A match is usually an easy thing to light. However, if you go camping the way I do the lighter area alway seems to get wet and useless. That is if it isn't worn down anyway. I am talking about the lighter on the matchbox, not the lighter in the stick. My question is how to light a match without using the lighter provided? I have tried:

  • Keeping them dry. I have tried this multiple times and it does work on some occasions, but for the times it doesn't I need an alternative.

  • Sandpaper, but I do not always carry this with me. Rough areas like trees which are covered with moss and sometimes wet, rocks which work, etc.

  • Not carrying matches. This is a great idea, but other lighters are somewhat hard to use and can be faultier from my experience. Strike anywhere matches are not a thing I would like to buy, as they are more expensive than regular ones.

I was told that basically anything would work, but this has not been my experience. Any suggestion would be awesome as not having a lighter is a great possibility for any occasion, but I need something that will work with what is usually a camping item.

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    Does not seem to need a life hack — A "life hack" is a seemingly intractable problem that can be solved by thinking outside the box. Unfortunately, everyday "How to…" questions about learning a craft or new skill are outside the scope of this site. See about Lifehacks. If the author can show how this needs an "outside the box" solution, edit and 'flag' to reopen.
    – AStopher
    Commented May 31, 2015 at 8:51
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    This is a great question (IMO), I have several boxes of safty matches that have the lighting strip worn off, just from carrying them around with me. The reason you can't strike anywhere like movies etc suggest is because most modern matches are "safty matches", unlike the wax covered phosporous (iirc) of ages past. The Hack that is required here is a subsitute for the lighting strip. Commented May 31, 2015 at 9:40
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    I still think there must be a lifehack answer to Make your own Lighting strip. Commented Jun 1, 2015 at 0:05
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    Or, just go old style with a flint-and-steel. Works even when wet :D
    – Jacob G
    Commented Jun 10, 2015 at 0:50
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    If you don't like the obvious solution (strike anywhere matches) then you're not looking to solve the problem in the most straightforward manner. That means it is more of a "what I might like" hack rather than a lifehack. Simplicity is not to be avoided, if there is an obvious answer, take it. With that in mind, I posted about a survival technique which I can light a fire with within 3 or 4 sparks, using reusable tools. It's cheap (after the initial costs), but will require a bit more planning and just a touch more work. Fortunately when camping, there's plenty of downtime to do the work
    – Edwin Buck
    Commented Jun 15, 2015 at 0:25

9 Answers 9


Preparation is key. Don't go into the woods unprepared. Matches are not the only answer, but if you can't build a fire without them, then look for "strike anywhere" matches. They still make them, but they are getting harder to find. Other matches require some heat and the "missing" safety ingredient embedded in the strike paper.

To prepare for camping, once you learn how to collect wood and build a fire from a modest coal, you can then move on to charwood, which is an easy way to start a fire (provided the other fire making skills are known).

To make charwood (or charred punkwood) use an Altoid tin with a few holes in it. Burn the punkwood in the air constrained confines of the Altoid tin, making a type of highly flammable charcoal. The tin also provides an easy carrying case and keeps the wood dry.

Then the next time you need a fire, light with a spark from a scraping based fire starter (or other means of generating sparks), and the charcoal will light and smolder, then give it a few good blows to get it really going and dump it into your small tinder.

If you run out, you can use the fire you just made to make more.

Of all the fire starting methods I've used in various camping scenarios, this is by far the easiest. In fact, for me it is easier than matches, which seem to always require two or three as they sometimes die out before drying the small tinder enough to light.

See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x_FZ01NvDGo for a demonstration of making the charcoal and lighting it. He managed to light it on the first spark. He's lighting it with a ferrocerium rod, which if purchasing, get the biggest one you can, as bigger is much easier to use. I recommend something like http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00S6F4RDC?psc=1 To strike, I use my knife.

Keep in mind that punkwood is not a specific type of tree, rather it is the high air content loose wood that is typically found in the interior of rotting sticks. On your next camping trip you can easily collect enough to start a dozen fires, or collect some in your neighborhood, make the charwood and then go camping.

And for those of you asking, but what if you don't have a knife? My answer is, "don't go camping" If you lack a respectable knife, you have seriously tilted the odds against you in a camping trip. By respectable, I don't mean a Rambo knife, but a four inch blade high quality folding pocket knife. If possible, go with a tanto point as they are less likely to break. If you have the means, I've been especially fond of my Carson Knives CRKT M16. http://www.crkt.com/M1602Z


Strike-anywhere matches exist and solve this problem. Be aware that they are not legal for passenger or cargo planes in most of the world.

They're basically the original matches. The ones that require the lighter strip on the box were just matches engineered for safety and are more widely promoted.

Waterproof matches exist as well, and solve this problem even more effectively.

Note that strike-anywhere matches aren't actually that much more expensive, nor are waterproof matches (for example, 900 strike-anywhere matches runs about $12, I see 320 for $6, etc.; 160 waterproof matches run around $4.50...). They're the right tool for the job; anything else will be end up being more of a pain than your current wet matches.

