Tinder is a subject that often comes up in the survival and bushcraft community — and no, we're not referring to the internet matchmaking app. That's not helping anyone survive, unless you're really desperate for a hookup. We're referring to the original analog tinder: combustible material. There's a wide range of tinder types to choose from, and each has its own advantages and disadvantages.
Some tinder materials take a spark easily but fizzle quickly, while others burn longer but are harder to ignite. Cost, size, weight, water resistance, temperature sensitivity, and availability are also worthwhile considerations. Even then, an excellent tinder for arid desert environments may fail spectacularly in the wet rainforest or icy tundra. It's important to consider all these variables when you're assembling a fire-starting kit for your bug-out bag or survival pack.
Off-the-shelf tinder materials, such as the resin-soaked fatwood sticks found at your local camping store, often boast long burn times. But how do they fare in the real world? The following video from YouTube channel TinMan Bushcraft compares four commonly-available tinder materials: untreated cotton from a tampon, a petroleum-jelly-coated cotton ball, a strip of natural birch bark, and fatwood.
For those who can't watch the whole video at the moment, here's a recap of the burn times:
It also appears as though the Vaseline-soaked cotton burned most energetically, followed somewhat surprisingly by the birch bark, then the fatwood, and finally the cotton. While the petroleum-jelly-coated cotton looks great on paper, it's also not a naturally-occurring item you can find in the forest, and it requires a bag, bottle, or tin to prevent the Vaseline from getting all over your gear. The reviewer says he prefers the birch bark for these reasons.
We'd like to see this format applied to an even bigger comparison test, including off-the-shelf tinder blocks, ranger bands, cattails, char cloth, and other common tinder sources, but for now this provides a good baseline. What's your favorite tinder material? Let us know in the comments.