5 Ways on How to Start a Fire [Plus How to Keep it Burning]

How to Start a Fire

One key aspect of being a survivalist is knowing how to start a fire. Of course there is always the conventional way; a striker and some tinder, but what if you don’t have the resources available? Maybe amidst the chaos you lost your matches or misplaced your striker. What if you had to ditch everything to get out of a sticky situation?

Would you know how to start a fire?

If not, don’t fret. I’m here to tell you 5 ways to start a fire without matches or a striker.

Side note: I always keep a Swedish FireSteel striker in my bug out bag, as well as my last ditch kit so I can avoid this situation, but just in case, I learned these ways to start a fire without matches if the need arises.

1. Solar Magnification

Many of us have used our parents magnifying glass when we were young to terrorize ants and burn leaves.

By using some form of focal lens, like a magnifying glass or Fresnel lens, you can focus the sun’s rays onto tinder to produce a flame. If you take the lens or magnifying glass and focus the light to a single point, you will bring all the heat from the sun rays refracted through the lens and be able to create fire. This can be fairly quick if it is bright out, but not so great of an option if it just so happens to be a cloudy day.

Although its not the most optimal way to produce a flame since it depends primarily on the current weather conditions, it is still a great fire starting technique to know. Especially since a Fresnel lens can be tucked away in your bug out bag due to its small size and low weight. You can snag one here. (Use the book stuffing technique for storing. If you are not familiar with this technique you can check out this article for more information.)

2. A Fire using the Reflector from a Flashlight

Ever wonder how flashlights are able to produce a wide span of light?

reflector from flashlight

This is because the light from the bulb is reflected by a cone shaped reflective component known as none other then the reflector.

Much like solar magnification, you can ignite some form of tinder by placing it where the bulb usually goes in the flashlight.

First, just pull open a flashlight and remove the reflector from around the bulb. (Most flashlights will turn open from the top where the bulb is housed.)

Next take your tinder and put it in the hole where the bulb should be. *Make sure the tinder partially sticks out where the bulb sits in the bowl.

Tinder in Reflector

Last, just hold your reflector in the direction of the sun and, if weather permits, you should be able to produce a flame. *Careful! The reflector will draw heat and become very hot to hold.)

3. Aluminum Foil and Batteries

Another outstanding way to start a fire when you don’t have a fire starter is using batteries and aluminum foil.

In order to do this, you will need:

  • Two batteries (I recommend at least 1.5v AA’s or larger)
  • Two pieces of aluminum foil
  • Tinder

First step to this electrical concoction; make a flat rectangle with one of the aluminum pieces. Place your batteries on top of the aluminum a few inches apart with one battery upside down (positive on foil) and the other up right (negative on the foil).

Next, you want to take the other piece of aluminum and make another rectangle. Take this rectangle and cut a small chunk out of the center but make sure you do not cut all the way through. I know this can seem confusing, so a good way to remember how it should look is think about a butterfly band-aid when trying to make the top foil connection.

So now you have all the components and you are ready to make a flame!

Take your band-aid-shaped piece of aluminum foil and place it across the other positive and negative on the battery.

Lastly, take your tinder and touch it against the narrow portion of the aluminum foil. Hold it there for a few seconds and you will create a flame.

This can sometimes be a confusing process, especially getting the top portion of the aluminum foil correct. If you run into a snag or get confused, here is a great video to watch to get a better idea about this fire starting technique.

3. Chlorine and Brake Fluid

***Caution! This is a chemical reaction and can be very dangerous. Only use this process if you are in an emergency situation!

This fire creating technique just requires chlorine and some type of brake fluid.

First, take the chlorine and pour a small amount into some form of container. (Make sure that this is not a container that you drink or consume food from!)

Then take a small amount of brake fluid and pour it into the chlorine. The chemical reaction will begin and a fire will start. Just add in your tinder.

It is important to note that since its a chemical reaction, it is not and good idea to cook food or breath the fumes from this fire. If you have no other option, wait until the chemical reaction has burned out and the tinder and wood are solely burning.

