Survival skills: How to find and process tinder for fire-making

The Importance of Tender and/or Kindling

Finding tender or kindling is the most important thing you can do when in a survival situation. The tactic here is to get your tender first before doing anything else.

I fire just getting started in a stone fire pit

As listed in the video below, here are common sources of tender in North America.

  • Cedar Tree – Outer and inner bark
  • Poplar and Willow trees – Inner bark
  • Birch – Outer bark
  • Pine Needles – Dried and undried for some species
  • Dry Grasses
  • Usnea/Tree Moss/Old Mans Beard

Kindling is more commonly considered small sticks or twigs, but the same principles outlined below still apply.

What to Look For in Tender

You need tender materials that are thin, fluffy or fuzzy, lightweight, and dry. It would be best to think about the processing you will need to do on the material gathered and portability. As pointed out in the video, you are much better off gathering your grass by cutting it at the base so you do not get the moist root system and contaminate your tender.

The idea with any tender is to get something dry and lightweight, but I mentioned fluffy. The fluffy or fuzzy point is to break the material down to have a larger surface area. This larger surface area allows the “spark” to catch and get oxygen surrounding it while still contacting more of the material so we can have a transfer of fire.

If you are not in North America, you can use the following guidelines to determine whether you have a good tender source.

1. Is it dry?

This is not always as easy to answer as you might assume. But good indicators of dry items are light in weight, don’t smoke when burned, and/or feel dry. Some of these things might seem obvious, but when it is cold and looking for any way to heat things, it is easy not to think things through, and I have seen where people will grab the “wet” thing over dry just for not thinking about. Now you might be saying, “Hey, you said doesn’t smoke. How am I supposed to know without fire!!!!” Ok, you got me here, but the point of putting that is to pay attention. Next time you are out camping or exploring and start a fire. Throw a few things on the fire you might normally think about and see what happens. If you put something on and see tons of white smoke billowing out, that is a good indication that what you just put on the fire is full of moisture and should be avoided as tender.

2. Can you break it down easily?

Take whatever you are considering using as your tender and try to break it down. Using your knife, a rock, or even your fingers. Can you break it into smaller, easier-to-manage pieces that have more surface area? Does it just crumble and disappear? One reason paper can be hard to light at times has to do with the surface area. Think about it paper is flat, but if you cut it into little strips, you have just increased the surface area, and shredded paper is much easier to light than a sheet of paper.

Man making Kindling out of sticks using a tool
By Dennis Jarvis from Halifax

3. Give it a try

Some survival situations require the utmost attention to time and details. But often, the best strategy to use is one of taking your time and thinking situations through. So if you go out foraging for tender and instead of grabbing 1 thing and trying it, get another. Grab 2 or 3 potential candidates, and then when you are back at your survival spot, give each one a try one at a time.

Fire is Life

Tender is so important in this situation because it leads to a fire. Fire means warmth, cooked food, safe water, and survival. In another post, I will write about how you can carry fire camp to camp or store it in different situations when you don’t always want a fire going 24/7. Links will be provided when finished.

How can I cook with fire?

How can I build a big fire?

How can I save a fire?

How can I make water safe with fire?


I was forged in the wilderness and have seen dangers nobody knows. I hope you will not need the information I provide, but learning it could save your life.

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