When heading into the backcountry, it is important to have a reliable emergency fire-starting tool. Fire is essential for warmth and safety and it is listed in the “10 Essential Systems” for the outdoors. Fire is important for those traveling in the backcountry, whether it is for a day or multiple nights. It’s also an essential item to include in your bug out bag for any type of emergency preparedness.
For those heading into the wilderness, fire can be a lifesaving tool if they become stranded. Besides having the ability to keep you warm, a fire can provide many services to aid in the event of an emergency. Wet clothes can be dangerous when the temperatures dip at night and a fire will help to dry them. If your stove has broken, you can use fire to cook. If your outdoor water purifier has broken, you can boil water to safely drink. In colder weather, uses for fire become even more essential, like melting snow for drinking water or filling a water bottle with warm water to place in your sleeping bag for extra warmth.
Three traditional emergency fire starter options are lighter, matches, and fire steel with striker. While a lighter can be a reliable tool, it can fail if it is wet or runs out of fuel, which makes it less than ideal as a survival fire starter. Matches can be used as a primary fire-starting tool, or as a back up. Waterproof matches are available and they should always be stored in a waterproof container. One can also carry a fire tool that can quickly ignite dry tinder. To be prepared, always have dry tinder available. There are a number of tinder options such as store bought nuggets, priming paste, fuel, or even dryer lint.
This article will take a look at the 6 best fire starters on the market and compare them to one another. After comparing each fire tool with the other, you should be able to make a well-informed decision as to the best fire starter tool for you and your needs. We will review each survival fire starter on the following categories:
- Type – Which of the traditional methods is used.
- Size and Weight
- Weatherproofing – Waterproof cases or coatings are often used.
- Uses – How many times it can be used to start a fire.
Here are our Top Picks
Survivor Outdoor Fixed Blade Knife with Fire Starter Review
The Survivor Outdoor Fixed Blade Knife is a magnesium fire starter kit that includes a magnesium alloy fire steel. It is a full tang steel blade, which means that it uses a one-piece construction. The notches on the spine of the knife act as the striker.
The handle of the knife is wrapped in nylon cord for comfort and can be removed and used in case of emergency. For the storage, the knife and fire steel come in a durable nylon carrying case, and the fire steel has a nylon cord attached in order to prevent losing it.
Compared to other fire starting tools, this is quite large and heavy, but it is a good option for people who are looking for both a knife and fire steel and who want to save both space and money. For example, including this in a bug out bag would be a smart choice because it can act as a survivor knife and a survivor fire starter all in one.
At just $11, it is a cheap tool. As with other fire steel set ups, dry tinder will help to start a fire quickly. The manufacturer does not list how many uses the magnesium alloy rod can produce.
- Type: Fire steel
- Size and Weight: 7 inches, 3 ounces
- Weatherproofing: N/A
- Uses: N/A
Gerber Bear Grylls Fire Starter Review
The Bear Grylls Fire Starter from Gerber is a compact tool that includes a ferrocerium rod that is good for 8,000 strikes and a metal striker. Many people incorrectly label ferrocerium fire starts “magnesium fire starters.” While there is magnesium in ferrocerium, there are also other metal.s Both rod and striker slide together to create a waterproof seal when not in use. They each have a durable and textured handle that is easy to grip.
The casing comes with an attached lanyard that keeps the rod and striker connected. On the end of the lanyard is a small emergency whistle, which makes this a great 2 in 1 tool. The casing also includes a watertight cap with a small storage area for dry tinder. The outside of the case incorporates instructions for land-to-air SOS signaling.
This fire steel starter has a rugged design with a generous sized striker and rod, which makes it an ideal camping fire starter. It creates a great deal of sparks to help you start a fire quickly, just as a traditional flint and steel starter would work. Its only downside is that the housing is a bit large compared to similar tools.
- Type: Fire Steel
- Size and Weight: 4.7 x 0.9 inches, 2.6 ounces
- Weatherproofing: Waterproof
- Uses: 8,000 Strikes
Wilderness Solutions Scout Fire Piston Review
This fire piston fire starter is really a great tool that is reliable and can be used over and over again. Since it’s a compression fire starter, it doesn’t necessarily have a “shelf life” in the sense that it will only last 8,000 or 12,000 strikes. It will work as long as you have it because nature is its fuel.
