How to Start a Fire in the Wild: 7 Best Techniques

This article will show you how to start a fire in the wild with 7 of my favorite techniques.

There is a bonding connection between humans and fire. Everyone should know how to start a fire in a survival situation! Everyone should also know how to start one without matches or a lighter as well! It should be common knowledge for you.

Well, you came to the right place.

I have personally started fires in the wilderness with all these techniques many times while camping or impressing some friends. Some need a little more practice than others, but all these techniques are definitely doable.

You never know when you’re going to find yourself in a position where you’re going to need a fire, and don’t have any matches or lighters.

Whether or not you really need to build a fire in the wild, it’s just damn nice to know that you can spark a fire whenever and wherever you are. 

Fire can nourish wildlife and warms us up. It is used to help drive wild predators at bay and has been used as a weapon for fighting for thousands of years. 

It is used to prepare food that cannot be eaten raw. Fire is also used to signal for rescue.

Without further ado, let’s dig in.

fire basics for starting a fire

Fire is a chemical reaction that occurs after certain conditions have been met. Fire is born when heat, tinder, and oxygen are fused. It happens because of combustion.

Where there is oxygen, a fire can be created when fuel is heated to the igniting temperature. Fire can be used for many things, so it’s definitely essential.

On the other hand, when it’s out of sight, fire is a ferocious enemy. People have always held fire in gratitude for what it gives and what it might take away. Now, before you start a fire, you need to take careful precautions.

Certain precautions must be taken into account before starting a fire. If you want to start a fire in the woods, on a campground, or in your backyard, various steps must be taken for each case.

If you start a fire in the forests, you must select a place that follows these basic requirements.

  • If you start a fire on campgrounds, make sure you start a fire in the permitted areas.
  • If the campground has fire pits, use the pits to fuel your fire.
  • The region you select should be free from overhead threats such as tree branches.
  • You could also clean up the field with dry leaves or something else that may quickly catch fire.
  • You should avoid lighting a fire on a road populated by wild animals.
  • And avoid picking a place where there is a lot of wildlife like moss, deer, mountain lions, and bears because your fire could attract danger.
  •  Try not using brittle rocks such as sandstone or limestone for your fire pit, as they can combust or burst.

Here are some extra fire safety precautions I take:

  • Ensure your fire is controllable.
  • Always have an emergency backup to stop the spread of the fire (soil or water nearby)
  • Keep kids and pets away from the fire.
  • Never leave a fire unattended.
  • Make sure you put a fire out correctly (moisten and broken apart)

Here are some official guidelines recommendations, but my guidelines are very safe and best for most case scenarios.

Now that you know basic safety precautions, your next step should be to learn how to make a tinder.

Tinder is any substance that is extremely flammable and can quickly catch fire from sparks or heat. When you start a fire, tinder is your base. Useful tinder types can be found in nature, made at home, or commercial tinders can be used. Examples of tinder items include:

  • Pine tree needles
  • River Birch – River Birch contains resin (natural oils), which can light up fast and make the fire burn longer.
  • Cattail – A part of the cattail may be bent such that the fibers are released into a small nest. Cattail catches fire easily, so it’s nice to use anytime you want to start a fire quickly.
  • Dry Thistle – Like a cattail, a thistle can very quickly catch onto flames.
  • Cedar bark – Crush the cedar bark into smaller pieces to make it light up.
  • Fatwood – This stuff comes from a pine tree stub. Often known as Maya sticks, you should cut the shavings down from these sticks to use as tinder because this is probably the best wood you’re going to find.
  • Dried leaves, straw, thistle, etc.
  • Dry orange peels, potato chips, corn chips, tree bark
  • Dry grass

How to Start a Fire in the Wild

Now let’s get into the many different techniques and cover how to build a fire in the wild. Let’s start with the most common method – the hand drill method.

Before we dive into that, did you know you can start a fire with duct tape? Learn more by clicking on our article there.

