One of the basics skills of survival is knowing how to build a lasting fire. Unfortunately, it’s a task that would leave most people are in the literal and metaphorical dark. Most humans are frighteningly unprepared to start a fire using a lighter or a match.
Do you know:
- What materials you need?
- Where to find them?
- How to pile them?
- How about keeping it safe from spreading?
- And what do you do if you don’t have matches?
You’re lost out in the wilderness and need to start a fire. But you don’t have anything to light it with. Aside from frantically rubbing sticks together in the hope of something happening, what do you do? These 5 techniques are the best methods to start a fire without matches.
1. Flint and steel
This is the easiest way to start a fire in the wilderness. As long as you have a flint and steel (a survival knife will do), you can start a fire in almost all conditions.
- Have your tinder (see below) ready to catch the sparks.
- Strike the steel against the flint with a loose wrist until it causes sparks.
- Gently blow on the sparks that land in the tinder until it catches.
- Add the kindling (see below).
2. Fire plough
If you don’t have access to flint and steel, but do have access to wood boards, the fire plough is simplest. However, it does take a lot of effort and force.
- Find a flat piece of hardwood a few inches thick.
- Cut a straight line down the center on the flat side and hollow it out into a groove (about a quarter inch wide).
- Find a 1 inch (or more) softwood stick and carve the end to a rounded point.
- Rub the stick through the groove with a lot of force. Start at one end and move towards the other.
- Wood will slowly shave off.
- Heat and embers from the friction will ignite the shavings.
- Add the kindling.
3. Using a lens
A simple way to start a fire on a sunny day is to use a lens. A magnifying glass, eye glasses, or binocular lenses are best.
- Add some water to intensify the beam.
- Angle the lens towards the sun and focus into as small an area as possible.
- Focus it on your tinder.
4. Balloons and condoms
If you don’t have a lens available, but do have a balloon or a condom, you can turn one of these items into a lens.
- Fill the condom/balloon with water and tie the end.
- Make it as spherical as possible.
- Don’t make it too big (or it will distort the focal point).
- Squeeze it to find the shape that gives you the sharpest circle of light.
- Hold it close to your tinder (1 to 2 inches).
This is a pretty cool method, but unless it’s winter, you’re unlikely to have ice available.
- Use clear ice. The water should have no impurities if it’s going to work as a lens.
- Shape it into a lens with your knife. It should be thick in the middle and narrow near the edges.
- Polish it with your hands to get a smooth surface.
- Angle it towards the tinder.
Sources For Fire Material
Stock up on matches. Seriously. We’ve just discussed different ways to start a fire without matches. But the truth is, you never have to be in this situation – at least not for the foreseeable future. Matches are available en masse and cost next to nothing. Every prepper and survivalist should have a significant store of matches – in a water-proof container. It will make your life that much easier when things go pear-shaped.
Before Tinder was a dating app, it served the purpose of catching the spark and spreading it to the kindling. You need good tinder that can burn long enough to dry kindling that may be wet.
Some good sources of tinder include:
- dry sticks and pieces of bark
- dead plants and grasses
- wood shavings
- dry leaves
- fire lighters – another thing you could stock up on, or make yourself
While tinder starts your fire, kindling keeps it burning long enough to light the main source. It needs to have a large surface to volume ratio and a lot of bulk.
Some good sources of kindling include:
- dry wood pieces
- wood cut into small pieces – find out how to chop wood here
The main fuel source
The kindling burns long enough to ignite your main fuel source.
Good sources of fuel include:
- dry wood between 1” and 5” in diameter
- twisted dry grasses
- dried animal dung
Building the fire
Build a ring of rocks or a fire pit
Clear a circular area of about 4 ft in diameter. To prevent your fire from spreading, surround it with rocks. Alternatively, dig a fire pit.
Pile the kindling and tinder
Leave some space in the kindling for air circulation but leave it close enough to ignite. Put the tinder on top. Light the tinder with your match. Slowly add kindling. Blow softly on the tinder and kindling to get it going.
Arrange the firewood
If you are using firewood as the main fuel source, there are various ways to arrange it, depending on what you need from your fire:
- The teepee: the most popular and effective. It burns with high intensity, which gives wet wood the chance to burn, but depletes your resources quickly.
- The log cabin: layers stacked in alternating directions to build 4 walls in the shape of a square. You build the teepee in the middle. This limits the amount of oxygen and keeps the heat uniform, and is perfect for cooking. Here’s a video showing the pros and cons and how to build it.
- The pyramid: the fire burns from the top to the bottom. Here’s a quick video of exactly how to put it together.
- The star: this arrangement allows you to push logs inward to increase heat, and pull them out to “turn it down”. It’s effective if you need high heat but also want to preserve your resources. Watch this video for a visual guide.
Always be prepared
Building a fire is at the very foundation of survival. It’s what keeps us from freezing, as well as the means of boiling water and cooking food when there’s no electricity. However, having a long-term food source for extreme disasters is just as important, and there’s no reason not to have your own. Our micro farming e-book explains how to start a farm using the bare minimum resources. It’s perfect for the beginner, even those who don’t know how to build a fire.