How to Start a Fire Without Matches or a Lighter

How to Start a Fire Without Matches or a Lighter

In the wilderness, fire keeps you warm and dry, cooks your food, scares away animals and repels insects. You can use it to boil drinking water and signal for help. On a psychological level, fire provides a sense of security and comfort. Even if you’re just camping for fun, you’re going to need a fire.

But what if you don’t have a lighter or matches to start your fire? Never fear. There are several ways to start a fire without matches or a lighter, including with your car battery or by using friction, a lens or a reflective surface.

Prepare a Fire Pit

Before you try to start a fire, prepare a fire pit. Choose a dry place on a flat surface, close to your water and shelter and out of the wind. Clear the area of underbrush and dig a pit six-inches deep and three-feet wide. Collect tinder, kindling and fuel.

Some good materials for tinder include:

  • Bird feathers
  • Dried moss
  • Dead leaves
  • Brown pine needles
  • Birch bark
  • Lint

Collect dry twigs and sticks for kindling. Large, dry branches make good fuel. When you build a fire without matches, you do it by creating a spark that ignites your tinder and then adding kindling and fuel.

Start a Fire With a Fire Plow

A fire plow may be the easiest, least technical way to build a fire by “rubbing two sticks together.” You’ll need a large, relatively soft piece of wood called a “fireboard,” and a long, harder stick for a “spindle.”

Carve a groove down the center of the fireboard — it doesn’t have to be wide — and then place the tip of your spindle in the groove. Apply pressure to the spindle while rubbing it back and forth along the groove. The friction will create heat, as well as shaving off tiny fragments of the fireboard, which will eventually catch fire.

Use a Bow and Drill to Start a Fire

This is another friction method of fire-starting that’s somewhat more complicated. You’ll need a fireboard and a spindle a couple feet long.

Cut a small V-shape out of the edge of the fireboard and carve a small hollow next to it. That’s where the tip of your spindle will go. Slide a strip of bark under the notch and depression; this is to catch your ember when it forms.

Make a bow using a string and a flexible length of wood. Wrap the string tightly around your spindle before fastening either end to the wood. Place the tip of the spindle in the depression and use the bow to vigorously spin it until an ember forms. Use your other hand to maintain downward pressure on the spindle with a stone or block of wood.

Start a Fire With a Lens

This is an excellent alternative for people who wear glasses, but any lens, like a magnifying glass, will work. You can even carve a lens from a block of ice in a pinch. Tilt your lens toward the sun to focus its rays into a beam, and aim that beam at your tinder. It will burst into flames in minutes.

Use a Soda Can Like a Lens

If you don’t have a lens or a block of ice handy, you can use a soda can to make a makeshift lens. Even if you didn’t bring any soda with you into the wilderness, you can probably find a discarded one lying around somewhere. You’ll need something to polish up the end of it into a nice, shiny reflective surface — a bit of toothpaste or chocolate will work, but don’t eat it afterwards, because aluminum is toxic. If you don’t have those things, just find something abrasive, like some sand.

Use a cloth to rub the abrasive substance into the bottom of the soda can for about 30 minutes. Wash it off. You should have a well-polished, gleaming reflective surface. Hold it about an inch away from your tinder. Angle it towards the sun, and focus a beam of light onto the tinder to light it.

Use a Spark From Your Car Battery

If you’re car camping, you can use a spark from your car battery to light your tinder. Just use jumper cables and touch the ends together to create sparks. You could also use this method if you’re stranded near wreckage — just use any two wires in the place of jumper cables, but be careful not to electrocute yourself.

Making a fire in the wilderness without matches or a lighter is just a matter of knowing how. With a little knowledge and some elbow grease, you can be basking in the glow of your fire in no time.


About the Author: Steve Manley is the president of Globalcom Satellite Communications (, a leading distributor of satellite phones for both purchase and rental.


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