Having a reliable fire starter can be the difference between life and death in a survival situation. Fire and warmth are life and safety in the wilderness. Modern fire starters give you a compact and reliable tool to get a fire going wherever you may find yourself.
We picked out some of the most popular fire starters on the market and put them through their paces. The list below includes our top picks for survival fire starters.
1. SE 2-in-1 All-Weather Magnesium Firestarter Kit
The SE 2-in-1 All-Weather Magnesium Firestarter Kit combines a block of fast-burning magnesium with a fire steel. This gives you both a reliable way to ignite a tinder bundle and enough magnesium to start up dozens to hundreds of fires. It makes lighting a fire with a fire steel a whole lot easier than just relying on tinder.
Why we like it: A quality Ferro rod and a block of magnesium is a winning combination. The SE kit gives you that plus a useful little survival compass. Magnesium shavings will burn even when wet, and light easily from the sparks of a good fire starter.
Flaws: The Ferro rod on the back of the magnesium block can pop off relatively easily if dropped. It’s still totally usable, but it does make it more likely you’ll wind up with either the fire starter or the magnesium and not both in a survival situation.
2. Light My Fire Swedish FireSteel 2.0 Army
The Light My Fire Swedish FireSteel 2.0 Army is the issue Ferro rod of the Swedish military and one of the most popular fire steels in the world. It’s compact, highly functional, and looks sharp with its black and dark gray design. It even includes a signaling whistle in the small plastic tab at the end of the cord. If you can only purchase a single fire starter this is the one to buy.
Why we like it: It’s bar none the best and most effective fire starter on the market. The high-quality Swedish fire steel at its heart lasts for up to 12,000 strikes and is extremely easy to use, even for novices. This is the fire steel that you’ll find in a number of military issue survival kits all around the world.
Flaws: The FireSteel 2.0 has a slightly smaller grip than some other Ferro rods. It’s definitely still usable, but it would be harder to work with than some of the larger fire starters if you have large hands or if you’re wearing gloves.
3. Exotac nanoSTRIKER XL Ferrocerium Fire Starter
The Exotac nanoSTRIKER XL is an EDC focused Ferro rod style fire starter. It uses an innovative design that places the striker, rod, and a robust grip surface into a single slender package. The whole thing is designed to fit on your keychain comfortably and easily.
Why we like it: It’s the king of portability. The nanoSTRIKER uses a unique screw-in design that both protects the Ferro rod from damage in your pocket and makes it much more compact overall. The striker and rod itself are both contained within a 3.6-inch long housing that’s both stylish for EDC and highly functional.
Flaws: The nanoSTRIKER XL, despite its name, was actually one of the smallest and slenderest Ferro rods we reviewed. This is excellent for portability but does limit the number of useful strikes you’ll get off the rod. Good news though, Exotac offers extremely affordable replacement rods that screw right in same as the original.
4. S.O.L. Survive Outdoors Longer Fire Lite Kit
The Survive Outdoors Longer Fire Lite Kit combines an easy to use handheld striker with 20 pieces of their highly effective Tinder Quick tinder tabs. The striker itself is a really neat innovation in fire starter tech. If you know how to flick a lighter started you know how to use this little fire striker.
Why we like it: The striker can be used easily and reliably with a single hand. This cuts down on the learning curve when starting out with fire starters and improves your ability to get a fire going. We also love the included Tinder Quik tinder tabs. They’ll start up under just about any conditions and give you three minutes of flame to get your fire going.
Flaws: The striker on the Fire Lite Kit doesn’t produce as large a spray of sparks as others. It’s great when used with the tinder tabs, but increases the difficulty of getting traditional tinder going.
5. Light My Fire Swedish FireKnife
The Light My Fire Swedish FireKnife combines two of the most essential survival tools into a single easy to store package. It includes a high-quality MoraKniv plus a modified version of their renowned Swedish FireSteel. You can cut, carve, and chop as needed then pop out the FireSteel and get a good blaze going.
Why we like it: The combination of a MoraKniv and a Swedish FireSteel is a real winner. It gives you both an excellent fixed blade knife and a fire steel that gets the job done under any conditions. The fire starter twist locks into the handle of the knife and includes a robust polymer belt sheath. This is the perfect fire starter set to include in your bug out bag or use as your go-to hiking and camping carry.
