[21 Ways] How to Start a Fire Without a Lighter

Magnifying glass reflecting the sun to start a fire on a log

We often take for granted how easy it is to get a hot meal or that we can just flip the switch of our flashlight to get some light outside. Fires help on all facets of survival and being prepared to know how to start a fire without a lighter can be crucial when you are in an emergency situation. Check out the 21 different ways you can start a fire when you don’t have matches or our trusty lighter.

Fires are Essential to Survival

They produce heat and warmth that help you stay comfortable and cook your food. Fires also keep animals and other insects away as much as possible. Fires can also be used as powerful signals to rescuers and provide a sense of comfort in emergency situations. You can also use a fire for life saving water purification, as boiling water for 10 minutes can make it safe for drinking. As we can go just three days without water, the ability to boil water and maintain a water supply is life saving. 

Preparing to Start a Fire

The most important element of all of these options for starting a campfire is the tinder that you are able to find. Tinder is the smaller piece that you will be directing heat to to start the fire from a spark. This includes dry leaves, cotton, feathers, and old bird’s nests. If you are unable to find branches and pieces of nature for tinder, you can use Vaseline and a cotton ball. The Vaseline makes the cotton burn for longer and will help it last if you are in wet conditions. You can also create your own char cloth by putting cotton in an altoids tin, poking a hole in the container, and letting it sit over a fire for a little while.

How to Start a Fire without a Lighter

These 21 different ways to get a fire lit range from easy to hard, but they are all here because you never know what emergency situation you’ll need to be in and knowledge is power. 

1. Flint and Steel Fires

Flint and steel fire starting kits can be purchased and easily stored in your bag. They are fairly simple to use, as all you have to do are rub the two together to create enough friction to create a spark that you can then use to set your logs or other materials on fire. You can also use a rock as a flint. You put a piece of char cloth on top of the flint and strike down in order to get that first spark. If the spark does land on the cloth, blow on it gently to see if you can get it to grow. 

2. A Magnifying Glass or Glasses

If you are lucky with the weather and it’s quite sunny out, you can use the glass to target the beam of sunlight to your leaves or timber, which will eventually cause a fire to start if it is hot and sunny enough to generate enough heat. This is a great magnifying glass to have on hand and is quite inexpensive.

3. Electrical Charge Fires

If you have a car with you, you can use the battery to start a fire. This method is a little more technical but is a great option if you are traveling by vehicle. Check out the video for a complete overview, but the gist is using jumper cables attached to a strip of metal and tinder to start a fire. You can also use the cigarette lighter that some care models still have included.

4. Use a Flashlight

Similar to the glasses method, the reflective material in the flashlight can be directed at your tinder or leaves to start a fire. The first thing you’ll have to do is break the circular glass covering at the top of the flashlight. Then, take the bulb out and break it. Next, you put the remains of the bulb back into their original place inside the flashlight. Next, the tinder can go into the top as well surrounding the broken bulb. Once you switch the button to turn the flashlight on, the tinder should catch on fire.

5. Use a water bottle

This method is a good one to learn, as you will likely have a water bottle with you no matter where you are. This is also similar to the glasses and flashlight methods. You will also need a sunny day for this, and you will want to make sure it is a clear water bottle rather than a tinted one. You’ll need to rip a piece of paper in half, and hold the bottle so that the light goes through the bottle and creates a beam on the paper. If the weather cooperates, the paper can eventually catch on fire. This method is a little tricky and will require both patience and practice to be successful.

6. Steel Wool and Battery

If you rub the top of a battery against the steel food, you should be able to create a spark that you can use to ignite a larger fire. You will want to use a 9V battery and when it rubs against the wool it should create a spark quite instantly.

7. An Empty Lighter

Al ighter can still be useful even if it’s empty. First, shave off the plastic part of the lighter with a knife and collect them in a dish. Then, remove the top part of the lighter and you should be able to strike it to create a fire like a Ferro rod.

