How To Start A Fire With A Battery

1Having the ability to start a fire when the SHTF is a critical element of survival. Fire gives you warmth, allows you to cook food, sterilize you water, and keep animals at bay. Without this ability life gets a lot tougher and unpleasant. This is why I have multiple fire starting tools in my Get Home Bag and my Bug Out Bags. One of the tools in my BOB is a 9V battery and some steel wool. Most of you have probably tried this (hopefully) or at least seen a YouTube video. It’s quite easy and with some good tinder you can have a fire going in no time. The battery and steel wool take up little space and weigh very little in comparison to what it can do for you.

I decided I would try fire starting with different batteries and see what worked and more importantly what didn’t. First up was the battery / gum wrapper combination. This scenario involves taking a foil gum wrapper , one that has a paper lining and cutting it in such a way that there is a thin filament like section in the middle. Connecting the ends of the wrapper to the +/- ends of the battery will cause the filament to eat quickly and ignite the paper lining. Sounds easy right? As I set about to test this I hit several roadblocks immediately. First of which is the fact that I don’t chew gum so no wrappers. I waited until my daughter came home and she surrendered a stick of gum which had only a paper lining, no foil. I made one feeble attempt at making my own wrapper with some aluminum foil and tissue. The foil did get hot but not enough to ignite the tissue paper. Most likely this was from lack of the two being bonded together. Fortunately, my favorite niece (I only have one) came thru with a foil / paper wrapper. Proceeding on I tried a AAA and then two AAA batteries. Neither configuration yielded enough heat to have the wrapper ignite. Moving on to a single AA didn’t work any better. The two AA configuration did generate some smoke but no flame. I decided to shelf this idea as its ability to provide an ignition source is not one I like to depend on.

Next up was the spark method. I took a couple pieces of wire with alligator clips and connected them to each end of a AA battery with some duct tape and touched the ends together next to a cotton tinder ball. After multiple attempts I managed to get some smoke going but not enough for a real ember. Out of curiosity I tried a AAA battery using the same method. There were a few barely visible sparks but not enough to ignite anything.

However, switching out the cotton ball for steel wool yielded excellent results. The AA was able to ignite the steel wool enough to get an ember going. If one battery is good is two better? Taping two batteries together did work better. The double AAA setup produced an ember but not easily. The two AA batteries performed about the same with the cotton ball however it easily created a glowing ember in the steel wool. I then decided to skip the wires and just use the steel wool as the conductor path. This method easily ignited the steel wool and had a sustained ember that would easily transfer to a tinder bundle.


Stepping up to D cell batteries again had similar results but not enough to warrant switching from AA if you were weight conscious about your bag contents. The 9 volt battery and steel wool were the clear winner in the battery fire starting challenge if for nothing other than ease of use. Just stick the end of the battery to the steel wool and watch the ember glow.

Before wrapping up the testing I decided to try one more method. Taking a two cell AA Maglite® (non LED) I removed the bulb and stuck a piece of wire into each hole of the bulb socket. The two wires were made by snipping apart a small safety pin from my med kit. Pressing this into the steel wool created an ember every time. Removing the wires and replacing the bulb into its socket returned the flashlight to working order. This will only work with non LED flashlights unless you want to tear the guts out of your light.



So what did I learn from this? Several things. Trying to ignite tinder with AAA is not something I would choose to bet my life on. Using steel wool as the conductor works better than wires. The AA and D cell batteries work best with steel wool. So my 9V battery and steel wool that’s already in my bug out bag will stay. It’s a reliable and easy way to create enough embers to get tinder roaring into a fire. Going old school with a non led flashlight is something I plan on changing in my bag. Having alternative fire starting tools in your bag is a good idea. I will replace the small LED light in my med kit with a two cell AA Maglite® while keeping a larger LED tactical light which is also my rifle’s spare light.

Spending a cold lonely night in the dark while the coyotes howl is a poor alternative to having a fire that provides you warmth and comfort. Practice your fire starting with these methods and try different ignition sources such as a Ferrocerium rod or a Fresnel lens until you’re comfortable that you can do it every time.

Know any other simple fire starting tricks?
Leave them in the comment below!

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