The best fire starters

The best fire starters

August 12, 2020
  • The ability to make fire is the oldest and most important technological innovation — and one that's vitally important if you spend a lot of time outdoors.
  • A reliable fire starter makes it much easier to start a flame no matter if you're in your backyard, deep in the backcountry, or anywhere else. 
  • Our top pick, the Überleben Zünden Bushcraft Ferro Rod Fire Starter, is designed to provide more than 12,000 spark-making strikes for reliable fire making every time you use it. 
  • Fires can be deadly, so make sure you take the right precautions when starting and extinguishing a fire. If you aren't experienced, avoid starting one.

If you're in the wilderness on a camping trip, knowing how to properly start a fire is a highly beneficial skill. With a warm, crackling fire, you can cook up a meal, boil and purify water, ward off the cold of winter, or add some light to your campsite. You may even need it if you ever find yourself in a survival situation, whether it's for keeping warm or alerting people to your location.

Being able to reliably make fire starts with what you pack along with you. True to their name, fire starters make the entire process far easier. With a suitable fire starter in your hike, camp, or outdoor kit, setting up a campfire, backyard bonfire, or any other type of flame can be done in a matter of minutes — so long as you have the right fire starter on hand. 

How to shop for a fire starter

The best fire starter is a lighter, followed closely by a match. These tools make the process of igniting a fire almost effortless, provided you've selected the proper tinder and fuel setup. If you're headed out for a camping trip or assembling a disaster preparedness kit, always put a lighter and some emergency matches in there with the rest of the gear.

But as lighters eventually run out of fuel or break, and as you can only carry a finite number of matches, it's a good idea to also bring along a companion fire starter.

In a perfect world, your lighter or matches will always be at hand and you'll never need to use your fire starter. In the real world, however, assume Murphy's Law applies during your next multi-day hiking trip or when you find yourself stranded in the forest where the dangers real and there's nothing you can count on except your own wits.

In other words, if you want to stay safe in the wilderness, be sure to bring a fire starter.

Always remember to take proper precaution

Of course, with the deadly fires we've seen in recent years, you should take proper care when starting a fire, as well as putting it out. We advise against using one of these products if you lack the experience and highly recommend consulting an expert before using them. It doesn't hurt to heed Smokey Bear's fire safety rules, either.

Here are the best fire starters: 

  • Best fire starter overall: Überleben Zünden Bushcraft Ferro Rod Fire Starter
  • Best fire starter for ease of use: Zippo Emergency Fire Kit
  • Best fire starter on a budget: SE FS374 All-Weather Emergency Fire Starter & Magnesium Fuel Bar
  • Best fire starter for poor weather: UST Blastmatch Fire Starter

Updated on 8/12/2020 by Rick Stella: Updated the section on how to shop for a fire starter, along with how to take necessary fire precaution, checked the availability of each recommended fire starter, and updated the price and links where necessary.

The best fire starter overall

The Überleben Zünden Bushcraft Ferro Rod Fire Starter couldn't be much simpler to use, and it provides more than 12,000 strikes.

Ferrocerium is a metal alloy comprised primarily of iron and cerium. When struck in the right manner, it produces copious showers of sparks able to exceed 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit in temperature — which is more than enough heat to ignite a fire.

The Überleben Zünden Bushcraft Ferro Rod Fire Starter is nothing more than a thick rod of ferrocerium with a wooden grip attached to one end that comes accompanied by a striking tool. Provided you've gathered suitable tinder and laid a decent fire, this is all you'd need.

I've used many different ferro rods over the years and, frankly, there's little to distinguish most of them. However, the Überleben Zünden Bushcraft rod is notable for two reasons.

First, the wooden handle provides a solid grip and it looks better than the plastic grips on most options. Second, the included striking tool doubles as a miniature multitool. The tool has two different scraping surfaces for sending sparks showering off the ferrocerium rod as well as a bottle opener, a built-in hex wrench, and a small ruler.

Using a ferro rod like this couldn't be much easier, either. You just rake the striking tool along the side of the rod to create a shower of sparks. The trick with these fire starters is to master creating a proper tinder bundle to receive the sparks and having carefully selected wood (or other fuel, like pinecones or peat) at the ready.

Once you've scraped away the protective coating that comes on a new Überleben Zünden Bushcraft Ferro Rod, you'll be making sparks like a pro in no time. It's smart to spend plenty of time practicing tinder and fire preparation, though.

Pros: Lasts for thousands of uses, durable construction, easy to use

Cons: Requires decent knowledge of tinder preparation

The best fire starter for ease of use

If you can use a classic Zippo lighter, you can use this Zippo EFK Emergency Fire Kit.