8. Battery and Gum Wrapper

This is also called a “prison lighter”. All you need is an AA battery and a gum wrapper that has foil on it (not a paper wrapper). You just cut a long thin strip in the foil wrapper and then connect the metallic side to both ends of the battery. This should produce a quick flame. Although it may not be long lasting, this method does work in a pinch. 

9. Create a Chemical Fire

This is another more technical option. You can use chemicals such as acetone, sulfuric acid, potassium permanganate, and glycerin to create fires. You can also create a mixture of sodium chlorite and sugar and then put sulfuric acid in to start a fire. Using these fire starting methods will require a little more planning since you likely won’t just be carrying these chemicals with you, but you can consider adding them to your kit for times where your matches and lighter fail you. 

10. Fire Plow

A fire plow is a more manual option, and it is simply just creating a fire through friction between two pieces of wood. One piece of wood will act as the base, or plow board. This should be the longer piece of wood. You make a divot in the middle and then run the more thin wood stick through the divit, pushing heavily. This friction should be enough to create a flame. 

11. Use a bow and drill

In this method, you make a bow out of string or shoelaces and wood. This makes it a little bit more difficult of an option.

12. Use a soda can

To start a fire with a soda can place it upside down so the underside is facing up. Cover the underside with clay and put it facing directly towards the sun. Then, put your kindling or cloth to the spot where the sun is reflecting most strongly. Then, blow into the flame and you can eventually see a fire.

13. Use a Sandwich bag

This is also similar to the magnifying glass method; You can use reflection, heat, and light to create a spark that can lead to a fire. The first thing you will want to do is fill up the sandwich bag about halfway with water and then make sure it is securely sealed. Then, by twisting the bag of water, you create a magnifying glass like effect that can be reflected onto a pile of tinder to create a spark. Like other methods, the downside here is that it does have to be a sunny day without many clouds in order for this to work.

14. Make a Fire Piston

You can make your own fire piston for under 10 dollars. Fire pistons work by using a cylinder shape to compress air quickly and creating heat. You use tinder in the tip and the material should catch on fire with the heat.

15. Start a fire with ice

This may seem counterintuitive, but you can use ice to start a fire as a last resort. You find a clear piece of ice and shape it into a disk. Then, you adjust the ray of sunlight to focus the beam on a spot on the ground with a tinder and it can generate a fire. This is a similar technique to the magnifying glass method.

16. The Two Man Hand Drill

This requires two people to pull off, but it is similar to hand drill technique. In this technique, one person holds a fireboard while the other works with the spindle. One person puts their body weight pressure on the drill while the other person rotates the spindle quickly until a spark is formed.

17. Purchase a Firekable Bracelet

This is an innovative survival bracelet that has quite good reviews. It fits right around the wrist and has a Ferro Rod and striker light inside of this. These tools can be used to create a fire very quickly in an emergency situation, and the tools are concealed in the bracelet when you’re not using them.

18. Lemon and Steel Wool

If you are unable to get a battery, you can use the same method to start a fire using a lemon instead of a battery. You will have to put nails and zinc pins into the lemon in two rows, connecting them diagonally. Then you can use a wire to connect it to settle wool and create a small flame.

19. Mix Brake Fluid and Chlorine

When using chemicals, you have to be highly cautious. Pouring brake fluid over chlorine or chlorine powder will quickly create a very large fire, so you want to make sure you are able to stand back appropriately.

20. Use a condom

Condoms are an unlikely tool that can be used to start a fire in an emergency situation. Condoms can catch fire and burn for several minutes, and they can be used as a part of a bow drill. They can also keep your other first starting items dry during rainstorms.

21. Cell Phone Batteries

Many of us have cell phones, and the batteries can actually be removed to help start a fire in emergency situations. First, you will need to take the battery out of your phone and locate the positive and negative sides. Then, you can use a piece of rolled aluminum foil and prepare light tinder . When you connect the foil into a U shape on either side of the battery, you should get a small short-lasting flame.

These methods on how to start a fire without a lighter or matches should help in any emergency you find yourself in. Happy prepping!

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