Fire: it’s been an essential part of human civilization and existence forever. Today, unless you are an avid camper who needs it for cooking and warmth, most Americans live lives disconnected from the necessity of fire. We cook with gas or electricity and many of our homes are heated by a furnace.
Still, you never know when you will find yourself in a situation where you need to build a fire, which is why having the best fire starter can be a life saver.
Even if you don’t anticipate being stranded in the woods with no way to stay warm or prepare food, a fire starter is handy for all kinds of situations from quickly lighting a grill to starting up a wood burning stove with a spark that will give you more heat than a spark produced by a match.
Here, we have put together a list of great survival fire starters to help you choose the one that will be the most useful to you.
It is one thing to have a fire starter on hand, but completely another story when it comes to knowing how to make a fire from the spark you will create from your fire starter.
Fire starters are great because many designs operate well in the rain and can create a spark that is hotter than a spark produced by a match. This gives you an advantage when trying to start a fire in adverse conditions, but the more skills you develop for building a fire, the easier it will get and you will be able to improvise better in any given situation.
The first step for building a fire is lighting the tinder. The tinder is the base of the fire, and you want something that is highly flammable and can hold the flame at a high temperature while you let it catch larger pieces of material on fire.
Some of the fire starters reviewed here include pieces of pre-made tinder. Other fire starters include a waterproof container to store tinder that you make or bring along yourself.
It is essential that your tinder be dry for best results. You can bring along your own tinder, such as a cotton ball soaked in petroleum jelly or dryer lint. In the wild, some materials that you can use for tinder include pine needles, small dried leaves, bark, wood shavings or bits of dried plant material.
After preparing your tinder, gather kindling, which is material that is a little bit bigger than the tinder and can sustain heat for a longer period of time and burn hot.
As your fire grows, progressively add larger and larger materials until the heat is intense and sustained enough to ignite logs for some serious fire.
Most fire starters work with two main components: the flint and the blade. Historically, iron pyrite or another metal was used as the blade and hit against a rock to create a high temperature spark.
The same is done today, and the flint is generally a material that burns at a high temperature such as magnesium or ferrocerium. Ferrocerium works because when it is struck with a piece of steel, small shavings are removed from it quickly and ignite when they oxidize. Therefore, the sparks you see are actually pieces of burning metal.
Ferrocerium produces sparks that are hotter than 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Since it works by shaving small pieces of ferrocerium off of the rod, you can create a spark by striking it with any material that is harder than the ferrocerium rod. Ferrocerium is also used in lighters, and it’s an alloy of iron (hence the “ferro”) and cerium.
Magnesium is another common flint material because it also creates sparks that burn at a high temperature. Before the advent of friction matches, flint and steel systems were the most common way to start fires.
Most of the fire starters that we reviewed here are able to withstand several thousand steel strikes, but to make your fire starter last the longest you can rotate it and strike it from different sides or angles to reduce localized wear and tear.
Because the basic flint and steel method for starting fires has been around for thousands of years, there is not very much variation between different fire starters. However, we have compiled descriptions of 8 different fire starters so you can choose the one that will work best for you.
Products You Need to Be Watching
Bushcraft Essentials Fire Piston
Weight: 4.8 ounces
Dimensions: 4.9 x 0.8 inches
Special Features: Made from precision CNC, includes 4 replacement gaskets, char cord and ferrocerium rod
Best Use: Camping and hunting
Description: The Bushcraft Essentials fire piston is a reliable tool for lighting tinder to start a fire outdoors. The fire piston works much in the same way as a diesel engine does.
You insert tinder materials into the fire piston, and the compression of the piston heats the air so much that the material will catch fire. The fire piston comes with 4 replacement gaskets, which are made of nitrile rubber and are resistant to abrasion, heat and cold.
For best use, it’s important to lubricate the gaskets, which can be done with Vaseline although they are compatible with a wide variety of lubricants. While it is relatively easy to start a fire with this piston, you still need to know how to build a fire.
The goal of this product is to start an ember in the tinder you insert into the fire piston, but be sure to have the rest of your fire-building materials on hand, like a small nest of more substantial fuel where you can insert the ember. $50.
