A guide to finding ‘fatwood’ and how to use it for fire-starting

This story was originally published by OFFGRID. Words by Patrick McCarthy.

We often discuss the subject of fire-starting, and there's a reason for this frequency: Lighting a fire is one of the top priorities in a survival situation. It'll obviously keep you warm, which is important during the colder months, but fire-starting is equally necessary during the warm spring and summer months.

Fire boils water for drinking and cooking, boosts morale and can even deter the insect pests that seem to be everywhere this time of year.

Char cloth is a great tool for fire-starting, but it's not a naturally occurring resource. Photo: OFFGRID

It's always wise to add a few fire-starting tools to your bug-out bag or backpack before you head outdoors; these may include a lighter, ferro rod, matches, petroleum-jelly-coated cotton balls, char cloth and a variety of other items. However, if all else fails, you may need to supplement your pre-made fire kit with items you can find in nature.

Fatwood sticks can be harvested and stored for tinder. Photo: Hustvedt/Wikipedia

Fatwood is one of the most valuable natural fire-starters, and it can be found in most forests and wooded areas where pine trees are present. This dense wood is impregnated with pine resin, making it hard, fragrant and rot-resistant.

The pine resin contains terpene, which is a flammable hydrocarbon and the precursor to turpentine. This causes it to ignite and burn energetically, making fire-starting far easier than it would be with damp bark.

To harvest fatwood, look for upright stumps of fallen pine trees, as there's a higher density in this part of the tree.

A knife or ax can be used to shave off the outer bark and reveal the fatwood. Keep an eye out for darker portions within the stump, and smell them to confirm the presence of fragrant resin. In the following video, Lonnie of Far North Bushcraft and Survival shows how he gathers fatwood during a short trek into the woods:

If you're feeling lazy or can't find pine trees nearby, you can purchase fatwood online, such as the Light My Fire TinderSticks. However, we'd encourage you to get out there and learn how to find your own; this skill may come in useful when your other tinder materials run out.

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