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Best Fire Starting Tools

Updated on May 22, 2012

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 Blast Match make the skill of spark-based fire-starting an an even easier one for everyone to master.

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!

Ultimate Survival Technologies BlastMatch Fire Starter (Black)
Ultimate Survival Technologies BlastMatch Fire Starter (Black)

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

Light My Fire Original Swedish FireSteel Army 12,000 Strike Fire Starter - Black
Light My Fire Original Swedish FireSteel Army 12,000 Strike Fire Starter - Black

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.

FireSteel Miniature

FireSteel Miniature
FireSteel Miniature

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.

  1. Fresnel lens

    This small magnifying glass gives me another fire-starting alternative, allowing me to harness the power of the sun!

  2. Lighter

    Not good to rely exclusively on this piece of equipment, but it sometimes does come in handy.

  3. Tin

    With match striker strip taped to inside of lid.

  4. Small Firesteel

    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.

  5. Magnesium Fire-starter

    Magnesium is a metal which burns incredibly hot, and can be ignited by spark. This device has an attached firesteel for making sparks.

  6. Birthday Candles

    To help ignite stubborn fires in damp conditions.

  7. 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.

  8. Ranger Bands

    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.)

  9. Pencil Sharpener

    To turn sticks into tinder/kindling.

  10. Strike Anywhere Matches

    (Heads dipped in paraffin to waterproof them) and MRE matches, which are somewhat waterproof.

What is your favorite fire-starting tool? - Tell us what lights your fire!

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    • HughLasso profile image

      HughLasso 4 years ago

      Matches and gasoline! :)

    • GeorgeDornty profile image

      GeorgeDornty 4 years ago

      @espressoman lm: Agreed! I thought that was very creative.

    • espressoman lm profile image

      espressoman lm 4 years ago

      I like the pencil sharpener idea.

    • georgedemich profile image

      georgedemich 4 years ago

      The best part of a bonfire... is starting it!

    • profile image

      CharlesGotFired 4 years ago

      Very nice lens. Me likey

    • PeterThieme profile image

      PeterThieme 4 years ago

      As a pyro, I love this lens :D

    • profile image

      DanielTorri 4 years ago

      Gotta try starting a fire with flint and steel someday

    • profile image

      CarynWilliamson 4 years ago

      Nothing better than the smell of a match :)

    • TarahFlesch profile image

      TarahFlesch 4 years ago

      Nice lens! :)

    • profile image

      RafaelRais 4 years ago

      This lens... is... awesome!!!

    • IssacAlouf profile image

      IssacAlouf 4 years ago

      Love it :D

    • profile image

      GlennHilario50 4 years ago

      Nice lens, very impressive ;)

    • profile image

      adrianjohnstone 4 years ago

      Very nice lens, thanks for sharing!

    • profile image

      EliseSaenphimmacha 4 years ago

      Great lens!

    • profile image

      MariannMroczkowski 4 years ago

      This lens is really great... nice job!

    • profile image

      NicholasSteedmans 4 years ago

      Great lens!

    • profile image

      dustypratillo 4 years ago

      Matches!

    • profile image

      EstebanCramblet 4 years ago

      Awesome lens!

    • Reputation Mana profile image

      Reputation Mana 4 years ago

      This lens is so good I'd almost say it's perfect :) nice job!

    • profile image

      MatthewDasher 4 years ago

      I like matches - they're easy to use but I feel a little more manly when I use them :)

    • TobyFugitt profile image

      TobyFugitt 4 years ago

      Cool lens! I'm definitely a big fan of the good ol' fashioned flint and steel... it's hard but starting a fire with it is very rewarding!

    • HomeDecorKnight profile image

      HomeDecorKnight 4 years ago

      This lens is very much informative to know fire starting tool. I like the lens.

    • Einar A profile image
      Author

      Einar A 5 years ago

      @anonymous: It was just water at that point, soon to be hot chocolate. :)

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Just stopped by to sit by the fire again with you. What's in the kettle, you cooking coffee? :D

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Great tips to know.

    • robertzimmerman2 profile image

      Robert Zimmerman 5 years ago from SE Florida, USA

      Hey, that pencil sharpener idea is great, thanks!

