Tinder & Kindling

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We have covered the importance of fire in a survival situation. Carrying a number of different types of tinder with you will make your life so much easier when on a cold windswept beach and will dramatically improve your ability to make a fire quickly and efficiently. Proper preparation of tinder is the foundation of starting a fire. There is nothing more frustrating than to finally get coal or a fire started only to have it go out from lack of tinder preparation. In order for a material to burn, it needs to reach the proper ignition temperature. The ignition temperature will be affected by things such as moisture within the material, the density of the material, and for survival purposes, how well you prepare the material (shredding or cutting of the material). In other words the size of the fuel source matters. Fine materials such as cotton balls ignite with ease while larger objects must be added after the kindling has been burning for some time.

Moisture is one of your biggest concerns. Even in the desert, tinder holds moisture. Again the higher the moisture in the material, the higher the ignition temperature will have to be to start the fire and to maintain the flame. So let's cover the difference between tinder and kindling.


Tinder is a material that is easily ignited and we like to think of it as a combustible material that will ignite with a small spark. Some materials are good starter fuel and some are good tinder - what does this mean to us? Some materials will ignite at the slightest spark while others are readily combustible after the flame is present. We use kindling to keep the fire going after the flame is present and tinder to get a flame going.

Examples of tinder

Examples of tinder are cotton balls, dry grass, Cattail fluff, Birch tree bark, Dandelion clock, steel wool, strips of rubber tubing, pine sticks, wood shavings et cetera. jute twine available from any hardware store is also a good tinder when fluffed out a little and of course, tampons are readily available as a fire starter. Some tinder can be found in the local vicinity like dry grass but it's a very good idea to have prepared tinder with you, particularly in wet weather. Some commercial firelighters available at good outdoor stores are very useful in the wet and rubber inner tube also works well.

Examples of kindling

Cedar bark, dry leaves of any type, small twigs and mixing sticks from your local coffee shop are useful. Kindling is just as important as tinder - you don't want to go through the trouble of starting the fire and use up your tinder only to have the fire go out so have plenty of kindling to hand. And save some for later inside your shelter if possible. Some kindling can be used as tinder if properly prepared. By cutting and shredding materials they become thinner and more able to ignite with a simple spark - pine sticks work well.

Carrying your tinder

Any small pouch or bag will work well but remember that as sea kayakers you're in a wet and at best damp environment so pay attention to keeping your materials dry. I keep my tinder in a small plastic tobacco pouch, rolled up and placed with my fire starter kit and two small dry bags which I regularly open and allow to get some airflow. Whatever you decide to use, ensure it's dry and remains that way.

These skills are all covered in the Sea Survival Course

Published On: 4th December 2015