Choose the best waterproof match container for your survival gear
Can you easily access your matches if you need to start a survival fire? Check out these different kinds or match containers before choosing.
by Leon Pantenburg
Here’s very possible survival scenario from where I live in Central Oregon.
Snow is on the ground, it’s cold, and you’re duck hunting or fishing on a fast-running stream in your waders. You slip and get a quick dunking in the 33 degree water, and must get to shore and make a quick warming fire. If you can’t get a fire going quickly, hypothermia is a possibility.
The butane lighter in your pocket won’t work because it’s too cold. You can’t open your match container, because some sand got in the threads of the opener.
(I’m just testing you regulars out there. Of course you’re going to have cotton balls infused with Vaseline and a ferrcerium rod along. Making a quick fire will be a done deal.)
I generally don’t carry matches in my survival gear (here’s why), because they are unreliable, and a finite ignition source. Under ideal circumstances, a trained outdoorsperson should be able to light one campfire with each match. But survival situations, by definition, are not ideal, and you need a reliable firestarting kit that will work under most circumstances.
That being said, I sometimes include a container of matches if I’m heading out with untrained people. Chances are, most people know what matches look like, and have a general idea of how to use them.
So let’s assume you have some quality matches. How will you carry them?
The most basic method, I suppose, is to carry them loose in your pocket. The next step up might be to carry them in a plastic bag. Again, bad idea, since there is virtually no protection.
Here are some things to consider about choosing a match container:
- Could you open it with wet, cold, possibly muddy hands?
- If you were injured, could you open the container with one hand?
- Does it have a striking surface that would stay dry?
- Is the container brightly-colored in case you drop it in snow or in the darkness?
- Will the container protect the contents if it is dropped or stepped on?
The striking surface is really important. A strike-anywhere match can’t be struck everywhere. During a sleet storm in the wilderness, for example, a dry surface may be really difficult to find! A wet surface will ruin the tip of the match, and not create enough friction to cause ignition. Too coarse a surface might cause the head to snap off. So, the best bet is to include a piece of the match box abrasive strip inside the container.
Here are some match containers I have used.
Plastic bag: When car camping, the safest way to light a stove or lantern is with one of those long-stemmed butane lighters. But in the cold, butane doesn’t vaporize easily, so I carry backup matches. Book or strike-anywhere matches don’t do well in damp conditions, so sealing them from moisture is common sense.
Metal: When I was a kid, assembling my survival gear for the wilds of Iowa, I ordered a metal match container from Herter’s. (How many of you baby boomers remember this company?) The match container was made of seamless nickel plated brass, had a rubber seal, and was waterproof. A striking surface was on the body of the container. It had a ring so it could be secured.
If you currently have one of these in your survival kit, get rid of it! I found that the metal container jams when sand, grit, pocket lint, etc get in the threads of the top device. In some instances, the the thing would lock up solid, required two pliers to twist the thing open. And forget about opening it with one hand!
Don’t depend on a piece of gear that could prove dangerous.
Prescription bottles/containers: Everybody has a prescription for something, and the recycled bottles make good match containers. I particularly like the screw-on type. In addition to carrying matches, the bottles also make excellent carriers for cotton balls and Vaseline firestarters.
Plastic: These are the containers I currently use. They’re cheap – about a buck or so at Walmart, available in blaze orange, and have a flint striker on the bottom. I find the striker largely ineffective for making sparks, and I wouldn’t rely on it to start a fire.
But the tops can be twisted off easily, even one-handed. In a pinch, you could hold the top with your teeth and get the container open.
Survival expert Peter Kummerfeldt recommends this setup: duct tape two of the containers together, with ferrocerium rod attached. Put matches in one container, and cotton balls infused with Vaseline in the other. Duct tape the two together, and you have an effective methods of combining your firemaking tools.
This setup gives you everything you need to get a fire going in virtually any circumstance or situation.