    • KimGiancaterino profile image

      KimGiancaterino 5 years ago

      We just watched the movie Cast Away, which conveys how important it is to have a few survival skills -- just in case! Thanks for an informative lens. We will be shopping for a fire-starting tool to keep in the RV.

    • SquidooPower profile image

      SquidooPower 5 years ago

      I live on a boat so I have a variety of tools stashed away in my abandon ship bags.

    • btgriffin7 profile image

      btgriffin7 5 years ago

      Great lens! Hopefully get to try these out this summer.

    • profile image

      getwellsoon 5 years ago

      I have always liked the magnesium starter, but have recently been fond of the char cloth method as well!

    • catbehaviors profile image

      catbehaviors 5 years ago

      I recently learned how start a fire using flint and steel, and on my second time I was able to do it within 30 seconds. Enjoyed your lens! :)

    • Diana Wenzel profile image

      Renaissance Woman 5 years ago from Colorado

      I use the Swedish Firesteel starter. Really like your idea for using a pencil sharpener to make shavings out in the field. I had not thought of that. Thanks for the tips! Always appreciated.

    • profile image

      SapphireHunter 5 years ago

      This is super awesome! :D thanks for the valuable information!

    • profile image

      SapphireHunter 5 years ago

      This is super awesome! :D thanks for the valuable information!

    • profile image

      getmoreinfo 5 years ago

      These tips will come in handy and I like reading about your camping experiences too.

    • profile image

      jmatts1 5 years ago

      Great lens, thanks for all of the fire starting advice!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      lightening! it is the gift of the gods.

      not exactly the best choice but my favorite for being the natural of all times.

    • profile image

      SPfamily 5 years ago

      Great info! Helpful tip on the pencil sharpener... my 9 yr old son & I will give that a go this week. Learn something new every day. :-)

    • designsbyharriet profile image

      Harriet 5 years ago from Indiana

      All good campers should know how to start a fire. Hope they read this lens if they don't.

    • profile image

      homerB62 5 years ago

      Very interesting lens, unusual aspects you touched. Thanks !

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Wow! Wish I had this information when camping with the Girl Scouts. Starting a fire was not always an easy task, especially in wind or rain.

    • profile image

      linkreggie 5 years ago

      lol, your lens remind me of my high school year. I learn this idea during our camping activity.. LIKED!. thanks for sharing valuable lens.. :)

    • profile image

      jakealoo 5 years ago

      My favorite tool is a flamethrower.

    • profile image

      ohcaroline 5 years ago

      Very useful information. I too like the pencil sharpener idea for shavings.

    • ismeedee profile image

      ismeedee 5 years ago

      wicked useful info here!!

    • alex89 lm profile image

      alex89 lm 5 years ago

      I like the pencil sharpener idea, I will probably use that this summer

    • flicker lm profile image

      flicker lm 5 years ago

      Another wonderful lens! I especially appreciated the tip about using the pencil sharpener to make wood shavings. Congrats on the Purple Star!

    • Dmarieinspires profile image

      Dana Marie 5 years ago from St. Peters, MO

      nice lens...puts perspective on the things we take for granted. :)

    • gatornic15 profile image

      gatornic15 5 years ago

      A very informative lens. Congratulations on your Purple Star!

    • food monkey profile image

      food monkey 5 years ago

      nice lens :)

    • RachelDillin profile image

      RachelDillin 5 years ago

      Thank you for the information. I have never had to start a fire with anything other than a match.

    • rachelscott profile image

      rachelscott 5 years ago

      Your lens make me happy

    • xriotdotbiz lm profile image

      xriotdotbiz lm 5 years ago

      Just for fun I still enjoy steel wool and the batteries from a flashlight to start a fire while camping. Something I picked up in Boy Scouts. Of course I always wondered why anyone in the wilderness would have steel wool? I don't even keep steel wool at home.

    • Fcuk Hub profile image

      Fcuk Hub 5 years ago

      These are really best fire starting tools. I have to only agree with you :)

    • eilval profile image

      Eileen 5 years ago from Western Cape , South Africa

      Great lens , interesting information !

    • profile image

      Aquablocks 5 years ago

      These are powerful tools. They make me remember the days i love camping on Christmas and new year days.

