how to light an emergency fire without a match

light campfire without matches


You might be smarter than a 5th grader...

But Are You Smarter Than A Caveman?

There's obviously something primal about wondering -- if my life (or at least my dinner) depended on it -- if I could summon the spirit of McGyver and jimmy up a primitive fire out of twigs and leaves (and some random found object) like we've all seen on TV.

It's like a basic human curiosity.

If I had to... Could I do it? Could I start a fire from scratch?

Interestingly, I posted the Pump Fire Drill graphic (below) to Tumblr on a new account with only a handful of followers. Within 20 hours, it was reblogged more than 50 times and was "liked" over 200 times. Obviously, something about conjuring fire from our bare hands hits us deep. Like an instinct-level insecurity about our fitness as a human being. It's probably why Survivor has survived on TV for so long!

light fire without match

"Fire Pump Drill" - (From: 7 Ways To Light A Fire Without A Match, Field & Stream)

So How Do You Light A Fire Without Matches?

Field & Stream has a nice slideshow of illustrations describing Seven Ways To Light A Fire Without A Match. They are:

  1. Hand Drill
  2. Two Man Drill
  3. Fire Plough
  4. Pump Fire Drill
  5. Bow Drill
  6. Flint & Steel Sparking
  7. Spark Catching Tinder

So there's a start -- Six primitive ways to start a fire by either drilling with a stick or hitting the sharp edge of a piece of flint against the sharp edge of a piece of high-carbon steel, like a knife. Plus some extra tips about ensuring that you've got some highly "flammable" material to catch a spark.

(It's weird that I should put quotes around "flammable" -- Did you know that the correct word is INFLAMMABLE? But when you say that, too many people think you mean it won't burn. It actually means that it's "capable of becoming inflamed".)

If you're most interested in primitive methods of making fire from nothing but a stick and soft wood, there's at least one other really cool and efficient method I found a YouTube video for. It's really similar to the pump drill method, but slightly less complicated and works like a combination of a yo-yo and a top. Despite being totally primitive, nobody has seen it before -- it seems to be brand new!

But lest you think matchless fire-making is limited to "primitive" ways, let's mention that there are lots of other really cool ways to light fires without matches.

You're probably familiar with one of them from childhood:  Using a magnifying glass!

Works great, but unless you're out in the wilderness to study insects, you probably aren't carrying a magnifying glass on you. Or are you?

You could in fact easily carry a small flat Fresnel Lens to use as a magnifying glass. But chances are, you're already carrying around something that can readily substitute: An ordinary water bottle!

If the sun is intense enough and you can get the bottle at just the right angle, you may able to focus it enough to light some tinder, especially if you've got some ready-tinder, like some char-cloth or vaseline-soaked cotton swabs.

I've even seen a pretty surprising video where someone shows you how to light a fire using your own urine!

Have you thought of lighting a fire with a battery?

Nowadays, there's a good chance that in an emergency situation, you actually have a battery or two lying around or stuffed into the bottom of your backpack. If you have a 9V, you're in luck, but even with an ordinary AA or AAA, you can McGyver a small match-free fire. All you need in addition is some thin conductive material, like foil from a gum wrapper, steel wool, or your foil emergency blanket, and some kindling, and you're set. The idea is to send some current through the conductive material, but with just enough resistance to make it heat up the way a light bulb does and apply it to some kindling.




Hey Mini-RVers -- Ever thought of downsizing your camp kitchen?

Seriously, why have a cooking range taking up valuable space in your tiny house? Even if you're "just" using a portable camp-stove sitting on a countertop, it's possible you can downsize even more. By taking tips from backpackers, you could conceivably condense your cooking equipment into the size of a large mug, and better, maybe even finally reclaim all that storage space where the propane tank lives!

mini backpacking alcohol stove from cat food can

The simple fact is... you can cheaply and easily make your own tiny pocket-sized stove burners from nothing more expensive than recycled aluminum cans!

Check out the video below to learn about one of the simplest and most effective micro-stove designs in existence, which -- if you have a cat -- you can make "for free" in under 5 minutes.

The "SuperCat" backpacking stove design by Jim Wood is one of the most powerful mini-stoves you can make, with hardly any work at all.

All it takes is

  1. A 3oz aluminum cat food can (ex. "Fancy Feast")

  2. A hole punch

  3. Fuel in the form of alcohol

Cat Food Can Camp Cooking Stove QUICK INSTRUCTIONS:

  1. To make a cat-can stove, all you need to do is punch 2 rows of holes just below the rim of the can.
  2. Pour an ounce of your favorite cooking alcohol (denatured, ethanol, HEET, etc.) into the can.
  3. Light the fumes and wait for the alcohol to boil.
  4. Then set your cook pot right on top of the can and watch the flames shoot out the side holes across the bottom of the pot.

This stove is amazingly efficient -- even too efficient! It burns really hot, so it's best with a wide pot that wants to heat up fast.
While not the absolute simplest DIY alcohol stove design -- you could actually just pour alcohol into an empty open can, light it afire, and call it a stove -- the SuperCat is an elegant blend of being ridiculously simple, ultra-lightweight, very powerful, and standalone, since it's also its own pot stand! Among the dozens of creative and inexpensive designs to try out (ex. a simple "altoids can" style mini-stove or the iconic pop can stove ) -- many of which are much more complicated to build and use -- the cat can stove, especially using Jim Wood's formula, is still one of the all-around "best" designs by many measures. Especially with large pots, it's hard to beat -- which is ironic, because it's so small and uncomplicated!

backpacking stove alcoholThe type of alcohol I use is clean burning Denatured Alcohol. You can also use ethanol, methanol, and even isopropyl alcohol, all of which you can find in the automotive section or (more cheaply) in the paint section of any large department store. While nowhere as cheap as propane -- (it runs about 12-50 cents per boil) -- it does have the advantage of being a lot more convenient to purchase and transport, without the hassles that come with handling and refilling those huge pressurized tanks. To save cash, you can buy it by the gallon and portion it into handy-sized bottles, which you can store right in your cook pot, or on a shelf with your condiments. (Note that methanol is poisonous, so avoid spilling it and wash your hands well.)

GOING ON A TANGENT: If you're really after the "full-time camping" experience, then there's a great way to cut cost of cooking fuel below what you'd spend on propane.

What you might really be looking for -- which will allow you to cook essentially for free -- is a wood-burning stove. (Keeping your tiny alcohol stove around as backup, ex. for when it's rainy.) While a lot messier than alcohol stoves, wood burning stoves fun to build and play with, and tons more efficient than trying to cook over a traditional campfire. (You can easily cook a meal using a handful of twigs!) I'll be covering how to build a cheap and highly efficient DIY wood burner (like the Solo Stove Wood Burning Backpacking Stove in future articles, so watch for that.

camp stove with phone charger

The Biolite may be the coolest backpacking stove ever!

This nifty wood-burning biomass camping stove not only allows you to heat your dinner without carrying around a fuel tank -- it burns the twigs and wood chips you find lying around -- It's also a heat-activated DC generator with USB charger. A descendent of the efficient "rocket stove" design, BioLite also makes a larger home version. (You might compare it to the Solo Stove Wood Burning Backpacking Stove, which could be considered its immediate commercial predecessor, just without the phone charger.)