Top 3 Ways to Start a Fire in a Survival Situation

Posted by Leighton Taylor on

Fire is a vitally important tool in the wilderness, possibly second only to the survival knife. It provides you with a cooking flame, a way to keep warm at night, a means of purifying water, and more. Knowing how to start a fire is an essential survival skill every camper, hunter, and outdoorsman should have. Obviously, having a lighter or matches means you probably won’t have any difficulty with this particular task. But what if you didn’t have any in your survival gear? How would you start a matchless fire, especially in a life-or-death situation? Well, there are actually a lot of ways but knowing just a handful of the easiest should do the trick.

Before you make the fire though, you’ll need to do some campfire preparation. First, you’ll need to find a good location for a campfire. This is a site where you’re close to firewood and a water source. It should also be protected from the wind. Lastly, the ground should be dry and flat. Once you’ve chosen the site, you should create your fire pit – 4 to 6 inches deep with a 3-foot radius. Place rocks around the pit to help contain the fire. For firewood, you’ll need to gather three types: tinder, kindling, and fuel. Tinder can be anything that’s absolutely dry and can catch fire easily such as fallen leaves, bird feathers, and dried moss. Kindling, small twigs and sticks around 2-8 inches in length, should also be dry. Fuel, which gets your fire hot, can be logs and large branches around 8-24 inches in length. Once you’ve got your fire pit and firewood, you’re ready to take that step and start making fire.   

3 Ways to Start a Matchless Fire:


Using a lens to start a fire is easy and something most people are knowledgeable about. After all, who hasn’t seen this on TV or in the movies? Even kids know about this matchless method. To start your fire, all you need to do is to get some sort of lens (eyeglasses, a dismantled binocular lens, or a camera lens), angle it toward the sun, and make sure the beam hits your tinder. Adding a bit of water on the lens will intensify the beam.

Photo by spacepleb. Used under Creative Commons license.

Fire Plow

You’ve probably seen Bear Grylls do this a time or two on his show but seeing is different from knowing the actual steps and doing. So, here goes. You’ll need a fireboard with a length of around 18 inches and a width of about 2 inches. Carve a groove in the middle of the board (6-8 inches long, 1 inch wide) using a knife or sharp rock. Use a stick (around 12 inches long) as your spindle. Make sure that one tip is pointed/sharp. Place your tinder at one end of your fireboard where it will catch any embers you’ll be making. Then, rub your spindle up and down the groove using the sharp tip. Once an ember catches on the tinder, blow gently on it to get that fire started.

Here's a video of the fire plow method in practice:

Flint and Steel

This is a tried-and-true, primitive method of starting a matchless fire. Striking a flint against steel creates a spark that will get your fire going. For this method, you’ll need the flint, the steel, and a char cloth (any 100% cotton cloth that has been turned into charcoal). To start creating fire, hold the cloth and the flint between your thumb and forefinger. With the steel in your other hand, strike the flint several times until sparks catch on the char cloth which will cause it to glow. Once it does, fold the cloth into the tinder nest and blow gently on the ember until the flame erupts. If you don’t want to carry a flint and steel set in your pack, you can buy a survival knife with a fire starter – two birds, one stone. Though it might not be claimed as the best survival knife in the market, you’ll never have to worry about matches, lighters, or fire plows when it comes to making a fire in the wild.

It always helps to have a visual demonstration, so here's a video that does a great job of teaching this method:

Hopefully, you’ll never have to find yourself needing to use any of these methods. But if you happen to fall right into a survival situation, you’ll at least have three options that will keep you warm, fed, and alive while you fight your way back to civilization.

Survival skills

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  • Dryer lint makes excellent tndeir, but often contains hairs, so brace yourself for the smell. Another excellent idea i’ve read about involves using “candle wicks”. Cut a number of 100% cotton strings to a length of 1-2 inches, then dip into a puddle of melted paraffin or candle wax long enough that they become saturated. Separate them til they are cool. Store the wicks in a waterproof container. The wick will light easily, and stay lit long enough to start the kindling.

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