1. Hand Drill

If you’re curious about how to start a fire, you have to give the hand drill a try.

The hand drill technique is a primitive method, and it is pretty easy.

This method would involve some wood, tinder, and grit.

  1. First, build a nest of tinder. The tinder nest is needed to get the fire moving.
  2. Now, make a V-shaped notch. Cut the corner of your fireboard and create a depression near it.
  3. Place the bark under the V-shaped cut. The bark will be used to clear the ember from the erosion between the axle and the fireboard.
  4. Start spinning the stick- each time more rapidly. Place the shaft in the groove of your firewall. Your shaft should be about two feet to work properly. Hold your weight on the fireboard and start spinning the shaft in your hands straight down the axle. Continue to do this before the spark starts on the fireboard.
  5. Start the fire. When you see an ember, move the bark to your tinder nest. Slowly blow on it to get yourself a flame.
  6. You just made a hand drill fire!

Now here is a video for visuals:

2. Fire Plow

Fire plow is another popular approach that uses limited equipment. What you need is softer wood for the plow board and tougher wood for the plow. Willow and poplar make good plow board materials. But, in a pinch, almost any wood will work.

  1. Get a large stick about three inches thick and at least a foot tall and carve a groove about one inch wide and six to eight inches tall. Pick a piece of hardwood (a smaller stick) about one foot long and shape it to a point at the top.
  2. Start rubbing it back and forth. First, you should take the head of your plow and put it on your firewall. Then, start rubbing the tip of the plow back and forth in the groove. This is going to make little pits of ashes.
  3. Raise the board. Lift the top of the board and put it on your knee to get the dust to the floor.
  4. Intensify the movement. When a small pile of dust has been gathered at the rim, grind the plow rapidly and vigorously in the groove until the dust has smoldered.
  5. Move the blaze back to the tinder. Once the dust is light, pass it to the tinder and blow it softly to start the fire.

Here is the video for visuals:

3. Bow Drill

The bow drill technique is definitely the safest and easiest to use. This is because it’s less challenging to keep up the pace and weight needed to produce friction that can spark a fire.

However, almost all the materials are needed to get a fire going for this. The elements that you will need for this process are:

  • Fireboard – A flat, timber board about a foot long and at least six inches thick.
  • Socket – A medium flat stone with a depression on one side. This is used to place weight mostly on top of the drill when you move it around with your bow.
  • Drill – What do we mean by drill? We’re speaking about a solid hardwood stick between one and two inches in diameter and one foot in length.
  • Bow – Solid and versatile green sticks about two feet long and one inch in diameter.
  • Cordage – If you don’t have a convenient paracord, hiking boot laces make for perfect cordage.

Once you have your supplies, follow these guidelines to start a fire:

  1. Make your bow: Your bow should be about three feet long. Bend the bow so that it forms a half-moon and tie it to the cordage.
  2. Set up the fireboard. Split the shallow depression on the middle edge of the firewall. At the bottom of the board, there is a V-shaped cut that meets the depression at the end.
  3. String the drill up. Circle the bowstring around the drill. Position the drill on the fireboard, then add some pressure to the other side of the drill with the socket.
  4. Start rubbing back and forth. Use the bow to pass the drill by making a sawing gesture. The drill can spin easily. Continue to saw until you make the ember.
  5. Start your flame. Place the ember in the nest and blow it gently to get yourself a fire.

Here is the visual tutorial, and you can learn even more here:

4. Stone and Metal

Using a flint is a common standby and is perhaps one of the most solid and easy ways to ignite an open-air fire.

You may also see people using this to start a fire on a regular campground. It’s usually a good thing to take steel and flint on an overnight trip with you. It is used by numerous military forces all over the world.