    • djcopa profile image

      djcopa 5 years ago

      Thank you for creating a proper lens about fire starting.

    • allenwebstarme profile image

      allenwebstarme 5 years ago

      Fire starting tools are amazing.

    • intermarks profile image

      intermarks 5 years ago

      Great lens. I like the fire steel miniature because of it is convenience to carry and easy to keep.

    • Rangoon House profile image

      AJ 5 years ago from Australia

      Excellent information and fire starting tools and resources. Blessings.

    • SciTechEditorDave profile image

      David Gardner 5 years ago from San Francisco Bay Area, California

      Nice lens! Reminds me of my days in the Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts and many, many campouts. Congrats on a Squidoo masterpiece!

    • SciTechEditorDave profile image

      David Gardner 5 years ago from San Francisco Bay Area, California

      Nice lens! Reminds me of my days in the Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts and many, many campouts. Congrats on a Squidoo masterpiece!

    • cynthiannleighton profile image

      cynthiannleighton 5 years ago

      Nice lens! Good examples for me looking how to build a lens. Thanks.

    • profile image

      ravenwynn 5 years ago

      Fantastic article, very informative. Thanks!

    • ItayaLightbourne profile image

      Itaya Lightbourne 5 years ago from Topeka, KS

      Another fantastic article that taught me more about being prepared when out in the wilderness. I love the idea of using a pencil sharpener on a stick! Never would have thought of that. Who knew that Vaseline would help cotton burn longer?! I like that most of the things one can have in their fire kit costs very little to assemble too. Congrats on the well deserved purple star and front page feature! :)

    • Anthony Altorenna profile image

      Anthony Altorenna 5 years ago from Connecticut

      I'm pretty good at building fires, but I need to rely on matches (wooden matches are my favorite). This is another great lens, and thanks for sharing your wilderness skills and documented through your stellar photos. Every visit to each of your lenses is a treat.

    • andreaberrios lm profile image

      andreaberrios lm 5 years ago

      Great idea..my husband is planning a camping trip next month, I will take your advise :) Congrats on your purple star.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I've only ever used a mach or a lighter to start fires but your fires starting tools are much more exciting than just a match. Usually there was paper available for a good start but have gone the route of using dry leaves as well. I think I would love trying the ferrocerium rods method. Once again your expertise in all things wilderness is a delight and I think you are becoming legend in the Squidoo community to all who are fascinated by your endless knowledge and skill. Congratulations on front page honors and on that pretty purple star!

    • Titia profile image

      Titia Geertman 5 years ago from Waterlandkerkje - The Netherlands

      Great lens on fire-starting tools. Alas in my country it's strictly forbidden to either camp or start fires in the few woods we have.

    • DIY Mary profile image

      DIY Mary 5 years ago

      This is really useful information to have in your survival tool kit. And congratulations on your purple star!

    • Brandi Bush profile image

      Brandi 5 years ago from Maryland

      Have you ever made a lens that is not stellar? NO! :) You have so many amazing skills and much knowledge that needs to be passed on...I've learned a lot from you! These fire starting tools seem like they would be an essential item to add to a hiking/camping backpack or to a survival kit. Excellent! :)

    • BuckHawkcenter profile image

      BuckHawkcenter 5 years ago

      Susan52's fire starter sounds about right! Great information and good job!

    • CCTVwebmaster profile image

      CCTVwebmaster 5 years ago

      Great tips! Thanks!

    • SusanDeppner profile image

      Susan Deppner 5 years ago from Arkansas USA

      My husband is my fire starter. He prides himself in never needing more than one match. Excellent information here, very nicely done!

    • MartieG profile image

      MartieG aka 'survivoryea' 5 years ago from Jersey Shore

      Very informative. Learned some things, nicely done :>)

    • Camden1 profile image

      Camden1 5 years ago

      My son enjoys starting our firepit fires with flint and steel - something he learned in Boy Scouts!

    • profile image

      BeyondRoses 5 years ago

      Guess I'll go with the easy way, Strike Anywhere Matches. Lots of things I never knew about starting fires. Great info!

    • flycatcherrr profile image

      flycatcherrr 5 years ago

      Thanks for the tip on carrying a pencil sharpener for making tinder!