Alternative fire starting methods

If you don’t have a lighter in your pocket when you realize that you need a fire, then it’s even less likely that you remembered to bring your bow drill with you.  So what else is there that you can use as a fire starter?

Steel wool and battery

While this alternative might not always be the most practical, it does offer at least one advantage: it’s hard to match.  It will work in extremely wet conditions.  All that you need is steel wool (like all tinder, it will ignite quicker and burn better if you have a finer consistency) and two AA or AAA batteries, or one 9-volt battery.  It is easiest with the 9-volt because the positive and negative are right next to each other, all you need to do is to pull apart your steel wool and get it in your other tinder so that it can ignite and spread with you blow on it, then simply touch the 9-volt to the steel wool so that both the positive and negative touch.  With two batteries you will need to hold (or preferable tape) the positive and negative together the way they could be in a device.  Then take your steel wool and separate out a thin strand, twist this so that all tiny strands are tightly touching and the circuit will be able to be completed.  Then hold one end of the steel wool twisted strand to the negative end of your two batteries, and touch the other end to your positive while holding it near your prepared tinder, blow on it when it glows red.

Plastic bag and water

Everybody knows that a magnifying glass can be used to focus the sun’s light in order to start a fire.  But what is less known is that a plastic bag full of water can be used if you don’t have a magnifying glass on you.  Fill your bag about half way with water, tilt the bag so that one corner is pointing down, twist the top of the bag so that all the air is forced out and the bag is squeezed tighter and tighter around the water.  Be careful not to twist to the point it bursts.  Dry the outside off so that it is not dripping.  Then hold it over the tender, moving it up and down until you find the sweet spot where the sun’s light is focused and intense enough to ignite your tinder.


If you have a flashlight on you, but your batteries are out or you have no steel wool you can still start a fire.  Take apart the light so that you can separate the light, the cover, and the concave reflector around the light.  The concave reflector is what you really need for this, it will be used to focus the sun’s light on your tinder which you can place where the light previously was.  Aim the reflector directly at the sun.  When your tinder smokes, move the reflector and blow as you would when starting any other fire.

Lighters and matches are wonderful things, but you don’t have to freeze to death because you don’t have them on you.  There are plenty of ways to improvise and start a fire, these are only a few.

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