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Updated on October 21, 2022 at 01:21
Fire starters are a camping and survival essential. Fire keeps us warm, dry and lights us up at night. It boils water to make it safe for us to drink. There’s also a strong psychological benefit: we feel more relaxed and secure when we’re around a campfire. In a real survival situation, being able to start a fire gives us a sense of control over what’s going on, which helps put us in a more positive mindset.
There are many types of fire starters available, using different methods and at different prices. Deciding on the best fire starter for you depends on which one will be reliable in your area’s climate, its size, its price, and its ease of use. Below are the best fire starters available today.
Why did he make the cut?: With 20 Tinder Quik that ignites when wet and the Fire Lite windproof spark, this super light kit will start a fire anywhere.
- It contains both attacker and tinder
- Weight: 0.7 oz
- Usage: Up to 20 fires
- Ultra convenient and easy to use
- Light up to 20 fires with one kit
- Less than $1 per fire started
- The spark is small and difficult to use if hands are cold/hard
- Flint in the spark cannot be replaced
The Fire Lite Kit from Survive Outdoor Longer comes with bulbs and spark plugs, so you have everything you need in one lightweight bag. Tinder Quik Tabs are easy to use: just pull one end to tame the threads. The Fire Lite Sparker works the same way as a disposable lighter, just turn the thumb wheel to generate sparks that will ignite the ignition.
Tinder Quik Tabs burn for a few minutes each, providing plenty of time to ignite your flare and fire in earnest. With 20 of them in the kit, you’ll have plenty of time for your entire trip and then some.
This kit also includes instructions on how to choose kindling and build your fire from the ground up. Everything comes in a resealable bag. Just throw it in your pack and you’ll be ready to start a fire anywhere there’s fuel to burn.
Why did he make the cut?: It’s easy to use: just pour a small batch and ignite with a flame or spark. It is water resistant, will float on water and will continue to burn up to 1000 degrees.
- Weight: 1.75 ounces per package
- Burning temperature: 1000°F
- Materials: volcanic rock, recycled wood, food grade paraffin wax
- It can be ignited by a spark or flame
- Use as much or as little as needed
- Very hot and long lasting fire
Instafire was featured on Shark Tank in 2015 and has been lighting up the world ever since. The slim package will almost cover the palm of your hand. Inside is about 1.75 ounces of a granular blend containing powdered volcanic rock, recycled wood, and a proprietary blend of food-grade paraffin wax. An entire package will burn for up to 25 minutes.
To use, simply open the package and pour out a little of the material, usually enough to cover a quarter or half dollar. Form it into a small ball and ease. A ferrocerium rod works great with the Instafire, as does any lighter available.
The material burns at over 1000°F and will do so for several minutes, easily igniting the rest of your fire materials. You can pour it on a block of ice or a pile of snow and it will burn just as brightly. We’ve even lit it and then let it float directly in the water as it burns. This is an outstanding easy-to-light brush that will work with almost any type of fire starter.
Why did he make the cut?: The longest burning product on our list is easily hot and on for a full 30 minutes, and all you have to do is pull a cord.
- Burning time: 30 minutes
- Weight: 3.7 ounces
- Dimensions: 5 x 1.1 x 2.1 inches
- It requires nothing but wood to burn
- Waterproof packaging keeps it protected
- Simple to get started
- May not work if packaging is compromised prior to lighting
- Heavier and heavier than other options
- One time use per package
Pull Start Fire works in all weather conditions and its performance is not affected by wind, rain, cold or snow. Setup is easy. First, remove the plastic from the package. There are two strings, one at each end of the box. Tie the green string over a log in the fire pit and make sure it is secure. Build fuel around the box. Then, quickly pull the red string. With a bang, the box will begin to emit smoke and then burst into flames. It works somewhat like a pull string firework, only with less noise and a lot more flame.
Because it will burn for more than half an hour, you’ll have plenty of time to get started and then some. It is important to note that you should never hold this in your hand when starting out. It should be firmly attached to a log before pulling the red thread.
Why did he make the cut?: Exotac has earned a well-deserved reputation for equipment that stands up to hard use. This iron bar is a great example.
