Start a fire in the rain. Start a fire in the snow. Start a fire after your gear gets dunked in the river. And start the fire with a firestarter that is capable of working through the most difficult scenarios.
There are various firestarters to choose from, and part of getting the best one is getting the right one. We’ve pored over the research and testing that’s been done to create a buying guide that will steer you to the best firestarter for you.
Outdoor survival is just as much about outsmarting the elements as it is using them to your advantage. Packing the right firestarter is one of the best ways to outsmart any of the difficulties the outside world tries to throw at you, whether you’re camping, hunting, backcountry skiing, or stranded on the side of the road.
Know your local fire restrictions and think carefully about whether you actually need a fire. Never leave your fire unattended and be prepared to completely saturate your fire until the ground beneath it is wet and cold. Unattended campfires are the cause of some of the largest, most costly natural disasters in the U.S., consuming millions of acres of forest and destroying entire communities. A fire can save your life in cold, wet conditions, but we must be responsible outdoors people.
Check out our firestarter comparison chart at the bottom of the list for a quick comparison, or follow our buyer’s guide to figure out the best firestarter for your pack. Then, get your burning questions answered in our FAQ.
The Best Firestarters of 2023
- Best Overall Firestarter: Wolf & Grizzly
- Best Budget Firestarter: Light My Fire Tinder-on-a-Rope
- Runner-Up Best Firestarter: UST BlastMatch
- Best Natural Firestarter: UCO Sweetfire
- Best Firestarter Knife: Morakniv Companion Spark
- Best Firestarter Flashlight: Wicked Lasers FlashTorch
- Best Hassle-Free Car Camping Firestarter: Bernzomatic Trigger-Start Torch
- Material Ferro rod, steel striker, paracord with jute core
- Lifespan 20,000 strikes
- Size 4.9” x 0.8”
- Other Features Emergency tinder, can be sharpened and stacked on the rod
- Lightweight and compact
- Long lifespan
- Simple design
- No space for grip
- Material Pine
- Lifespan Enough for more than 10 fires
- Size 5.9” x 0.7” x 0.8”
- Other Features 80% resin content, rope attached for easy carry
- Highly combustible in any conditions
- Can be used with any ignition source, affordable
- Need to carry separate igniter
- Material Flint-based bar with plastic carrier
- Lifespan 4,000 strikes
- Size 4.1” x 1.4”
- Other Features One-handed use, 360-degree flint rotation, waterproof housing
- Easy to use
- Fits in small pockets
- Distributes wear and tear
- Method takes some work to get down
- Doesn’t last as long as others
- Material Sustainable construction of bagasse and vegetable wax
- Lifespan 24 firestarters that each burn for 6-7 minutes
- Size 6” x 5.5” x 1.13”
- Other Features 3.7 oz. that gets lighter as you use it
- Sustainable product
- Catches a spark easily
- Can be used with any ignition source
- Need to carry separate igniter
- Material 3.9″ hardened 12C27 stainless steel blade, magnesium alloy firestarter
- Lifespan 3,000 strikes
- Size 9.4” x 4.1” x 2.5”
- Other Features Firestarter twist locks into the handle
- Two-in-one knife and firestarter
- Low-maintenance and high-quality knife blade
- Catches on tinder easily
- Firestarter has a short lifespan
- Material Military-grade anodized aluminum
- Lifespan 2,000-hour life for the halogen lamp, 20-80 minutes of battery life
- Size 2.4" x 1.9" x 11.5"
- Other Features 4,100 lumens of power, rechargeable lithium-ion battery packs
- Versatile use with three different settings
- Heavy-duty construction
- Automatic lockout prevents lighting your pocket on fire
- Expensive technology
- Short battery lifespan
- Material Propane fuel, steel container
- Lifespan Varies depending on use
- Size N/A
- Other Features Burns at 3,400 degrees F, self-igniting trigger
- Lights just about anything
- Easy to use and completely hassle-free
- Long reach of the flame
- Need to replace fuel more often
- Takes up a lot of space and weight
- Material Ferro rod, metal striker, cotton tinder, plastic casing
- Lifespan N/A
- Size 4.75" x 1.1"
- Other Features 100 decibel whistle, water-resistant tinder capsule
- Compact design with striker and ferro rod
- Tinder capsule
- Included whistle
- Short rod
- Lanyard limits range of motion while striking
