We’ve previously looked at inner barks, outer barks, downy flower heads and fungus as tinders. In this post I want to take a look at other natural tinders that don’t neatly fit into any of those categories.
Bracken (Pteridium) is found all over the world with the exception of Antarctica, although mostly on heaths and moors. Dead, dry bracken works well as a tinder and will light with a fire steel. I’ve also used it as a tinder bundle.
Gorse (Ulex ) is found in western Europe and parts of North Africa. When I was growing up in the west country we often referred to it as furze. There were regular gorse fires either on the moors or the coast; I remember them vividly as my dad was a fire fighter and was often involved in putting them out. Gorse has evolved to not only survive such fires but to encourage them; it’s seed pods are opened by fire. I took this photo of in the New Forest back in January.
So when I came across some dead gorse I remembered this and collected some. The initial difficulty I had was that, using a fire steel, the sparks weren’t landing on the gorse, it needed compacting. If you’re not familiar with gorse, it’s very thorny. Fortunately I had gloves and was able to squash it and it took a spark with relative ease.
When I’m teaching tinder bundles I generally use hay, largely because we run our courses from a farm, they mow their own hay and I have a ready supply. But hay is just dried grass and I’ve had success with moorland grasses amongst others.
Cleavers (Galium aparine) is also known as goosegrass, sticky jack, sticky weed and a host of other names. It’s the one that you throw at the back of your friend’s jumper where it sticks. Cleavers have a wide distribution and can be found in North America, Asia, North Africa and Asia.
It starts to come through in early spring time and dies off again in mid-summer. It likes to climb up fences, hedges and pretty much anything it can. This means that it’s off the ground and doesn’t rot down. I’ve found dead cleavers all year round so it’s a great resource.
It will work as a tinder bundle and will ignite with a fire steel. Be aware that it burns more intensely than hay, so you really need to watch the smoke if it’s in a tinder bundle.
Fat wood is basically resin soaked wood. It comes from the heartwood of resinous pines and is most commonly found in the stumps of fallen pines, although sometimes it can also be found where branches have broken off. It contains terpene and is very flammable. The easiest way to use it is to cut off small curls and ignite with a fire steel.
You can buy fatwood shavings but I question the environmental cost of shipping it from Central America to Europe when it can be found with relative ease.
There are around 12,000 mosses (Bryophyta) worldwide and they are typically found in damp and shady places. Which highlights a weakness with mosses as a tinder. Dried out, however they can make a useful tinder.
As I draw to a close on this discussion of natural tinders, I want to point out that what I’ve described is far from exhaustive, rather just things that I’ve come across so far in my bushcraft journey.
It might prove useful to think about the properties of what I’ve described rather than trying to remember species so that if you find yourself in an environment with which you aren’t familiar you can still find the materials you require.
And to re-iterate what I always say when I’m teaching natural tinders, collect tinder as you go rather than when you need it, and lastly, if you see something and wonder if it will work as a tinder, well give it a go.
We teach how to prepare and use various tinders on our 2 Day & 5 Day Bushcraft Courses, the IOL Bushcraft Competency Course and also our 2 Day & 5 Day Survival Courses. You can see plenty of photos from all of these courses on our Facebook page.