  1. Build a nest of tinder. This nest is going to be used to capture the spark you create with the silt and the steel.
  2. Grab the starters. Grip the metal with one hand as you take the striker in the other.
  3. Strike it. Place the steel fire against the foundation to prevent it from moving. Push the striker down the length of the fire steel at that stage in one smooth step.
  4. Start the fire! Position the ember in the nest and blow on it gently to get yourself a fire.
Here is a slightly different tutorial, but the same concept:

5. Fire from Ice

Ice from fire isn’t just a stupid cliché used for high school prom scenes. You can literally make a piece of ice into the fire. This is an easy matchless method.

What you need to do is turn the ice into a lens and then use it like you would when you start a fire on every other lens. This approach can be especially useful for camping during the winter. There are many simple approaches to this, but I like this way the best.

  1. Get pure ice. The ice needs to be more transparent for this to work. If it’s cloudy or has other impurities, it won’t work. The easiest way to get a transparent ice block is to fill a tub, cup, or jar made of foil with clear lake or pond water or melting snow. Let it freeze before the ice is formed. Your block is expected to be around two inches thick for this to work.
  2. Make your lens. Now, using the knife to make the ice a lens. Note that the form of the lens is wider in the middle and thinner at the corners.
  3. Polish up your lens to clear well. Once you have the rough form of a mirror, finish it by polishing it with your fingertips. The fire from your hands is going to melt the ice enough to give you a comfortable, smooth surface.
  4. Now, start the fire. Angle the ice lens in the direction of the sun, much like every other lens. Focus the light on your tinder batch and observe as you make a fire.
A short tutorial:

6. Fire from Batteries

With this technique, what you need is a few batteries and steel wool or dry tinder.

  1. Stretch out the steel wool or dry tinder. You need it to be about 6 inches long and at least an inch in width.
  2. Rub the battery onto the steel wool or dried tinder. You can use all the batteries. However, 9-volt batteries are preferred. Rub the steel side of the battery. The wool or tinder should start to catch small embers.
  3. Blow it steadily to become bigger, or if used steel wool, place it into the tinder and then blow it steadily.
This is a tutorial specifically for steel wool, which you should have in your survival kit anyway:

You can also start a fire with a battery and some tin foil, and obviously some tinder. Here’s how to do it.

  1. Cut your tin foil to be about 1 cm wide (the height doesn’t matter too much, but if you can, make it a little taller than your battery.)
  2. Cut two v’s in the center, making it about 2mm(0.2cm)
  3. Put each end of the tin foil on each end of the battery and gently place the middle of the foil (the 2mm piece) on your tinder.
  4. Voila, you just made a fire!

This video tutorial uses a cotton ball, but natural tinders still apply:

7. Fire from Magnifying Glass

All you need to create a fire is some kind of lens to concentrate the sunlight on a particular location. This could be a magnifying glass, glasses, binocular lenses, a water bottle with water inside, and even a plastic bag with water. 

These are all a sort of lens that works well. If you apply some water to the lens, the beam can be concentrated to make a fire faster. 

Here is the process I use:

  1. Angle the lens into the sun to direct the spotlight on as small an area as possible.
  2. Place your tinder bundle under this location, and soon you’ll have a burn.
  3. Done!

The biggest downside to the lens-based approach is that it only works when you’ve got the light. But whether it’s nighttime or overcast, you’re not going to have much luck.

The same rules should apply to magnifying glasses and binoculars. 

Now, if you want to learn amazing tips on how to survive a house fire, click here.

Here is a tutorial:

Closing Thoughts

Learning how to start a fire in the wild without a lighter or match requires practice. You shouldn’t wait until you’re in an emergency or survival situation to practice these fire-starting techniques.

Keep practicing, and please remember the fire safety

Despite knowing how to start a fire without matches, things can go wrong FAST

Therefore, I recommend you have a fire starter as part of your everyday carry(EDC). If you need help finding a fire starter, check out this article on Best Survival Lighters 2021: 5 Best Quality Lighters.

Another article you could read that is somewhat related is how to find food in the desert that is safe to eat or 26 survival knots you need to know.

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