A fire piston uses a similar process as a Diesel engine, where heat is generated by compressed air molecules to ignite a fire. This is a very popular method used by the Boy Scouts, and is a great all around fire tool. It is completely unaffected by moisture and can be used after being submerged in water, making it a great survival tool.
This particular model is made from space age polymer and an aluminum piston shaft made fore durability and made to last. It comes with a lifetime warrantee and is made 100% in the United States.
- Type: Fire Piston Fire Starter
- Size and Weight: 3-6 inches end to end, 4 ounces
- Weatherproofing: Waterproof/unaffected by water
- Uses: N/A
Zippo Emergency Fire Starter Review
There is a flint wheel ignition to quickly and reliably light the matches while the wax coating on the matches helps keep them waterproof and prolong the flame. The tinder sticks themselves are made of cotton that can be pulled apart. The flint wheel generates a spark to ignite the frayed waxed tinder sticks.
The case that comes with this kit is small and only includes 4 tinder sticks, however, more matches can be purchased. Because it only comes with 4 matches, this kit would be best used as a backup to a more reliable fire starting method.
- Type: Matches and flint
- Size and Weight: 1.7 x 3.9 x 6.1 inches, 1.4 ounces
- Weatherproofing: Water-resistant coating, waterproof container
- Uses: 4
Light My Fire Original Swedish FireSteel Army
The Swedish Army FireSteel from Light My Fire comes with a 9mm ferrocerium rod that can last for 12,000 strikes. Ferrocerium is a metal alloy that is part iron, part magnesium, and other metals. This is a very compact fire-starting tool that does not include a case. A lanyard connects the rod and striker and can also be used as a necklace. The spark created by the ferrocerium rod is very hot at over 5000 degrees Fahrenheit.
This is the lightest fire steel of the five. For a tool that is so light and compact, it provides a generous sized striker and rod. The downside to this is that the handles are smaller and not as comfortable to grip. However, at 12,000 strikes, this tool will last much longer than you average flint and steel fire starters. This Swedish Firesteel is an excellent product.
- Type: Fire Steel
- Size and Weight: 5.9 x 3.2 x 1 inches, 1.7 ounces
- Weatherproofing: N/A
- Uses: 12,000
UCO Stormproof Match Kit Review
Looking for strike anywhere matches? The UCO Stormproof Match Kit includes 25 waterproof matches and 3 strikers. If you’ve ever had your matches blown out by the wind, water, sand, etc., these are the matches for you. With their waterproof cylinder, they work as strike anywhere matches and will not be put out.
The matches come in a waterproof durable cylinder that can float if dropped in water. The case has a ribbed exterior that makes gripping it easy in cold and wet conditions.
There is also a slot on the outside of the case for a striker. The strike pads themselves can be replaced easily if they get wet and there are two additional strike pads inside the case. The robust matches burn for 15 seconds and are both windproof and waterproof.
While the case only comes with 25 matches, it can hold up to 40. There is enough space inside the case for small tinder. These matches can stand up to extreme conditions and are great for emergencies.
- Type: Matches
- Size and Weight 1.2 x 1.6 x 4.8 inches, 1.7 ounces
- Weatherproofing: Waterproof
- Uses: 25
My Vote for Best Survival Fire Starter
The best deal here is the Survivor Outdoor Fixed Blade Knife with Fire Starter; it is one of the best magnesium fire starters on the market. For just over $10, buyers are getting a steel knife, fire steel, and carrying case. This makes it a great choice for either a hiking or backpacking fire starter because it can function as a 2 in 1 knife, fire-starting tool.
The Bear Grylls Fire Starter has a sleek and durable design that makes it easy to use and easily portable. This is probably the best choice if you’re looking strictly for the best camping fire starter on the market. It has great reviews and is an Amazon best seller in emergency preparedness.
I would have to say, however, that the best emergency fire starter I have found is the UCO Stormproof Match Kit. These waterproof matches are impressively durable and will stay lit in wind, rain, and almost anything else you can throw at them. The waterproof case is a great bonus that is going to keep your matches safe and dry until you are ready to use them.
If you are looking for long-term wilderness survival, however, the matches aren’t your best choice, since they are single use and you can only carry 24 or so in a container. For any long-term survival, the Scouts Fire Piston is the winner in the lot.