There could come a time in your life when you need to make an outdoor fire. Perhaps for cooking or warmth. Maybe for light or purifying water. Possibly even for protection from animals or attracting the attention of rescuers.
Do you know how to do it? What if there were no dry wood available and you didn’t have a lighter in your backpack?
Knowing a variety of ways to start a fire could come in handy someday. It could even be a lifesaver. Better to have this knowledge and not need it than not have it and need it.
Today I want to discuss a variety of unusual ways to start a fire, including a few you may never have considered before.
Fire’s three friends
First though, let’s review a few things about fire. Just as we need fire to survive, fire needs things to thrive. They are fuel, oxygen, and ignition.
Fuel for a fire is pretty much anything that will burn. The slower it burns, the better. For cooking, items such as wood, various grasses, and dry manure work best.
Oxygen keeps a fire going. And the air surrounding fire is usually adequate for that. Except for some situations when the immediate area is too tightly confined.
Ignition methods are plentiful. But most of them are not easy to accomplish. The easiest ways to start a fire are by using a disposable cigarette lighter or a magnesium starter stick.
Tinder & kindling
As far as fire-starting materials are concerned, you want to make sure you have tinder and kindling. Long-term fuel can also be very useful, but you might not have that with you.
Dry paper is great for tinder. But if you need to depend on what you find in the wild, you’ll want to gather some or all of the following:
- Finely-shaved dry wood or bark
- Dry grass or leaves, shredded if possible
- Bundles of dried bird or rodent nests
- Dry tree moss (also known as “Old Man’s Beard”)
- Dry plant seed fluff, such as cattail heads
Kindling burns more slowly and can keep a fire going for a while. It includes sticks, twigs, bark, and dried grasses that have been bundled.
Your best long-term fuel is logs. They will burn better and longer if you split each one several times. Dead branches also work.
Choose the right matches
Returning to our ignition methods for a moment, here are two items you should have with you in the wild. Even if they’re not your primary fire starters:
- Waterproof matches. You can find these at sports outlet stores. They work very well, although they’re somewhat expensive and should be rotated out every few years.
- Stick matches. They’re better than paper book matches, but need to be rotated out every six months or so. You also need to keep them dry.
As mentioned, your two easiest fire starters are magnesium sticks and cigarette lighters. A mag stick can be used about 100 times. They’re perfect for outdoor usage because they’re waterproof. And they don’t age or freeze.
9 unusual fire-starting methods
Following are 9 of the more unusual ways to start a fire. You may want to choose one of these methods if you don’t have the materials previously discussed.
9V battery & steel wool. Keep a container of lint from your dryer in your backpack. Fluff up your steel wool to get some air in it. Then touch it all over with the positive and negative terminals of a 9-volt battery to spark a fire. Continue to touch it in multiple places, then add the lint as tinder and blow on it softly.
Aluminum can & chocolate bar. Rub a candy bar on the bottom of an aluminum can until the can bottom shines like a mirror. With direct sunlight on the can bottom, it will heat up to the point where it can ignite your kindling when held against it.
Sandwich bag & water. Crush a piece of dry tree bark into a powder. Place the powder onto a solid piece of bark. Pour water into a sandwich bag until it’s half-full. Tilt the sealed baggie to the side and then twist it at the top, making it into a liquid sphere. Use the baggie as a magnifying glass over the powder until the sun’s rays make it start smoldering. Then press the powder onto your kindling.
Vaseline & cotton ball. Pull a cotton ball apart – but not completely apart – and rub Vaseline or petroleum jelly all over it. Roll the cotton back into a ball. Use a magnifying glass or reading glasses and the sun’s rays to heat the cotton ball, which will hold a flame well once ignited.
Gum wrapper & battery. While you’re chewing a stick of gum, cut the foil it was wrapped in into a bowtie or hourglass shape. With two fingers of one hand, hold the two ends of the foil against the ends of a small battery. The foil will ignite and you can quickly light your tinder.
Dead lighter & paper. Maybe you were planning to use a lighter to start a fire, but it died on you. Not to worry. Remove the lighter’s safety lock and slowly roll the lighter over paper, back and forth. As the steel wheel grinds down on the flint rod, flint shavings will be created. Form those shavings into a small pile and then flick your dead lighter repeatedly over the pile until it ignites.
Water bottle or balloon. Lay a clear plastic bottle full of water on its side with the cap on. Then place dark-colored tinder in the beam of sunlight that passes through the bottle. Once the tinder begins to smolder, place it into your fibrous tinder and blow on it softly. You can do the same with a balloon filled with water.
Citrus fruit. Because citrus oils are flammable, you can set it on fire if you can generate some sparks. Take a citrus fruit such as an orange, carve out a hole on the top and clear out some of the flesh. Let the orange dry out. Now push a small rock into the hole and rapidly rub a tool such as a knife on it until it sparks.
Flashlight. After removing the top lens of a flashlight, pull out the reflective cone that the light bulb rests in. Put dried moss or grass into the spot where the bulb was and place the cone in direct sunlight. Eventually the sunlight’s reflection will heat the tinder enough to cause it to burn.
Just as fire can be your best friend, it can also be your worst enemy. Yes, it can protect you, but it can also kill you.
When contained, fire can be controlled and used however you want. But when it escapes containment, it can destroy thousands of acres of forest, land, and buildings.
Fire can save your life, but only if you learn how to create it and control it.