4. Starting a Fire Using Air Pressure

This is a very difficult method of starting a fire and can require a lot of time and patience, but aside from the technicalities, it is definitely a great survival skill to have. If you have never created a fire using a fire piston, I definitely suggest practicing it.

In order to create a fire using a fire piston, you will need a few things:

  • A straight and sturdy stick, about 1 foot in length
  • A hollow piece of copper, sealed at the top so air cannot get out
  • A rubber o-ring (Make sure its just small enough to fit inside the piece of copper)
  • Some form of tinder (Char cloth works great for this)
  • A knife for cutting the stick

The first step to this process is so cut the stick down till it is just small enough to slide into your piece of copper.

Next, take your stick and notch out a small portion on the top to hold your tinder.

Now you are going to notch out a spot for the o-ring. Start about 1 inch from the top of the stick and carve all the way around. This will take some time to get just right. The first few times the o-ring might come out of the notch, but just keep taking a little more out of the stick until it slides into the copper and air does not escape.

Once its in place you are ready for fire. (A good indicator that you are ready for the next step is the copper will become difficult to push down onto the stick.)

Take your tinder and place it on the top notch. (I personally use char cloth, its the most proficient tinder for this fire starting technique and relatively cheap, you can get some here.)

With your stick prepared, take it and put it into the copper until the o-ring is just far enough inside that you cannot see it.

Now for the tricky part! You are going to slam the wood into the copper and quickly pull it off. If the air compression is good you should be able to produce a spark and ignite your tinder. (This might take quite a bit of tries!)

Don’t get discouraged! Keep trying and as soon as you ignite the tinder quickly place it on more tinder and start your fire.

*If you are not able to get all the materials, there is an option to purchase a kit which includes everything you need to practice this technique yourself. You can grab one here.

Methods such as this one definitely help me appreciate my Swedish FireSteel striker!

5. The Hand Drill Method

Another tedious way to start a fire is the primitive hand drill method. Now keep in mind, this will tear up your hands and expend a good deal of energy. Although in an emergency situation, having the knowledge to start a fire this way is a plus since it only requires a flat piece of wood, a stick, a knife, and some tinder.

What your going to do is cut a V-shape into the flat piece of wood and then a small notch at the bottom of the V.

Next, take your tinder and put it underneath the V you just cut.

Place the stick in the notch. *The stick should be around 2 feet in length.

Take your hands and press them against the stick with your palms and rotate the stick back and forth by moving your hands back and forth repetitively. Keep doing this until you ignite the tinder.

How to Keep Your Fire Burning

After you master these fire starting techniques you’re going to want to keep that fire going. Gotta stay warm through the night. Here are a couple tips on how to keep a fire burning.

  • Use DRY firewood

This is the most important component for any long burning fire. If you use wood with moisture, there is a good chance your fire will go out and you will be left with a pile of smokey half-burnt logs. I go by the acronym D.R.Y.

Dead – Usually dead logs and trees are dried out and can be used as good starting logs.

Rotten – Rotten logs are especially dried out and can be broken up to make adequate tinder.

Yank it – If you can Yank a branch from the tree, chances are the branch is dead or dying and not much water is present.

Now sometimes finding dry logs isn’t always an option and if there is moisture in your logs a proficient way to combat this is to add more tinder. This will create a hotter fire and evaporate some of that moisture.

  • Allow room for oxygen

Fires feed off of oxygen, so when you are building a base to your fire, leave room for the air to get underneath the base of the logs and fuel the flame. By knowing good strategies for your log base, you can allow for a more even burn and ultimately a longer burning fire.

There are multitude of different ways to build the base of your fire, here are just a few examples:

1. Dakota Fire Hole

Dakota Fire Hole

Draws air from hole in the ground to provide oxygen to fire.

2. Square Stack

Square Stack

Allows for airflow underneath. Can place cooking pot on top logs.

3. Teepee

Allows for airflow all the way around logs


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