Flaws: Obviously if you already have a fixed blade knife you carry with you into the backcountry a lot of the benefits of the Swedish FireKnife won’t apply.
6. Baylite Ferro Rods XL
The Baylite Ferro Rods XL come in a pack of two and offer some of the best performance out there. They don’t include a striker or a carry cord but do come pre-drilled to be strung with paracord or a similar material. They produce a significant spray of sparks when scraped with the back of your knife blade and offer generous space to hold onto them.
Why we like it: These are massive Ferro rods. They’re fully half an inch in diameter, far larger than most similar rods, and last way longer than other fire starters. This is the Ferro rod pack to buy if you want to plan for long term ability to make fire and you plan to have a pack or other place to stow them.
Flaws: One word: Size. These are definitely excellent from both a performance and value perspective, but the large size makes them unsuitable for EDC and even most ultralight hiking. You’re going to need a bag or pack to carry them in unless you fancy having a six-inch long rod of metal in your pocket.
7. CampFirePiston Hickory Fire Piston
The CampFirePiston Hickory Fire Piston is a piston style fire starter that uses rapid compression of air to start a fire. It uses a metal cylinder wrapped with hickory hardwood for a lightweight and comfortable to use tool.
Why we like it: Most fire starters you see out there are fire steels. Seeing a high-quality and attractively styled fire piston is really nice. The Hickory Fire Piston is easier to use for a novice than a fire steel. It consistently produces an ember that can quickly get a tinder bundle going.
Flaws: The working lifespan of the Hickory Fire Piston is shorter than just about any fire steel. It relies on a working o-ring to form an airtight seal. It wears out pretty quickly, especially if you’re using it with too much force.
8. Zippo Emergency Fire Kit
The Zippo Emergency Fire Kit is a compact and reliable fire starter. It combines a classic Zippo flint wheel with a supply of easy spark tinder wheels. The entire system is stored within a waterproof container that fits easily into any pocket or pouch. It’s a great addition to a bug out bag or similar emergency kit.
Why we like it: It’s inexpensive and extremely easy to use. The fire starter itself works on the same principle as a lighter flick. Not only that, the Emergency Fire Kit includes five easy spark tinder wheels that are stored inside.
Flaws: The flint, while definitely easy to use, doesn’t have the lifespan of a Ferro rod. You’ll still get around 1,700 strikes out of it, but it won’t last as long as the best Ferro rods.
9. überleben Leicht Fire Starter Necklace
The überleben Leicht Fire Starter Necklace is an ultra-compact backup fire starter designed to be worn as a necklace. It includes a sharpened little striker plus a tiny Ferro rod that dangles 34 inches of MilSpec paracord. It’s probably not the fire starter you’ll use on a regular basis, but it’s not a bad option at all as a backup or EDC fire starter.
Why we like it: The Leicht Necklace is about as light and small as a fire starter can get. The pint-sized Ferro rod is just over an inch long and does double duty as a tightener for the necklace itself. It’s actually a lot more comfortable to wear than you’d expect too.
Flaws: Let’s face it, a 1.25 inch long Ferro rod isn’t easy to use. Getting a good grip on it can be challenging, and you won’t get nearly as many uses out of it as you would with a larger and similarly priced fire starter.
10. UST BlastMatch Fire Starter
The UST BlastMatch Fire Starter is a great little tool that anyone can use effectively. It uses a spring-loaded system that allows you to use one hand to generate a spray of sparks. Even if you’re injured or have lost the use of one arm out in the wilderness you can get a fire going.
Why we like it: The BlastMatch can be used by anyone to start a fire no matter what level of training they have. It’s as easy as placing it against tinder and rapidly pushing it down. The Ferro rod inside is a good size and can be rotated to allow even wear.
Flaws: It’s one of the only fire starters with moving parts. It’s proven to be reliable, but there’s still a greater chance that it will suffer a mishap than you’d find with fire starters that are nothing but a bar of ferrocerium.
What’s new with Fire Starters
Who should buy a Fire Starter?
