I was on my very first survival challenge and brought a ferro rod as my only fire starter. I spent most of the first day building my shelter with a thatched roof that I thought would keep me dry. We were expecting a nasty storm that night with heavy rain, high winds, and temperatures down to about 50F. In normal conditions this temperature would not be a concern, but heavy rain was a problem.
Hypothermia is the number one reason why people die in survival scenarios. This is a condition that occurs when the internal body temperature drops below 95F. Unfortunately, internal body temperature drops 20 times faster when your clothes are wet. The law of threes states that you can survive about three hours without warmth from fire or shelter. I had banked on a top-notch shelter keeping me warm, but I was wrong.
I made one nearly fatal mistake. I built my shelter to be open with a roof but no walls. I also did not factor in the direction of the wind. Once it started raining, the wind was blowing all of the rain directly into my shelter. I had gathered a small stack of firewood, but not nearly enough. I got out my ferro rod and started trying to get a fire going. After an hour I was soaked and still had no fire.
Then I remembered that I had brought an alcohol-based poison ivy treatment in my first aid kit. I ripped the sleeve off of my shirt and added a few drops of the treatment. It instantly lit up with the first strike of the ferro rod and I was able to get a fire going. This kept me warm until I wrapped up in an emergency blanket around 2am. I was able to make it through the night, but not without my ferro rod.
Don't know what a Ferro Rod is? Here's an explanation
A ferro rod is designed to shoot sparks into a tinder bundle. These sparks get as high as 5500F, so they will light most good tinder. The key to starting a fire with a ferro rod is preparation. You need to have all of your tinder, kindling, and fuel logs collected before you start your fire. Tinder is the fine material that will take a spark. This can be dry leaves, dry grasses, cattail fluff, birch bark, or artificial materials. Kindling are the larger sticks that will get the fire going, and fuel logs are the biggest pieces that will keep it going all night.
As a general rule, you will need enough tinder to wrap both hands around. You will need enough kindling to wrap both arms around, and a stack of fuel logs about knee high. This should be enough firewood to keep your fire going through the night. As you get better with building fires, you can switch to something like a top-down fire so you do not have to feed the fire all night. This will allow you to get some much-needed sleep.
Building your Structure
There are lots of different structures that you can use to build fires for different purposes. You can build a top-down fire to last all night. You can build a Dakota fire pit to hide your flames from other people in the area. In this case I would suggest a simple teepee fire. It is quick, easy, and gets you big flames quickly.
Start by building a teepee structure with your tinder. Leave a gap open on one side so you can place the lit tinder bundle inside. Then lean a few smaller fuel logs around the outside of your teepee. Form your tinder bundle into a bird’s nest shape. Place it on the ground with your ferro rod resting on top.
If you want to try a top-down fire, you will stack your materials the opposite way you might think. Start on the bottom with a layer of fuel logs. Fill the gaps with dirt or sand. Then stack a layer of logs perpendicular to the first layer. Continue this for seven or eight layers with the logs being smaller on each layer. Filling in the gaps will control oxygen flow so that the fire burns smoother. Then just build a small teepee on top to get the whole thing lit. If you build it properly, you should not have to add any additional wood to the fire until morning.
Lighting the Fire
Either use your striker or a high carbon steel blade to scrape down the side of the ferro rod. If it is new, there will be a thin coating you will need to scrape off first. Then you should have sparks shooting everywhere. Some ferro rods will come with a block of magnesium. This is intended as an accelerant to get your tinder going faster. If you shave off a small pile of magnesium shavings and shoot sparks into the pile, you should get a flame instantly. Just be careful not to knock over your pile of shavings or blow it away.
When it looks like you have an ember or you see smoke, you are almost there. Set down your ferro rod and pick up your tinder bundle. Hold it in front of your face and gently blow into the tinder bundle. It should start to smoke more. Continue blowing gently until you see a flame. Then you have about 30 seconds to move it to your fire structure before it burns your hands. Place it inside of your teepee, and then place a little more kindling and a couple more fuel logs over the opening. Within a few minutes you should have a roaring fire going.
Ferro rods are waterproof, windproof, and require no fuel. This is why my ferro rods are some of my most important pieces of survival equipment. They allow me to get a fire going in just about any conditions. Even in that nasty storm I faced on my first challenge, I was able to use my ferro rod successfully.
Ferro rods are so important, I had to get some manufactured to provide to our customers. Check out our new Ferro Rod Fire Starter here. I got the price as low as I could for the Point Below Family, and the quality is really great.
Just be sure you get outdoors and practice using your ferro rod. Even with the right equipment, starting a fire can take hours in some cases. If you want to save time, just practice getting your tinder bundle going and then put it out. That is always the most difficult part. Once you have that down, you can move on to building the full fire.