It’s hard to believe that matches weren’t a common fire starting method prior to the mid 1800s. It just seems like a much older technology. While early Chinese experiments in sulfur-impregnated pine stick “matches” may date back to the 5th century, matches (as we know them) have only been safe to use, affordable, and available to the average person for the last 150-odd years. And even the earliest customers must have felt some sense of dread when they got down to the last few matches in the box—kinda like we would feel today, especially in a survival scenario. But fear not. There are some tricks that will help you get your fire blazing—even when you’re nervously striking your very last match.
1. Above all, protect the match from the wind. Many one match fires fail before the match even gets close to the fire lay. Use your body and hands to shield the infant flame of your match stick from the oncoming breeze.
2. Start burning from the upwind side. This tactic allows the air movement to push the heat and flames through your fire lay.
3. Light it close and low. Strike your match very near to the bottom of the fire lay, so that it doesn’t have to travel very far. You should be kneeling or sitting right next to your fire lay when the match is struck.
And if you are down to your last paper match, there’s a neat trick you can do to get two different fires from it – split the match! Tear one free from the book, and gently start to peel the paper in half, starting at the torn end of the match. Make sure the split gives you equal paper on each side. When your split reaches the chemical head, it should pop into two pieces. These “half-matches” only have half the burn time of a regular paper match, but if you strike them carefully, each one will work and be capable of starting dry fluffy tinder ablaze.
How do you build your one match fires? Please share your back country secrets in the comments.