15 Ways To Start A Fire

Fire starting is at or near the top of all survival checklists with redundancy of method also on the list.  In reality, keeping the fire alive is Ways to start a firearguably more important than starting one since the burning flame does the work, not the ignition.  But of course the fire must begin somehow.  Most kits have multiple ways of starting a fire, with usually about three to five different objects that can give birth to flame.  In my kit I have more than a dozen things that can start a fire and knowledge of at least five more ways that have been known to start fires.  But it makes little sense to carry around all of them since most have few or no advantages over other ways of igniting a flame.

Start With A Classic

#1  The first way to start a fire is my go-to choice, the Classic Bic lighter. It’s a full size BicTop Survival Blog with no features preventing a child from firing it up. I wrap a rubber band around the lighter tank under the gas lever to prevent pocket pressure or pack compression from draining the fuel. I’ve had the same few lighters in my packs, kits, and stove bags for decades and only encountered one failure and that’s when the lighter head was stepped on. Lighters are the most popular modern fire starting method whether a survivalist or not, and they are as reliable as anything with moving parts can be.

#’s 2 through 6 – The next five fire starters are easy since they are all new Bic lighters still sealed in their store package.  I prefer the Classic Bic version with as few safety features and flame controls as possible.  When its dark, cold and wet, you don’t want to your numb fingers to have to fight extraneous buttons, levers or safety features designed to make it more difficult to use. Bic Classics are the Glocks of lighters, and buying Bics in bulk ensures you will have plenty on hand. Further, I suspect that as barter items, Bic lighters will rank up there with bullets and coffee.

#’s 7 and 8 – The seventh and eighth way to start a fire are matches. Like the lighters, I have a go-to match case that I use often and resupply when needed.  It contains UCO-brand Stormproof matches, and extra striker strips and some fire tinder. The second match case, Exotac MATCHAP Waterproof Match Case, Gunmetal, is also packed with hurricane matches, strikers and tinder, but in a more durable (and expensive) metal tube.  Stormproof matches are not cheap, but if they are needed, their added cost over basic stick matches is a ridiculous thing to worry about

stormproof match case

#’s 9 and 10 – The next two ways to start a fire are both ferrocerium rods. Number nine is the larger sized Light My Fire Original Swedish FireSteel Army 12,000 Strike Fire Starter -... . Its quarter-inch diameter provides plenty of strength for when a large knife like the Swedish Fallkniven A1 is used to aggressively scrape the firerod.  You can use the included striker, but if your hands are cold, numb, small, or injured, go for a larger striker.  But don’t forget that the attached striker includes a mediocre whistle which could come in handy.  Do note, however, that its not unusual for thinner firerods to snap under nervous use.  This particular Firesteel is my go-to firerod and like the Bics and UCO matches. I have half a dozen of them scattered about.

Number Ten

Number ten is also a firerod, but a much smaller one.  It is an Exotac nanoSTRIKER. Not cheap, but wonderfully overbuilt for it’s size.  ItFirestarter rides along on any big adventure, and is always in my bugout loadout.  It’s been tested in extreme conditions but I do not believe it is for EDU (every day use), but works for EDC.  For me, the Exotac nanoSTRIKER is a back up.  Since the Exotac nanoSTRIKER diameter is smaller than the Firesteel, I am gentle with it.  So mark this fire starter up as a true backup in both form and function.  Your mind will be at rest knowing this tool in your Bug Out Bag or Emergency Car Kit.

A Little Help

Let’s pause for moment to consider the humble fire tinder.  All ignition sources do the same thing; they stimulate the ignition of something else into a self-sustaining oxidative state as long as fuel and oxygen are present.  And that something else is critical especially when under the thumb of speed and limited resources.  While some folks manufacture their own tinder from pinetree pitch, dryer lint, and/or ping pong balls, I prefer some of the commercial options.

My two favorites are Wetfire and Tinder-Quik. Wetfire tablets are more durable and work when damp or even floating in water, but theytinder_quik_fire_starter_review are bulkier and slightly harder to keep still when you are shivering cold.  They behave like soft plastic and are best shaved into smaller pieces for multiple use.  The Tinder-Quik tabs are more fabric-like and can be separated into smaller, less dense portions.  By making a nest of fibers to collect the sparks, the Tinder-Quik works well when your fine motor skills are lacking and using the far end of the firerod holding the nest in place.  The malleability of the fibrous Tinder-Quiks allows them to be stuffed into any nook-or-cranny of your fire starting tools.

#11 – Number 11 is a magnifying glass. This particular lens is clear glass, not acrylic or plastic, and the glass lens is 1.4 inches in diameter meaning it is plenty large for a wide range of uses.  Smaller lenses have a much shorter working distance and while better for inspecting diamonds or coins, they can be tougher to control when fire starting under less than absolutely ideal conditions.  Credit card-sized fresnel lenses like the Carson are half the power of the most lenses but gather much more light.  They are an excellent backup choice that is super light and superduper thin so I guess you could count them as an 11b.

how to start a fire emergency

Don’t forget that many eyeglasses and reading glasses magnify light as well (11c), and old-school projectors and cameras have magnifying lenses buried inside them (11d). If you can find an old overhead projector, the fresnel lens is a super-lightweight but a dangerously effective magnifying lens (11e).

Number 11f and 11g are also lenses but really out there in practicality. 11f is to find a lens from a broken bottle, usually the bottom. Of SHTF Teotwawkicourse that means there is a bottle handy, and enough sun to punch through poor quality and often tinted glass. And 11g is the forming of a convex lens out of ice.  Good luck on that one because if frozen water is handy, likely the sun is low in the sky significantly reducing the quantity of energy per unit area that can be concentrated into a flame-lighting spot.  And that assumes that it’s still a sunny day and not the evening when fire starting moves to Threat Level Red.

A potential 11h is that it is theoretically possible to make a water lens using a transparent balloon or condom full of water. But maintaining the proper convex shape by squeezing a portion of the rubber sack of water, let alone holding it at the exact distance and angle from the combustible material presents an almost overwhelming number of challenges so a water lens is more a novelty than a truly useful option. But keep it in the back of your mind, you know, just in case.

#12 – Number 12 is a parabolic reflector. The Solar Spark Lighter in particular works surprisingly well, and concentrates much more Solar-Spark-Lighter-Fire-Starter-Review-Survivallight than a magnifier.  However it has no other realistic survival purpose while a magnifying glass does have more applications.  And the reflector is much larger and somewhat heavier than an inch-and-a-half disk of glass.  Under full sun, the Solar Spark Lighter creates a flame in seconds when any flammable material is placed at the focal point of the reflector including your fingers tips.

12b is to fabricate your own parabolic reflector out of a beercan bottom. Using a polishing compound like toothpaste, chocolate or car polish, you can turn the base of the can into a gleeming parabolic mirror, but like the ice lens, save it for when there is no other option or you’re bored silly.

#13 – Number 13 is the oft mentioned but rarely used steel wool  and battery.  By shorting out Top Survival Blogthe battery with the steel wool, the fine strands of metal thread light up like a light bulb filament glowing red and flaming as the iron literally catches fire and burns at almost 2000 degrees F.  While this method is interesting, I find it impractical since I would much rather carry deliberate survival staples rather than steel wool and an unassigned battery.  Cell phone batteries are plenty powerful to insult the steel wool, but can be ruined since many have more complex internal smart-charging circuitry compared to bulk batteries of which you will need at least three volts, with the traditional nine volt battery preferred to get the attention of the steel wool fibers.  Don’t forget the car batteries since 12 volts and 700 cold cranking amps will incinerate even the most stubborn and damp steel wool.  But beware, if you drop a layer of steel wool across the car battery posts, your problem won’t be starting the fire but controlling it.

A 13b is to substitute metal chewing gum wrappers for steel wool. But given that so few gum brands still use a conductive aluminium wrapper for their product, steel wool is easier to procure.

#14 – Fire starting method number 14 is mixing potassium permanganate and glycerin. But watch out on this one as it burns extremely hot and bright, and ignites only when its good and ready. For best results, the potassium permanganate should be ground into a finer powder than how it is often sold. A teaspoon of KMnO4 will be plenty, and a tablespoon is more than enough to burn though most tables. Make a depression or crater in the pile of potassium permanganate and overfill it with glycerin. The reaction time is dependent on more than just particle size.  The quality, freshness of the chemicals, and temperature of the glycerin play a major role.  Cold glycerin reacts much, much slower than when warm.  Overall, I’ve found the reaction kicks into high gear in between 20 seconds and three minutes depending on the temperature of the the glycerin, the particle size of the KMnO4 and the freshness of both.  No matter what, the combustion is not immediately explosive, but you need to be able to move several feet away for safety and don’t stare into the fire- it’s that bright!  Also remember that a chemical fire can light up inside your pack if the two reagents happen to hook up somehow while your back is turned.

Another option, 14b if you will, is the near explosive reaction of chlorine and brake fluid.  Like the potassium permanganate/glycerin reaction, brake fluid is glycol-based.  However chlorine, being a smaller and much more reactive atom, combusts with more anger and recklessness. Chlorine can be acquired from swimming pool and hot tub supply stores, but like the potassium permanganate, it should be carefully ground down to about the consistency of sugar or even finer for quick and predictable results.

