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Bushcraft or BS: Waterproofing Matches

Have you ever heard about people waterproofing matches with wax?  It sounds like it’d make a mess of your backpack, so I thought we’d try a few alternative methods of waterproofing matches instead.  Dorothy is our resident amateur survivalist, so we thought we’d let her take a crack at this one:

There are basically two types of nail polish:  base, & top coats.  The book that this hack came from didn’t say which one to use, so we decided to try both to see if there was a difference.  Guess what, THERE IS A BIG DIFFERENCE!  The base coat was able to get soaked and still catch fairly easily while the top coat just made a bunch of smoke and went out.

So in order to do this hack yourself, you need a base coat nail polish and a piece of wax paper.  We used a bottle cap to poor the polish into in order to dip it, but you can also dip it directly into the bottle.  Place it on the edge of something that will keep the tip of the match from touching anything.  Once the tip is dry, coat the rest of the match, and place it on the piece of wax paper.  It takes a few hours to dry on the one side before you can turn it so that the other side can dry as well.  Even after it dried, it was a little sticky, so just keep that in mind before you put them together in your bag.

Other effective methods of waterproofing matches include buying them already waterproof, or putting them in a zip-lock bag, which, to me, just makes so much more sense.

Got any other survival hacks that you want to see us put to the test?  Leave them in the comments below!

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36 thoughts on “Bushcraft or BS: Waterproofing Matches”

  1. I’ve experimented with different ways of fire starting and ways of storing fire starters to keep them dry. Something quick and easy is cotton balls coated with vaseline and storing them in an empty container, such as an empty vaseline jar or Working Hands container. As a recycler, I try to reuse as much as possible. One such thing is dryer lint and empty toilet paper rolls (great way to get rid of both). Instead of throwing Christmas trees to the curb for pickup, allow them to dry out, not only do light quickly but they smell good as well. In my camping equipment I keep a box of wooden kitchen matches in a ziplock baggy with a small packet of silica gel (those that come in OTC aspirin, etc), along with a magnesium block and knife. I also carry both in my vehicle at all times (just in case). Wood shavings are also wonderful. Since I heat with wood I’m always on the lookout for “free” wood, such as tree limbs and such that come down. Years ago, I bought “Dime-O-Lite” fire starters. Make them yourself with dime rolls and cotton balls or dryer lint and dip them in melted wax-works great! Store them in an empty coffee container.

  2. If you cover the entire match from tip to bottom on all sides, it not only will water proof the match but also increase it burn capacity since nail polish will burn. Also, If you only dip the tip of the match in nail polish, the unprotected wooden shaft can absorb moisture and destroy the match from the inside out.

  3. A little thought I pick up was used tea bags . After using, spread them out flattened, in a sunny location to dry out. What will work for a fire helper than dried leaves an paper. Big zip lock bags work great.I would rather be hungry than cold!

  4. Fun experimenting but the clever idea of using silicon packets was great. Sometimes you can learn from the members too. Good job.

  5. I’ve seen a lot of good ideas here since I put the first comment on this morning, but don’t overlook the fact you can use electric power, chemicals, and friction to make a fire. Two easily obtained electric starters are a 9 volt battery and a wad of steel wool, and a salvaged igniter from a gas grill. There are literally dozens of ways to start a fire with things like magnifying lenses or glass bottles full of clear water – used to focus the rays of the sun on tinder, butane pocket lighters, and the list goes on. Basically anything that can get hot or make a spark can start a fire. A firearm cartridge can be used to ignite tinder by pulling the bullet and packing some tinder (the softer lint type is best) in the case mouth, then point that end into your remaining tinder and hit the primer – it will not explode but the primer will make the powder burn and set the tinder on fire.

    My least favorite method is friction – it works but at the cost of your strength and energy and only if your materials are bone dry. I consider that a last resort option.

