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Forgot your matches? Use these 5 safe, creative campfire-starting tips


At the center of any great camping adventure lies a toasty, inviting and well-built campfire.

Most people may assume that getting a flame started is as simple as flicking a lighter or striking a match.

While that is usually true, many survival experts are trained in effective and creative methods of producing a fire without either of those tools.

“All fire building requires three things: you need an ignition source, a fuel source and oxygen,” said Craig Caudill, founder, owner and chief instructor of Nature Reliance School.

“We have to come up with some sort of ignition source that works with the fuel source that we’re interested in working with,” he said.

According to Caudill, if oxygen can’t easily move through the fuel source, the resulting fire will likely not last.

Family around a campfire


Effective fuel sources include cedar, poplar or birch bark, he said.

Below are five easy, survival expert-approved ways to prepare a campfire without a lighter or match.

Ferrocerium rod

A common, simple and safe fire-starting method involves striking a ferrocerium rod, or ferro rod, against a rough surface such as ridged steel.

“The beauty of a ferro rod is that it works in any climate, any weather condition," said Caudill. “It can be soaking wet and you can wipe it off and still use it.”

The ferro rod, which is a man-made version of flint, will create a hot spark that can quickly ignite tinder.

“It is easy to do with most tinder types,” said Stephen "Rusty" Gold, survival expert and owner of TruePrepper.com.

It takes five to 15 minutes to get a full fire going, according to Gold.

Flint and steel

"A useful method that is historically accurate and fun to teach history to children is flint and steel, which is the way pioneers would’ve done it,” said Caudill, who has often utilized this technique.

Very similar to the ferro rod, flint is a hard rock that creates sparks when struck on certain surfaces, said Gold.

Striking flint against steel generates sparks that can be used to ignite a fuel source, he said.

“Basic lighters use flint and steel to create a spark, so this method of fire starting is very common,” said Gold.

Though the methods are similar, sparks created with flint and steel are at a lower temperature than those made from a ferro rod, according to Gold.

The flint and steel method is also effective in wet weather conditions.

It’s important to have some kind of tinder, such as char cloth, to catch the sparks, said Caudill.

9-volt battery and steel wool

A fire-starting method considered by Gold to be as simple as using a lighter involves a 9-volt battery and steel wool.

Make sure the steel wool touches both of the battery's terminals to ignite a spark. A full fire would take less than five minutes to get started, Gold said.

He cautioned that steel wool will quickly heat up and set any nearby tinder aflame. Gold also warned to store the two materials in separate locations to prevent accidental fires.

AA battery and gum wrapper

Another quick, simple and relatively safe method also involves batteries.

“Use a foil gum wrapper to span from the positive terminal on a AA battery to the negative terminal,” suggested Gold.

A gum wrapper’s metallic and paper sides make them useful for fire starting, said Caudill.

“Bridging the terminals using a gum wrapper is easy, but you may need to bring multiple gum wrappers since they burn quick and fast,” Gold said.

Once the gum wrapper is held on the ends of the battery, it should heat up, ignite and quickly burn from the wrapper’s center, according to Gold.

Caudill recommended also attaching two leaves to a battery and touching those leaves to the gum wrapper.

“It still sends the current across it and it’ll eventually get so hot that it bursts into flames,” Caudill said.

This method will also create a full fire within five minutes, Gold said. He again advised to store materials separately to avoid unintentional fires.

Road flare

Road flares can safely be used to ignite a campfire. (Photo/nojustice/Getty Images)


Road flares

In addition to their usefulness in the event of a traffic emergency, storing road flares in your vehicle can come in handy as a fail-safe fire-starting method, according to Caudill.

Because they emit heat at several hundred degrees, road flares are effective even in wet conditions, he said.

Caudill added that flares are not dangerous if handled properly. However, flare vapors are considered toxic.

When attempting these or any other fire-starting methods, it is important to heed any burn bans that may be enforced in order to decrease wildfire risks.

The National Park Service estimates that human-caused fires, including those from unattended campfires, make up 90 percent of wildfires in the United States.


For more safety and preparedness tips, visit AccuWeather.com/Ready.

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