Fire is made by careful preparation and progression: Tinder, Kindling, Fuel.
With the possible exception of the Doan's Bar [Magnesium bar], no single means of making fire works 100% of the time. I strongly suggest that all trail hikers and backpackers assemble a dedicated "Fire Bag" which contains several means of making fire, and then place that bag in your trail day pack or backpack and carry it with you always.
Many people opt to just carry a lighter, and call it good. Lighters can be useful, but they can also fail. If they become wet they won't work until dry again. You could suffer a fall and lose or break them.
A good friend & mentor, Bill Hay [Bill-Hay.com] was a student of the late Dr. Ron Hood [a knowledgeable and respected survival instructor and founder of Survival.com], and is a member of the HOODLUMS outdoor survival group/forum. Bill offers the following thoughts:
"Lighters also fail in the cold, and the plastic will shatter in the cold. They run out of fuel. I've seen them discharge all their fuel in a pack. Oops! No fire tonight! They are not as easy to start a fire with as you might think, it's not a magic tool. Carrying dry tinder, Fatwood & a sparking rod is way more reliable."
[Bill has kindly posted his own kit here: http://bill-hay.com/FireKit/FireKit.htm ].
As stated, nothing works 100% of the time, and having multiple fire making options [redundant systems] significantly improves your chances of surviving a cold night should you become lost or injured on some trail. Carrying some dry tinder and Fatwood kindling dramatically increases chances of making a successful fire.
In the photo below, I've displayed the contents of my own "Fire Bag":
CLOCKWISE FROM BOTTOM: Butane lighter; 3/8" USAF ferro rod from Firesteel.com [http://firesteel.com/FireSteel-Armageddon] with a kydex striker from Hardwood Hollow Tactical ; Burning lens; Flint & Steel kit; Matchsafe with waterproofed matches; Doan's bar [ferro rod dismounted and epoxied into antler tip. CENTER: selfmade leather pouch containing Fatwood kindling. Note the hanks of paracord attached to the USAF ferro rod for use in constructing a bow drill set.
Having tools is pointless unless you know how to use them. It is critically important to practice firemaking on a regular basis. You should also know a few ways to make fire by primitive means in case you lose your fire kit:
Self-made bow drill set made with local materiel.
Practicing primitive firemaking [bow drill] on a backpacking trip.
One final thought: It is also very important to practice doing so in less than ideal weather, so that you can experience the difficulties of making fire in wet conditions, with cold, numb hands, or in high winds for instance. Nothing replaces real-world experience, and it also serves as "stress innoculation" to mentally prepare you should an actual trail mishap occur.
© 2013, MANNY SILVA, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED