Fire saved my life. In fact, during the 6 months of training to be a SERE Specialist, there were only a handful of times that I wasn’t cold, wet, hungry and sleep deprived. On some phases of training, fire was intentionally withheld so we could experience what it was like to suffer without it. Fire changes your life. Cooking food, sterilizing water, heating, signaling, tool-making and morale to name a few. For our safety throughout training, our instructors mandated that we keep two things on our belt at all times: one was a knife, the other was a metal match.
The Metal Match
This is something you need to have in your survival kit. A lighter or matches are okay, but are much more limited when it comes to the number of fires you can light. The metal match (or Ferro cerium rod) will light thousands of fires by showering your tinder in sparks nearing 5430°F. It strikes even when it’s wet and is more reliable than a lighter or matches that aren’t the lifeboat kind. Three ways to make fire are the industry standard for what should be in your survival kit so matches and a lighter round out the trio nicely.
There are as many metal match styles as there are companies that manufacture them, but a general rule is bigger is better. Keeping this in mind, a metal match that is on your person is better than the one you left at home because it was more weight and larger then you wanted to carry. I keep a mini version on my key ring and although it’s tougher to use than the larger ones out there, it’s always in my pocket. Having a handle at the top of the rod is certainly not a necessity and is really easy to improvise by drilling a hole in the rod and threading through a length of parachute cord. The metal match that I keep in my pocket when I’m in the woods is a 5” x ½” diameter style. Similar to this one.
You’ll need to practice using your metal match before your life depends on it (like anything that’s in your kit) so here are some tips to hone your skill:
- Forget the striker- If your metal match came with one, don’t waste time with it. Use the back side of your knife (if it’s a locking blade) or an awl instead
- Use firm and constant pressure down the length of the rod- This will give you the highest quantity and quality sparks for getting your tinder lit
- Angle your knife 45° to the rod- This keeps your knife from smothering the flame you’re trying to create as the knife travels down the rod towards the tinder (check out the video below to see this in action)
- Place the bottom of the rod on a stable platform and in your tinder bundle- A forearm sized branch will work fine for a platform
Care and Use
Pretty simple for this piece of gear- no maintenance required. I’ve had one rust pretty bad on a horrible rainy coastal trip, but even then it threw sparks like any other day. They’ll take a good pounding and if you manage to break it in half…so what? Now you have two metal matches.
Get one for your kit (maybe even your key ring) and know how to use it. A quality one will likely out live you and provide years of service you can depend on when your life is on the line.