I have this messenger bag called the “Everyday carry/Survival/I’m super paranoid” bag, and it’s always with me, rarely ever leaving my left shoulder.
The bag’s pretty packed, and a lot of people ask me what I carry in this bag. In fact, it has lately been suggested that answering that question would make a great column.
Unfortunately, there is so much cool stuff in my bag that one column could hardly do it justice, unless you like really long lists.
So instead, I’m going to tell you about one of my favorite survival tools — my handmade portable touch.
The portable torch.
In a large Ziploc bag, I carry around a material I call torch cloth. Basically, it’s about a third of a large old cotton shirt that has been thoroughly soaked in Vaseline. I wrap the torch cloth around a stick and voila! I’ve got one of the easiest and most fun fire starters of any method I’ve tried.
And I’ve experimented with many fire starters — charred cloth and various barks, dried grasses and magnifying glasses, magnesium shavings and flint strikers — but using a torch to start a fire is by far my favorite.
To get a solid 15 to 20 minutes of flame, you need to soak this cloth well. After cutting a large slice of cotton shirt, it takes me about 20 minutes to do the initial coating. I scoop out massive, gross globs of Vaseline and start rubbing it between two sides of the shirt, like scrubbing a stain out of laundry. Then I keep scooping and rubbing some more. I make sure no spot is unsoaked.
I then fold it nicely to fit into whatever size Ziploc I’m using, seal it up, then make sure I don’t use it for at least a week so it can properly marinade.
It is then a simple matter of wrapping it tightly around a stick and lighting it up. However, although using a lighter is effective, I find the easiest and quickest way (and the most fun) is to tuck a Vaseline-soaked cotton ball under the bottom edge of torch fabric. I leave a bit hanging out that I then pull apart and fray until it’s thin and wispy. One or two strikes with a flint, and the cotton ball goes nuts, easily lighting the whole torch.
From here, you can skip the small kindling stick and jump right to mid-sized logs. The torch burns high for up to 20 minutes and still putters around for 10 more minutes after that. You can even cut smaller strips of torch cloth to use as regular tinder, and they work brilliantly.
Now a note for the naysayers
Inevitably, when I share this method of fire-starting I am told it’s impractical and garish. These fire-starting acquaintances (not friends, as all of my friends have to like torches) prefer roughing it a bit more, using more primitive methods of fire-starting.
But those people aren’t really very fun. It’s like when the local Scout leaders invited me over to teach the kids how to build fires. I taught them a few techniques with natural tinder and kindling, and various structures, but at the end, I taught them the easiest way: using a torch.
Of course the kids loved it, but the scoutmasters strongly disapproved. (They told me my demonstration was over at that point). Later, one of the leaders told me that they wanted the kids to learn how to really make a fire, and while I know what he means, I also completely don’t. Touches are absolutely the best ways to make fires.
When I pack fire supplies, I simply choose to also add a very thin, compact, Ziploc bag that will get me warm and happy in a flash. Not that “real” methods aren’t important to learn, but man, if I’ve got the option (because I’m super prepared), I want the torch every time.