Fire sustains us in the backcountry. It warms us, makes us feel secure and provides a life-sustaining heat. Fire also signals rescue teams as to the location of missing hikers or backcountry travelers. Fire making is something any backcountry traveler should know how to start, with or without matches. There are several methods to start fires without matches, including using rudimentary tools and high-tech lighters.
Friction Fire Starting
One method of fire starting without matches, or any modern tool for flames, is to employ friction devices. A friction device creates heat by rubbing two materials together, eventually producing enough heat to ignite tinder, kindling or paper. Friction devices include a bow and string with a dowel or twig spun rapidly on top of a small pile of tinder and kindling. This device uses three main pieces of equipment; the bow with string, the fire plough or board, and the dowel. This technique requires a high degree of practice and patience. Practice this method before relying on it to start fires or be employed in emergency situations.
Steel and Flint
Flint and steel methods of fire staring are a tried method, and still taught in military basic training. Flint and steel packages are available for sale at sporting good stores and fishing shops. Striking the steel tool onto a flint creates a spark, big enough to ignite small piles of tinder or fire starting material. When using this method, it is often a smart idea to include come cotton balls soaked in lighter fluid, or a magnesium bar to scrape for shavings to ignite upon striking the flint. Flint and steel are useful as they spark even under rain or wet conditions.
Harness the Power of the Sun
The sun is a powerful tool, and if used properly with a magnifying glass, is also a great fire starter. Scrape together a pile of tinder, kindling or fire-starting materials and then position the magnifying glass so a direct and powerful beam of sunlight is directly on the tinder. After time, the tinder or fire starter will begin to smolder from the heat and then ignite. A down side to using this method is it must be a sunny day. Overcast skies and night time do not allow for the use of this technique.
Article Written By Eric Cedric
A former Alaskan of 20 years, Eric Cedric now resides in California. He's published in "Outside" and "Backpacker" and has written a book on life in small-town Alaska, "North by Southeast." Cedric was a professional mountain guide and backcountry expedition leader for 18 years. He worked in Russia, Iceland, Greece, Turkey and Belize. Cedric attended Syracuse University and is a private pilot.