Hunters today have access cutting-edge gear like satellite messengers, GPS units, space-age synthetic fabrics, and other high-end tools. However, the survival skill of knowing how to start a fire with primal tools is still as essential as ever.
Lighting a one-match fire, particularly in wet conditions, is one of the ultimate tests in woodsmanship and one you should learn. But knowing how to start a fire with a ferrocerium rod (aka, a ferro rod), is an even more vital survival skill. Even when wet, a ferro rod shoots out a ton of fire-starting sparks and can help you get a blaze going in no time—but only if you know how to use one.
For either method, you need the following:
Now, let’s rage.
How to Start a Survival Fire with One Match
1. Create a dry space. If you have a tarp, set it up. Otherwise, look for a dry area beneath an overhang at the base of a blown-down tree, a rock cave, or prop up a large piece of bark. The base of spruce trees also provides a dry spot to lay firewood and their dead lower branches almost always provide dry kindling. Just remember that it’s best to avoid building a fire directly adjacent to a tree.
2. Source dry wood. The inner core of a standing dead tree will be dry on the even wettest of days. Find one that is about 6 inches in diameter. The best way to visually tell if a standing tree is truly dead and dry is if the bark is falling off of it. You can also test for dryness by cutting a deep chip out of the tree with your knife or an axe and touch the inside of the chip to your tongue. If you feel it sticking to your tongue a little bit, it’s dry. If not, find another standing dead tree.
3. Begin processing the wood. Fell the dead tree, then cut it into 1- to 1 ½-foot sections. Next, split the logs in half with your axe or baton them with your knife—and immediately place them out of the rain in the dry space you’ve created or found. Then use your knife to baton the split logs into even smaller pieces.
4. Prep some tinder. Keeping the wood out of the rain as much as possible, whittle several pieces of the dry, inner wood from your split wood into pieces no wider than the thickness of a match. Slice them in thin strips, but leave the pieces attached at the bottom and then lay them on a dry surface out of the rain.
5. Prep some kindling. Split and whittle several more dry pieces out of the mid-section of your log to about the size of a cigar. Keep going until you have about four large handfuls. You can’t have too much kindling.
6. Prep your tinder for lighting. Lay your tinder on top of a dry surface, creating a space for you to hold a match under it. Resting it against a split piece of wood or between two pieces of split wood works well.
7. Fire it up. Strike your match and immediately cup it in your hands to protect it from rain and wind. When you see the wood of the match starting to burn, move it toward the tinder, keeping it cupped, then hold it under the tinder until it takes the flame. Gently add more tinder to the flame, making sure to block any rain drops with your hands or body.
8. Add the kindling. Place the kindling piece by piece in a tipi shape over the flames.
9. Build a log cabin. Once the tipi is burning strong, begin adding the larger split pieces of wood tightly around the tipi in the form log cabin-style. (It’s fine to continue with the tipi structure, too, if you prefer.) Once the log cabin is burning, you can add larger, damper split pieces, and eventually larger whole logs if need be. The rain won’t put out a large fire.
How to Start a Survival Fire Using a Ferro Rod
The process when using a ferro rod is much the same as the one-match method described above, except that you’ll need to make your tinder finer which takes more skill and is more time consuming. Ideally, to do this you’ll want to make a couple feather sticks by whittling long, thin strips of wood directly adjacent to each other out of the same piece of wood. Whittle the strips thinly enough so that they curl in the process and leave them connected at the bottom of the stick so that all the strips curl up together forming a bundle when completed. This bundle will take a spark from a ferro rod nicely.
If you are struggling with the feather stick, make a large pile of very finely shaved dry wood whittled out of the middle of your log and keep it dry. Then, holding your striker stationary and close to the tinder, quickly draw the ferro rod away from the fire and toward yourself to throw sparks. This way, you’re less likely to knock your kindling pile all over the place than if you were to create sparks by pushing your striker forward.
If you notice that your tinder has gotten damp in the process, repetitively throw sparks from your ferro rod onto that damp spot. The sparks will dry the dampness out of the tinder—assuming it’s not too wet—and it will light eventually.
It can take a while to get a fire going in the rain using this method, but it works when nothing else will. Just stay persistent and don’t cut corners.