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No Matches? No Problem. Here’s How to Build a Bow Drill in the Backcountry

A bow drill fire is a method of firestarting that requires no matches, lighters, flint, or steel — all you need are a few pieces of wood, sticks, and cord.

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Sometimes you need fire and don’t have matches or a lighter. It’s never a great situation to be in. But when you do find yourself in it, knowing how to start a fire without firestarters is a crucial skill — for any camper, backpacker, hiker, biker, or general outdoors person.

There are a lot of different methods for starting a fire from scratch. But this week, on BackpackingTV, Eric Hanson demonstrates how to start a fire using an ancient method called a “bow drill.” Essentially, it’s a means of harnessing friction to create an ember. From there, you build a fire.

Hanson (with his dog) shows us how to collect the necessary materials in a desert environment: a bough for the bow, a fire board, a cord, a drill stick, and a capstone. The cord is tied to each end of the bough (to make the bow). The drill stick is looped into it, and pinned between the capstone and the fireboard. Then, using the bow in a saw-like motion, the drill stick spins on the fire board, creating friction, and eventually, fire.

It’s a nifty trick. One, created back in the fourth or fifth millennium BCE by crafty humans in Mehrgarh (now Pakistan). And obviously, today, some 7,000 years later, it’s still useful. But if it looks challenging, that’s because it is.

Whether you’ve never seen how to make a bow drill fire or need a quick refresher, this video is a good watch. Not just because it’s entertaining, but also because it’s a skill that could save your life. If you want to check out some easier firestarting methods, here’s a list of our Best Firestarters.

Runtime: 8 minutes

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