How to light a fire without matches

How to light a fire without matches

Preparation, preparation, preparation! Before any attempt at lighting a fire takes place, you would be wise to prepare all your materials first. When I light a fire I always follow these steps, which have never failed me yet.

Gather your fuel source first, which is in three sizes:

  • kindling (named faggot sticks);
  • medium wood (small sticks); and
  • main fuel (logs)

All of which need to be dry deadwood. I lay these out in tidy piles next to where I intend to light my fire. I then notice which way the breeze is blowing (this is because when fire lighting in difficult conditions I have found that by turning your back against the wind you will get a better result - so it's good practice to do this all the time).

I then clear the ground with my hand, pushing any leaf litter which may catch fire away. Now is a good time to check for roots - never light a fire on roots as this can cause the fire to travel underground which may lead to a forest fire. I next put a base of dry wood down: this creates a platform on which the lighted tinder is placed. This is another case of good practice - it's never a good idea to put your precious dry tinder down on the damp ground!

Next comes the fire lighting. This method of fire lighting evolved over time and was initially done with Iron pyrites instead of the steel, and with a tinder polypore fungus namely Horses Hoof (Fomes fomentarius). Otzi the iceman who was found mummified in the mountains was carrying this form of fire lighting in a tinder box. When this fungi is used in fire making it is called "Amadou".

Create a spark by scraping down against the horizontal flat edge of the flint with the steel. The hot sparks “jump” up so you place your piece of Amadou fungi on top of the flint. Once a spark lights the fungus you can place this in your dry tinder bundle. Dead bracken is just one tinder material that works very well. Hold the tinder bundle gently so as not to squash the lighted Amadou. Giving a few breaths will help the bracken take light and this can then be placed on your platform of dry sticks. Cross two large bundles of faggot sticks on top and when the flames come through the top sticks, lay your larger sticks on. Once the fire is established three long large logs can be pointed towards the centre of the fire, this is known as a star fire.

Happy fire lighting!


[…] Birch has had a number of uses – from firewood, to tool making, various herbal remedies and the sap used to create a fermented drink. Birch was until fairly recently used in production of turned broom handles in Kent.  Dried pieces of birch bark are excellent for lighting a campfire. […]

Lint from a washing machine also works a treat. And birch doesn’t need to be totally dry as it contains resinous oils and will still burn!

Dave Goodchild

8 March, 2014

Dry Birch bark. Either very thin strips or fluffed up by scraping your knife across the surface, either will catch a spark with a bit of practice. Also fluffy seed heads, clematis, thistle…e.t.c. My favorite is reed mace which can be found along streams, canals and pools. A “birds nest” of dry materials with one or more of the above works great. Plenty of tinder prepared before hand is best. Firesteels or flint/spark sticks can now be found in most outdoor shops and come with a striker. I prefer to use the back of my knife roughened with a file. Stainless steel can be used but carbon steel works better.


7 June, 2010

maybe could use the original wood to light fire


24 October, 2009

Fire steel are great and Katie is right, good old standard vaseline is a winner – cheap too.

Fire steels can got at any millets, blacks, field and trek, army surplus, etc for about £6


21 July, 2009

if ever in doubt… use vaseline and cotten wool!

Katie Roberts

4 May, 2009


29 February, 2008

where can i get the flint from and would stainless steel work?


24 February, 2008

I find sparking the fire steel into a small piece of cotton wool works amazingly, one spark and it ignites instantly, then I add my tinder and sticks.


21 January, 2008

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