If you do not want to use an appropriate type of match, then I suppose you could use anything around you that gets hot enough to light a match. Exactly what meets this requirements will depend on the situation you are in.

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    @Oxinabox They aren't a lot more expensive... 900 strike anywhere matches on Amazon runs around $12... You can't just have things because you really want them and expect some "life hack" to exist for everything. If you want decent matches for camping, you pay the extra fraction of a cent per match. Commented May 31, 2015 at 15:50
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    (@Oxinabox My point was that the OP edited in the aribitrary constraint after the fact, presumably after remembering that this type of match existed. The OP has strong motive to keep this question here as the current topic challenge is camping, and that challenge was suggested by the OP. I believe the question itself is a farce, and the "costs too much" constraint is weak and forced, as they don't cost that much at all; therefore a "hack" really isn't needed at all here.) Commented Jun 1, 2015 at 0:10
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    Well then, yes, I will return it. There is a ongoing guideline to not give answers that the OP has stated does not work for them. Also making sure this question has no positively scored answers makes it stayed on the unanswered list, and so I can hope that it will get a really good lifehack answer. I myself am terrified of strike anywhere matches, and have boxes of regular matches with no lighting strips. I do suggest that you make a metapost specifically about this question, and link it. (thank you for the polite dialogue) Commented Jun 1, 2015 at 0:13
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    @itlookslikeimaqueen No, not really. If you disagree, check out the lack of requested useful "life hack" in other answers so far. The other answer here doesn't actually help make starting a fire easier (try the suggestions next time you go camping). You asked to make the impossible possible with a life hack. You were given an answer: You don't, you use the right tools. You were also told that your premise (cost) was weak. Pointing out a weak premise is a common part of an answer and is not unusual. So, either acknowledge it, or good luck lighting those matches. You asked a bad question. Commented Jun 1, 2015 at 16:02
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    Strike anywhere matches are the real lifehack, because with one alteration, the entire problem is removed. There are other ways to make fires, but they all require more work. I've posted the easiest non-match way of making fires, which is so easy that I don't even carry matches when camping anymore; however, in my opinion (discard as necessary) if you want to make non-strike anywhere matches light without the striker, it's like asking for your thirst to be quenched without drinking water. Non-strike anywhere matches are made to work with the striker (and not much else), as a safety issue.
    – Edwin Buck
    Commented Jun 15, 2015 at 0:38

I am a long time camper and backpacker and have always kept my matches in a small plastic water proof container. Right now they are in an old prescription bottle. If/when the striker strip wears out or gets otherwise damaged I just add a small strip of fine sandpaper attached to a popsicle stick into the container. Easy, light weight and it works really well.


Modern safety matches (unlike the strike anywhere matches @Jason C mentions), only light under 2 conditions (to my knowledge),

  • Reacting with the substance on the "Lighting Strip",
  • Getting hot (as when you light one with a candle).

I have no idea how to replicate the former, but getting it hot enough, can be done.

Obviously, lighting it with another flame is generally redundant, but hot things exist. I theorise a car exhaust could do it, a car cigarette lighter, or electric stove definitively could.

Another is focused light (or heat), from a magnifying glass. Theoretically you could use anything that can focus light to a rough point -- such as the curved part of a bottle.

Magnifying Glass

While it is very hard to set paper alight with a magnifying glass, it is quite easy to make a very hot point -- enough to burn a hole in paper, or light a match.

  • Place the match on a suitable steady surface (eg rest your hand holding it on a wall)
  • Position the glass with the sun going through it, you should see a bright projection of light onto the surface in front of it
  • Move the glass backwards or forwards to focus this projected light to a point
  • position the focus point of bright light over the match head
  • wait a few minute/seconds for the match to heat up enough to ignite
  • use the match to light something less likely to go out (eg a candle out of the wind)


There are many downsides to this solution (and I would love to hear alternatives)

  • Times when you most want matches, you are often out of the sun: Overcast winter, night time, indoors
  • Magnifying glass is not the most common thing to carry around with you
  • If it is not hot/bright enough, and you try this and it doesn't work, you look like a fool trying somethey saw on TV
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    All of these solutions, including the magnifying glass, use things that can already start a fire to light the match (e.g. you could just light paper on fire with an electric stove; or if you want to improve your magnifying glass technique, don't light paper, light whatever you're trying to light directly). Also, if you have a car on hand for a cigarette lighter, you might as well just keep the matches in the car to keep them from getting wet. Correct tools exist for this problem. Commented May 31, 2015 at 15:56
  • (Besides, it would be more useful in general to simply say "use anything around you that is hot enough to light a match" rather than listing an arbitrary sampling. This encourages readers to exercise basic problem solving skills given their situation and surroundings, to look around and make connections, which is a bigger win in the long run, as well as a lot less typing in an answer!) Commented May 31, 2015 at 16:13
  • It was a short list, to suggest the kinds of temperatures required. It is also a whole lot easier to light a match with any of these sources than to light a fire directly. I agree correct tools do exist. I know it, you know it, the OP knows it. This is not a site about the correct tools though, Commented Jun 1, 2015 at 0:01
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    Then it's a site about dubious answers to otherwise easily solved questions, which counter's the quality SE is known for and just puts this in the same realm as the billions of other "lifehacks" sites out there. Perhaps the Area 51 proposal was misguided. Commented Jun 1, 2015 at 0:04
  • FWIW and FYI, safety match heads contain potassium chlorate which reacts with the red phosphorous in the striking surface to produce white phosphorous that ignites the match stock. Antimony sulfide can be added to match heads to increase the reaction. Sometimes a tiny bit of paraffin is added to the card stock to accelerate the combustion.
    – Stan
    Commented Jul 17, 2016 at 20:52

Some laser pointers can be used to light a match.