    If you want to make up some match packets in advance the best container is an old medicine vial – the plastic ones are hard and crush proof, and they seal out moisture. Toss a postage stamp sized silica gel packet in with your matches and they will stay fresh for years.

  6. I was going to say that I have seen it done, but I was probably thinking of wax. One saving grace of wax is that it can be peeled off. It always seemed easier to carry the matches in an airtight, waterproof container. This negates having to risk soaking the heads and damaging them in anyway.

    Good survival advice to test. I’d hate to waste the time and money and potentially leave myself with poor or non-functional matches in an emergency. Kudos to Bob and Dorothy at FightFast.

  7. You can put matches in an empty aspirin or other medicine bottle and drop into your bag. I do this when I go fishing, you never know when you may need a match.

  8. I use paraffin dipped strike anywhere kitchen matches and they work great. The wax acts as an accelerant and effectively blocks water, and they will last for years if stored in plastic wrap or a medicine vial, (the vial seals out moisture in the air, and to be safe you can toss in one of those postage stamp sized silica gel packs that come in a variety of consumer products nowdays, as a hedge against leakage).

    All you have to do is melt the wax until it is a clear liquid, and dip half of the match, (head end) into the liquid wax one time. (Please be sensible and turn off the heat under the pan and move it off the stove FIRST). You can let them cool on a wax paper sheet on a cutting board or a box with the head hanging off the edge like she did in the video. I like to cut a strip of plastic wrap the width of the roll and about twice the length of the matches, and lay them side by side, alternating the head left and right, in the middle of the wrap. After you have a dozen or so prepped matches in the middle of the plastic, fold each side in toward the center and press to cling. Then you can roll it up and put it in your kit, baggie or vial. I did an entire box of these matches and have several in different storage places – my bug out bag, field medical bag, range bag, car first aid kit, my storage bin that the charcoal is kept in, and that is to name a few.

    I have been doing this since I was a Boy Scout, and that was 40 years ago. I’ve had the occasion to test them after years of storage, and they always work – just rub the strike end off on some textured fabric to thin the wax and strike them – I’ve never had a failure.

  9. when you painted the match with the nail polish, did you paint the whole match stick or just the match head ? If only the head that would probably be the reason it it only smoked and not flamed. The wooden part of the match will act like a wick when dampened. It will soak up the water all the way up to and under the flammable head, causing smoke not fire. I have never thought to do this, it is a great idea. I will try to do this here at home . As a teenager I had to work with my Dad in his construction company. We at times would leave a board leaning against a house. When clean up time came at job completion I would gather up usable boards to save for the next job. I noticed the water markings on the board that looked like water had crept up from the ground. Asked my Dad and that is what he said, and it happened every time I leaned a board against something, If I remember, I will try this and get back to you. If you try this let me know how it worked. Thank You, Michael Ball

  10. Use non safety (strike anywhere) matches as I’ve yet to find a way to waterproof the striking surface for safety matches!

  11. How bout we try dryer lent as tender? Please use lent used from cotton fibers, it’s better for the environment. Thanks!

  12. A tall baby food jar works really well and keeps the matches drier than a zip lock bag. I put some matches in a jar and misplaced them for several years. Every I opened the jar the matches worked great. I also put a piece of the striker in wrapped in paper so none of the matches could accidentally strike.

  13. Would clear model airplane paint work? I believe that it dries better without leaving a sticky finish such as nail polish does.

  14. Yes, coating the matches, take rope, shoe string or just main string. Tie it off between two supporting post. Run a needle through the string and into the base of the match, cost all of it and let it dry.

    Also pack a few candles, the ones that keep relighting , it will last a lot longer than a match.

  15. There are two problems… first one, if the bag gets even the smallest of holes in it, all the matches you have will get wet. The reasoning behind using wax/paraffin, nail polish, or something similar is so that they can ignite, even if you get water in the bag. Another way matches can get wet inside, is if there is any amount of air in the bag and it gets hot or you get everything wet but do not pull the bag out right way, then condensation will dampen the matches making them almost impossible to light.

