How to Make a Torch in the Wild

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Fire provides a host of benefits for those enduring a survival situation. The fire’s warmth helps you to avoid hypothermia, cook food and boil water, but an underappreciated benefit of fire is the light it yields. However, campfires are not portable; so make a torch, which will allow you to bring light where you need it.

Must Have Materials

You can light the end of a frayed branch to make a functional torch, but add a slow-burning fuel and your torch will burn much longer. Rather than burning the wood, a good torch wicks and burns fuel, like a candle. Manmade accelerants, such as kerosene or gasoline, are the most flammable fuels commonly available, but are dangerous. Always use care to keep such cans -- and the flammable vapors they contain – away from open flames. Other manmade materials, such as cooking oil, alcohol and paraffin, are not quite as flammable, but still work well, and offer a greater margin of safety. If you cannot find a manmade accelerant, you will be limited to things like pinesap, animal fats and beeswax.

Manmade Method

Wrap the fabric around the tip of a long stick several times and tuck in any loose flaps of fabric. Dip the fabric-covered end into the gasoline, oil or other liquid fuel; if you have a fat that is solid at your temperatures – such as animal fats or wax – try to wipe as much of the fuel on the fabric as possible. Be sure to thoroughly saturate the fabric -- if it is dry, it will burn and fall away. Move any leftover or unused fuel away from the area and light your torch with the campfire.

Pine Pitch Procedure

You can still make a very effective torch, even if you do not have access to a manmade fuel. Pinesap – often called pine pitch – is an excellent and ubiquitous fuel. Find a live pine tree of any species – identify them by their long, bundled, evergreen needles – and cut off a suitably sized branch with a saw, knife or hatchet. Use the same tool to split one end of the branch four or five times. Make a handful of thin pine shavings and jam them in the gaps of the torch’s split end, which should help keep the individual tines slightly separated. After lighting these shavings with matches or your campfire, the fire will wick sap from the stick and burn for an hour or more.

Stay Safe

You must practice fire safety while using a torch. Many torches – especially those that use pine pitch as a fuel – are subject to leaving a trail of flaming fuel behind them. This is especially dangerous in fire-prone areas or during the dry season – wilderness survival is difficult enough in the best circumstances, and contending with a forest fire will significantly reduce your chances of survival. Practice your torch making skills in a controlled environment with plenty of water on hand, and avoid making a torch in wilderness areas unless you are in a true survival situation.