How To Light A Match Without the Box

If you like to explore the great outdoors – whether it be camping, hiking, or some other activity – matches are an essential part of your kit. As well as letting you start a fire quickly and easily, matches are also small and light enough to slip in any rucksack or pocket.

However, the striking strip on the side can wear down over time, or you might lose the box. In that case, how are you supposed to light the match?

Don’t worry, there are a couple of different ways you can light a match without needing the box. These tricks are great for anyone who likes to spend time in nature, as well as just good know-how in general.

So let’s get right into it!


As mentioned previously, there are several tricks you can use to light a match box-free. Here we’ll take a look at each method and break down how you can do it.

Using Stones

If you watch a lot of old films, you may have seen the trick where someone strikes a match off a rock. This isn’t just movie magic – it’s actually pretty simple to pull off. And with the abundance of rocks in nature, you’re sure to find a good striking surface easily enough.

While it might sound obvious, the rock you’re using will need to be absolutely dry for this to work. If there’s any moisture at all the match won’t be able to light.

If the ground is too damp but there’s sun out, try leaving the rock out for a short while to dry out. It’ll also need to be rough enough to create friction, but still have an even-enough surface so you don’t snap the match.

From there, drag the match across the stone’s surface to light it. This may take a couple of tries, so be patient. As long as you use enough force and have a suitable rock, you should get it lit before too long.

Not only are rocks suitable for lighting matches, but you can also use building materials like concrete or brick, and even some glass. Again, the surface needs to be rough and dry for this to work. Safety matches also won’t be able to light on these surfaces, but ‘strike anywhere’ matches live up to their name.

Striking On Sandpaper

Sandpaper is one of the easiest replacements for a matchbox, as it is a very similar material to the striking surface for standard matches. This also means you can light safety matches on it, despite them usually requiring a matchbox to light.

Because sandpaper is quite flimsy on its own, you may be better off using a block or stone as a support. You should also aim for sandpaper with medium coarseness. If the grit is too high, you may just snap the match or remove its head, rendering it unusable.

Low-grit sandpaper also won’t do, as you won’t be able to generate enough friction. Medium-grit is ideal, as it gives you an appropriate surface to strike off without breaking your match.

The only downside to sandpaper is that you might not have any on you if you haven’t planned ahead, particularly in an emergency. However, in terms of ease of use and convenience to carry, sandpaper stays a cut above the rest. 

Lighting A Match With Your Fingernail

Sparking a match with a flick of your thumb is more than a great party trick – it can be a great thing to know how to do in case you don’t have a matchbox to light your match with.

It’s also fairly easy to get the hang of and lets you light matches quickly while one-handed.

To do it, hold a match in your index and middle fingers, pointing up so the match is parallel with your thumb if you’re doing a thumbs-up.

Now, place the right edge of your thumbnail very slightly to the left of the tip of the match. Don’t just rest it on top – if you push forwards gently, you should feel a slight resistance and your thumbnail shouldn’t move.

From here, quickly and deliberately flick your thumb forwards and to the left. It may take a few tries, but with a bit of practice and the right combination of force and speed, the match should spark. Of course, the flame is going to be very close to your skin, so be ready to move quickly to avoid getting burned.

You should also bear in mind that this trick only works with strike anywhere matches, and safety matches won’t work. Additionally, these instructions are for using your right hand. Lefties simply need to swap the directions in the instructions to do the trick.

Lighting A Match With Other Matches

If all else fails but you still have a few matches left, all is not lost. You are actually able to light matches off of each other – this even works for safety matches!

Like using your thumbnail, this trick may take some practice to get the hang of it. That said, once you know what to do you should be able to pull this trick off consistently.

First, take four matches and arrange them in a 2×2 square with all the match’s heads pressed together. It can be a bit fiddly to hold them properly in one hang, so stick with it.

Now that you’ve arranged these matches, take a fifth match in your other hand. Push this match’s head in between the other four, making sure that they stay as tight together as possible.

This is the tricky bit – using a fast and deliberate twisting motion, pull the single match out while keeping the other matches pressed together. If you do it right, all five matches should light.

Similar to using your thumb, this trick can be dangerous if you’re not careful. Not only do you have one match to worry about, you’ll also have a much larger flame in your other hand. Make sure you’re being cautious to avoid injury. 

Nevertheless, using matches to light each other is a great way to start a fire without the matchbox. And because this trick also works with safety matches, it’s good to know how to pull it off.

Final Thoughts

There isn’t a single best or easiest method of lighting a match without a box. Each trick has its pros and cons, but all of them are great ways to get a fire started in a pinch.

For example, lighting a match with other matches can be wasteful and even dangerous if not done properly. However, it is one of the few ways to light safety matches without the striking strip on the matchbox.

And while sandpaper can also do this without using way more matches than you need, you’re less likely to be carrying sandpaper around with you, especially in an emergency situation.

Using your fingernail also puts you at risk of being burned, but once you get the hang of it you can light a match quickly and with one hand.

So whichever method works best for you, now you know how to light a match without the matchbox.

Eric Willis
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