Thursday, January 19, 2012

Matches - The Old Standby

I've decided to make January fire month! What an awesome name for a month. I love fire! This is the second post in a series on ignition sources.

You cannot make fire without an ignition source. For the next few posts I am going to highlight the most popular ignition sources. I will also review a few fire making tools, show you some novel ways to make fire, and give tips for using all of them.

I'll just start out by saying that matches are my favorite way to light a fire. They are consistent and effective. You don't have to worry about them leaking or breaking like you do with a lighter. They do not take a specific skill set like firesteels or flint and steels do (more on these soon). Most of all, I love how they smell when they flair up. I even love the sound they make!

If I could only choose one fire starting method to bring with me in the woods it would be matches. In fact, I generally only bring matches on a short hike. In a short term situation they are all you need.

They are not without their drawbacks, however. Regular matches are very sensitive to moisture. Even a very humid day can make them ineffective. They are also a one shot deal. If you run out of matches you are just out of luck. On windy days they are frustrating to use, although proper match lighting technique will help overcome this.

Proper match lighting technique?!? You strike it and it lights. Where's the technique? Good question. Most people strike a match, let it catch fire to the stick, and then apply it to whatever they want to burn. The trick to using a match in the wind is to strike it and apply it to the tinder in one motion. You have half a second when the match is lighting and when it will not blow out. That half a second is all you need to light your tinder.

There are four basic types of matches that are suitable for a fire making kit. You have your regular safety matches, waterproof safety matches, strike anywhere matches, and stormproof matches.

Safety matches are the easiest to find. I always have a box close. I believe they are in every drawer in my house. I keep a box permanently in every hunting pouch, vest, and jacket. They do not work when wet and need a match striker to work.

I like them for their small size, dependability and cost. A dollar will get you eight boxes.

Waterproof matches are just like plain old safety matches, but they are waterproof. I was dubious about their waterproofing claim, but after some tests I can say it is true. They are waterproof. These tend to have slightly smaller sticks than the other matches, so they sometimes break when you light them.

I really should replace all my standard matches with these. They are a little more expensive, about 75 cents a box, but make up for it by being waterproof.

Strike anywhere matches used to be the standard for camping and survival.  Now they are hard to find. There is a myth that they are illegal in the US. I proved this myth wrong in one of my most popular blog posts.

I am disappointed to report that they are not made up to the standards that they where when I was a kid. Now, the sticks are of poor quality, one out of five breaks when I light them. They are also harder to light. I used to be able to light them with my fingernail, now it takes something flat and rough, but not too rough to light them. One out of every three will not "strike anywhere" at all.

I used to recommend dipping them in wax to waterproof them. Now I do not. The wax makes them even harder to light. It is very, very sad, but I cannot recommend them for an emergency fire starting kit. They are just not reliable enough.

Stormproof matches are half match, half firework. They are, in my opinion, the ultimate emergency fire starting tool. NOTHING beats them.

When you light them they burn like a fuse and will not blow out. They are truly waterproof and any amount of rain will not put them out. Just watch for yourself:

The manufacturer claims that they will burn for 15 seconds and will even burn underwater. These claims are exaggerations at best and outright lies at worst. They will burn for about 10 seconds (still very good) and if they are briefly dipped in water will sometimes stay lit (amazing in itself).

They are fairly expensive at three dollars for a pack of 25. However, they are well worth it. These are the very best fires starting tools you can put in your survival kit.

A note about match books:

One type of matches that you should never consider putting in you fire starting kit is match books. They are hard to light, delicate, and do not burn long. Matches are cheap. Buy good ones.

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