OK, here’s the set-up: You’ve lost your way in the woods. The sun’s going down. It’s getting cold. You realize you’re going to need a fire to survive.
But, you have no matches. No lighter. Yep, that’s right. You weren’t a Boy Scout, and you’re not prepared.
What can you do?
It’s Never Too Late to Learn
Fortunately, you’re not lost. You’re probably safe, warm and dry as you’re reading this. But just in case you ever need some survival skills — or just want to show off on your next camping trip — here’s what you need to know about fire.
Fire requires three things — heat, fuel, and oxygen. Of course, having matches or a lighter makes it easier to start a fire, but there are other ways to generate heat. Be aware that some of these methods can be quite dangerous.
Learn 3 Ways From a Boy Scout
Boy Scout Daniel in this video produced for Boys Life magazine makes it look easy (but he recommends practice). In all three methods described, the first three steps are the same. In fact, they’re pretty much the same for all ten fire-making ways discussed here.
First, you need to gather combustible material. You need tinder (this is fine vegetation like dry grass or pine needles), kindling (pencil-size pieces of wood, also dry) and fuel (larger chunks of dry wood, no bigger around than your wrist).
1. How to Use Flint and Steel to Start a Fire
You can buy a ready-made flint and steel fire starter from an outdoor store. Or you might be able to do the same thing with a pocket knife and a piece of hard rock. You strike the flint and steel together until you get a spark to set your dried material ablaze.
2. How to Use Magnifying Glass to Start a Fire
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So, no flint and steel with you, but you have a magnifying glass in your pack? Sure you do! You left the matches and lighter at home, but you have your trusty magnifying glass. No. Well, let’s say you do.
Or you might try to use the lens of your eyeglasses, camera or binoculars — anything you can use to direct the sun’s rays at your tinder. Get the dry grass or leaf to heat up, putting off first smoke and then flame.
3. How to Use Friction to Start a Fire
You knew it would come to this, didn’t you? You’ve heard about starting a fire by rubbing two sticks together. But there is a better way — the bow drill method.
Field & Stream magazine even provides pictures that show how to make and use a bow drill (found this on Pinterest for you!).
Esquire magazine does an excellent job of explaining how it works and includes some detailed drawings, too. The hand drill and two-person drill are variations of the same idea.
7 More Exotic Ways to Make Fire
Ted Alvarez, writing for Backpacker.com, discussed the bow drill method and how his failed attempt to use it left him motivated to remember to pack three lighters the next time he goes into the woods.
Fortunately, some other ways might work for you, courtesy of the U.S. Air Force. Yes, this 1985 Search & Rescue Survival Training Manual from the U.S. Air Force has a whole section on starting fires without matches or lighters.
If you have these items available, here are some more sophisticated ways to start a fire:
4. Start a fire by creating an electrical charge
If you have a vehicle, you may be able to use its battery to start a fire. This is a little complicated and can be risky, so check out the Air Force manual for details.
5. Use your flashlight to start a fire
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You can take apart a flashlight and place your tinder in the center, where the bulb goes. The reflective material directs the sun’s rays toward your tinder and catches it on fire. (This is described more fully in the Air Force manual).
6. Use a water bottle to start a fire.
The folks at Selfsustainablelife.com describe a way to use a water bottle and paper to get a fire start. This idea is pretty much like the magnifying glass method, but you’re more likely to have a water bottle with you.
7. Use steel wool and a battery to start a fire.
Tim MacWelch writing for Outdoor Life magazine suggests using some steel wool and a 3-volt or larger battery. Just rub the top of the battery against the steel wood and it will turn the steel wool into a little ball of flame you can use to ignite your kindling.
8. Use an empty lighter to start a fire
Keith Sutton writing for Bass Pro Shops suggests using an empty lighter to start a fire by removing the metal hood surrounding the gas-port. You use the lighter as a spark-thrower to ignite your tinder.
9. Make a lighter from a battery and gum wrapper
Here’s an idea made popular by the Netflix series, “Orange is the New Black.” It’s called a “prison lighter” and it’s not a bad idea since the odds are pretty good that you might have a AA battery and a chewing gum wrapper while you’re out in the woods.
10. Use some chemicals to start a fire
Remember chemistry class? Yep, chemicals can start fires. If none of these other ideas appeal to you, could try the ideas in this youtube video.
Ready, Set, Give it a Try!
It’s never too late to learn to be prepared. Pick at least one of these methods for starting a fire without a lighter or matches and try it out.
Gather your tinder, your kindling, your fuel and whatever else you need for the method you want to try and get going.
Let the blaze begin!