One of the biggest stresses facing someone in a survival situation is their ability to start a fire, as there is a great amount of importance placed on this one act. It not only provides light and heat, but it can cook your food, ward off intruders (animal or otherwise) and provide mental comfort in a potentially scary situation.
There are dozens of ways to start a fire, from the ubiquitous but difficult rubbing of two sticks together, to simply whipping out your handy lighter and torching whatever flammable material is closest. There are also pros and cons to each system—you can run out of flint, fuel, gas, and batteries—so it is a good idea to have a backup plan, a redundant solution that uses nothing but the sun.
Machined from solid aircraft-spec aluminum and weighing in at a scant four ounces, the Tinder Hot Box Solar Fire Starter is only 2.6 inches in diameter so it can fit in your pocket or pack, but can provide nearly instant fire thanks to its highly polished parabolic mirror that directs 100 percent of the sun’s light at a very small focal point at the top of the tinder holder arm. The difference between a true parabolic mirror and a fresnel lens or a magnifying glass is that either of these are hampered by the spherical aberration of their design. The rays of light bend at different lengths and don’t meet at the exact same point. A parabolic mirror does, which means a more concentrated light, more heat, and a quicker fire (even when using less light). No light? No problem. Use a xenon high-intensity headlight as the source. Need a claim more fantastic then that? It’ll work on any planet that orbits a nearby star, but be careful on Uranus, its atmosphere is highly flammable.
The kit comes with a sealed bag of dried tinder to be used if none can be found, but since the Hot Box’s case is protected with a rubber o-ring, it is waterproof and can be used to store additional tinder. Resembling a hockey puck when closed, the edges are knurled to make gripping it in wet or cold weather easy. The o-ring makes for a tight fit.
The tinder holder arm, a small aluminum stand that fits onto the base of the mirror, lines up perfectly with the focal point of the mirror. The arm is removable and stores in a slot of the case, and if fault could be found, it would be here. Lose that small arm, and the Hot Box is reduced in function. If that arm was somehow permanently connected to the parabolic mirror, it may never get lost.
Light, compact and excellently designed, the Hot Box is a must for any outing. As well, leave off the tinder holder arm, and it doubles as a great signal mirror.
Editor’s Note: A version of this article first appeared in the January 2015 print issue of American Survival Guide Magazine.