When on a camping excursion, the items in the gear should always include at least a handful of matches in a waterproof container or tightly sealed plastic bag. If the matches become lost or waterlogged or if someone forgot to include them along with the cooking utensils and other paraphernalia, it will become necessary to apply a bit of ingenuity to start a fire and cook up a good meal.
Depending on circumstances, the camper has several workable options for starting a fire without the aid of matches. Before attempting any of these alternative measures, however, the camper needs to have the start-up makings of a fire well-prepared and close at hand. These would include some very fine kindling, a few small pieces of dry wood and at least two or three large limbs or sticks. The kindling needs to be tinder dry and of the finest material possible, something on the order of the contents of an abandoned bird nest.
Glass bottle: Foresters have noted that many fires have started from the sun’s rays being pinpointed onto dry forest duff through the “lens” of a bottle partially filled with water. If such a bottle came with the camping gear, try breaking it so as to retain the bottom two or three inches intact, fill this with clear water and use this fire starter to aim the sun’s rays at the tinder. With a sufficiently concentrated ray of heat, smoke and a bright spark will appear in an amazingly short time. Blow gently on the spark to air it into flames.
Concave lenses: The lenses from rifle scopes, binoculars and cameras also can concentrate the sun’s rays sufficiently to start a campfire. Use these in a fashion similar to that outlined in the preceding paragraph. Better than scope or camera lenses, use the magnifying glass that surely must occupy a spot in the emergency camping gear.
Beverage can mirror: Use toothpaste to smooth the bottom of an aluminum beverage can. Rub until the bottom shines. Using a reflective method, hold the can so the sun’s rays reflect from the polished metal onto the tinder. Adjust the distance between can and tinder until a pinpoint of reflected sunlight strikes the tinder.
Flint and steel: When struck a glancing blow or sharply scraped with a metal object, flint will produce sparks that one can utilize in starting a campfire. The back side of a hunting knife blade makes a good striker.
Rock to rock: If the camper does not have or cannot locate a piece of flint near the campsite, he or she should try other likely looking stones for the purpose. The best kind of rock, iron pyrite, is recognizable by the tiny flecks of fool’s gold it contains. Often, where one such rock exists others lie close by. Create fire-starting sparks by banging the pieces of iron pyrite against one another with downward glancing blows.
Any of these methods requires that the camper work quickly once a spark appears in or on the dry tinder. Blow gently, but persistently to increase the heat and volume of the spark. When flame appears, gently place more tinder and/or small, dry twigs or slivers of wood on the tinder. Once the initial campfire blaze has kindled into self-sustaining flames, gather more dry wood to keep the fire going.