Reach down into the deep corner of your favorite outdoor shirt or pants and remove that pinch of lint matted down along the seam. Can’t find any? That’s probably because you’re wearing clothes made of synthetic materials — no lint! If, however, your garments were made of cotton or wool, you have just discovered a cache of emergency fire starting tinder!
Lint is basically a cotton ball in miniature. It’s common knowledge how well this natural fiber ignites when struck by the sparks from flint and steel. Forget about the petroleum jelly infused orb of cotton, a pea-sized pinch of pocket lint is effective ignition tinder for creating a flame that can be transferred to sustainable fire fuel.
A key preparation in trying to light a fire with any starting method is to have everything all set up beforehand. Quick-igniting tinder needs to be transferred to a larger base of tinder that is in position to quickly and readily ignite your kindling. Because pocket lint burns quickly, you need to make sure all your moves are in order – timing and flame are of the essence!
Like the commercial cotton balls, the mass of pocket lint needs to be fluffed out to expose more minute fibers that will catch and hold the spark in order to generate enough concentrated heat to ignite the cotton. Once lit, the flame needs to be able to travel throughout the feathery mass so it grows and sustains itself long enough to use it to start your main fire.
This leads to another good source of emergency tinder – the lint tray on your clothes dryer. While a bag of cotton balls won’t break your bank, this lint is free — and plentiful!
A good way to know what types of tinder ignite best is to practice starting small samples of different materials such as crushed dried leaves, grasses, fluffy seeds, bark, etc. The next time you are in camp, take a few minutes to field test how different tinders take a spark and turn it into a flame. Be safe; have fun out there!