There are other common chemicals that combust when mixed, but many of them border on bomb-making materials and are well beyond the scope of this article.

#15 – Number 15 is all of the ways to use wood. Fire drills, bows, etc.  Fun for the whole family.

Household Accelerants

Fire tinder is great for priming larger fuels, but even tinders can use some help.  Accelerants aid in the fire ignition process giving your How to Start a Firetinder and then give larger dry fuels an extra nudge to keep burning.  Most homes have more than a few accelerants on hand, and all cars do.  A garage or workshop also holds some options, and even the humble first aid kit may contain a few accelerants.

Magnesium fire starters that are just a block of Mg with a firerod glued to the side are a staple in survival kits. The magnesium scrapings are an accelerant, and a good one at that flaming to over 5600 degrees! But the store-bought fire starter is not the only source of magnesium. Many expensive car rims are made of the stuff although not as pure.

A few of the common garage accelerants include lubricants, paints, auto fluids including gas, oil, fuel additives, choke cleaner, starting fluid (of course), cleaning solvents, and some garden chemicals.  Take a moment and read the warnings.  Flammable may be good thing.  In your shop, look for flammable adhesives and epoxies as well as many stains, varnishes, and paint thinners.  And don’t forget the gun cleaners and oils with low flashpoints.  Oh yea, and gunpowder.

The bathroom often contains some effective accelerants including hair spray, fingernail polish remover (acetone), isopropyl alcohol, spray sunscreen and bug repellant, shaving cream, hair mousse, hand sanitizer, and ethanol-rich medications.  Fire tools in the kitchen include powdered non-dairy creamer, cooking oils, disinfectant sprays, and distilled spirits.  And while not technically accelerants, some effective tinders include potato chips, peanuts, and oily croutons.

Your Turn

There is nothing magic about knowing 15 ways to start a fire (or even 30) and with combined effort this list will grow longer.  Some notable absences from the list include the fire piston, flint and steel, and attracting lightning.  Since there is always room for improvement in our preparation please add your fire starters, tinders, accelerants, and experiences in the comments section.  Thanks!

Photos By: Clint JCL, ITS Tactical, EDC Forum, PropTP, Bill Dunham, Hakon Skogsrud


Written by Doc Montana

Doc honed his survival skills through professional courses, training, and plenty of real-world situations, both intentional and not. Doc lives to mountaineer, rock climb, trail run, hunt, race mountain bikes, ski, hunt, and fish. Doc Montana holds PhD’s in both Science Education and Computer Science and currently teaches at a University in the northern United States. Read his full interview here. Read more of Doc's articles.

21 thoughts on “15 Ways To Start A Fire”

  1. If you really wanna give people the "creepy prepper vibe" then steal everyone's dryer lent for awesome kindling whenever you come-by for a visit. You'll make lots of friends that way…

  2. Very good article, may I add some other options, namely a propane torch (will start a log a blame, in case no tender is available), Blastmatch – one-handed operation (when it's windy that other hand may need to hold your tender) and easier to use when you're cold. Candles (I prefer tea light candles) are great fire starters and maintainers. When using magnesium bars, I scrap a small pile of shavings beforehand and keep it in a plastic container (old pill bottle) because scrapping a pile of shavings with shaky hands and/or in high winds is quite difficult! Dryer lint may contain synthetic materials that don't ignite well, cotton balls/pads with gasoline or wax are excellent accelerants! Good Luck!

    • @Roger; THANK YOU. I made a guest post on another blog and gave my thoughts on dryer lint, and the potential drawbacks, since dryer lint is "preached like the gospel" for fire starting on survival blogs. WELL, I went out and actually USED DRYER LINT one day out in the back yard. I spent 3-4 hours with various fire steels and "tinder" materials. Dryer lint FROM MY DRYER is some of the worst tinder material there is. On examination there is a lot of animal hair and people's too, plus a lot of the lint is synthetic fibers and doesn't catch or burn well. If you're not living in an all cotton clothing household, you should check out you dryer lint FOR REAL. And don't comment back about it unless you have actually tried it. Really used it to start a fire.

  3. You make a great point with the one-hand operation Roger. Most folks buy and test gear under ideal conditions. But when the S really does HTF, then two hands might be a luxury. I've watched folks give up on the flint and steel method as if there's a choice and just use a lighter.

    Of my 15 ways (actually more than 30), I wrote it with an honest multi-decade's worth of fire starting experience. 99% of my fires and those of my friends start with lighters. with most of the remaining 1% with matches. I do have both the tools and skill to use way-old school methods, but almost never ever need them. But of course, being prepared means covering all the bases, not just the ones that are loaded.

