So your matches are drenched from the afternoon thunderstorm and that five-year old lighter in your first aid kit finally ran out of fuel. You need to make a fire but the conventional ways we always count on while in the backcountry went up in smoke, and not the kind your numb toes get excited about. Here are five ways to start a fire without a lighter or matches—because its bound to happen to all of us at one point, and chances are Bear Grylls won’t be there to guide you through it.

1) Flint and Steel

This classic method is one of the most reliable when a lighter or match isn’t handy and something I never leave behind on extended trips. Start by collecting a small amount of kindling and small sticks and placing them in a dry area. Simply strike the flint with your steel, which usually can be your pocketknife, about three inches above your pile of kindling.

Although it may take some patience, the striking motion causes sparks that then slowly ignite the tinder pile. Giving the ember some assistance by blowing on it is usually needed, and be sure to have larger sticks and twigs ready once the pile is aflame. Flint is unaffected by wet and damp conditions, making this ideal for wet-weather environments.

2) The Lens Method

Another simple and relatively reliable method, this process involves concentrating the suns rays into a small area—ideally your pile of dry tinder. Hold your lens, which can be a magnifying glass, binocular lens or camera lens to name a few, about a foot from your tinder pile and focus it directly in the center. Once you notice the pile smoldering, gently blow on it and prepare to add more fuel to the fire. The one drawback to this method is its limitation to sunny weather.

3) Battery and Steel Wool Method

This is a great option for those stuck in front-country scenarios where materials may be slightly more accessible. Rubbing a small amount of steel wool against the terminals of a 9-volt battery (D, C, and AA also work, but are less reliable) will cause the steel wool to catch fire for a short time. Have your tinder ready to light and be sure the steel wool catches it.

4) The Fire Plow method

One of the most popular fire starting techniques out there, this one requires some serious friction and determination. The plow board—a soft, rectangular piece of wood about 18 inches in length, and a hardwood stick about a foot long will make up your materials for this process. Begin by carving a one-inch deep groove into your plow board about 8 inches long with either a knife or sharp rock.

With the board laid flat on the ground, rub your plow back and forth with moderate pressure to collect a small amount of wood debris—this will act as your ember. Once you have enough, prop the plow board slightly onto your knee and increase the pressure and speed of the plow in your groove. The wood dust will begin to smolder, which can then be transferred to your pile of tinder.

5) Bow Drill method

Another slightly more complex version using friction and wood is the bow drill method. Begin by collecting a hand-sized rock with a slight depression on one side, a hardwood stick and fire board similar to those used in the fire plow method, a longer, more flexible green stick to act as your bow, and lastly a cord. Hiking bootlaces are usually your best option.

Begin by cutting a small depression in the center of the fireboard near the edge. Do the same thing on the underside of the board so that the cut just meets your original depression. When crafting the bow, bend your bow stick into a half moon shape and tie your lace to the ends. Making small notches on either side helps in keeping the lace stable while attempting to make your ember.

Place your small tinder ball under the depression of the fireboard while using your foot to stabilize the board and the rock to steady the drill. Looping your bow around the drill, draw back and forth with the saw. This will eventually create black powder that should ignite your tinder ball. Once this occurs, transfer it to your kindling.

About The Author

Mitch Lex

Mitch grew up in Flagstaff, Arizona where he fell in love with kayaking, backpacking and just about everything else there is to do outside. Since moving to the Midwest, Mitch has continued to explore trails and rivers throughout the country. His greatest adventures include roaming with grizzlies and caribou on a NOLS course in Canada's Yukon Territory, swimming with dolphins while studying abroad in New Zealand, and guiding backpacking trips in southwestern Colorado and Utah. He sees the outdoors as a place where you can discover what is truly important in life while exploring a little bit about oneself along the way. Contrary to popular demand, he enjoys dried pineapple and Reese's pieces over M&M's and raisins in his trail mix any day of the week. Sorry GORP.