Char Cloth Substitute – Making the Best Tinder Alternatives

by | Oct 22, 2020 | Fire Building

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Under the right conditions, all it takes is a single spark to ignite a fire. Unfortunately, the conditions never seem to be just right when we need them to be. Char cloth has long been a favorite for survivalists because of how easily it catches fire. However, not everyone has the combustible material on them, which is why we’ve decided to cover some of the best char cloth substitutes for getting a fire started.

What is Char Cloth?

Char cloth refers to a piece of fabric, typically made from cotton or linen, that has an extremely low ignition temperature. In order to achieve lower ignition temperatures, char cloth must first go through a process known as pyrolysis. 

The process of pyrolysis involves changing the actual chemical composition of materials by exposing them to heat. In doing so, pyrolysis leaves material that is enriched in carbon. Otherwise known as char.

Simply put, char cloth has the ability to help you start a fire in even the harshest of conditions. Once fabric has gone through pyrolysis, it will ignite from the smallest spark, and serve as a slow burning fuel. That fuel can then be used to easily ignite your tinder, which is the first step in getting your fire going. For that reason, char cloth has become incredibly popular with campers, bushcrafters, and survivalists.

Char Cloth Materials

Before you can jump into making your own char cloth, or char cloth substitutes, you’ll first need to gather some materials. Luckily, most people have everything they need lying around. But if you don’t, everything you need to make char cloth is readily available at most stores. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Container – Your container will need to be both fireproof and sealable. Tin containers or cans work perfectly for making char cloth, such as altoid or coffee tins. 
  • Vegetable Fiber – Char cloth is made from vegetable fiber, such as cotton, linen, or jute. So, cloth or fabric like cotton t-shirts or jeans will work great. While we’ll get into char cloth substitutes a little later, you’ll want to avoid fabric that contains artificial fibers.
  • Puncturing Tool – In order to eliminate oxygen from the container during this process, you’ll need to puncture a whole to allow it to escape. 
  • Cutting Tool – Typically scissors or a knife, your cutting tool will be used to cut your cloth down to size. It’s a good idea to make the pieces uniform, and all able to fit into your container.

How to Make Char Cloth

In order to make char cloth, or any charred material, you’ll need to first create an inert atmosphere. In this case, that means creating an atmosphere with little to no oxygen. Ironically, the easiest way to make char cloth is in a fire that’s already burning.

Once you’ve collected your materials, the first step is to puncture one or two holes in your container. The holes are an important part of the process, since they allow oxygen and other gasses to escape the container. Preventing potentially dangerous build up.

After you have your container ready, it’s time to cut your fabric down to size. It’s best practice to cut uniform pieces that will fit into your container easily. Although, you can also cut larger pieces and roll them up so that they fit inside the container as well. 

Next, you place the material inside the container, and seal it. Get a fire going, and then place the container inside the fire so that it can begin the pyrolysis process. You’ll know the process has begun once you see a steady stream of smoke coming from the container.

When there’s no more smoke coming from the container, it’s time to remove it from the fire. Once removed, allow the container and its contents to cool. What you’ll be left with is char cloth that serves as the perfect fire starter for your next trip.

Good Char Cloth Substitute

Creating your own char cloth is a fairly simple process. However, when you’re out in nature, the cloth you have may serve better uses. For example, if you’re wearing a cotton t-shirt, cutting off a large chunk might not be the best move. Same thing goes with jeans, bandanas, or any other natural cloth you have in your pack.

That being said, it’s important to remember that char cloth is made from natural fibers. So, it makes sense that you can use other organic material as a char cloth substitute, which will be just as effective in helping you start your fire. Let’s take a look at some of the best alternatives to char cloth.

Charred Tree Bark

When you’re in nature, you’ll usually be surrounded by an abundance of trees. Besides providing shelter and fuel for your fire, tree bark actually makes a great substitute for traditional char cloth. In order to char your bark, just go through the same process you would with cloth, and you’ll find that you have char bark that will help you get a fire started in a pinch.

It’s more than just tree bark though. Most natural and organic items you find can be charred to create perfect alternatives to char cloth. That includes leaves, mushrooms, pinecones, wet moss, and more. Get creative, and see what else you can char.

Steel Wool

Steel wool is actually a favorite amongst outdoor enthusiasts as well. It’s both lightweight and inexpensive, making it the perfect choice as a char cloth substitute. Perhaps the best part though, is that you don’t need to carry it around in a protective tin, and you don’t need to go through the process of making it yourself. 

Brian Segal

As an outdoor enthusiast, I was drawn to bushcraft at a young age. I constantly find myself trying to learn and improve on my survival skills, and enjoy writing about everything I discover to help pass along to others.

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