If you ever tried to start a fire, you know that you will need some items. If you’re out and about you can carry them with you in a so called “fire box” or “tinder box”.

What’s a tinder box?

Basically a small container to carry everything to start a fire with. Usually it’s a small but rugged, preferably water proof, box filled up with different sorts of tinder and maybe some fire starters.

Why even bother?

If you are the type of person who always has a lighter with them you might wonder why you would even want a tinder box. There are two answers:

  1. You will not always succeed to start a fire with a simple lighter
  2. It’s fun to try different ways of making a fire

There’s not much to say about reason number 2. If you don’t like playing around with bushcrafting and survival techniques that’s fine. But you might still want to cover reason number 1.

Even with a lighter you need some sort of tinder. Something to light up that burns hot enough to get your main fuel (read “wood”) started. That’s especially true when your main fuel is damp or for another reason hard to ignite. In a camping situation most people use some balls of paper or a camping fire starter. A tinder box rids you of the necessity to carry these items and even helps with fuel that won’t be started that easily.

What’s in the box?

The contents depend a lot on how big your tinder box should be. A smaller one will only hold tinder but bigger ones can hold fire starters and even more tools you might need.

The basics of a tinder box

Like the name says you want tinder in that box. Go for a nice variety of different solutions. Some work better under certain circumstances others might work great everywhere but have other drawbacks.

Our friends over at Pinesurvey have a great post about different types of artificial tinder that will get you started. The author Deepforest is known for very thorough testing before giving an advice so you can rely on what your read there.

Contents of a tinder box
Custom tinder box

Having read the before mentioned post I start my personal tinder box with fine steel wool and will end with stuffing it with as much cotton wool as possible. Especially the cotton wool will help to keep the contents from rattling or breaking and will be a great basic option as tinder.

More things to put in

Choose from what you have and test them to find out what works best for you. There’s no priority in this list.

  • Tampons (basically highly compressed cotton wool)
  • Petroleum jelly in a can (dip anything into it to enhance burning time and heat by a lot)
  • Leftovers from burnt candles (no matter which material they are made of)
  • Small candles
  • Solid fuel (like Esbit)
  • Bark of birch

This mix will give you lots of options you can combine for different situations. Here’s some examples:

  • You can pile up fuel over a small candle, light it up with a regular lighter and you’ll get the pile to burn. This won’t work with a fire steel but it will help with bigger or damper pieces of wood
  • You can combine petroleum jelly and bits of a candle with other tinder to give you a better chance but they won’t work by themselves
  • Bark of birch is a classical bushcraft tinder. It’s fun to experiment with but it won’t give you a benefit over the others

My go to solution is dipping a tampon into petroleum jelly, afterwards widen the tip and light up the dry inside with a fire steel. This will burn easily and for a long time so it will work with most fuel.


If you have some room to spare you can put different sorts of fire starters into the box as well. Just make sure they can’t ignite by themselves. A fire within a tinder box is the last thing you want to have.

I usually use this list, start at the top and pack what I can get into the box.

  • A fire steel
  • Some basic lighter (like the notorious Bic)
  • Storm proof matches (make great extra tinder themselves)
  • Fire starting chemicals (a topic for a later post)
  • Magnifying glass (if you really have a lot of room to spare)

Just remember, if you don’t pack fire starters into your tinder box you need to have them with you none the less. Nothing is more frustrating than to have your fire place set up, tinder prepared but nothing to ignite it. So go for redundancy.


If you go for a really big box you can take more tools with you. There are some items you don’t need initially to start a fire but might find useful during the whole process.

A wire saw helps with cutting wood as fuel. Given, it’s cumbersome to handle and you won’t be able to provide a big pile in short time but it’s still better than nothing. If you combine it with a branch you can even build a real saw from it.

Helikon-Tex fire starter box
Helikon-Tex fire starter box

A short but very sharp knife like the Morakniv Eldris helps with making feather sticks, wood locks or even more tinder by shaving a branch into sawdust. You can even get a variant with attached fire steel.

A blowtube for fires might seem like a luxury item but it can really help with getting air where it’s needed the most.

The box for the tinder box

Helikon-Tex lately came up with the Mk2 fire starter box. It’s a tin box that already contains the basics for a tinder box. Spice it up with some other items shown above and you’re good to go.

A more sophisticated, pricier (and maybe overbuilt) variant would be to get a water proof box like a peli case. You can water proof other boxes with ziplock bags and/or some gaffer tape which might come in handy in different situations anyway.

If you like it extra tight you can wrap any type of box with ranger bands. These are heavy duty rubber bands, usually cut from old bicycle tire tubes. They make great tinder themselves by the way.

Tinder box that’s not a box

You don’t have to take “box” literally. A minimalist approach is a ziplock bag that will keep your tinder dry and secure.

If you have the tools you can seal your tinder in a vacuum bag. A perfect solution for a minimalist survival kit. It’s water proof and compressed.

If you don’t care too much about the possibility of submerging your gear you can go for a small pouch as well. There are water repellent ones around, too.

On the other hand if you really care about moisture you can spice up your tinder storage with a dry bag. While you can recycle some you get in some packaging you can purchase them in other sizes as well.

Some feedback

I’ve shown the post to the before mentioned “Deepforest” from PineSurvey and he gave these extra information to consider:

  • Add some extra Ziplock bags. So you can collect extra tinder while being on the go. If you don’t use it just for recreation but need to rely on the tinder box, every extra bit you find on the way will help to prolong its usefulness
  • A real small low budget version of the box is a cigar tubo. They are usually air tight or you can seal them easily.
  • Being prepared is a good thing but remember that everything you prepare can fail or can be lost or stolen. So having a tinder box is great but don’t forget to train with and without it. Quote: “Training to make a fire just with a shoe lace might be cumbersome but it’s worth the effort.”

About the author

widhalmt is what you might call a tactical gearhead with a focus on collecting. Like your average nerd he likes to dig into topics he’s interested in and learn as much about them as possible. Then he tries to get hold of his items of interest (he’s quite picky about brand and model when he chose a certain item) and put them to the test. Be it while walking the dog in the woods or go for overnighters outdoors.

In his daytime job he works as lead support engineer for an open source IT consulting company. Since his work involves a lot of travelling and going to customers he has quite some experience in choosing items that are rugged enough for constant travelling but still work in an office environment without offending anyone by being “too tactical” (although he tends to stretch that last part a bit). It’s safe to say that he has some tactical gear on him when he walks out the door (and sometimes even when he stays at home).

In tactical gear he has very widespread interests but if he had to pick something, it’s be knives, bags/backpacks and camo patterns (especially PenCott)