How to Waterproof Matches: Be Prepared and Beat the Wet

Written by Bradley Page

Grappling with how to waterproof matches for those wet outdoor conditions? Harnessing fire is arguably the most important breakthrough man has ever discovered. In today’s society, it is increasingly easy to take advantage of the millions of years of innovation and advancement available to us, with the flip of a switch, a clap of the hands, or a scan of a fingerprint.

Such developments in technology and living quality make it easy to forget how life would be without these luxuries.

However, spend a night in the wilderness, without warmth or light, and grateful won’t even begin to cover your emotions in the morning! It’s all about fire and its numerous uses including (but not limited to) warming, landscaping, hunting, preserving, lighting, cauterizing, steaming, cooking, protecting, signaling, sterilizing, and even religious and ceremonial purposes. Where would we be without it!?

With this in mind, it’s safe to say that you never want to be in the wilderness and out of means of getting that fire going. For tips on how to start a fire, check out our article on this topic.

As a camper or backpacker, you’ve heard it a thousand times, and you’ll hear it a thousand more; it is vitally important to have at least three means of starting a fire: from directing sunlight beams via glass onto kindling, to exploiting friction’s heat-catalyzing properties, to striking a fire by means of the primitive flint and steel method.

All of these are doable, and useful skills to know, in case a dire situation calls for it. However, they are also time-consuming, tiresome, and tedious. Camping and backpacking should be fun and time should be spent hiking, fishing, climbing, canoeing, backpacking, geocaching, etc.! Spending an hour attempting desperately to start a fire, in order to roast marshmallows, is not necessarily the way to have a good time. This is where the oh-so-innovative waterproof matches come into play.

Being stuck in the wilderness with a hungry belly, cold toes, and soggy matches is high on the list of, “Scenarios To Avoid.” And, when survival is on the line, no one wants to take any chances.

With that said, there’s nothing worse than setting up camp and realizing that your canteen has spilled all over those handy little fire starters, or getting caught in a rainstorm and losing your convenient means of making a fire.  No, thank you. Waterproofing matches are an invention that has revolutionized the world of camping and outdoor adventures.

See also: Starting A Fire With Sticks: A How to and A When To

A match in and of itself is a very clever innovation.  It has allowed humans to ignite fires with relatively little trouble and very little time. All you need is a stick covered in a special solution of phosphate and potassium chlorate, and a striking surface for friction, in order to spark the two together.

Preparing a camping trip with a stash of waterproof matches is definitely an essential survival tool (although perhaps overlooked in many cases). With such an array of techniques to easily make waterproof and windproof matches, you can ensure you will be prepared for every survival situation!

We have done the research and are here to share some ways you can avoid a waterlogged camping catastrophe. Waterproofing and windproofing matches are handy skills that are not only easy, but smart and cheap as well!  Impress all your camping buddies with your well thought out camping preparations!.

While creating your own waterproof matches can be an interesting thing to do, you may also want to consider purchasing a waterproof firestarter. I use the Everstryke by SurvivalLife, which you can buy here. It can both light a fire when soaked in water and lasts for decades.

EDIT: They’re now giving them out for free because of current world events!

Turpentine – “What is turpentine?” you may ask. Turpentine is distilled oil that is produced from the gum of either a turpentine or pine tree.  Using turpentine as a waterproofing substance for your matches is perhaps the best and most reliable method. Here’s how to DIY seal those hallowed fire starters:

  • Pour 2 – 3 tablespoons of turpentine into a glass or bowl.
  • Places the matches, head down, into the turpentine and allow soaking for at least 5 minutes. During this time period, turpentine will slowly seep into the tip and up the stem of the match.
  • After removing soaked matches from turpentine, allow to dry on a paper towel, newspaper, or tinfoil for about 20-30 minutes.
  • Store matches in a safe place. These matches will stay waterproof for several months.

Turpentine is very flammable, which makes this waterproofing method convenient for you.  Because of its flammability, there is no need to remove the substance prior to use.

The match should ignite the same as it usually would. Note: do not use a plastic cup to hold the turpentine; the chemicals can melt through the plastic.