Fire starters are compact and extremely useful tools. Any prepper will benefit from owning a few, but the people below should absolutely consider picking one up as soon as possible.
Campers – Hiking and camping are some of the best hobbies a prepper can follow. They allow you to stay active and require gear and skills that would be extremely useful in a disaster situation. One of our personal favorite parts of camping is setting up and lighting a campfire.
A fire starter is not only an effective way to start a fire, but it’s also a lot of fun to use. It allows you to hone the skills you’ll need if you should ever wind up lost in the wilderness using the same tool you’ll have with you.
For hikers, and especially ultralight hikers, a fire starter is a lighter tool to carry than a traditional lighter and it doesn’t carry the risk of breaking open and spilling fuel.
EDC enthusiasts – EDC, or every day carry, is a lifestyle that many preppers choose to follow. It espouses the view that the things you carry every day should include useful gear for life and an emergency.
Fire starters are excellent for EDC as they offer the ability to start a fire when needed while taking up a tiny amount of space. They’re non-flammable, easy to store in a pocket, on a keychain, or in an Altoids tin pocket survival kit, and can reliably be used under even the most trying of conditions.
If you live in an area near the wilderness or are heading out into the backcountry a quality fire starter should be an essential part of your EDC.
Preppers building a bug out bag – Bug out bags are one of the most essential parts of basic preparedness. They include everything you need to survive and thrive for a minimum of 72 hours. Being able to effectively and efficiently start a fire is critical for survival in many situations.
Lighters are definitely a great thing to include, but you should also always add in at least one backup fire starter. There’s an old saying among survivalists that one is none and two is one. A high-quality fire starter gives you a nearly indestructible method to start a fire during a survival situation.
World travelers – If you’re a big game hunter or someone who loves seeking out new places to explore the outdoors, a fire starter is a great tool to have. Most flights won’t allow you to bring a lighter onto the plane unless you check a bag.
For those who like to travel light but still want to have some basic gear on hand, a fire starter is a good compromise. Most airport security organizations around the world have no problem with Ferro rods, fire pistons, or other non-lighter fire starters.
Bushcrafters and outdoor workers – For folks whose work includes being out in the backcountry a quality fire starter is an excellent addition to their kit. They weigh next to nothing yet offer a reliable way to make a fire when needed.
Guides, instructors, and all kinds of recreational and industrial outdoor workers can benefit from this. Most of the time a fire starter won’t be your primary way to light a fire, but it makes an excellent backup.
Young preppers – For a lot of preppers, finding ways to get the whole family interested in preparedness can be a challenge. A great way to subtly push your kids in the right direction is to incorporate cool gear with real value.
A fire starter, and especially a Ferro rod, is a really cool piece of gear. They can make a spectacular shower of sparks but don’t offer nearly the same risk of misuse or accidental injury as something like a pocket knife or lighter.
Once you judge they’re mature enough giving your kid their own fire starter can be a great way to get them interested in the practical side of prepping at a young age. It’s also a way to teach them about the proper method for building and maintaining a fire under your supervision.
How we ranked
We used three key factors when comparing different fire starters for this review. These were effectiveness and longevity, portability, and value for your money.
Effectiveness and longevity – The most important factor by far in picking out quality fire starters is how well they can start a fire. Ferro rods are by far the most popular type of fire starter carried by preppers and offer some of the best effectiveness and longevity.
Other common types include fire pistons and magnesium fire starters. These all offer effective ways to create an ember or ignite properly prepared tinder.
Longevity was also important as you need to be able to rely on your fire starter when it counts. Any fire starter we considered had to be able to start at least several hundred to several thousand fires when used properly. This mainly comes down to the hardness of the Ferro rod or the durability of the materials in alternative fire starters.
Portability – There’s an old saying about handguns: The best handgun to carry is the one you’ll actually carry. This applies to fire starters too. It doesn’t matter how incredibly effective and powerful a fire starter is if you won’t consistently carry it.
Given that most fire starters are quite small we looked more at features specifically designed for portability. Things like keychain rings, clip points, and a design that focuses on packing the most capability into the most portable package without impacting effectiveness.
