survival matches

Matches or Lighter: Which is the Better Fire Starter in a Survival Situation

Fire in undoubtedly one of the most significant aspects of survival. Being able to start a fire means that survivalists have the means to keep warm, cook, boil water, keep disease-carrying bugs away, see in the dark, and signal for help in case of emergency.

Two of the most common ways for survivalists to start these fires are with either matches or a lighter. Both of these options come with their fair share of strengths and weaknesses.

Below, we will discuss the pros and cons of both options and which is the best overall fire-starter.

Lighters as a Fire Starter

Lighters are a simple and convenient way for survivalists to start a fire. It is easy to assume that lighters are the obvious choice over matches, but the truth is that lighters might not be a great option in certain survival situations or environments. Here are some of the pros and cons of relying on a lighter in survival situations.

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Pros of Lighters

Thousands of Uses

Because lighters function using fuel, survivalists can get several thousands of uses out of a single lighter meaning one lighter can last for years. These are a lot more uses than even a large pack of matches will yield. Survivalists using a lighter instead of matches won’t have to as carefully ration their use of fire.

One-handed use

Unlike matches, lighters can easily be used with a single hand. This might prove useful if a survivalist has to carry more items in their other hand or shield the flame from wind or rain. The only exception to this is if a survivalist wraps something around the top of the lighter in order to keep out water. This frees up your other hand to hold tinder and add twigs.

Immediate access

Lighters, unlike matches, do not need to be stored in something. Waterproof containers and protective boxes aren’t necessary, as most lighters are durable enough to be thrown right into a backpack or pocket. This could be beneficial in situations where it is difficult to see or when you need a flame as quickly as possible.

Cons of Lighters

More Parts

Lighters are a more advanced technology than matches, and in being so they also have more components that could break. If even just one part of a lighter becomes defective, survivalists will have no other option for immediately starting a fire.

Temperature Dependent

Lighters won’t work in below freezing temperatures. In cold weather the fuel won’t flow through the lighter properly, making it basically useless. This can be solved in some cases by warming the lighter between the legs or in the armpit for a minute or two. Matches will light regardless of temperature.

Accidental discharge

Lighters have a finite amount of fuel and are at risks of accidentally discharging in a backpack. While the tab on a lighter being pressed won’t make a flame, it will cause for some of the fuel to be used up. This can be avoided by wrapping something around the top of the lighter or purchasing a lighter with a safety tab.

Matches as a Fire Starter

Matches are another easy way to create a fire in survival situations. Although not as durable as lighters, matches can be depended on by survivalists in many environments and are also a great option. Here are some of the pros and cons of relying on matches in survival situations.

survival matches

Pros of Matches


Many survival matches are made to strike anywhere. This means that survivalists don’t need to carry an extra striking board and can conveniently use their matches in any environment.

Wind Resistant and Waterproof

Unlike a lot of lighters, most survival matches come already waterproofed and resistant to the wind. This allows survivalists to use them even in harsh weather conditions when they probably need fire the most.


Unlike lighters which have many components, lighters are much simpler and less likely to malfunction during use. If the matches are kept in a waterproof container they are considered extremely dependable.

Cons of Matches

Single Use

Unlike lighters which can light up to 3,000 times, matches are single use. It would be difficult for a survivalist to pack enough matches to equal a lighter, especially if using waterproof containers and more durable matches. Running out of ways to start a fire could be life-threatening in survival situations.

Useless on Wet Surfaces

Strike-anywhere matches are of no use in environments with wet surfaces. If it has recently rained or if survivalists are in an area near a large body of water then their strike-anywhere matches might not work, leaving them without fire until things dry off.

Potentially Dangerous

Many survivalists choose to store their matches in a waterproof container. However, if stored loosely in a backpack or pocket these matches could be dangerous. Unlike lighters which will simply use up gas if accidentally discharged, matches can strike against each other and create an actual flame.

Matches or Lighter?

While both options have some good pros and cons, the benefits of using a lighter make it a better option in a survival situation. They will last longer and, if taken care of and protected from water, will be more dependable in a greater variety of environments and weather conditions.

They are more convenient and take up less room, so it probably won’t be difficult to pack more than one if worried about running out of fuel.

Both options are small enough that it would be beneficial for survivalists to pack both, using matches as a backup when their lighter runs out of fuel or in colder situations when their lighter’s fuel isn’t flowing properly.

It is always a good idea to have more than one type of fire-starter in a backpack. However, if circumstances only allow for one option, lighters are the more effective and safer choice.

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