The best fire starter for camping, backpacking and survival in 2017

best fire starter

Since the time man discovered fire, it has become an important part of civilization. We cannot imagine life without fire. Fire is of utmost importance when out camping, hiking or backpacking. It can keep you warm, ward off animals, let you cook food and boil water to make it safe for consumption. If you need to start a fire, you are going to need a fire starter.

Sure enough, you have a good lighter or matchsticks in your essential camping gear, but you should have a backup plan as well when your primary source goes wrong. In this post, we will look at some of the best fire starters out there and help you pick the best fire starter for your needs.

Best fire starter comparison list

Our pick of the best fire starters out in the market and how they stack against each other.
PictureProductWeight (grams)Life time (no# of strikes) 
UST StrikeForce Fire Starter221000

Light My Fire Swedish FireSteel 2.0 Army5012000
The Friendly Swede Magnesium Alloy Fire Starter475000
Exotac nanoSTRIKER XL Ferrocerium Fire Starter623000
Sahara Sailor Fire Starter and Survival Kit4515000

Gerber Bear Grylls Fire Starter6510000
SurvivalSPARK Emergency Magnesium Fire Starter6815000
MyCrisisGear Magnesium fire starter90600
BlizeTec Fire Starter6012000
Überleben Zünden Fire Starter6812000
fire

Different Types of fire starters

A fire starter works on the simple principle of producing sparks by striking one surface against the other surface. Before we delve into which are the best firestarters for camping and survival, let us look at some of the different types that are out there. In this article, we would focus primarily on Ferrocerium or fire steel firestarters.

  • Ferrocerium rods: Ferrocerium is a man-made alloy which consists of Iron (21%) and Cerium (42%), Magnesium (4.4%) along with a few other rare materials. When scraped on a hard surface using a sharp edge, it produces sparks which can reach up to 5000 degrees Fahrenheit. Because of a hotter spark and ability to produce sparks even in wet conditions, Ferrocerium fire starters have replaced the natural flint and steel medium in lighters and firestarters.
    Fire Steel – a common term used for fire starters is actually a commercial tradename for Ferrocerium, made popular by manufacturers such as Light My Fire.
  • Ferrocerium rod/strip + Magnesium block: Some manufacturers combine a strip of ferrocerium with a magnesium block. To use a magnesium fire starter, one has to scrape some flakes off the magnesium blocks and then strike the ferrocerium with a knife. The sparks ignite the magnesium, which in turn can ignite the tinder. So, such firestarters require a little more effort than the simple ferrocerium rods.
  • Natural Flint and Steel: Before Ferrocerium became popular, the natural flint and steel combinations were the de-facto standard for fire-starters. These are essentially better variants of the traditional fire making by striking two flint/Ferro-rocks. If you would like to get a flint and steel fire starter instead of a ferrocerium one, you can check out some recommendations in the last section below.
  • Primitive solutions: Primitive fire starting methods include some friction-based fire starting solutions using wooden surfaces. Such fire starters are more of emergency and scout training solutions than popular in-the-field options. Of the friction-based methods, the bow drill is probably the easiest and most efficient to try out. For some market recommendations, check out a section at the end the article.

How to choose the best fire starter?

As discussed above, a fire starter works on the simple principle of producing sparks by striking a flint rod against a metal blade. Most fire starters are simple magnesium block with a Ferrocerium rod attached on one side. The Magnesium block is scraped to produce small shavings. The Ferrocerium rod is then struck along the length with a knife or a blade to produce a spark. The Magnesium shavings catch fire and start burning. You can then use that fire to burn paper, leaves or wick and start a fire. Here is a video showing how to use a Magnesium and Ferrocerium block fire starter.


When trying to find the best fire starter, consider the following factors,

  • Ease of use
  • Life of the fire starter
  • Weight
  • Extra features

Ease of use

As seen in the above video, using a classic Magnesium block fire starter requires some effort. You need to work the block to get a considerable amount of shavings and then strike the rod to get a spark. Even the best Magnesium fire starter can be a little difficult to first-time users but more seasoned old time campers swear by these fire starters. In fact, it is the de facto fire starter kit that one refers to when they talk about a fire starter kit.

There are other models available which do not have a Magnesium block. All you need to do is strike a rod which is made of a combination of alloys and you can create a spark. These fire starters are much easier to use and the preferred choices when you are just starting out with a fire starter kit.

Life of the fire starter

Most fire starters can last anywhere from 500 to 15000 strikes. There is no expiry date of the kit. Life of the kit entirely depends on the usage pattern. The striker rod, which is made of a Magnesium and Ferrocerium combination can corrode over time. This makes the rod brittle and it does not produce enough spark over time. Most high-quality fire starters have a waterproof casing which prevents the rod inside from corrosion and becoming useless.

In most of the Magnesium block fire starters, the striking rod is used up pretty fast than the Magnesium block. You cannot replace the striking rod but you can have a spare rod that can be used.

