A quality fire starter is a piece of gear that should always live in your backpack. Fire is so essential to your comfort and survival because it provides warmth, visible light if you’re in need of rescue, a means of purifying water and cooking food, and can help you ward off predators and annoying insects.
Fire starters will have your back when you forgot a lighter or matches. They’re also less resource-intensive than both of those options because they don’t rely on fuel, wood, or perchlorate and packaging materials.
While it’s always smart to have multiple ways to make fire, our list of the Top Ten Fire Starters will help you choose the one you’ll be able to rely on in the backcountry. Also, check out our Buyer’s Guide below to learn about the most important factors when buying a fire starter.
1. Ralix Survival Spark
The Ralix Survival Spark is a must-have emergency tool for campers and hikers of all experience levels. It gives you a number of essentials in one compact package: a magnesium fire stick, large scraper, compass, whistle, and lanyard.
This all-weather fire starter is windproof and weather resistant. It’ll light over and over without fail and, in fact, it will strike up to 15,000 times to help you create fire when you need it most. Best of all, the whole package is just 5.5 inches in length, so it easily fits into your survival kit or amongst other camping gear.
2. Gerber Bear Grylls Fire Starter
The Bear Grylls Fire Starter, made by Gerber, is (as you might guess) the perfect survival tool for the minimalist backpacker or mountaineer. It’s small and compact but will last for years and it’s waterproof storage compartment keeps tinder safe and dry for when you need it most.
This fire starter features a ferrocerium rod and metal striker, as well as a lanyard to keep it securely attached to you or your pack. It also boasts an emergency whistle integrated into the lanyard cord and land-to-air rescue and SOS instructions.
3. Swiss Safe 5-in-1 Fire Starter
This two-pack of the Swiss Safe 5-in-1 Fire Starter is the perfect option for the couple who wants to make sure you’re both outfit with a survival multi-tool. In addition to a fire starter, it features a built-in compass, whistle steel scraper, and 450-pound 8core paracord.
The Swiss Safe Starter’s magnesium striking rod will work for more than 16,000 strikes at 5,500 degrees Fahrenheit. It boasts a compact and lightweight design with a total weight of fewer than two ounces and length of just five inches.
4. Uberleben Zunden Thick Bushcraft Steel
This bushcraft steel from Uberleben Zunden is the perfect tool for camping, hiking, backpacking, hunting, fishing, boy scouts, camp cookout, your SHTF bug out bag, or simply general preparedness. It is available in three specific thicknesses (5/16”, 3/8”, and ½”), but each variation is a compact 5 inches in length.
This fire starter features high-quality ferrocerium capable of producing a 5,500-degree (Fahrenheit) shower of molten metal at any altitude and in any weather conditions. This fire starting kit also includes mil-spec (1) 550-paracord neck lanyard and 6-in-1 multi-tool scraper with map scale, concave-serrated tinder scraper, straightedge spine, hex wrench, ruler, and bottle opener.
5. UST Spark Force Fire Starter
The UST Spark Force is the ideal fire starter for camping, hunting, and other wilderness activities. It boasts an orange color ABS (2) case to enhance visibility and a detachable cap that protects flints and prevents accidental or unintended sparks.
It has been extensively tested to generate ample sparks in the rain, wind, and other adverse weather conditions. With a lifetime warranty, the UST Spark Force is the perfect compact (one ounce and just over 3 inches in length) fire starter.
6. Light My Fire Swedish FireSteel 2.0
The Light My Fire Swedish FireSteel was originally developed by the Swedish Department of Defense. Version 2.0 boasts a precision stainless steel striker that has been re-engineered to work even when wet, and at any altitude.
This fire starter will produce sparks at 5,400 degrees Fahrenheit and last for approximately 12,000 strikes. The striker handle features an emergency whistle, as well as the ability to directly light flammable gas or liquid used in both traditional alcohol and modern gas stoves.
7. Exotac NanoStriker XL
The Exotac NanoStriker XL is a fire starter designed to be portable and efficient. It’s great for anyone who’s constantly on the move and could need a handy spark source at a moment’s notice. It’s adaptable to key ring, pocket, or neck carry.
This fire starter offers a ¼” ferrocerium striking rod that works when wet and can be replaced when it wears out. The typical rod in this model will last up to 3,000 fire-starting strikes. For those who prefer domestic production, this fire starter is machined in the USA using 6061 aluminum.
8. Coleman Magnesium Fire Starter
The Magnesium Fire Starter from Coleman is the perfect low-cost option for casual hikers and backpackers. It offers a pocket-sized design that easily fits into the top pocket of your backpack or into your pocket if you’re traveling exceptionally lightweight.
This fire starter also includes a knife that you can use to shave off magnesium and flint. It allows you to shave off a bit of magnesium onto a pile of tinder and then utilize that same steel blade to ignite those shavings. In its whole form, it is also waterproof and fireproof.
9. Coghlan’s Waterproof Flint Striker
Another extremely affordable option is Coghlan’s Waterproof Flint Striker. It’s a great tool for camping, backpacking, backcountry trekking, and more. You won’t have to worry about carrying waterproof matches or multiple lighters once you buy (and learn how to use) this fire starter.
