Gear Guy

How Can I Start a Fire Without Matches?


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Forget about rubbing two sticks together. Without matches, your only hope of getting a fire started in the wild is to take advantage of other tools at your disposal.

Mykel Hawke—a former U.S. Army Special Forces Green Beret and founder of survival school Spec Ops—recommends two easy, effective ways to get a flame going without a match. Neither method has anything to do with twigs.

“Primitive fire starting is a whole lot of work, and it takes a while to master those skills,” Hawke says. So unless you have unlimited time and a lot of muscle, you’re going to need some type of mechanical advantage. Here’s what Hawke suggests. 

Magnifying Glass

Use a magnifying glass to focus light on a pile of tinder. This is easiest with a large magnifying glass, but if you don’t want to tote one of these tools into the backcountry, you can improvise with the same effect. 

Any glass you have with you (think a beer bottle or sunglass lenses), or a bag filled with water can magnify light enough to start a fire. While the temperature doesn’t matter, you will need good, direct sunlight, Hawke says.

Nine-Volt Battery and Brillo Pad

You’ll need a nine-volt battery—the kind you used to dare your buddies to lick when you were a kid—and a brillo pad. Hawke suggests using a thin gauge brillo pad without any soap additives. “Some soaps really ignite, but some soaps extinguish the fire,” Hawk says. 

The most efficient way to get a fire started is to fluff up your brillo pad and lay a fresh nine-volt battery on top of it. “You’re shorting out the arc between the positive and the negative sides of the battery terminal,” Hawke says. “On the nine-volt, the distance between them is so small that the metal from the brillo pad heats up.”

Take note: double- or triple-A batteries won’t heat the brillo enough to burn because the distance between the charges is too great.