Value for your money – Most fire starters are thankfully quite affordable. Some really great ones cost just a few dollars, with the best fire starters out there rarely priced at an unattainable level.
When we talk about affordability and value we mean how much use you can get out of a fire starter compared to its cost. This really comes down to the size versus price and the number of estimated fires you can start.
Brands we trust – Two of the best brands in the fire starter space are Light My Fire and Exotac. Light My Fire makes a wide range of high-quality fire starters from some of the best materials. They’re rugged, dependable, and affordably priced.
Exotac is something else entirely. They specialize in breaking the mold of traditional fire starters and have come out with some really innovative stuff. Their flagship fire starters are designed around portability and effectiveness. If you’re looking for an excellent EDC fire starter it’s hard to beat Exotac.
Things to avoid – Because fire starters are such a popular category there are a lot of low-quality products out there. Given that a fire starter is a tool you might have to stake your life on, we highly recommend you stick with respected brands. Ferro rods may all look the same, but there are real qualitative differences in ones from disreputable manufacturers and those from brands you can trust.
We carefully considered each of these factors when comparing the fire starters under review. The results were the ten you see above, each an excellent example of a high-quality modern fire starter.
Fire starters can be carried just about anywhere – Fire starters don’t contain fuel and aren’t dangerous in and of themselves. This allows you to carry a fire starter even if you have to enter secured buildings for work or if you’re traveling.
Many places prohibit lighters and other flammable materials but have no restrictions against fire starters. This allows you to keep a reliable method to start a fire on your person at all times even if you have to pass through security.
Fire starters are ultraportable and easy to add to your EDC – One of the biggest benefits of modern fire starters is how very portable they are. You can carry a highly effective fire starter on your keychain and be prepared to start a fire wherever and whenever you need to.
Many manufacturers have started designing their products specifically with portability in mind. You can find excellent fire starters that fit comfortably in your pocket, on your keychain, or even around your neck.
Fire starters are safer to carry and use than a lighter – Many preppers consistently EDC a lighter as part of their preparedness. Lighters are undeniably useful tools for starting a fire, but they do open you up to potential hazards.
Durable lighters such as a Zippo have unsealed fuel storage. Just putting a Zippo into your pocket upside down can cause the fuel to leak out into your pocket and onto your skin. That doesn’t even take into account the dangers that can come from having lighter fluid or butane in your pocket.
Experiments have shown that sudden impacts and exposure to sources of great heat can cause a lighter to burst and even ignite (1). Fire starters don’t contain a fuel source and are totally safe to keep on your person at all times.
Fire starters last far longer than lighters or other fire tools – A major downside to lighters or matches compared to fire starters is longevity. Lighters and matches require fuel to run. A lighter may only have several hundred lights given how long it can take to get a good-sized fire going.
For matches you obviously only have as many lights as you have matches. A fire starter doesn’t have these restrictions. Most fire steels offer thousands of uses while things like fire pistons and solar fire starters have effectively unlimited lifespans.
Fire starters are a great way to introduce others to basic preparedness – For a lot of preppers, it can be difficult to talk to friends and family about preparedness. Way too many people have the image of the “beans and bullets” old school survivalist locked in their minds over the modern prepared citizen.
One of the best ways to introduce preparedness topics to your family and friends is with something fun and easy. Few things are more entertaining than starting a roaring fire, especially when you get to do it in a novel or interesting manner.
A fire starter lets you pass on some basic wilderness survival skills in the guise of a game and show them how beneficial preparedness can be.
Fire starters work when wet and are unaffected by the wind – If you’ve ever tried to start a fire in the wind you know how annoying having your lighter blown out over and over again can be. One of the great things about fire starters is that they’re unaffected by the wind.
Ferro rods will put out the same spray of sparks even in windy conditions and will work while wet. Fire pistons function through pressurization of a piece of tinder. They’re sealed when not in use and will function perfectly so long as you have a small piece of dry tinder to use.
That’s another great reason you should carry a fire starter as a backup even if you mostly rely on your lighter.
Q: How do fire starters work?
A: How fire starters work depends on the type you’re talking about. Ferro rods are by far the most common, and they rely on a unique blend of metals to function. When you move a metal striker across the surface of a fire steel it produces a spray of extremely hot sparks. These sparks can be used to ignite tinder and other materials (2).
