Nothing is scarier than getting lost in the wilderness at night. Unless you’re Bear Grylls and revel in danger, you’re going to want to start a fire, pronto.
Not only will a torch help you light your way, it can keep you warm. And if you’re in a pinch, it can even act as a weapon if you’re attacked by a bear or a coyote.
There’s a couple of ways to make a survival torch, and it all depends on:
- Your supplies (or lack thereof)
- The environment (forest, the tundra, the Sahara, etc.)
- How many people you have with you (or if you’re alone)
In this guide, we’ll teach you how to make a torch in the wild and increase your chances of survival.
Survival Torch Basics
Making a torch is pretty simple. It’s one of those skills that you learn once and can do forever, and it’s critical for anyone who is a hunter, hiker, or just interested in survival skills.
Fashioning a torch requires the following items:
- A long, sturdy stick
- A flammable solid to wrap around the stick
- An accelerant (cooking oil, tree resin, etc.)
- A fire source (a lighter, matches, flint/stone)
If you’re a hunter or a hiker, hopefully you’ve come prepared. You can make a torch with just about anything, but you can really speed up the process if you already have some man-made materials.
How To Make a Torch in the Forest
If you end up lost in the woods, you’re in good hands. Well, relatively speaking. Forests are diverse biomes and creating a torch is much easier here.
First, find a long branch. Wood type doesn’t really matter, as long as it’s about three feet long and sturdy. You don’t want the stick to be too dead or rotting because that can impact its overall strength.
Next, you need to find something to light on fire. Fabric makes for great torch material, so if you have an extra set of clothes in your backpack, go ahead and cut them up into strips about three inches in width.
If all you have is the clothes on your back, you can rip the sleeves off your undershirt. The reason we say undershirt is because jackets or sweatshirts are much more valuable when you’re in survival mode, so you’ll want to keep those intact.
To keep the torch going long and strong, you’ll want to add some extra material. Dead leaves, pine needles, or cattail seeds can be wrapped in with the fabric to elongate the burning time.
But these things won’t burn bright enough on their own, so you have to douse them with an accelerant. Light fluid, cooking oil, or pine tree resin works great.
And you’re pretty much set. To light up the torch, you can of course use a lighter or box of matches, but if you don’t have those you can create sparks pretty easily.
By clicking rocks together fast enough, you can create sparks that will quickly light your accelerant-covered torch.
Check out this article about creating fire from flint or with a few sticks and some string.
How to Make a Torch in the Desert
Making a survival torch in the desert is a bit more difficult because than a forest or other biome simply because of the lack of wood or other materials.
If you find yourself lost in the desert, here’s what you should do to make a torch:
Scour the land for anything that looks like it will burn. This can be dried grass, weeds, flowers, or dead cacti. You’ll want to supplement this material with some kind of cloth, either your shirt sleeves or your undergarments.
Next, we’ll have to make the torch handle. You might get lucky and find some dead tree limbs, but if not, you can make a handle. Many of the woody plants that grow in desert climates have thin, long branches or stalks, like the soaptree yucca or the desert ironwood. But be careful, the ironwood has sharp thorns!
You can break off a handful of these branches and tie them together with string or your shoelaces.
Now take the dried plants and cloth and interweave them at the tip of the handle, the tighter the better. If there’s a lot of open space between the material, the torch will burn faster.
There’s not much in ways of accelerant in the desert, so you should probably make a few torches to last you through the night.
How to Make a Torch in the Plains
The plains, whether they’re the American Great Plains or the African Savannah, have a bit more in terms of torch-building material.
Just like coniferous or deciduous forests, the plains are home to many diverse species of plants that can be used to make a torch.
You’ll be able to follow the basic torch-building guide from the sections above this. If there are trees or bushes in sight, you’ll be fine!
However, if you’re in the middle of a field, say, full of tall grass, then that’s a different story.
Similar to the desert torch, you’ll want to collect a bundle of long grass stalks and lash them together with other strands of grass or string. This will form the handle of your torch.
This kind of torch is less than ideal because the handle stands to burn just as much as the material you wrap around the tip.
For that reason, you’ll want to make multiple torches and keep them a full arm’s length away from you in case they go up in a blaze.
