Fire Starting Methods: Pros and Cons

By James Barton â€¢  Updated: 02/08/19 â€¢  6 min read

Fire is vital in all survival situations. It will keep you warm in cold weather, help you with cooking, purifying water, signaling and fending off wilderness residents. There are many methods to start a fire. Each way has its pros and cons.

In this article, we will explore the pros and cons of all the known fire starting methods. The aim is to help you decide the best approach to choose and use in case of a SHTF scenario.


Matches are preferred choices when it comes to fire starting methods in a survival situation. They are compact, easy to use and very portable. Not all matches are made equally. The ones featuring thick stems and the right amount of fuel are better options than the cheap models. Today, survivors can benefit from waterproof matches.


Rapid heat and a quick fire

Good options capable of producing hot flames

Burn long enough to ignite most tinder.

Compact and lightweight

Portable and easy to use


The tendency to run out in a prolonged survival situation

A good gust of wind easily blows them off

The need to keep them wet (except for waterproof models)


Lighters can be considered upgrades to matches. You can use them more frequently to until the fire is started successfully. If the wind blows the fire out, click it again and the lighter will be right on. Lighter are also capable of producing more fire than a full box of matches as long as its fuel tank is healthy. Water and windproof lighters are ideal for survival situations.


Burn hotter and longer

Resistant to the blow off by wind

Very easy to use (simple click)

Compact and lightweight

Can be used repeatedly


Useless if fuel runs out

A mechanical flaw can render it useless


Firesteel / Striker

A fire striker is a portion of carbon steel from which you strike by the sharp edge of your chert, flint or a rock of similar nature. It offers a right balance between convenience and lifespan especially in a survival situate. They are small, extremely lightweight devices that create a very hot spark using magnesium. You can use them for long periods before they wear out.


Very convenient

Compact, lightweight and portable

Produces a very hot spark

Lasts for very long periods


Not very easy to use

The carbon steel may eventually run out

Bow Drill

A bow drill is a rudimentary method of making a fire that is still in use today. It is the method to use if you are stuck in a survival situation with near no supplies. It uses a friction mechanism to start the fire. Bow drill involves twisting or rotating a spindle into a wooden base to create the fire starting friction.

This method is very complex and physically demanding. However, it is worth learning how to design and use. You can make the components using natural materials available in the wilderness.


A useful alternative in the absence of fire starting supplies

Parts can be made from all-natural materials

Pieces are durable and easily accessible

Offers limitless fire-starting potential


Physically demanding

Requires a lot of time to master

Level of success are rather low

 Fire Plow / Hand Drill 

Hand drill and fire plow use the same mechanism as bow drill. A fire plow uses a base and a spindle to create friction which results into an amber. Instead of employing the circular drill mechanism, a plow drill uses back and forth motion. The movement of the stick pushes the amber into a trench on the rear end of the baseboard. Once enough amber has collected, you can transfer it to a bundle of tinder.

A hand drill uses a similar mechanism, but the baseboard is a little bit complex. However, it uses a drill motion from a straight stick drilled at right angles with the board.  There are other methods of starting a fire with all-natural materials. One of the best is the hand drill method, which merely uses a long, thin stick and a wooden baseboard with a notch in it.


A good alternative where supplies are absent

Use all-natural materials available the woods

Simple to set up

Parts are easily replaced if broken


Level of success depends on using the right wood

Requires more time and effort compared matches and lighters

Proper materials are rarely available

Fire Piston

Fire Piston is a relatively new fire starting method. It is highly reliable, effective and compact. It uses compressed air to produce an ember with the right tinder placed in the inner parts of the piston. Using the device is very easy. Simply place fuel in the pistol and put the cap on. You can them make a swift motion in the downward direction, and open the lid of the device to retrieve the lit tinder.


Fairly compact device

Near infinite fuel for long-term use

Good backup for a lighter and matches

Works quickly


Getting proper tinder is a daunting task

The tendency to break easily which renders it useless

Other Methods

The methods we have listed above are some of the most commonly used in survival situations. However, numerous fire-starting methods are less conventional. For instance, you can use a magnifying glass or glass elements extracted from a camera lens to concentrate a beam of sunlight to ignite tinder. It is understandable why the method is ideal in hot sunny environments.

Another ingenious way to start a fire uses a thin piece of wire (paperclip or steel wool) and battery to create embers. Take any battery (a 9 volt is ideal) and connect the positive and negative terminals using the thin wire. The wire will get hot and then ignite to light your bundle of tinder. The method works great in all kinds of environments.


You now have enough information to make the right decision. Each fire making method works although at different speeds with different success rates. Pick at least two ways and perfect them so each can serve as a backup for another in an emergency. Nevertheless, it would be a good idea to learn and improve all the methods to be self-reliant.

You May Also Like to Read

9 Basic Survival Skills Everyone Should Know How to Do

7 Military Skills to Learn for Survival

Urban Survival – 5 Skills You Need in the Concrete Jungle

James Barton

James Barton

Hi, I'm James. I am the founder and main editor for The Survival Corps. I have been a part of the survival and prepping community since my mid 30's as I downsized and started to prepare to be self sufficient in a time of crisis.