Q: Are fire starters allowed on planes?
A: Yes and no. While fire starters themselves are almost always allowed on planes, the strikers they often come with may not be. This is especially true if they have serrations on the striking surface or if they appear to be sharpened. Generally speaking though, Ferro rods and other fire starters are allowed on planes around the world.
Q: Are fire starters safe?
A: Yes. While fire starters produce a spray of extremely hot metal sparks, they aren’t large enough to harm you. You would have to seriously misuse a fire starter, such as by striking it right in front of someone’s eyes, to cause injury with it. That being said, any tool used to start a fire should always be treated with respect and care.
Q: What are fire starters made from?
A: There are several different types of fire starters on the market today. These include fire pistons, bow drills, solar fire starters, fire steels, and a few even more exotic ones. The most popular by far is the classic fire steel, also known as a Ferro rod. Ferro rods are made from a synthetic alloy called Ferrocerium. We won’t go into the chemical details, but suffice it to say that when you rapidly move a metal striker across Ferrocerium it creates a burst of super hot sparks up to 5,430 °F (3).
Q: What type of fire starter is the best?
A: You’ll hear arguments about this from all kinds of preppers and campers, but for us, the fire steel/Ferro rod is the clear winner. It has no moving parts, works when wet, and is capable of producing literally thousands of fires from a metal rod just a few inches long. Ferro rods are extremely affordable, pack into just about any pocket or pack, and are safe to use by just about anyone.
Q: How do I use fire starters in an emergency?
A: Using fire starters in an emergency is the same as using them in a normal camping trip. Start by gathering fuel for your fire, with a good mix of small, medium, and large branches. Use either tinder you brought with you, such as char cloth, or find natural tinder materials like birch bark. Get an ember going with your fire starter and slowly add on additional branches until you’ve got a good fire going.
Q: How many times can I use a fire starter?
A: The vast majority of fire starters can be used to start up to several thousand fires. The very best fire starters will often provide over 10,000 strikes when used properly. Suffice it to say it’s highly unlikely you’ll ‘use up’ a fire starter through regular usage.
Q: What are some DIY fire starters?
A: Figuring out how to get a fire going can be a lot of fun when camping, and can save your life in a survival situation. When people mention fire starters they’re often referring to the basic tinder material as much as they are something like a Ferro rod. While you can buy tinder tabs, it’s also a good idea to know how to prepare DIY fire starter materials. Pretty much anything flammable and fibrous will do well. You can also try DIY fire starting methods like a bow drill, but keep in mind that they’re a lot harder to use than they look in movies and on TV.
Q: How hard is starting a fire with a fire starter?
A: Starting a fire with a fire starter is totally different from using a lighter or match. The first few times you should expect to have a bit of difficulty with it. You have to really prepare the different stages of your fire with a generous amount of fibrous tinder such as cedar bark, birch bark, cattail fluff, a feather stick, or something like char cloth if you prepared ahead of time. From there you’ll need a secondary tinder such as fatwood or small and dry twigs then on up to larger twigs, etc. Once you know the process it’s extremely straightforward (4).
Q: What are flint fire starters?
A: If you’ve been looking at fire starters you’ll often see the word flint thrown around a lot. For thousands of years, flint and steel fire starters were used to start fires around the world. Flint is a natural mineral that produces a spray of sparks when struck with a piece of steel. Modern Ferro rods work in the same manner but are made from an entirely different material. They produce sparks that are far harder than those made using flint and steel (5).
Q: What is a feather stick?
A: A feather stick is a commonly used intermediate tinder made with a stick and a knife. All you need to do is take a reasonably sized stick and shave off long strips, leaving them attached at the end. Once you’ve got several dozen such shavings on the end of your stick it’s the perfect medium to use when transferring your smaller tinder bundle to a larger fire (6).
Fire starters are inexpensive, durable, and offer a reliable way to start a fire. They’re light and compact enough to fit comfortably in your pocket, on your keychain, and in a bug out bag.
If you’re concerned that you may have to survive in the wilderness you should absolutely add high-quality fire starters to your preps.
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