5 Natural Tinder Sources header
        Imagine getting to camp, setting everything set up and ready to go. It's time to eat and unfortunately for you, your awesome portable camp stove is back at home sitting on your kitchen table. "Well, no problem," you think, "I'll start a fire and cook my food that way". Except its finished pouring down rain and everything's soaked.  So what are you going to do? Lucky for you, there is no shortage of natural tinder sources that some of which will take a spark even when wet.
 
        Tinder is defined as the easily combustible material used to start a fire. Not that you care about semantics. You're wet and hungry.  Spend a few minutes looking around at your surroundings and I bet you will be able to find many natural tinder sources

 

An example of pine resin formed on the side of a pine tree

Pine Resin

   

        Pine trees are nature's one stop shop for outdoorsmen and survivalist alike. They provide a food source, first aid material, a way to make glue, and more to the point, a tinder source. The resin found in most conifers is quite flammable. This makes it an awesome natural tinder source for those times when everything around you is wet. 
 
        One of the great things about looking for pine resin is how easy it is to locate. Everyone knows what a pine tree looks like. When looking for pine resin on a tree you will want to look for solidified resin on the sides of the pine tree. The resin will collect on injured parts of the tree. 
 
        Pine resin collects and solidifies on open wounds of the tree. This collection of resin protects the tree from bugs and infection. Lucky for you, this also means this awesome natural tinder is easier to get to. If you visit an area often, you can make cuts in the tree. This will cause the resin to collect and you may harvest the resin the next time you return to that area.
 
        To harvest pine resin cut the glob with your knife if it is still soft. If the resin has hardened chip away at it and collect the pieces. These hardened pieces will still take a flame just the same.  
 
        To ignite pine resin you will need a prolonged flame such as that of a match or lighter. However, you can crush hardened pine resin into a powder and strike it with a Ferro rod or striker. 
 

s. These hardened pieces will still take a flame just as well.  

        To ignite pine resin you will need a prolonged flame such as that of a match or lighter. However, you can crush hardened pine resin into a powder and strike it with a Ferro rod or striker. 


 

An example of fat wood or lighter knot

Fatwood

     Fatwood is another gift from our friend the pine tree. Fatwood or lighter knot as it is called in some areas is pine wood that is saturated with pine resin. When a pine tree dies of natural causes -i.e. not being cut down - all the resin drains into the stump of the tree where the wood becomes saturated. As you may recall pine resin is flammable. This makes fatwood an excellent natural tinder source. It is also a better tinder as you do not have to deal with the sticky mess of pure pine resin. But it is harder to get too than the pine resin that collects on the outside of trees.

 
        To find fatwood you will need to look for semi-recently fallen pine trees. In a coniferous forest such as the Alberta Mountain range in Canada, this should be no issue at all. However, if you're in a more deciduous forest (this is a hardwood forest such as oak or hickory) it can be a bit tougher. But not to worry I have found several sources of fatwood in just one afternoon.
 
        To identify fatwood you only need to look at the inner part of a fallen pine. Fatwood will resemble marbling in a nice cut of meat. A second way to confirm fatwood is the smell. It should have a turpentine smell. This is because turpentine used to be made from pine resin. 
 
        An easy way to find fatwood is to locate a fallen pine tree and give the stump a swift kick with your boot. A pine stump laden with resin will have a rotten or crumbly outer layer (if it's an older stump) but will have a center like concrete and feel like kicking a brick wall. Also, a lot of times if you find a fallen pine tree, you can harvest a small amount of pine resin from the joint where a branch meets the trunk of the tree as well.
 