Wax – Using wax to make your matches impervious to the elements is another easy, cheap, and quick alternative.  Candle wax works especially well! Here’s how to apply this approach:

  • To use this method simply burn enough of the candle to melt the wax (or even use a wax-melter, normally used for diffusing scents).
  • Then simply take each match and dip the top into the wax about a third of the way down the stick. Be sure not to dip the entire stick into the wax. This will only result in hot, melted wax dripping onto your fingers when it comes time to ignite the matches. Ouch!
  • After the wax has cooled considerably (but not all the way) pinch the tip of the match to tighten the seal. This ensures no water seeps in through air bubbles or cracks.
  • Let dry completely and voila! Your matches will stay safe and dry!

Although wax may be the most efficient option, it is by no means the best quality option.  Because wax is brittle, it can easily chip off or crack, if jostled around.  This in turn causes it to lose its impermeability.  In addition, before using matches, all the wax should be thoroughly removed from the tip (which makes this option less efficient than, say, turpentine).

A way to spice this idea up is to consider using scented wax! This could add a little extra ambiance to your campsite, and make the wilderness feel a little bit more like home.

Nail Polish and/or Shellac – Nail polish and/or shellac is also a very accessible way to waterproof and windproof your matches!  Not to mention nail polish is fun a colorful!

  • Simply dip matches into any nail polish/shellac solution (color or clear yield the same results).
  • After removing from nail polish/shellac, allow about 20 – 30 minutes for the substance to dry entirely. Note: The waterproofing will not be nearly as effective if the matches are placed in a compromising position that will affect the nail polish/shellac on the head of the match.
  • Because the polish/shellac takes time to dry, ensure the match heads are suspended over the ledge of a table, counter, etc. If you are setting them over the edge of a table or counter, be sure to place a towel or newspaper beneath. This will help prevent any nail polish droplets from staining flooring or carpet.

Pro-Tip: Stick double-sided tape to a cardboard box. After dipping matches into substance, simply stick them onto tape to dry.

Nail polish and shellac, like turpentine, proves to be an exceptionally good option. This is in part because it is not prone to cracking, but also because it can be lit without having to remove the substance from the head of the match.

Paraffin Wax – The use of paraffin wax in waterproofing matches is another reliable option. Paraffin waxes are flammable, translucent substances, which are obtained by distilling petroleum or shale. Normally, paraffin wax is used in cosmetics, polishes candles, and other sealing and waterproofing options. To use paraffin wax simply follow the directions below:

  • Heat up paraffin wax in a double boiler, until melted. If you don’t have a double boiler, you can also use a metal bowl over a pot of boiling water. A pan over low heat is also an option, however this increases the chances of a fire. Note: Paraffin wax has a low flash point, and can burst into flames if over heated… watch carefully.
  • Bind a group of matches together (or do one match at a time).
  • Dip the tip (and part of the stick) of the bound matches, together into the wax quickly. This will help make a torch that can burn for 10 or more minutes.
  • If you do not want to make a miniature torch, dip each match singly into the paraffin wax, as you would with any of the above waterproofing options.

Pro-Tip: Consider winding cotton-yarn around the length of the match before dipping it into the paraffin wax. This gives the match more “fuel,” and will allow it burn much longer (up to 5 minutes) when put into use.  With this method, dip several times into the paraffin wax.

After creating your waterproof matches in any of the above ways, it is a good idea to store your matches in a waterproof container.  Be sure to place the sealed canister in a plastic bag as well for even more protection!

Another addition, you may want to consider adding waterproof tinder to your waterproof match emergency kit.  Just grab some lint from your dryer, add some wax to it and allow drying. Now you not only have a way to start your fire in soggy conditions, but a way to keep it going as well! For more tips on how to start a fire, see our article on this for more information.

All of these options are not only easy to execute, but quick and effective as well! Camping can offer some trying scenarios, and unexpected twists; all it takes is a little extra thought and preparation work in order for you to rest assured that you and your loved ones are prepared!

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Bradley Page

With several decades of experience as a backpacker and outdoor adventurer, Bradley is an open encyclopedia when it comes to gear, clothes, and other items that matter on the trail. He tested hundreds of shoes, pants, jackets, and backpacks in his long career and is always up to date with the new appearances in the niche. His experience makes him one of the authority figures in backpacking and he can help anyone to get prepared for a great adventure!