- Material Plasma lighter, plastic case
- Lifespan N/A
- Size 3.75" x 1"
- Other Features 120-lumen built-in flashlight
- Weatherproof design
- Can light a fire in windy environments
- Integrated flashlight
- Not the best battery life
- Material Ferro rod, 550 paracord, metal scraper
- Lifespan 12,000 strikes (trad), 15,000 strikes (pro), or 20,000 strikes (fatty)
- Size 2.5” x 0.31", 0.38", or 0.5"
- Other Features Paracord lanyard, multitool scraper included
- Comfortable wood grip
- Multifunctional, effective scraper
- Ferro rod length is a bit short
- Material Ferro rod, steel striker, pine tinder
- Lifespan Five pine tinder shreds burn up to 8 minutes each; the lifespan of ferro rod and striker depends on the frequency of use
- Size 1.5” x 6.63” x 6”
- Other Features Five paraffin-coated pine tinder bundles, collapsible stainless steel bellows
- Has everything you need in one package
- Bellows help you keep the fire going once started
- Small pieces can be lost easily
- Only five tinder bundles, so you will need more
- Material Plasma lighter, plastic case, cord lanyard
- Lifespan 45 uses in one charge (Each use = 7 seconds)
- Size 4" x 1.4"
- Other Features 3-foot tinder-cord lanyard, 100-lumen built-in flashlight, 2-hour charge time
- Dependable in just about any environment
- Easy to use
- Emergency flashlight and tinder
- Quick-charging lithium battery
- Needs to be charged every so often
- Won’t light anything too wet
- Material Ferro rod, paracord lanyard, aluminum handle, cotton tinder
- Lifespan 10,000 strikes
- Size 3.55" x 0.55" x 0.55"
- Other Features Tinder capsule, cotton tinder included
- Perfect dimensions for ferro loops on knife sheaths
- Handy waterproof tinder capsule
- Can add replacement ferro rods
- Somewhat short rod
- Doesn't come with its own striker
- Material Plastic, ferro rod, reflective paracord, steel
- Lifespan 3,000-12,000 strikes
- Size 3.8" by 1"
- Other features Striker doubles as a bottle opener
- Lasts a while
- Works for stoves and fires
- Produces a good spark
- Bottle opener design could be better
|Wolf & Grizzly||$23||Ferro rod, steel striker, paracord||20,000 strikes||4.9” x 0.8”||Emergency tinder|
|Light My Fire Tinder-on-a-Rope||$4||Pine||Enough for more than 10 fires||5.9” x 0.7” x 0.8”||80% resin content|
|UST BlastMatch||$20||Flint-based bar with plastic carrier||4,000 strikes||4.1” x 1.4”||Waterproof housing|
|UCO Sweetfire||$4||Bagasse and vegetable wax||24 firestarters, 6-7 min each||6” x 5.5” x 1.13”||Lightweight|
|Morakniv Companion Spark||$30||Stainless steel blade, magnesium alloy firestarter||3,000 strikes||9.4” x 4.1” x 2.5”||Firestarter twist locks into the handle|
|Wicked Lasers FlashTorch||$249||Anodized aluminum||2,000-hour lamp life, 20-80 min battery life||2.4″ x 1.9″ x 11.5″||4,100 lumens of power|
|Bernzomatic Trigger-Start Torch||$97||Propane fuel, steel container||Varies depending on use||N/A||Burns at 3,400 degrees F|
|Gerber Fire Starter||$20||Ferro rod, metal striker, cotton tinder, plastic casing||N/A||4.75″ x 1.1″||100 decibel whistle|
|Dark Energy Plasma Lighter||$30||Plasma lighter, plastic case||N/A||3.75″ x 1″||120-lumen built-in flashlight|
|Überleben Zünden Fire Starter||$16||Ferro rod, 550 paracord, metal scraper||12,000 – 20,000 strikes||2.5” x 0.31″, 0.38″, or 0.5″||Multitool scraper|
|Zippo Firestarter Kit||$22||Ferro rod, steel striker, pine tinder||Tinder shreds burn 8 min each||1.5” x 6.63” x 6”||Five paraffin-coated pine tinder bundles|
|SOL Fire Light electric lighter||$28||Plasma lighter, plastic case||45 uses in one charge||4″ x 1.4″||3-foot tinder-cord lanyard|
|Exotac Firerod||$33||Ferro rod, paracord lanyard, aluminum handle, cotton tinder||10,000 strikes||3.55″ x 0.55″ x 0.55″||Waterproof tinder capsule|
|MSR Strike Igniter||$18||Plastic, ferro rod, reflective paracord, steel||3,000 – 12,000 strikes||3.8″ by 1″||Striker doubles as a bottle opener|
Why You Should Trust Us
From experienced survivalists to weekend warriors stoked on bushcraft, the GearJunkie team is made up of outdoor enthusiasts that know the importance of getting a fire started in any condition. We’ve spent hundreds of hours gathering tinder bundles, snapping sticks, and getting light-headed as we blow flames into life. Whether it’s a campfire to cook dinner over, or an emergency heat source, fire-making skills are key for anyone going camping or backpacking in the backcountry.
