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How to Light a Campre With One Match

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How to Light a Campre with One Match


Written by Paul Kirtley . Topics: Bushcraft Skills, Fire, Survival
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What if this was your last match? Learn how to make every one count. Photo: Amanda Quaine.

The ability to light a re is an essential wilderness skill. Whether you are practicing your bushcraft skills in the local woods or planning an expedition, re-lighting skills should be at the top of your list. Apart from the everyday comfort of having a campre to cook over, to keep us warm in the evenings and as a focal point for socialising in camp, re is an important survival tool. Successful re-lighting gives a boost to morale and can be an important phsychological factor in survival situations. Fire is an eective and reliable way of making water safe to drink and for signalling. Fire makes food safe to eat and wards o wild animals. It keeps us warm and helps us dry wet clothing. There are many ways to light a re but the humble match is often overlooked in favour of more

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13-01-06 04:32 PM

How to Light a Campre With One Match

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impressive skills such as bow-drill or hand-drill or the commonly carried Swedish Firesteel (a.k.a Fireash or Ferro Rod). People take matches for granted yet there are still a few subtleties to master and skills to nesse, if you want to get the most out of them. Besides, practicing the methods in this article will help sharpen up your re-lighting skills in general.

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Preparation is Key
Preparation is a vital aspect of successful re-lighting. Success is largely determined by what you do before you strike a match. Put all the building blocks of success in place rst. For your kindling, collect small, thin sticks that are dead and dry. The best are either still attached to a tree or hung up in one. Avoid collecting sticks from the ground. You are looking for matchstick thickness sticks. They should break cleanly with a crisp and denite click. The best small sticks for kindling are from woods that contain resin or oil that is ammable. In the northern temperate zone and in the arctic forests the best kindling comes from coniferous trees species such as pine (Pinus), spruce (Picea), r (Abies) and hemlock (Tsuga) but not larch (Larix). From the deciduous trees the birches (Betula) provide the best kindling. A further advantage to the evergreen species mentioned above is that they often have dead branches low down on their trunk. There is so little light reaching these branches that the tree doesnt waste its energy in maintaining them. This provides a ready supply of dry kindling that is also protected from rain and snow by the branches above. You can easily collect plenty of small dry sticks in a short amount of time.

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Search for dead, dry sticks for your kindling. You often find dead branches low down on evergreen conifers. Photo: Amanda Quaine.

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How to Light a Campre With One Match

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Left: Breaking off dead branches for kindling. Right: To ensure success, particularly in wet weather, collect at least an armful of kindling like this. Photos: Amanda Quaine.

Break off the small matchstick-thin twigs from the branches you have collected. Create a bundle like this. Keep the twigs long. Photo: Amanda Quaine.

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How to Light a Campre With One Match

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The best twigs from a deciduous tree are from Birch (Betula). Collect a bundle of the thinnest dead, dry twigs you can find. Photo: Amanda Quaine.

After your initial kindling, you need some slightly larger fuel. Pencil-thickness is good for the next stage, then nger thickness, then thumb thickness. The idea is for each grade of fuel to easily ignite from the previous. You cant light a log from a match. There needs to be some intermediate sizes of fuel. All of your fuel should be dead and dry. Make sure you collect and sort out your fuel before you begin to light your re. Select an area for your campre. Check there are no obvious tree roots you might ignite. Also check above that there are no low-hanging branches you might ignite by accident. Even if this is not a risk, as a general rule it is best not to damage tree foliage by creating a re too close under their branches. Obviously if you were in an emergency situation and you needed to use some trees for natural shelter and have a re nearby to keep you warm, then this is a dierent situation. Even in an emergency situation, however, you dont want to be starting a forest re around you. In the area where you will have your campre, clear the leaf litter and other dead foliage away until the bare earth is exposed. If the ground is peat, you should not light a re there. You must nd a rocky area (such as next to a stream) to light your re. In very dry coniferous woods this is good practice too, as it is easy to set re to root systems. Generally it is good to have your re within easy walking distance of a water source. This will provide you with all the drinking water you need plus you will have water to extinguish all remnants of your re before you leave. You should create a hearth of dead, dry sticks of around thumb thickness. On top of this you will create your re-lay. Creating a hearth has several advantages:
1. A hearth prevents your kindling from sitting directly on damp and/or cold ground; 2. A hearth (of dead, dry sticks), provides a ready source of fuel at the centre of your re; 3. The gaps in the hearth allow air (in particular, oxygen) to be drawn into the base of the re.

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How to Light a Campre With One Match

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Clear an area for your campfire and lay down a hearth of dry, dead wood. Photo: Amanda Quaine.

Now that you have prepared the area and the hearth, separate the bundle of kindling into two good handfuls. Keep the kindling long. Each handful should look like the end of a miniature witchs broom. Now think about which way the wind is blowing. Even if there is only a slight breeze, take note. Kneel with your back to the wind and place your handfuls of kindling in a V-shape with the open side of the V facing you. Make sure you are kneeling with your knees and feet together. Otherwise there will be a wind-tunnel between your legs (nothing to do with what you had for breakfast!) directed towards the base of your re, which could easily extinguish your match.

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How to Light a Campre With One Match

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Keep your kindling sticks long. You can organise and manoeuvre them easily. Set two handfuls to cross over in the centre of your hearth like this. Photo: Amanda Quaine.