Epiphany Outdoor Gear Weatherproof Fire Starting Kit
Weight: 2.4 ounces
Dimensions: 10 x 10 inches
Special Features: Includes steel, steel striker and tinder fuses
Best Use: When you are strapped for time and need pre-prepared tinder
Description: The Epiphany Outdoor Gear weatherproof fire starting kit is a lightweight, simple kit that contains the essentials for starting a fire. One convenient feature of this kit is that it includes a small waterproof container with “Baddest Bees” tinder fuses.
They look like little pieces of rope but to get the best use out of them, increase their surface area and the amount of air in them by pulling them into small fluff balls. The kit also includes fire steel and a steel striker.
The best feature of the Epiphany Outdoor kit is that it is weatherproof. It does a great job of starting fires in wet climates, and the tinder fuses hold a flame for a long enough time to give you some wriggle room when it comes to taking the time to build up the fire around the tinder fuses.
It also includes a stainless steel bellows to help increase the size and quality of your fire. For $23, this kit is a reasonable price for a weatherproof fire starting kit.
Related: EricX Light Ferrocerium fire starter
Ezyoutdoor Magnesium Fire Starter Survival Kit
Weight: 1 ounce
Dimensions: 0.3 x 2.65 x 4.17 inches
Special Features: Includes serrated striker, black magnesium flint, iron toothed scraper
Best Use: Portable and convenient to keep in a purse, car or pack.
Description: For only $6, the Ezyoutdoor magnesium fire starter is an inexpensive fire starting that is great for camping and casual use. The flint itself is made of magnesium and the scraper is iron. A magnesium stick is a very basic flint material for starting fires.
Magnesium has a very high combustion temperature and is commonly used as a fire starter as well as having uses in pyrotechnics, flash photography and flares. This is a very basic, no-frills fire starter. It’s waterproof and can still be relied on in bad weather.
It also comes with a lanyard for carrying. Because magnesium is such a great material for starting fires, you can shave off magnesium from the serrated edge and use it as part of the fire you’re building. This fire starter is very small and lightweight so it is easy to slip in a pack when you need a lightweight option.
Ultimate Survival Technologies Blastmatch Fire Starter
Weight: 2.7 ounces
Dimensions: 4 x 1.25 x 1 inches
Special Features: Ferrocerium rod, spring loaded rotating flint bar, one-handed design
Best Use: Backpackers, cross country skiers, mountaineering
Description: The Ultimate Survival Technologies Blastmatch fire starter is unique because it has a design that makes it capable of one-handed use. This is especially useful if you’re injured or tired, and it makes it just plain convenient.
It contains a spring to fully extend the steel before the user squeezes the scraper and applies pressure to the ferrocerium rod, which creates a spark that is three times hotter than the spark created by a match.
At only 2.7 ounces, it is light enough to bring with you on backpacking or cross country ski expeditions where you are trying to conserve weight. The part of this fire starter that contains the striker is made of ABS plastic, which has no true melting point and has a high resistance to heat and impact.
The striker itself can undergo 4,000 strikes and can be rotated 360 degrees so that wear is evenly distributed across the striker. The sparks from the Blastmatch can also be targeted in any direction. $19.
Related: XL Ferrorod for Bushcraft Survival
Exotac Nanostriker Xl Ferrocerium Fire Starter
Weight: 1 ounce
Dimensions: .43 x .43 x 3.7 inches
Special Features: Replaceable ¼-inch ferrocerium rod, collapsible
Best Use: Camping and backpacking
Description: The Exotac Nanostriker XL is another very small and portable fire starter that’s great to take along on camping and backpacking trips. The rod is made of ferrocerium, which is a material that when scraped against another metal produces very hot sparks that burn at over 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
The striker for the Exotac is made of tungsten carbide, which is twice as hard as steel.
The Nanostriker is waterproof, but it is important to remember that in order to keep a ferrocerium striker in the best condition you should store it in an airtight container to prevent corrosion from the air, which will happen over a long period of time being exposed.