Weight

While weight is not much of an issue for campers, serious backpackers think of innovative ways to shave off any extra weight they can. In such cases, the weight of the fire starter kit also becomes an important factor.

The weight of the fire starters can range from 20 grams (1 ounce) to 90 grams (3 ounces), depending upon the size of the rods. A heavier fire starter which is reliable is a better investment than a lighter one which fails to work when needed. The weight of the fire starter should not stop you from making an all around better choice.

Extra features

We are a great fan of gears and tools that can perform in more ways than they are expected to. As such, any extra features even in a fire starter kit is more than welcome. Most fire starters will have a whistle for emergency needs. Others will have a small compass. While these features may seem useful, they cannot be expected to be 100% reliable. As long as the fire starter does its primary job of starting a fire well, any extra features are just more bang for your bucks.

Which is the best fire starter and what are our picks?

Light My Fire Swedish FireSteel 2.0 Army fire starter- Editor’s choice pick for the best fire starter

Best fire starter - Swedish FireSteel 2.0 Army fire starter
The Light My Fire Swedish FireSteel 2.0 Army fire starter was originally manufactured for the Swedish department of defense. It produces a 3000-degree spark which makes starting a fire a breeze at higher altitudes and low temperatures. It consists of a hardened magnesium alloy rod and the striker is made of high-quality stainless steel. It has an easy grip both on the rod and the striker that makes it quite easy to use.

It weighs a mere 50 grams(1.8 ounces) and can be tucked in nicely in your jacket or pants pocket, and is an ideal to carry along on camping, hiking or backpacking. The striker handle has a whistle which can be used in emergency signaling to draw attention.

It can work even when wet. The Swedish FireSteel fire starter is a reliable fire starter in any situation and won’t let you down. This fire starter will last for 12000 strikes and will be with you for a very long time. What’s more, the fire starter comes with a built-in emergency whistle for use in case of distress.

For these reasons, the Swedish FireSteel 2.0 Army fire starter is our editor’s choice pick for the best fire starter for camping, backpacking, and survival.

Gerber Bear Grylls Fire Starter – Best value pick for the best fire starter

Gerber Bear Grylls Fire Starter

The Gerber Bear Grylls Fire Starter is a must-have gear when out camping, hiking or backpacking. It is made by Gerber and is endorsed by survival specialist Bear Grylls so you can be sure that it is indeed reliable. It is small and compact, weighing just 65 grams ( 2.3 ounces), making it ideal for carrying around in your pocket.

The unit contains a ferrocerium rod and a metal striker to get your fire started in no time. It has a waterproof storage compartment which can store tinder. It has a lanyard which keeps the unit together. The lanyard also has an integrated whistle for emergency signaling.

This fire starter will last you easily for 10000 strikes making it a great value for its price.

For these reasons, the Gerber Bear Grylls Fire Starter is our best value pick for the best fire starter.

Fire starter tinder and accessories

The most common item required with a fire starter is tinder to kindle the fire, especially when you cannot find dry wood chips and twigs nearby. There are a lot of homemade DIY tinder options available such as paraffin-soaked cotton balls or wine corks dipped in alcohol. However, if you are looking for decent commercial tinder items, you can consider the following popular options:

Another often overlooked but useful accessory to have with your fire-starter is a bellow to blow the burning fire when you add additional wood or twigs. Bellows are much better for igniting your fire than blowing from the mouth(and worrying about the hot ember) or using a hat or anything else. You can improvise by carrying an old collapsible radio/car antenna or check out the following ultralight pocket bellows.

Multi-purpose products with fire starters

Fire starters are such a popular item for bush crafting, survival and outdoor camping that you can get a lot of tactical products in the market with emergency fire starters.

While the fire starters in these products may not be as effective as traditional fire starters, you can check them out if you are looking for some multi-purpose tactical gear as backup:

Natural Flint and Bow Drill Fire starters

As discussed above, some traditional fire starting solutions include the natural flint and steel kits and wooden bow drills.

Natural Flint and steel firestarters consist of a ferro-rock which produces spark when struck with a steel edge. The sparks produced can then light up a tinder (generally a fuel soaked cloth). Some of the best flint fire starters and kits available in the market are listed below:

Wooden bow drills follow a friction-based approach to start fire. These kits are many times costlier than the firesteel firestarters, still some popular bow drill kits are listed below:

Final thoughts on the best fire starter

A fire starter is a must-have survival tool and a great backup for starting a fire when your primary source gives up on you. Choosing a good fire starter is easier compared to other camping gear but you need to really look across to get the best value for your money. In this article, we looked at some of the best fire starters out in the market and the factors to consider while picking the best one for your needs. While we primarily focused on ferrocerium (fire steel) fire starters, we also shared some traditional options as well.

We hope you found this guide useful and it will help you pick the best fire starter for your needs. Do let us know how you found this article by commenting below. Until next time, Happy camping!

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