These types of matches, at least the wooden variety, can be lit by rubbing it laterally on a window or other piece of flat glass. It is demonstrated on YouTube by the "Crazy Russian".


Any match will flare when it gets hot enough, and with friction you can get even "safety" matches to flare. The trick is to find a hard surface with just the right degree of roughness: too smooth and you can't get enough friction, too rough and you scrape the match head material off. Often a mug, bowl or other piece of pottery will have an unglazed portion on the bottom that works. However this is very hit or miss; some don't seem to work at all. With a relatively good piece I have about a 50% success rate per match. Save the rejects, they'll still have enough head left to catch and extend your flame when you do get one lit.


First, I think it's important to understand how safety matches work.

The Bottom Line

The primary flammable ingredient in a safety match head is sulfur, which ignites at at around 230 degrees celcius (about 450 farenheit), which is about the same as a piece of paper and a bit lower than firewood. If you can heat the match head to 230 C, even briefly, you're set. Doesn't matter how you get there.

The Normal Way

To achieve the required temperature, normally the match head is scratched across the striking surface. The red phosphorus in the striking surface combines with the potassium chlorate in the match head, and the friction from scratching generates enough heat to ignite the resulting mixture, which generates sufficient heat to ignite the sulfur. You can read more about safety matches here.

As the OP has discovered, a soggy or overused match box still has the right chemicals for the initial reaction, but its surface can no longer generate the abrasion required to mix the chemicals or the friction to heat the mixture. So it's very important to keep that match box dry!

The following are some alternative ways to get that match to ignite.

Use Any Available Heat Source

Anything will work as long as it gets hot enough to cook with: the coil burner of an electric stove, a frying pan or steam iron that's still hot, stored embers from a campfire or charcoal from a grill, car exhaust, a magnifying lens in daylight, etc. Or any existing flame (obviously).

Use Electricity

If you can move an electric current through a sufficiently resistant circuit, that resistance can generate significant heat. This is how things like incandescent light bulbs and toasters work.

There are many guides online, such as this one. But the gist of it is the same:

  1. Use a long, thin piece of metal as a wire to connect the two terminals of the battery.
  2. Touch the match head to the wire.
  3. Wait for the wire to get hot enough to ignite the match head.


  • The battery doesn't have to be too strong. In fact, it's probably safer to use a weaker battery that isn't strong enough to zap you. This method is known to work with a 9V battery, a couple of AAs, or even a smart phone battery.
  • Some methods will instruct you to damage or destroy the battery, but this is not necessary.
  • For the conductive material, you can use plain wire or all sorts of things: aluminum foil, a paperclip, a staple, some steel wool, graphite from a pencil, whatever.

There are variations on this method. One method runs an electric current through a gum wrapper until the wrapper itself ignites - no match required. Another method uses a short length of #2 pencil, some jumper cables, and a car battery. If the battery is strong enough to emit sparks, those sparks can also be used to ignite nearby combustibles.

Use Friction

Friction generates heat. More friction, more heat. Find a rough yet fine-grained surface and rub the match head over it until it gets hot enough. Concrete, sandpaper, the bottom of most home-made ceramics, and certain types of stone (if dry) all work. The trick here is reaching the required temperature before grinding all of the sulfur coating off the match head.

One trick that has been used is to grind match heads against other match heads. Popular Mechanics demonstrates a good way to do this. You'll need five matches.

  1. Hold four matches together tightly in a square bundle, match heads all together.
  2. Take the fifth match and press its head firmly against the heads of the other four.
  3. Twist your hands sharply in opposite directions, grinding the match heads against one another.

Final Notes

There are lots of great fire-starting tools and methods out there other than matches and fuel-based lighters. Tinderboxes. Flint and steel. Swedish firesteel. Electric lighters. All have their pros and cons. For backpacking, I recommend carrying at least two different firestarting methods. That way if your matches get wet or your lighter leaks itself dry, you'll still have another way to cook your food and stay warm.

And remember, always practice fire safety!


Sometimes if you have a zipper on your pants it can be a good way to strike a match. The teeth and friction some times lights matches. I have tried from my Rambo first blood knife kit and it has worked for me sometimes.

Also before going out rip a small piece of sandpaper and put it in the Rambo knife kit to make life easier to start a fire. There is enough room in the handle for it. V/R Daniel

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