        Igniting fatwood is as simple as taking a match or lighter to the piece of wood.However, fatwood does need a flame to actually light it. Once lit, true fatwood will burn for an extended period of time even when wet.  While fatwood does require a flame source to light, it is possible to make fine shavings and ignite those with a heavy shower of sparks from a Ferro rod

 


 

Cattail in autumn with an example of cattail fluff

Cattail Fluff 

        The simple cattail is another great natural tinder source, as well as food. The seed head of the cattail, also known as "fluff", is the part of the cattail you are after for the tinder. The fluff will ignite with a single spark and goes up like gasoline. This kind of tinder is also known as a flash tinder. Meaning it burns hot and quick for a very brief instance. 

        To start a fire with cattail fluff place the fluff in a bird nest of dry grass, small twigs, and leaves. Ignite the tinder with whatever combustion source you have available and blow the bird nest into a full blown flame. You may also pair a flash tinder like cattail fluff with something like fatwood since the fatwood requires a flame and will extend the life of your sparking device.

       It should be noted this tinder needs to be incredibly dry to ignite via a spark. If you find a dry source of cattail protect it like gold, as a single dry "head" will be enough to light several fires.


 

Birch bark makes a great natural tinder due to it's very resinous bark

Birch Bark

        When it comes to natural tinder sources, pine trees aren't the only tree to offer a resinous source of tinder. In fact, there are many trees whose inner and outer barks will ignite just as well. Birch bark happens to be one of those trees. Most birch trees will act as a great tinder. However, the Birch you really want to find is White Birch. This species of Birch has been used for hundreds of years for a fire source, as well as making canoes and other crafts. Bark from White Birch is highly resinous as well as waterproof - hence being awesome for making canoes. 

        Birch bark is fairly easy to identify.  White Birch is a creamy white thin bark separating into papery strips (giving it the common name paper birch). The bark also has horizontal lines making it easier to pick out in deciduous forests. These are the key characteristics to look for when trying to identify birch.  However, White Birch isn't the only species of Birch that has flammable bark. Black Birch also known as Sweet Birch, is also highly resinous and is similar looking to White Birch.  You can also identify Black birch by scraping the tree and smelling for wintergreen. This is probably the best way to confirm Black Birch. 

        To ignite the bark, shred the bark into fine strips and ignite with any combustion source you have readily available. The bark should take a flame very easy and burn long enough to get your fire going. 


 

Cedar Bark makes a great natural tinder and can easily be lit with a ferrocerium rod

Cedar Bark

        Cedar bark is another great tinder source. You may use the inner or outer bark of the tree. The inner bark of Cedar trees is very fibrous and thus makes a great tinder by itself. However, if you choose to use the outer bark of a cedar tree you will need to spend a few moments processing it down into finer strands. To process the outer bark from Cedar, you may pound, twist, or scrape the bark to break up the fibers into finer materials. Pounding outer cedar bark with a rock or pommel is one of the best recommended ways of processing down this tinder. You may also loosen the fibers by buffing - vigorously rub the fiber between the palms of your hands. You may choose whichever methods works for you as long as the fibers of the bark are loosened in a fine bird nest. 

        If the outer bark is dry, the easiest way to collect cedar bark is to "scrape" it back and forth with your axe or knife until you get a good "fluff" pile. If the outer layer is wet you will need to cut in deeper to expose the dry inner layers.

        Cedar bark can be ignited with a flame or by throwing a generous shower of sparks into from a Ferro rod. This tinder will burn rather quickly so it is advisable to have a bird nest to put it into. 


 

        Now you have an idea of where to look for natural tinder. However, these five or not the only sources. There are a large amount of tinders I did not include in this list. There are also tinder sources you can make yourself at home or while camping such as charcloth

        Got a favorite tinder source? Let us know down in the comments and let's get this conversation rolling. 

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All of my life has been focused on the outdoors. From the days of fishing with my father when I was young, to learning more advanced outdoor skills through the Boy Scouts of America; you could say the outdoors is pretty much my life blood. I enjoy a wide range of activities including camping, survival, fishing, hunting, and bushcraft. I have spent most of my life learning these skills and now I want to pass on my knowledge and hopefully learn even more in return.

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