    The second problem, matches are perhaps the worst method ever to rely on, since there are so many better options. Yes, you should always have a Plan B, even a Plan C for survival options and that includes lighting a fire. Using a Ferro Rod and even magnesium block, is perhaps the most reliable way to be able to start a fire when it is damp or even wet.

    Have you tried using Turpentine to coat the matches, since the flashpoint of turpentine is much higher than most types of nail polish?? I’d suggest testing that method and see whether that method is better than the others you have tested.

    Of course, in my opinion, carrying a few items to make a bow drill fire kit, and knowing how to use it is even better. Then you can start fires in any weather, anywhere, by finding the things you need… especially when your matches run out. Because that is always a problem with matches, how many should you try and carry and the more you have the more chances there are that they get lost, wet, or in some way used up too quickly.

    Here’s a few ideas to test, most of these I already know the answer to, but they are fun to test nonetheless, because serious outdoorsy people tend to talk about a lot of them quite often. After you test all the ideas behind how you can get the spark or flame to start a fire, then after that you should really test various ideas for tinder bundles, since without a proper tinder bundle you will never have a very good fire. Having a tinder bundle that will last long enough to dry wood enough to burn well in you fire, if everything is soaking wet.

    Perhaps testing the ideas of using Fritos as a quick tinder bundle? Do Fritos really burn that well and how long do they last? Even using Petroleum Jelly and cotton balls, plus, take the time to find the right saturation point… is there a limit, as in too much vaseline, and when that point is reached does it make it easier or harder to use as a tinder bundle that will always remain dry?? What if you don’t use enough vaseline, will they still start easily? Pill Bottle fire starter kits, how well do they work, or do they? Using Dryer lint and vaseline and without vaseline, does one way work better than the other?

    There are other quick tinder bundle methods, I don’t need to list them all, but perhaps add a few of them to this list and ask whether those ideas are BS or not too!!

  16. Nail polish on “strike anywhere” matches is OK, but what we showed our Scouts was, I think, a better solution. We would put a rubber band around a bunch of the matches that would fit into a plastic film cannister, then hold them by their wooden ends and dunk them into melted parrafin and let them dry on wax paper. After they cool and dry, they are then stored in the film cannister on hikes, camp-outs, etc. without rubbing on each other as they might often do in a zip-lock bag.

  17. Remember that when many of these meyhods were devised, strike anywhere matches were easily available, and were best for field use. (Until a paranoid government banned them). Personally, I carry a Bic lighter, a ferro rod, and a back up flint and steel, with tinder and extra char cloth. Fire may be essential, but why go berserk trying to carry all kinds of alternate fire starting methods, when modern industry has given us so many ways of ignition. If the pioneers and buckskinners had access to a Bic lighter, they would have used one. After more than 50 years in and out of the woods, the easy way, is usually the “best” way. If it works for you, it’s good to go. All I would remind you of, is the possibility that one unit may be lost or malfunction. Therefore, carry a back up. Flint and steel will work at all temperatures. Bic lighters must be kept warm. Ferro rods need steel to strike against. An additional back up, would be a magnesium block with a striking surface on one side (back to a ferro rod) There are hundredfs of ways to start a fire. Assume that you will be “out there” foronths at a time, in all conditions and temperatures. Do a little research, and find what works for you. If it works, it’s gold.

  18. Hi guys; I’m a 68 year old Vietnam Veteran (grunt) SVN 70-7; 7RAR. I can asure you im not in the business of going bush ever again!

    1. “Hack” is a slang term that is basically a means of making things easier on yourself by using a method you may not have thought of before. It’s also used to describe getting around a difficult task by finding a simpler method.

  19. I have also wrapped a few wood stick matches along with a Pierce of the striker from box in several layers of foil and dipped the whole thing in wax a few times drying between each dip
    Another idea if you get a sticker you can’t see use some tape and dab the area you feel the sticker in duck tape works best