Best Fire Starting Tools
Spark-based fire starters for hiking, camping, emergency preparedness, survival and more...
It's good to have several ways to start a fire when you're out hiking in the wilderness, or even when traveling by vehicle, and though matches and lighters will certainly do the job, I like to carry something that is less expendable.
Traditionally, people used flint and steel, which allow one to start thousands of fires without worrying about running out of fuel, as with a lighter. Today's Swedish firesteels and products like the Â make the skill of spark-based fire-starting an an even easier one for everyone to master. Blast Match
All photos taken by the author.
Spark-Based Fire-Starting, the Modern Way
Ferro rods, metal matches and more...
I like using flint and steel to start fires, and they are something I always carry. I also enjoy being able to walk into the woods with nothing but my knife, and sometimes not even that, and fairly quickly collect all the materials necessary to assemble a bow and drill for a truly primitive method of fire-starting. I recognize that these skills are not for everyone, and even though I have spent a good deal of time mastering and maintaining them myself, I do usually carry matches and lighters, as backup.
There are several alternative means of starting fires which require far less practice to master than primitive friction-based methods such as the bow and drill, but which are still, in my opinion far more reliable than matches and lighters, simply because they are less expendable. Great as they are, matches eventually get used up and lighters run out of fuel, and if you're out there on the trail or in an unexpected extended stay in the wilderness, it is wise to carry fire-starting tools that will serve you for the long term. That is where "metal matches" come in.
Photo: traditional flint and steel, with leather pouch and charred cotton "char cloth" to help catch spark.
Traditional flint and steel makes use of a piece of specially hardened carbon steel which gives off a spark when struck hard enough by a piece of flint, quartz or other rock. This method of fire-starting has been around for a long time, but does require some skill to master, as the steel must be struck at just the right angle.
Ferrocerium is a man-made mixture of several different metals, iron oxide, magnesium oxide and mischmetal, which contains nearly 50% cerium. Cerium is a metal whose ignition temperature is very low, somewhere in the range of 150-180 degrees C.
This special mixture of metals allows rods made from ferrocerium to throw off spectacular showers of sparks--bits of burning metal, really--when struck with hard objects such as steel, rock or even glass. These sparks can approach 5,500 degrees F in temperature, allowing them to easily ignite a wide variety of tinders. And, because ferrocerium is so ready to produce sparks, one need not have nearly so precise a technique to successfully use it as to use old-time flint and steel.
Another advantage these fire-starters is that they, unlike lighters, will work no matter how cold the weather, and unlike most matches, are not damaged by water.
Blast Match - Thousands of fires, easy one-handed operation!
This product combines firesteel and striker in one handy package for easy use. One major advantage of the Blast Match is that it can be used one-handed (it is possible to light a fire one-handed with a traditional firesteel and striker, but takes some practice ) in case one is injured and lacks the use of both hands. A great device for the backpack and vehicle!
How to Use a Blast Match - This video shows how easy it is to start a fire with the Blast Match--even one-handed!
Swedish Firesteel, Army Model
A very handy and robust firesteel that will stand up to rough use and last through the lighting of thousands of fires.
This is the one I keep on my keychain.
How to use a Firesteel - An excellent video tutorial demonstrating proper firesteel technique
The Importance of Tinder
No matter how great your fire-starting device, without the proper tinder you may be out of luck!
Tinder is the material you use to catch your spark, to nurture and keep it going until it can bloom into flame and catch your kindling and smaller sticks on fire. While many natural tinders are available in most areas, things such dandelion and cattail fuzz, thistle down and the shredded bark of cedar and other trees, it is always a good idea to carry your own tinder in case nothing is available when you need to start a fire.
Some good tinders to carry include cotton balls soaked in Vaseline (will hold a flame longer,) gauze, dryer lint and char cloth.
Five manmade tinders: piece of 4x4 gauze, char cord, pitch coated milkweed down pellet, petroleum jelly cotton ball, Hexamine tablet.
These are the little firesteels I use in my kits and carry in the pockets of my jackets so I'll always have one handy when needed. Not quite as handy to use as the larger models, but they certainly have their place! Buy a dozen, and keep them everywhere.
My Fire Kit - Design your own based around your needs, this is just what works for me...
Here's what I carry in my day pack when out hiking and backpacking, and in the bag I keep in my vehicle.
In addition to the firesteels in this kit, I also carry miniature firesteels in the pockets of my winter coats, and sometimes even sewn into the seams of ski pants or jackets, just to make sure I'll always have one if needed.
This small magnifying glass gives me another fire-starting alternative, allowing me to harness the power of the sun!
Not good to rely exclusively on this piece of equipment, but it sometimes does come in handy.
With match striker strip taped to inside of lid.
And length of hacksaw blade for use as striker. I always carry a larger firesteel on me, also. These tiny ones are very handy for kits, pockets, etc, but they are prone to breakage with frequent use, so it's good to have a backup.
Magnesium is a metal which burns incredibly hot, and can be ignited by spark. This device has an attached firesteel for making sparks.
To help ignite stubborn fires in damp conditions.
Bag with Milkweed Down and Chunks of Spruce Pitch
Always a good idea to carry lots of tinder, in case you have trouble finding dry tinder when it's time for a fire.
Lengths of bicycle tire tube used as extra-sturdy rubber bands for holding the tin shut and for fire-starting (they will burn for quite a long time, helping to ignite other, less combustible fuels.)
To turn sticks into tinder/kindling.
Strike Anywhere Matches
(Heads dipped in paraffin to waterproof them) and MRE matches, which are somewhat waterproof.