- Dimensions: 3.65 x 0.43 x 0.43 inches
- Weight: 0.71 oz
- Materials: 6061 anodized aluminum body
- The ferrocerium rod is replaceable if worn
- It has a built-in striker
- 3000 strokes per rod
- Small and can be easy to misplace
- The ferro rod is thin, only 0.25 inches in diameter
The NanoSTRIKER XL has an all-integrated iron rod and striker. You simply unlock the parts, reassemble to expose the rod and you’ll be sparking in no time. It is extremely well made and designed to withstand very rough handling, as is all Exotac equipment.
This iron rod is a great choice for a survival kit because it will work even in rain or snow. It will rain hot sparks down on your lamp with every scratch of the attacker. When you’re done, you can roll it back to its original configuration and put it in a pocket. If you are looking to buy just one fire steel, this is the way to go.
Why did he make the cut?: Lighter and igniter in one, the Sweetfire ignites with just a swipe against the box, just like a match, and burns for seven minutes.
- Usage: up to 20 individual fires
- Burning time: 7 minutes
- Package Weight: 4.9 ounces
- All-in-one product, no need for other components
- Made from sugar cane waste, a renewable resource
- Can cause up to 20 fires from one pack
- It does not light up if the surface of the striker in the box is wet
UCO Sweetfire Strikable Fire Starter gets its name from the bagasse it is made from, which is a by-product of sugar cane. This material is used worldwide as a renewable biofuel. Combines with vegetable wax to create a consistent burn. There are 20 match points in each box, grouped into sets of five.
To use, simply detach one and hit the red tip on the side of the box, just like you would a match. It will flare up with a vengeance, then die back into a steady flame. It can stand on edge, similar to a candle, inside your firehouse. It will burn for about seven minutes.
UCO includes a backup protective surface in the box—a nice touch—so you’ll always have a backup striker. You can also split the contents of the pack into two fire kits. If it gets wet, it will light up after it dries.
I have studied and practiced survival techniques for over 30 years. In that time, I have lit countless fires. I used every tool and technique from disposable lighters to ferrocerium rods and more. I have taken several considerations into account in evaluating the tools provided here.
- Ease of use: Any tool or device should not be too difficult or complicated. When the chips are down and you need a fire now, simple is best.
- The learning curve: Any survival tool should be practiced and mastered, ideally well before it is needed. The sooner you learn the use and skill of the tool, the better.
- effectiveness: The device must work well in a variety of conditions—in strong winds, during a rainstorm, or when it’s snowing. Because the reality is, when you really you have to start a fire, the weather will show you no mercy.
- Value: I don’t like to spend a lot of money on something if I don’t have to. Neither should you. Every item here offers a lot of bang for your buck.
Things to consider before you buy
Always consider where you will be building a fire when choosing a fire starter. If this is going to be a humid climate, you’ll need something that will work even when wet, such as the nanoSTRIKER XL. On the other hand, if you’re just going camping for the weekend and know you’ll have a reliable source of seasoned firewood, the UCO Sweetfire is a good fire starter and may be all you need to add to your camping equipment.
If you’re on the trail, you should keep at least two different ways to start a fire. One of the best is a simple disposable lighter. But if you run out of fuel, or if the temperature is too cold for the fuel to vaporize properly and be light, then any of the products we’ve recommended will work just fine.
In addition to a fire starter, make sure you always have reliable fuel with you, just in case you can’t get it from Mother Nature. Practice with your newly purchased fire engine so you know how it works. Try it out in bad weather too, so you know what its limitations might be before you need it.
Frequently asked questions
Q: Do you need a fire starter?
Whenever you go out into the field, you should have multiple tools with you to start the fire. The fire will provide warmth and light, boil water to make it safe to drink, and is a soothing presence.
Q: Do fire starters expire?
Some products on the market have a limited lifespan in terms of maximum effectiveness. Ferrocerium rods will last a very long time if kept covered.
Question: How to start a fire?
Start with tinder, which is usually a light, fluffy material that ignites easily. Build a teepee on tinder using dry sticks that are about the thickness of a toothpick or a larger hair. Turn on the tinder and let it ignite. Slowly add thicker sticks until the fire is the size you want.
Final thoughts on the best fire starters
If we had to pick just one of these to be the absolute best fire starter, it would be the nanoSTRIKER XL from Exotac. It will shoot a shower of hot sparks up to 5000 times, in any condition. It is simple to use, easy to pack and reliable. All you need is tinder.