How to Make a Torch in the Tundra
Contrary to popular belief, the tundra is actually a very wet environment. Because it’s so cold, moisture takes longer to evaporate, leaving it in the air and on the ground. Often, during the summer months, the tundra is swathed in clouds of mist and fog.
Unfortunately, that makes it difficult to find dry material for building a survival torch. And, the cold weather doesn’t lend itself to stripping off layers for torch material either.
Kind of a Catch-22. Shred your t-shirt for a torch, only to be even colder when it goes out.
But there are a few plants that might make your life easier. The first is cotton grass, which is found in many tundra environments.
This grass has long stems and a hearty, white seed head that looks just like cotton. The seed heads, if you can find some that aren’t wet, make excellent fire starters. The stems are also quite useful; they’re long, mostly straight, and when tied into bundles, work as torch handles.
You might also be able to find various kinds of lichen or moss attached to rocks. If these plants aren’t soaked, you can add them into your torch material.
While torches can be useful if you’re on the move, sometimes it might be better to stay put. The average temperature in the tundra is about 16° F, so making a stationary fire in a spot out of the wind will probably save your life.
And then, there’s the fact that during the summer months, the sun shines for 24 hours a day, so a fire would be less for light, more for warmth.
How to Use a Survival Torch
The vast majority of people have never had an occasion to use a torch, so here are some pointers after you’ve built it and are ready to light up the night.
- Make sure to hold the torch a good distance from your body and off to the side. Having such a bright light in front of your eyes can easily mess with your vision, especially at night.
- Don’t make any fast movements or swing the torch around unless it’s necessary (like if you’re running or fighting an animal). The swoosh of air as you swing the torch might put it out if the material isn’t soaked in cooking oil or resin.
- Watch above you. If you’re in a dense forest, be careful not to set any low-hanging branches on fire. While a forest fire might give you more light than your torch, you don’t want to get stuck in the middle of it.
- Collect extra material. Torches won’t burn forever, so it’s critical that you collect enough material to make more than one, or to restock the survival torch you have when it goes out.
Modern Torch Accessories
If you’re reading this article, chances are you’re prepping for something. You might be reading up for a weekend camping trip, or just because you want to know as much as possible about survival.
Whatever the case, you’re in a great position because you can make your torch-creation much easier with a few simple tools prepared in advance.
You may have noticed that a common problem while in the wilderness is actually finding adequate torch materials.
Take these steps to ensure you can make a survival torch wherever you end up going:
Bring an extra set of clothes
If you’re in pickle, they’ll make for great torch fodder, and if you don’t need a torch, then you’ve got a change of attire! In addition, you should pack an extra set of shoelaces or a spool of string so you can easily tie up the kindling of your torch.
Pack an accelerant
Lighter fluid can fit quite snug in a hiking backpack, and it only takes a little bit to light a torch. Other options include cooking oil or kerosene.
Snag a pack of patches or a lighter
This will make your life much easier if you need to light a torch, or even just for a campfire. Also consider purchasing a magnesium fire starter. Magnesium burns very hot, at about 5,000° F, so it will easily set your kindling ablaze. Plus, they are very affordable. You can purchase a magnesium fire starter for a few dollars at most gas stations and hardware stores.
Choose a torch handle beforehand
One of the most distressing scenarios is fumbling around in a forest at night looking for a torch handle. So, pick out one before you leave! Strap it to your backpack, or use it as a short walking cane. Just make sure it stays dry and unbroken.
Bring a flashlight
If you’re more of the casual-camper-type, you might just want to bring a flashlight and some extra batteries. It takes the stress out of searching for torch materials, and a good flashlight is fairly cheap. Plus, flashlights are called torches in Britain, so you’re still using a torch, aren’t you?
Making a survival torch is an essential skill if you plan on being in the great outdoors a lot. Whether you’re a casual camper or a hardcore survivalist, the torch is a versatile tool.
And the interesting thing about torches is that they’re often taken for granted. Our ancestors used torches to light up their dark caves and huts, as well as for protection. Nothing drives wild animals away quite like fire!
So, once you learn the simple skill of torch-building, remember our ancestors and be thankful for this marvelous tool.