Here are a couple of ways of starting a fire in the wilderness using found materials

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I once found a zippo lighter in the woods - look for them!


I live in California. We should be teaching people how not to start fires in the wilderness.


The progression from hand drill to bow drill, highlights the physics of fire quite nicely. This information is still valuable if you’re using flint and steel or matches or a lighter.

I also like firebuilding as a metaphor for community building. As with fire, so many people will take somerhing they think will help, and just dump it on, killing the spark with a bunch of distracting “fuel”.


One of my fondest memories of upstaging an adult as a kid, was starting a fire with magnifying glass.

I had made a whole sign on wood that said, “The Lastname” using this method. Just taking a glass I had for stamp collecting and burning, moving, burning, moving. And of course I’d do stupid stuff, like burn paper.

Anyway, I did this orientation day camp thing (we came in third, some how) we had no idea what we were doing. I feel like they didn’t instruct us worth shit. I looked like a nerd with moon boots on, as my dad was a bit worried about the area we were in and Timber Rattlesnakes. (He isn’t usually the worrying type, so maybe it was an issue.). Moon boots might be thick enough to get a shallow strike or a miss.

So we were supposed to have a fire starting competition or rather you were supposed to start your own fire to cook hot dogs. I had brought my glass and some paper. The guy there was like, “That won’t work.” I was like, “Uh, I’ve done this before. As long as I have sun, it will work.”

A few minutes later, I had roaring fire. The paper I used was bright orange scrap paper we had. He was like, “Must have been a dye in the paper that made it burn better.”

Yeah, ok buddy.


I’ve read about using clear ice to fashion a lense, and starting a fire that way, so I was excited to see a recipe for clear ice on BB.


I miss


When I used to work at a museum and teaching people about the Neolithicum I liked to demonstrate the bow drill method or a technique with flint and pyrite. The hard thing about the pyrite/flint method isn’t about creating sparks, a child can do it, but about creating the right kind of tinder. Amadou treated with nitrate is quite potent, as is cattail.


Saw an artist once that used the magnifying glass method to burn/char images into wood planks. Really cool stuff.


Step 1: find a Bic lighter.

Step 2: have a drink in front of the nice warm fire you just made.


I remember hearing Paul Stamets talk about primitive cultures using amadou to transport fire and carry it for days. Neat stuff.

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I saw a documentary about a Quebec survival expert, André-François Bourbeau I think, starting fire from scratch in the wilderness without any gear.

His advice? Techniques like this are worthwhile practicing, because once you have done it, you will never forget your matches.


How to start a fire:

  1. find a freezer
  2. find an esky
  3. freeze water in esky in the freezer
  4. wait 12 hours for water to freeze to clear ice
  5. carve clear ice into lens
  6. wait; there’s electricty for the freezer? Fuck it, just plug in a heater instead.


I think I had this guy–or his ancestral clone–as my offensive line coach in high school

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For a short while, I carried a flint & steel as a firestarting backup when bushwalking.

Then I realised that the flint & steel weighed about as much as a dozen disposable lighters, so went back to being sensible (i.e. chuck a couple of backup lighters into the emergency first aid kit).

In an Oz bushwalking context, it’s generally either (a) warm enough that you don’t really need a fire, or (b) so wet and windy that you’ve got bugger-all chance of starting a fire with low-tech friction methods.


There’s always the Bugger Your Phone Battery method, if it comes out. A nasty trade-off if you might get in range later, or have a survival guide in your library.


My firesteel is the go-to for fire starting, but I do bushwalking in eastern North America. If I’m going hypothermic, I might not be able to light a disposable lighter for lack of fine muscle coordination. Also, my firesteel will throw a spark right after I’ve fallen in a river.

I’ve tested that assertion under field conditions. I’ve fallen in a river, in 2 °C air temperature, and had a badly needed fire going in minutes. I knew the ford was dodgy, so I had laid in some firewood on the near bank, so as to have a place to retreat, and made sure that I had flint and my tinderbox on my person, not in my pack (the pack might get lost in a bad enough wipe-out).

If I lost my firesteel, in my local conditions I’d cast about for chert and pyrite, both of which can be found embedded in the karst limestone and conglomerate rock around here, and carry them with me. If anything happened to my tinderbox, I’d find an amadou mushroom or sacrifice a bandana to make charcloth.

You’re right that friction fires are a losing game. Percussion is the way to go for primitive fire making. (Or modern fire making, if you carry a firesteel or lighter). For what it’s worth, the video is a pretty good summary of friction fire making. I don’t personally favor the technique, but the guy does it well.

Best way to start a fire in the wilderness is to assign the task to this guy:

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Just so long as it isn’t this guy.


75 degrees below

Good thing that’s Fahrenheit, or you’d want to get inside before the CO2 began deposition. (-78C @ 1 atmo, or -108.4F, but not so cold as that at higher altitude.)

No way I’d be walking when the thermometer was in A Pail of Air territory.

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