Everyone who enjoys their free time and vacations in nature and the outdoors has noticed a trend over the past couple of years.
More and more people want to get to know the magic of camping. All camping lovers know full well that coffee tastes better with a view of the emerald lake, that the food is sweeter with the smell of pine trees, or that the longest-remembered summer vacation is sleeping under the stars.
In the heart of nature, you are only reliant on yourself, your skills and the things you bring. One law of nature is that a fire is a necessary component of camping. The less fortunate law of nature is this: it’s not easy to light a fire without matches.
So, let’s begin!
Can I light a fire without matches?
The short answer is yes: you can. The key thing to keep in mind, however, is that it’s a lot harder to do. Matches are easy, but they are also easy to forget based off their size.
The other downside with matches is that they are easily damaged. A wet match will not light, no matter what, meaning that a wet match will require you to figure out how to light a fire without them.
Strategies to light a campfire without matches
For this guide, we will assume you are in fairly normal conditions, without heavy rain, several meters of snow and other natural disasters. Of course, scenarios outside of these can happen, but these tips in this guide should help you 99% of the time! We’re also going to assume you don’t have any of the best fire starters in the business.
First, try to light the fire with a glass lens
A glass lens, through which we pass the sun’s rays, can light a fire. You can use binoculars, cameras, flashlights, glasses, magnifiers, and even the bottom of a transparent glass bottle.
To do so, position the lens directly between the sunbeam and the tinder you would light to ignite. You should notice the reflection from the bottom of the glass lens is beginning to make the tinder hot.
Next, look for some tinder.
You will need tinder to get a fire. Tinder is small, easily combustible material. Dry pine needles or leaves are typically the best. It must be easy to burn.
Point the glass lens at the tinder
As soon as you notice the smoke, it means that there has been an ignition. Slowly add more tinder to the pile as the smoke continues. Once you see flames, you are good to go!
If you don’t have a glass lens, then you should try to bow and string method to light a fire
What you will need:
- Firewood — several pieces, different sizes,
- The wood that will sustain the fire — the dry branches from the trees, not from the ground. A good branch should easily push in under the pressure of even the nail, but not crack.
- Bow — a crooked stick about 60 cm long,
- Strings — dangles, parachute rope or narrow leather strap. Primitive ropes can be made from solid, ribbon-like plants, such as, for example, milkweed,
- Bearing — a horn, bone, piece of solid wood, rock or seashell that can fit in the palm of your hand and you will put on a stick,
- Something to lubricate — you can use wax, skincare oil, a ball made from the green grass, lip balm, or anything else,
- Spindle — dry, straight rod 2-3 cm in diameter, about 30-45 cm long. Round one end and sharpen the other,
- Fire Panel — select and shape another piece of wood into a panel about 2-3 cm thick, 5-8 cm wide and 25-30 cm long. Cut a shallow recess on the straight side, about 2.5-5 cm from the edge. From this recess to the edge, make a V-shaped notch,
- Tray — a piece of bark or a leaf that you will put under the V-notch, which will serve to catch the embers. The tray should not be made of dry branches,
- Nest — dry bark of wood, grass, leaves or any other combustible material shaped like a bird’s nest.
- Tighten the bowstring firmly, one end to each end of the stick,
- Kneel on your right knee, and with the front of your left foot, step on the fire panel and hold it firmly on the ground,
- Take the bow,
- In the middle of the bow, make a string loop,
- Insert the spindle in the string loop so that it is on the outside of the arch,
- The harness should now be tightened — if not, wrap it a few more times around the spindle,
- Take the tray in your left hand, with the recess facing down. Lubricate the recess,
- Insert the rounded part of the spindle into the recess in the fire panel, and the sharpened part of the spindle into the tray,
- Gently tighten the tray, pull the bow back and forth to slowly rotate the spindle,
- Press the tray more and pull the bow faster until you start making smoke and ash,
- When there is a lot of smoke, then you make the embers,
- Stop dragging the bow immediately and slam the fire panel slowly to transfer the embers to the pan,
- Remove the tray and transfer the grill to the “nest”,
- Hold the nest firmly and keep blowing the embers. Eventually, the nest will catch fire,
- Add firewood to the nest. When they catch fire, gradually add larger firewood.
If you just read throughout guide on how to do that, then you know that is extremely difficult! It’s best to remember to bring your matches and your fire starters.
You should not allow your survival in the wild to depend on some primitive method of starting a fire. Starting a fire this way can be quite difficult in realistic, harsh conditions (when it is raining or snowing, when it is cold).
You could also try the “Indian way” to build a fire without matches
You can also light the fire in an “Indian” way with the help of two pieces of wood. You need a hard stick (oak, walnut, ash, beech), soft base (wooden board made of pine, linden, chestnut, willow) and combustible material (dry mushroom residues, moss…).
Rotate the rod manually, but it is even better if you make a small bow for turning. The stick should press against a soft wooden board, place flammable material at the point of contact and rotate the stick. The rotation of the rod causes friction, heat develops, wood will burn as well as combustible material.
In addition to the flammable material mentioned, here’s what else you can use for fire:
- dry twigs of fir, pine or larch (resinous wood that burns very easily). Just bring a pair of 10 cm sticks,
- “plastic glass”, of which tiles are 10 cm long and 3 cm wide. These tiles do not burn easily and quickly, but for a long time, they are smokeless up (about 5min) and cannot be extinguished by wind or light rain,
- inner tire (from bicycle or car). Also, strips of similar dimensions as the tiles mentioned are made. The flames are resistant to wind and rain. You can also throw them in the snow — they will still burn without any problems.
Throw a lit rubber band or plastic plate on a stack of stored wood, and you will light a campfire in the wind, in the rain, and in the snow…
You can still use lichens for burning, dry grass, abandoned bird nests, birch bark, resin, woolen thread…For firewood, you can use split wood because it burns better than whole bark forms. Rooting the wood gives it strong heat.
Do not use the branches that are lying under the fallen leaves as they are already rotten and moist. Dry wood and dry branches are of course the best. Highly flammable trees are: maple, birch, oak, hornbeam, red beech, evergreen and white hawthorn. In order to avoid the flames being large and not to burn the fire frequently, it is best to put thick boulders or stumps in it.
If you are going camping, then you need a campfire
And we’re not just biased, even though we are called sit around the campfire!
The need for a fire in nature is clear to everyone, especially if the days are not very warm or if we need cooking. However, fires are also very dangerous, and in many places, it is forbidden to light them!
Therefore, if you are already starting a fire, you should do it carefully and, first, prepare the place where you plan to light it. If you do not want to stay in one place for several days, then it is enough to clear the area of 1m2 from the leaves and grass so that you get “bare” soil. You can also aline larger stones (even better if flat) that will prevent the wind from transferring flames or sparks to the environment.
- Never move away from the fire and leave it burning unattended.
- Never start a fire in the middle of a forest, as a tree or canopy can easily catch fire.
- If you are leaving or if you no longer need the fire, you must completely extinguish it: spread the embers, branches, stumps…,pour the place well with water, sprinkle it with sand or cover it.
If you are looking for more detail, we have a guide on how to put out a fire pit.
See you at the campsite!