Now You are Ready


Now you are prepared. You have collected plenty of dead, dry match-stick thick kindling from the most suitable woods available. You have collected larger fuel that is also dead and dry. You have selected a suitable area, prepared the ground and put down a hearth. You have arranged generous bunches of kindling and positioned your body taking into consideration wind direction. Now you can light your match. But you must do this properly. By properly I mean in such a way as to minimise the risk of failure, which is what this whole article is about. What if it is your last match? Always practice as if it were. The rst thing to note is that whatever type of container you are using to carry your matches, be mindful to protect them from the elements whenever you open the container. If you are using a regular box of matches, you can open it in two ways so that the match-heads show, or so that the base of the match-sticks show. What if its raining? Or what if it has been raining and there are big drops of water coming o the trees intermittently? What if snow is blowing o the trees? You dont want a big drop of water or dollop of snow landing on your match-heads. Open the match-box so the base of the sticks is showing.

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How to Light a Campre With One Match

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Open your matchbox carefully. Photo: Amanda Quaine.

A match-stick is easy to break if you apply pressure at right angles to its length. It is very hard to break if you apply pressure along its length. Therefore, when you strike a match you should apply pressure along its length, not across it. With cold hands, and reduced dexterity, it is easy to apply too much force and break the match unless you follow this rule. Again, if its your last match or even if it isnt but you make this mistake a few times this simple mistake could cause you to descend into a much more serious situation. As you strike the match, you should also support the head. Dont be afraid of burning your ngers. You wont. Just remove your nger at the end of the strike.

Support the head of the match as you strike. You do not want to break the matchstick. Photo: Amanda Quaine.

On igniting the match, take it straight into cupped hands to protect the vulnerable ame. Wait for the

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How to Light a Campre With One Match

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stick to take from the match-head. Dont drop the matchbox. Not until the match-stick is alight should you take the match to the kindling.

After the match is struck, cup your hands around the match. Keep hold of the match box. Photo: Amanda Quaine.

Do as much as possible to shelter your vulnerable flame: Cupping hands and kneeling with back to the wind. Photo: Amanda Quaine.

Once the match is burning well, carefully take your ame to the kindling. Remember to keep it protected. This is a critical stage of the process. Remembering that heat rises, aim to light the kindling low down. The best spot is in the centre of the V-notch you have created by overlapping the two bundles of kindling. You have most fuel stacked up here and by lighting it at the bottom of this stack, you will create a thermal column up through the middle of it. Hold the match about 1cm (0.5 inches) below the material you are lighting. If you can light the kindling in a couple of spots, all the better.

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How to Light a Campre With One Match

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A key moment: Once your match is burning well, carefully take your flame to the kindling. Photo: Amanda Quaine.

You should still be holding onto your box of matches. This is important. Apart from a standard match-box not being waterproof and being at risk of becoming damp while in contact with the ground, it may also become lost. In the excitement of getting your re going you may forget about the box. You, or a companion, may stand on it or kick leaves or other debris over it. Keep hold of the box! Once the re has begun to establish, you can quickly stow the box in a pocket.

The fire is alight and taking hold. Use this moment to quickly stow your matches. Note the graded fuel within reach, ready to add to the fire next. Photo: Amanda Quaine.

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How to Light a Campre With One Match

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Put your matches away somehwere safe, not on the ground. Photo: Amanda Quaine.

Keeping your kindling long allows you to adjust your re as it becomes established, if necessary. You may need to re-position the kindling slightly or, if the nascent re needs a little more oxygen you can lift the uppermost bundle a little to allow more air into the re. You should certainly experiment with this eect when you are practicing as it can be quite dramatic.

Keeping your kindling long allows you to easily manouevre it into the flames if necessary. Photo: Amanda Quaine.

Once the ames are coming up through your kindling strongly, you can add more fuel. Dont put sticks on one at a time. Grab a couple of handfuls and lay them on in a similar arrangement to your original re lay. Again, keeping the sticks long will allow you to manoeuvre the sticks and place them in the re without scorching your hands.

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How to Light a Campre With One Match

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As the flames take hold of the smaller sticks, add slightly larger fuel to your fire. Photo: Amanda Quaine

Your fire is now well established. If you need a larger fire then continue building with progressively larger fuel. But to boil a can of water for example, you don't need to use fuel any bigger than finger thickness.

And thats it, your re is established and you can now build it up further if necessary or use it to boil some water for a lunchtime brew. The initial principles are the same in either case. Remember the critical importance of preparation and material selection. Choose and prepare your site well. Look after your matches and use them carefully. Take into consideration the weather conditions wind, rain/snow. Then you wont go far wrong. And if you are thinking that all of this seems like a bit of a fa, it actually doesnt take long to do it. Plus doing things properly the rst time normally takes less time in the long run. If you have a friend who would nd this article useful, please share it with them. Thanks!

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How to Light a Campre With One Match

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Related Articles on Paul Kirtleys Blog: Bow Drill: The Keys to Success. How to Build a Survival Kit on Bushcraft Principles. Hypothermia and How to Avoid it.

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Paul Kirtley
Paul Kirtley is a professional bushcraft instructor. He is passionate about nature and wilderness travel. In addition to writing this blog Paul owns and runs Frontier Bushcraft, a wilderness bushcraft school, oering bushcraft courses and wilderness expeditions.

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Posted on October 19, 2011

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