This lightweight fire starter featured a ferrocerium striking rod that is 5/16-inch in diameter and almost four inches in length. Best of all, it’ll last through thousands of strikes and provides a spark in any weather condition and at any altitude.
10. Solo Scientific Tinder Hot Box Solar Fire Starter
Unique from the other fire starters in our list, the Solo Scientific Tinder Hot Box Solar Fire Starter relies on solar rays to produce fire. It offers an air and water tight tinder box that stores fire starting tinder and keeps it ready to light when you need it most.
It features no moving parts, no flint, no fuels, no gases, and no batteries. The inside bottom of this fire starter is a parabolic reflector that can be used to focus solar energy to a singular point. Focus this point just below the base of the removable and stowable tinder holder arm, have a few seconds of patience, and soon you’ll see smoke and the fire you desperately need.
When it comes to a survival situation, your top concerns will be food, water, shelter, and warmth. Sometimes this means trying to start a fire from extremely wet wood. In a case like this, not having to worry about making a spark, because you have a handy fire starter at your disposal, goes a long way!
Selecting the right fire starter for your needs, however, can be a confusing task. In order to alleviate any stress or anxiety you might be feeling, our Buyer’s Guide will focus on three important considerations when shopping for a fire starter: composition, longevity, and safety.
The first consideration when buying a fire starter is to examine what the fire starter is made of. The most common materials used in fire starters are magnesium, flint, and ferrocerium, but there are others. Fortunately, the fire starters included above pose little to no threat to your health.
Ferrocerium actually contains magnesium, but it makes up only about 2% of the entire alloy. The terms “flint,” “magnesium,” and “ferrocerium” are often thrown around interchangeably, despite the differences in the rocks and minerals. They all, however, provide an excellent spark to create and sustain fire.
Ferrocerium is actually composed of 6 different rare-earth metals. It is 20.8% iron, 41.8% cerium, 4.4% neodymium, 4.4% praseodymium, 4.4% magnesium, and 24.2% lanthanum (3). Flint is a unique metal in and of itself, much like magnesium.
Durability and longevity are also important when picking between fire starters. For example, a starter that claims to be good up to 3,000 strikes is going to require replacement much, much sooner than a competitor that claims to last up to 16,000 strikes. One will need to be replaced several times over before the other wears out.
Fortunately, the fire starters we’ve detailed are some of the most durable and long-lasting tools available. Because they are all made from tough metals and minerals, you don’t have to be overly careful not to break them and they’ll be there, handily waiting in your pack, for years to come.
Whenever you’re talking about creating fire, safety should be a primary concern. And while you wouldn’t think of fire starters as needing to be fireproof, it’s actually a real concern. Some of these starters are made with magnesium. When exposed to oxygen, it can actually spontaneously combust (more on this below), so knowing where to aim and concentrate the sparks from your fire starter is essential.
It’s also important to consider a fire starter that isn’t going to pose a risk if you happen to leave it too close to the fire once you get it started. To this end, it’s important to remember that ferrocerium actually has a higher combustion temperature than flint rock and steel.
Frequently Asked Questions
While it’s hard to trace back to the origins of the first man (or woman) to invent fire, as well as a reliable means of re-creating it when needed, most historians believe that the modern match wasn’t invented until sometime in the 1800s (4). Prior to that, the flint and steel method was the most widely used to create fire.
If this is a surprising fact for you, the reader, we hope there’s a bit more you need to discover about fire starters. Our list of Frequently Asked Questions about fire starters will do its best to answer any questions that remain.
What is ‘flint’?
Flint, also known as flint-stone, is a hard, sedimentary cryptocrystalline form of the mineral quartz. It is typically categorized as a variety of chert and occurs mainly as nodules and masses in rocks like chalk and limestone.
What is ‘ferrocerium’?
Ferrocerium can be confused with flint, but it is actually a man-made metallic material that burns at a much higher temperature than flint rock and steel. It was invented in 1903 by Austrian scientist Baron Carl Auer von Welsbach (5).
Why does metal spark when struck?
To understand this, we must start by shedding light on the little-known fact that iron is what we call a pyrophoric material. This means it spontaneously catches on fire when it makes contact with oxygen (6).
So why do fire starters not simply combust when you hold them? It’s because the surface is actually coated with thin layer of iron oxide (rust). When you strike a flint or magnesium fire starter, the newly exposed iron will ignite and produce heat as they oxidize. These sparks are what you use to create fire.
What is ‘magnesium’?
Magnesium is the lightest of all the metal elements and is primarily used in structural alloys due to its minimal weight, strength, and resistance to corrosion. There are actually more than 60 different minerals that contain more than 20% magnesium, which makes it the eighth most abundant element in the earth’s crust (7).
What is the definition of ‘pyrophorics’?
Pyrophorics are substances that spontaneously ignite below room temperature, which is about 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
What are the densities of flint, magnesium, and ferrocerium?
The simple knowledge that you have a high-quality fire starter tucked away in your pack will make your next backcountry trip so much more enjoyable. As we like to say, “It’s not a matter of IF you’ll need it. It’s just a matter of WHEN.” We hope this review of the Top 10 Fire Starters has helped you find one that’s right for you!