How To Start A Fire Without A Match: A Key Post-apocalyptic Survival Skill

6 May

Fire. It’s one of man’s oldest accomplishments predating art, clothes, politics, MTV, One Direction and the possibility of nuclear annihilation leading to the rise of radioactive mutant zombies that want nothing better than to chow down on your brains. You can use fire to cook food, heat water, provide warmth and light on the darkest, coldest night and, of course, destroy the undead, but have you ever given any thought to how you’d start a fire without a match? After all, when civilisation collapses, it’s likely you’ll run out of matches pretty damn quickly. What will you do then? I know there’ll be some smart alec out there who’s brandishing a lighter and saying ‘I’d just use my trusty Zippo!’, but that will soon run out of fuel and flints, and when that happens it’ll be about as useful as a chocolate teapot.

So, when your back’s really up against it, how do you start a fire without a match? Well, it’s actually surprisingly easy. All you need is a bit of sun (just a few seconds will do) and some imagination.

The first way is to use something called a solar lighter. This is a nifty little gadget made of polished metal which can be used to concentrate the sun’s rays onto a flammable object, and as the video below shows, if you happen to have one, like I do, you can start a fire in seconds.

Pretty cool, right? But what do you do if you don’t have one of these to hand? Well, go and get one now so that you’re prepared. If you happen to be watching this and the apocalypse has already happened (I’m not going to ask how you’re still managing to get online so you can read this!), then you’ll need another option. How about using an old soda can? You read that correctly, you can start a fire with a soda can. This works on exactly the same principle, and you can see how to do it here:

What happens if you can’t find a soda can? How about using a bottle of water? I know what you’re thinking, how on Earth do you start a fire with water? Actually, it’s quite simple. Do you remember as a kid when that horrible little boy down the street used to fry ants with a magnifying glass just for fun? Well, it turns out he was onto something. Using exactly the same principle, you can use the water in a water bottle to create a lens which can be used to focus sunlight so it can be used to set things on fire. You don’t believe me? Just watch this video:

But what do you do if you don’t have any water? Believe it or not, you can use urine! You heard that right, you can start a fire with your own pee. Watch and learn, you never know, one day it might save your life. Or more likely, let you win a few bets by demonstrating how it can be done:

Ahhh, I hear you say, but what happens if there isn’t any sun, you know, like at night, or in the middle of summer in Aberdeen (if you’ve ever lived in Aberdeen in Scotland, you’ll know what I’m talking about!). Well, remember that old Boy Scout trick of rubbing two sticks together? This actually works, and it’s all based on the fact that when you rub things together you generate friction and friction generates heat. Here’s how:

This is just one way to generate fire through friction, and there are many other approaches, including fire bows and fire drills. You can find a comparison of all these different techniques here (although, as you will see, you need to be a bit of an expert to actually get these techniques to work):

Any if you don’t have any sticks? How about rubbing two stones together? Well, not really rubbing, more like striking one against the other. This is the most primitive way to produce fire and is probably the first one that humans ever used. You can see someone using this method here:

Of course, all these methods will only give you the initial spark. If you actually want to create a fire, you’ll need to know how to select the right tinder, kindling and wood, and how to build your fire so it won’t simply smoke for a few minutes before fizzling out, but that’s a whole different article altogether!

From the author of For Those In Peril On The Sea, a tale of post-apocalyptic survival in a world where zombie-like infected rule the land and all the last few human survivors can do is stay on their boats and try to survive. Now available in print and as a Kindle ebook. Click here or visit to find out more. To download a preview of the first three chapters, click here.

To read the Foreword Clarion Review of For Those In Peril On The Sea (where it scored five stars out of five) click here.

9 Responses to “How To Start A Fire Without A Match: A Key Post-apocalyptic Survival Skill”

  1. aeronmacarthur 06/05/2014 at 15:46 #

    Love the post! Lol, “radio active mutant zombies”! Thanks for sharing. If you’re into apocalyptic zombie stuff, check out my blog: Cheers!

    • cmdrysdale 06/05/2014 at 16:53 #

      Glad you liked it, and I’ll certainly check out your blog.

      All the best,


  2. grinningbear1980 06/05/2014 at 16:05 #

    I love it!! A solar lighter is also called a parabolic mirror. 🙂

    • cmdrysdale 06/05/2014 at 16:58 #

      Glad you like the post, it was a lot of fun to put together (including a few hours spent playing in my garden with my own solar lighter just to see if i could get it to work – which I did!). You’re most certainly right about the solar lighter being a parabolic mirror. If you like the small version, have you seen the big versions (also known as solar furnaces) which can be used to melt metal? If not, check it out at I can’t help but think this could make a great anti-zombie weapon, aslong as you could funnel them right into the beam. It would vaporise them pretty much instantly!

      • grinningbear1980 06/05/2014 at 17:05 #

        I agree. There is also a Fresnel Lens. They can melt metal and all that too. 🙂 I’m actually in the process of learning all types of survival skills. But living on a ranch, I don’t have much time to post about it. Lol

      • cmdrysdale 06/05/2014 at 19:06 #

        I’m familiar with Fresnel lenses, but only in lighthouses where they mainly work the other way round (forming light into a beam rather than concentrating onto a spot). However, I know in the old lighthouses they had to pull curtains across during the day to stop the lenses accidently setting the wicks on fire.

        Anyway, survival skills are always fun to learn. It’s something I did a lot as a child/teenager/student, and I keep meaning to get back into it as I’m a bit rusty now. I must admit, I’m quite keen to try some of these fire lighting tricks once summer arrives here – especially the water bottle trick!

        All the best,


  3. Jack Flacco 07/05/2014 at 00:46 #

    These are great techniques, Colin. Well, maybe the pee one is a bit to extravagant, but the rest is spot on perfect! You know, it’s funny. Everyone wonders why there are forest fires in the summer even when campers put out their fires, making sure a fire didn’t start. The fire marshal for the area would then say how campers would douse their campfires with water, but then leave behind garbage that could soon create a fire (pop and beer cans, bottles, water bottles)–much like you have demonstrated here in the videos. The point being? Campers, take your garbage with you!

    • cmdrysdale 07/05/2014 at 07:35 #

      The videos of lighting a fire with an old soda can or a disgarded water bottle with water left in it got me wondering abotu forest fires, too, and how they might be accidentally started. Definitely not good things to be leaving behind when out in the wilds.

      It also struck me as an interesting plot device in a book – a way of starting a fire that would seem accidental to anyone investigating it. In many ways it could be the perfect murder.


  1. How To Start A Fire Without A Match: A Key Post-apocalyptic Survival S… | TinderNews - 07/05/2014

    […] Original post: How To Start A Fire Without A Match: A Key Post-apocalyptic Survival S… […]

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