There's a lot to love about the Zippo EFK Emergency Fire Kit. First off, it creates a shower of hot sparks using the exact same flint wheel ignition system as Zippo's generations-old lighters. With a quick flick of the thumb, you're able to rain sparks down onto your selected tinder.

The next thing you'll appreciate about this kit is that it comes with a pretty ideal choice of tinder in the form of five paraffin wax-coated cotton rolls, each of which burn for roughly five minutes once ignited, offering plenty of time to catch larger pieces of fuel like wood.

The spark wheel and the paraffin discs tuck away into a plastic tube that's not only watertight but floats, too, so if you drop the Zippo fire starter in a stream or over the side of a canoe, there's no harm done. There's also a spot for attaching a lanyard that helps prevent you from dropping it.

The main drawback of this fire starter is that the flint peg used to create the sparks wears down and stops being effective much quicker than a ferro rod. Using the Zippo Fire Starter is easier than using a rod, but just make sure to bring along spare flints.

Pros: Easy to operate, comes with reliable tinder, waterproof case

Cons: Flint wears out quickly, on the bulkier side

The best fire starter on a budget

The SE FS374 All-Weather Emergency Fire Starter & Magnesium Fuel Bar costs less than $10 but it helps you make fire even in the worst of conditions.

One of the biggest challenges you run into when trying to make fire in the wilderness is finding a tinder combustible enough to take a spark and create flames. But guess what readily ignites when it meets sparks, then burns incredibly hot? Magnesium. And the big rectangular bar attached to the ferrocerium rod on the SE FS374 fire starter is full-on magnesium.

Using the SE FS374 fire starter is simple, too. Just use the included striker tool or the blade of a knife to produce sparks on the ferro rod. When those sparks fall down onto a bed of shavings you created using the magnesium block, hot fire is almost guaranteed, even in damp conditions.

One obvious drawback is that eventually, the magnesium wears down so much that it no longer offers a block to grip. Of course, the small ferro rod might wear out first but there's a great solution here: Just buy another one, these things cost $9.

Pros: Very low cost, comes with ideal fuel source, compact

Cons: Small ferro rod, inferior included striker

The best fire starter for poor weather

With its directional shower of sparks concentrating heat and its one-handed operation, the UST Blastmatch Fire Starter is a great choice for use in the wind and rain, and starting a fire is a necessity.

When you only need one hand to operate your fire starter, the other hand can hold an umbrella or keep a tarp or poncho covering your tinder. Or, it can be used to cup around your pile of wood shavings and cotton fibers as the wind whistles through your campsite. One-handed operation of a fire starter is more than a convenience — it can be a game-changer in terms of speed of success.

The UST Blastmatch Fire Starter uses a steel post pressed against a flint rod and is operated with the motion of one hand. Its use sends a shower of hot sparks blasting out of the device's tip. This design allows you to aim the sparks just where you want them and to hold the fire starter steady during use. Many rod-style fire starters that require a striker (or knife) held in the other hand use a jerky, less precise action that makes it harder to concentrate the sparks.

Because you can use your free hand to shield your tinder and because this fire starter allows for such steady, precise direction of sparks, it's a great choice for use in inclement conditions. Just note that it's rated for less than a third the number of strikes as other options, like our top pick.

Pros: One-handed operation, works well in bad weather, directional spark production

Cons: Shorter operating life than other options, mastery takes practice

Check out more outdoor gear guides on Insider Reviews

The best camping gear you can buy

Campfires, wildlife, and fresh air. Heatstroke, mosquito bites, and no A/C. However you enjoy your time outdoors, this is the best camping gear for all of you. From the most intrepid of adventurers to the feeblest city slicker, we'll make sure you're comfortably sorted out for your next camping trip.

Whether you're searching for a tent and sleeping bag, a camping stove and mess kit, or a first aid kit and sunscreen, we have the camping gear you need.

Take a look out our essential camping pack list, too.

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A good hiking pack is important for enjoying your next day hike or overnight camping trip and you need a reliable pack for multi-day treks, especially if you wander miles away from civilization.

The best mosquito repellent products you can buy

Effective mosquito prevention requires a multi-pronged approach in which you remove breeding grounds, kill off adult insects, and deploy products that repel these dangerous pests. If you had to choose just one item for your anti-mosquito arsenal, a wise choice would be time-tested OFF! Deep Woods Insect Repellent with its 25% DEET concentration that wards off mosquitoes, ticks, flies, and more.

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Disclosure: This post is brought to you by the Insider Reviews team. We highlight products and services you might find interesting. If you buy them, we get a small share of the revenue from the sale from our commerce partners. We frequently receive products free of charge from manufacturers to test. This does not drive our decision as to whether or not a product is featured or recommended. We operate independently from our advertising sales team. We welcome your feedback. Email us at [email protected]

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