    However, should you be of junior age and in my presence when a fire needs starting, expect to be asked to use primitive methods for practice. Being able to start a fire is a liberating and empowering skill that every student of the outdoors should be confident. If fire starting is frustrating, well then great. Let's get this therapy session over and roast some marshmallows.

  4. A note about the Chlorine method: For best results, use a compound called calcium hypochlorite(often marketed as "pool shock"). That will give you the results described in the article. The other chlorine compounds(sodium dichlor, lithium hypochlorite, etc.) are either too dangerous, provide poor results, or are bulky/expensive liquid products(impractical to carry/purchase). Also, avoid inhaling the fumes and use extreme caution when using this method. The fumes are toxic and the reaction can be very violent and unpredictable based on mix ratios…just Google the Leslie's Pool Supply Depot that burned down in Dallas, TX(Cal-Hypo was to blame as primary accelerant).

  5. Bic lighters aren't worth a damn if it's cold out! A zippo will always work, wet, cold, windy. You can also remove a piece of the "cotton" in the fuel reservoir, it will burn for 5 or 6 minutes. I always stick a cotton ball from the wife's makeup in the reservoir, it will burn for 15 minutes! Most potatoe chips burn great, started a few fires with fritos.

  6. Good points JD. However I've yet to find a Zippo that lights after a few,weeks of inactivity. Bic's, on the other hand, will work immediately after years of storage. Plus the cost of Bics makes them the obvious choice for having one handy everywhere.

    No doubt Zippos are cool and have a cult following along with replaceable parts and a perfect warranty, but unless you have a can of fuel duct tapped to your Zippo, keep the Zip for EDC, and the Bic for the BOB.

  7. I always carry vaseline soaked cotton balls stuffed in 35 mm film containers to use with my fire steel. I can usually get 15-20 in each container. And normally it doesn't take a whole cotton ball to get a fire started.

    • I have used them as well but have found that soaking cotton balls in rubbing alcohol works better. They're easier to light as well.

    • And they double as a first aid item. Regular vaseline is very close in effectiveness to antibiotic ointments at protecting wounds and preventing infection.

  8. I sent years mountaineering In Washington's North Cascade wilderness. Build fire before your hands get too cold! I
    extensively used a magnesium metal match to preserve emergency match supply, and carried grease impregnated
    cotton-balls. If you fall in a flooded stream or otherwise get wet the metal match will lite fire. Finally I found dry
    tender branch and moss material under dense tree canopy even after a couple weeks of rain. Be aware of hypo-

  9. Butane lighters are cheap and reliable.
    If they have a weak spot(s) … it's that they don't work as well, when WET or COLD.
    To keep them working when it's cold. Store them in a shirt or pants pocket, where body heat will keep them warmer.
    Bics are good. BUT, my favorite is a Djeep. Easier to work and they last MUCH longer. The most cost effective way to buy them is in bulk, on Amazon. You'll pay $31.95 for 24 Djeeps … $1.33 each. 24 Bics will cost you $27.99. Nice to have plenty of both stashed. They're cheaper by the dozen(s) and they'll last for many years.

    • @TPM; I don't buy the Bics either. I buy the ones that are clear (colored) and you can see the fuel level. Also, I keep one or two of the long BBQ lighters in my BOB. If lighting up into a bundle and/or strong wind and you are covering shielding it, they seem to work better/easier than the standard disposable. It isn't cheating if you use lighters and starters to survive. It's like the "first rule of gunfighting". wELL, Survival has the same first rule, SURVIVE, at all cost Be Well.

  10. I carry a propane torch with a 1 pound bottle it has a piezo striker but I can use a matches or one of my many BIC lighters.
    I live in a very wet area lake this last couple of weeks it has rained every day or threatened to.
    Pine knot shavings work well for fire starter we have wells that produce well head gas or like Naphthalene.
    crude oil works OK.

    Fire is great but unless you have stainless water bottles and some camp cooking vessels I also carry some silicon plugs and 1/4 inch copper tubing to make a still and a small colander to hold charcoal so I can go one step further and filter it again just distilling may not eliminate all toxins as some carry over.

    I am bugging in so if I need fire I have many ways to get it if I am out and need a fire and it is wet a torch will do it.
    keeping a case of 1 pound propane bottles some map gas bottles I keep in my shop as well as plenty of different
    size propane refillable bottles from 5 to 30 pounders for portable use and a large tank I feel confident I can go over a year without need to use alternative fuels.

    I keep a flint and steel they are fickle as if the humidity is high and it is hot it's not easy to get it to spark a fire.
    so a little help with lighter fluid and cotton balls.


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