What’s the best way to make a fire with only primitive tools?

If I'm out hiking in the woods with no matches, what's the best way to start a fire? Glenn Edelschein Maryland

Tony Nester

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Not to sound like a nagging survival instructor, but don’t ever venture into the woods without at least three firestarters on you at all times! There are primitive methods for starting a fire, but they are extremely challenging under true survival conditions—even if you are experienced.

Students in my month-long survival classes, who practice fire-by-friction methods like the bow-drill and hand-drill, can crank out a fire in 60 seconds, but they also have been practicing and refining their skills on a daily basis under optimal conditions. Add a rainstorm into the picture and any potential injury and the challenge quotient skyrockets. Once you have tried the aboriginal methods, you will understand how imperative it is to always be prepared and carry gear in your pockets.

There is not enough space here to go into the step-by-step methods for building friction fires. If you want to learn primitive skills, my advice is to seek out a competent instructor and become proficient with the methods before you need them. The more wilderness skills you possess, the more options you have for surviving. Take time to hone your skills and see where both the primitive and modern methods work best for you.

Yes, primitive firemaking works. But do you really want to be in a predicament where the sun is setting and you’re dehydrated, hungry, cold and have to rub two sticks together to start a fire? You get the point.

If you have to get started on friction firemaking right now, one book that will help is the classic “Bushcraft” by Mors Kochanski. I got my first copy twenty years ago and it is still my most dog-eared book on wilderness living.

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