The ferrocerium rod on the Nanostriker is replaceable and it can take 3,000 strikes for fire starting. The body of the striker is made of 6061 aluminum, which helps keep it lightweight. You can also buy the Nanostriker that isn’t the XL model, but the XL is wider although they are the same length. $28.
Related: Exotac NanoSTRIKER
Gerber Bear Grylls Fire Starter
Weight: 1.9 ounces
Dimensions: 11.8 x 2.8 inches
Special Features: ferrocerium rod and metal striker, emergency whistle, lanyard cord, includes pocket survival guide
Best Use: Damp environments
Description: The Bear Grylls fire starter is part of the line of gear produced when Bear Grylls and Gerber brand teamed up to produce a series of survival gear. The fire starting unit is self-contained and is waterproof, and includes a ferrocerium rod and metal striker.
It also includes a waterproof storage compartment for the purpose of storing tinder to keep it dry. It also comes with a lanyard that features a survival whistle and a Bear Grylls pocket survival guide.
The survival guide details information on land to air rescue and other information about survival basics. Gerber is a respected brand best known for knives and multitools, so for $9 this fire starter actually includes a lot.
The most useful feature of this fire starter is the waterproof container for tinder because it’s a smart idea to keep tinder with the fire starter in case you find yourself in a situation (wet, windy, etc.) where good tinder is not readily available on the landscape.
Aurora Fire Starter 440C Red
Weight: 0.3 ounces
Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 inches
Special Features: Magnesium-ferrocerium rod, stainless steel striking blade
Best Use: Camping, hiking, home use
Description: One of the company claims to fame about the Aurora fire starter is that it has climbed Mount Everest, and it is definitely a quality fire starter that has many notable components.
The rod is ferrocerium, but has magnesium mixed in which makes it unique from other fire starters reviewed here. It also includes a stainless steel striking blade that can be sharpened as well. There is also the option of purchasing a super alloy blade which does not dull as quickly.
The cylinder is made of lightweight aircraft aluminum and the rod can do double duty as a knife sharpener. The aluminum is also cross hatched to help improve grip.
Overall, the Aurora 440C is what you would expect from a decent fire starter without many extra bells and whistles. For $20, you’ll get a no frills fire starter that will get the job done.
Boker Plus Fire Starter With 4-3/4 Inch Blade
Weight: 3.5 ounces
Dimensions: 4.75 inches long
Special Features: Threaded aluminum body with non-slip checkering
Best Use: Basic home use, camping, hunting
Description: Boker is based in Germany and is a company typically known for manufacturing quality knives. All of the components of this Boker Plus Fire Starter With 4-3/4 Inch Blade are housed within an aluminum body that has non-slip checkering.
As a bonus, the aluminum body has a built in compass on the top. Inside the body, there is a magnesium fire rod as well as a scraper. It also comes with a ball chain, but you can replace that with paracord as a more reliable cord for carrying this tool.
One benefit of a magnesium rod for a fire starter is that it produces flakes or chips that can fall into the tinder and improve the quality of the fire.
The scraper has a serrated end that is curved to fit perfectly around the magnesium rod for maximum surface area while scraping, and it also has a small ruler engraved along the blade. The Boker Plus fire starter is $15, which is typical for a product like itself.
Related: Core Survival Magnesium fire starter
As you can see, it is very smart to keep more than one method to create fire with you when you are spending an extended amount of time in the outdoors.
While the modern amenities of matches and lighters are great, nothing beats the tried and true flint and steel method, which has been modernized into useful tools like the fire starters we have reviewed here.
Choosing the one that will work best for you depends upon the conditions you expect that you will be using it in the most.
The major benefit of having a fire starter is that it creates a very hot spark quickly, which gives you an advantage in damp and cold weather. Weight and bulk of the fire starter are important considerations when you think about how you want to use the fire starter.
One that stays in the home or is used for car camping can be bulkier and have more surface area than one for backpacking or other outdoor recreation where you are trying to keep the weight down.
The fire starters listed here are only a sampling of the various kinds you can find, but we want to hear from you. What type of fire starter do you like to use best?