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Wilderness Survival - How to Start a Fire Without a Match

By Edited Nov 21, 2016 1 2

Out in the wild, especially when you are lost, fire means life. Being able to light a fire is an important skill to have. It means you can warm your body, dry your clothes efficiently, purify your water, cook your meat and provides light in the darkness. Being lost and alone in the wild without a fire to brighten the night can reek a terrible toll on your psyche. Every noise you hear will be perceived as a threat without the light to see it.

The easiest way to light a fire is to carry some matches in a waterproof casing or a simple cigarette lighter. Sometimes, it saves to be a smoker. Whenever you go out in the wild, even if you are confident you will not wonder off the trail, always have a way to make fire. A lighter is best, but even having some flint and steel can save your life if need be.

Preparing to Light a Fire

Before you even consider lighting a fire, first you must prepare for it. A lot of primitive fire making methods require a lot of hard work. It would be a shame if you put in a few hours of hard work rubbing two sticks together only to realize you do not have enough fuel to feed your tiny little ember.

Before starting a fire, you need to gather three types of fuel. You need tinder, kindling, and actual fire wood. Tinder is what you will start with, it is the driest and most combustible items you can find. You can use items like shredded toilet paper or tissue, crumpled dry dead leaves, pine needles, an old birds nest, crumbled dead tree bark, feathers, fur or dry grass. Make sure it is crumpled into small bits that your ember can easily catch on and is very dry. If you are in a wet environment, finding dry tinder can be a chore. Your best bet is to try and find bark that hasn't been rained on or checking for dry leaves/needles in pockets under tree roots.

Kindling is what will feed your tinder fire after you have gotten it lit. These start as very small dry sticks, then you build up to bigger fire wood as the fire grows. Make sure as soon as your tinder catches, you start adding kindling to keep it going. Not so much that it is smothered, but enough to keep it growing.

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hand drill

Hand Drill

This is the most basic and primitive method of making fire. It is also one of the most difficult. The hand drill is essentially how it sounds, make a notch in a dry piece of wood, then carve a little indention for your stick. Underneath the notch, place a dry leaf to catch the ash and ember. Using your hands, take a stick and apply downward pressure into the indention and spin the stick by rubbing it between your hands. This can be difficult because you will

finger scar
have to stop and readjust your hands, thus stopping the friction that will create an ember.

In my experience, it is also pretty dangerous as my hands slipped off the stick and I got a nasty scar to show for it. To make it easier for yourself. Get a piece of thin rope with two loops tied at the end. Put your thumbs through each loop and notch it at the top of your stick. This will keep your hands from slipping and provide downward pressure to make an ember a little faster.

After you make an ember, that should drop down onto the leaf you are using to catch your ash, quickly put it into your 'nest' of kindling and gently blow on it until it takes and bursts into flames.

bow drill

Bow Drill

This is much like the hand drill. However instead of tearing up your hands on a stick, you make a simple bow to do the work for you. Set it up like the hand drill, only this time get another stick and put notches at both ends to hold your string. Tie a shoe lace to it until the piece of wood is slightly curved from the pressure of the string. Place your stick on the string of the bow and twist it around. Use something hard like a shell or a thick piece of wood to protect your hand as you place it at the top of your rubbing stick. Now use your bow as a saw. It will do all the twisting you do with your hands on the hand drill for you.

When you get an ember, do the same as you would during using a hand drill.

flint and steel

Flint and Steel

This is usually what people think of when it comes to emergency fire making. A lot of people carry kits for it, which baffles me because a lighter is just plain easier. If you have a knife, but no flint you can still do this method. A lot of rocks can be used like flint to create sparks, all it has to do is be hard. Rocks like sandstone and limestone are far too soft for this method. I found this out in my youth when I tried this method with some of the large limestone rocks we had in our yard. Any rocks that are dark grey or black will work fine. Just try to break off a new sharp edge and scrape it along the flat side of your knife as hard as you can. If you are lucky this should create some sparks on your tinder.

steel wool and nine volt battery

9 Volt Battery and Steel Wool

This is my personal favorite way of creating fire. Having steel wool (the grey stuff, those green scouring pads won't work) will create a short in the 9 volt battery and create a fire. I used to impress my friends with this method while hiking, as soon as you touch the steel wool to the battery, it starts burning up. So make sure you keep your fingers a safe distance and have tinder ready. It works really quickly.

magnifying glass fire

Wielding Sunlight

As most kids probably learned on a hot day with a magnifying glass and some ants, the sun can be used to create fire. You can use a magnifying glass, a mirror, and even a pair of glasses to focus the sun onto your tinder and produce a fire. A properly focused sun ray can reach temperatures of 450 degrees, which will easily produce a fire on dry tinder. However, don't walk around thinking you have a pair of fire starting glasses on your face because some of them will not focus the sun in a tight enough spot to reach a flammable temperature. Plus, you may not always have sunny skies to work this method with.

Fire Safety

Now that you have a few surefire ways to make fire, some are hard others are easy. However you must always respect fire. It can save your life, but it can take it away just as easily. When starting a fire in the woods always make sure it is properly contained in a ditch or surrounded by rocks so it does not creep out and start a forest fire. When you decide to leave your camp, always make sure your fire is properly and fully extinguished.

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Comments

Mar 27, 2013 9:43am
Marlando
Hi--great, fun article that stirs the imagination. In my younger years I did a whole lot of of hiking and camping--always had matches though. I have tried the old "drilling" with wood approach and that never worked out for me. I guess some people have the knack though. Anyway, good work and two thumbs from me.
Mar 27, 2013 5:17pm
Amerowolf
Don't get me wrong. The drilling methods are anything but easy. Luckily I have never done it for survival, as the three hours it took me with the hand drilling method left me exhausted, sore and quite peeved off.
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