(zelph) - MLife

Re: Re:back up fire starter on 02/22/2014 20:05:08 MST Print View

(Does anyone use the Spark-Lite Firestarter? With the firestarter weighing 0.19 oz and the Tinder Quick tabs at 0.024 oz each it would seem like the lightest "emergency" firestarter not to mention I could use it with a broken hand if needed. At the same time, my fall could have broken my leg as well making it possible to get wood to light it with - smile.)

Spark-lite with Tinder quick Tabs are the best!!!!!!

some videos (I make fire with one hand)

Edited by zelph on 02/22/2014 20:35:27 MST.

Glenn S

Locale: Snowhere, MN
Re: Re: Re:back up fire starter on 02/23/2014 05:39:45 MST Print View

OK, the video with the razor blade gets my vote as the worlds lightest firestarter, but I know I'd fillet my finger wide open if I tried that lol

matches on 02/23/2014 18:50:49 MST Print View

1 book paper matches and couple of vaselined cotton balls in a snack ziplock.

I can do without the food if needed, more for fire starting ability.

Ive said it many times, only about 600 out of my 3500 cal per day requires boiling water. I think I can survive without it if need be.

robert van putten

Locale: Planet Bob
tales from the trail on 02/24/2014 13:30:22 MST Print View

Tony Ronco,
I like those match and tinder combos! I think I'll have to make a few and try 'em out.
Ya know, back in my Boy Scout days we called those matches with sulfur halfway down the stick "Mother F___kers" ( I'm sure you can fill in the blanks) because when we lit one we always stupidly held it up vertical and the molten sulfur would invariably run down onto our fingers and burn the heck outta us, causing us to toss the match away. So we' have to light another one...

One thing I thought I'd pass along - My wife and I just got back from our first ever backpacking trip in the Grand Canyon. Had a wonderful time, but it was quite unlike any trip we've ever been on before because of all the people!

I mean normally it is not unusual for us to never see another soul on a five day trip, and here we were hiking with a "crowd"!

So it was my first opportunity to really talk to other hikers for a bit.
We started on the South Kaibab trail, and you have to get bussed to that trail head, so there was a whole gaggle of hikers going down, and most of us stopped at the first latrine site to shed insulating layers and take a break.

We all started talking and sharing stories. I mentioned that I'd like to thru hike the AT some day and that got 'em going, because several hikers present had done just that. Then the subject of pack weight came up as one hiker mentioned that he'd gotten down to a base weight of "only" 17 pounds on the AT.

Then they stated bad mouthing UL hikers, because "They are always borrowing things!"

You know what the very first item mentioned was?

"You got a lighter I can borrow?"

I'm not making this up, it was the first thing mentioned. The guys reeled off a whole list rapid fire - " Do you know what time it is?, Do you have a map I can see? Can I borrow your cell phone? Do you have any extra cord? Do you have any food you can spare? And on and on.

I was shocked. I didn't know ULers had such a bad rep. And here in this thread several folks have mentioned having to do just this, borrow lighters from other hikers!

I felt rather sheepish to mention to those fellers ( who all had 45-ish pound packs ) that my base weight that morning was 10.30 pounds, and my wifes backpack was 16. My total weight was 26 and dropping rapidly as we drank water, and my wifes was only 20.

We're not really UL, but close enough for suspicion...

Glenn S

Locale: Snowhere, MN
Re: tales from the trail on 02/24/2014 13:59:43 MST Print View

I have to ask... Was the context of the slander directed more at UL in general, or did it have an "AT" feel to it? The only thru hiking I've ever seen is on a movie or in a book, but compared to other major trails, the AT seems to carry a common thread of a "coming of age" theme to many of the hikers I've heard about. I hope I don't offend anybody, but it's just a stage of life that seems to go hand in hand with general unpreparedness. Maybe it's the popularity of the AT that only makes it seem more prevalent there, I don't know. I'm still trying to wrap my head around the "social" aspect of the AT. Seems so counterintuitive to me.

robert van putten

Locale: Planet Bob
AT on 02/24/2014 14:43:35 MST Print View

The stories were all about unprepared ULers encountered on the AT.
I guess the AT is the most popular long trail and easiest to do from a logistics standpoint anyway, and it probably draws plenty of not-quite-ready hikers, both UL and Traditional. We too are trying to get our brains around more “social” hiking. As I wrote, this Grand Canyon trip was our first ever, in twenty years of backpacking with my wife and twenty more myself solo before that, that we encountered so many folks on the trail. My wife in particular doesn’t know how to deal with it and feels rather uncomfortable among so many people. So the popular trails may not be for us. But that’s OK, plenty empty places to explore! And if we die because we can’t light a fire, at least we won’t be giving ULers a bad name…

Ryan Smith
(ViolentGreen) - F

Locale: Southeast
Re: AT on 02/24/2014 16:46:57 MST Print View

"I guess the AT is the most popular long trail and easiest to do from a logistics standpoint anyway, and it probably draws plenty of not-quite-ready hikers, both UL and Traditional."

Exactly. I spend a lot of time on the southern portions of the AT and see A LOT of folks that are inexperienced. This means 60+ lbs loads where they have two of everything and also 15lbs loads where someone doesn't bring everything they need. The traditional hikers far outnumber the UL hikers. I've only seen 2-3 UL hikers in about 500mi of AT hiking.

It just so happens most people out there frown on the inexperienced UL crowd even though it seems just as ludicrous to carry two gallons of water on a trail with a spring or creek every 3 miles.


Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Re: AT on 02/24/2014 17:14:14 MST Print View

The AT needs a nice desert at the start like the PCT to whip people into shape or filter them out.

I've always thought of the AT as being the catch-all for the Eastern big city dreamers who want to "get back to nature." Nice filter for the PCT at that :)

It's like all the day hikers I see without a shred of gear, cotton sweats, flip flops. "Where's the bathroom? What?! Got any toilet paper?" I reach out and pull some leaves off a vine maple... "Ewwwww!"

The cities have bred us to a dangerous level of stupidity I fear. And you can't fix 'stupid.'

AT on 02/24/2014 19:09:39 MST Print View

I have seen very very few real UL hikers on the AT. Quite a few lightwt packs like the jam or circuit, but very few persons actually under 10 lb base wt. Quite a few overloaded Jams that people bought because they were cheap. The average AT hiker probably has 15-20 lb base wt after about Damascus. By then they have had several chances to get rid of crap gear and buy lighter more serviceable items.

There is some UL bashing that goes on, but from what Ive seen, its mostly just piling on due to hearsay. Ive never encountered a UL hiker that was freezing, starving, or asking to borrow maps, etc. Im sure they exist, but they are rarer than the heavyweight hikers that would be asking for the same stuff.

David Drake
(DavidDrake) - F

Locale: North Idaho
Re: AT on 02/24/2014 19:41:45 MST Print View

+1 MB. Same thing where I hike (PNW and intermountain west): I hardly ever see UL hikers, let alone have them trying to borrow stuff. What I do see is overloaded folks, about 3 1/2 miles from the trailhead, asking if I know where the closest campsite is.