We put a load of the top firestarters to the test for this guide, hoping to narrow in on the best ones available for a variety of different situations. We have significant hands-on experience with everything on the list and focused on the ease of use, reliability, and lifespan of each starter to ensure that each product will serve you well in the wild.
Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose a Firestarter
While matches or lighters may be some of the faster ways of starting fires, they aren’t always the most reliable. It’s important to have, and know how to use, a solid firestarter for when the unexpected happens. You accidentally fall into a river and soak all your gear. You break all your matches or your lighter runs out of fluid.
Being able to start a fire in any situation is one of the best steps you can take to improve your chances in a survival situation. We found the top tried and true firestarters out there and put them to the test for this guide, offering a selection for every type of adventure.
Type of Activity
Different activities require different firestarters. For example, carrying the heavy Bernzomatic Torch on a long-haul backpacking trip could make for a good laugh, but you’ll regret it pretty quickly.
If you’re going car camping, something bigger and heavier like that will be a much better fit. Backpacking demands lightweight gear that’s easy to bring along, so you’d be much better off with a simple ferro rod and flint firestarter.
Size & Weight
Every ounce counts when backpacking, and every inch of your backpack is valuable space. The little things like firestarters are where the ounces can quickly add up. An extra inch of material means less space for food and more weight to carry.
Finding the middle ground with size and weight is key to getting the right tool. Too small and it’s impossible to handle; too big, and you’re lugging extra weight you don’t need.
Ease of Use
At the end of a long day of hiking, the last thing you want is to fight with your firestarter to get warm. The easier the firestarter is to use, the better.
There are certain ways to make life easier in the backcountry, especially when you’re just starting to learn how to use a firestarter. If you’re new to the skill, pack extra firestarter sticks. They don’t weigh much or take up much space, and they’ll be more than worth it in the long haul.
Flint & Steel, Ferrocerium Rods, and Magnesium Bars
The three primary types of firestarters — flint & steel, ferrocerium rods, and magnesium bars — can be used in a variety of different scenarios, and each has its place in a firestarting kit. This guide covers other unique firestarters that use electrical sparks, a blowtorch, or even a hot beam of light, but these are the more traditional starters you’ll see in simple survival kits.
Flint & Steel
Flint & steel is one of the oldest tried-and-true methods of starting a fire. The flint can be a variety of different hard rocks, such as quartzite or chert. The steel striker component is constructed with a high carbon content and is usually heat-treated. When the steel strikes the rock it breaks off tiny particles of the metal, which oxidize and ignite when exposed to oxygen.
One of the negatives of flint & steel is how dull the sparks are, and charred cloth or naturally charred materials are usually required to effectively hold the spark and turn it into a flame. The value of flint and steel lies in their ability to be easily reproduced with readily available materials.
Ferrocerium Rods (Ferro Rod)
The sparks created by a ferro rod are extremely hot compared to those of flint & steel, which makes it easier to light a dry tinder bundle. Some of the starters in this guide, such as the Wolf and Grizzly, and the Zippo Fire Starter Kit use a ferro rod as part of their set.
It’s a good idea to carry some highly flammable tinder in your survival kit, such as cotton balls coated with Vaseline, to make this process easier, but there are plenty of natural resources that can be used in a pinch.
Ferro rods are constructed with different metals, which make it easier or more difficult to scrape depending on the composition. Softer rods don’t have as long of a lifespan but generally provide more sparks with each strike. Most ferro rods are made with about 50% cerium, with various ratios of lanthanum and iron making up the rest of the mixture.
A ferro rod doesn’t create a flame when struck, so it’s important that the tinder bundle you use is as dry and flammable as possible. Many ferrocerium rods will have a black protective coating on them when they come out of the box, which will need to be scraped off before use.
Often referred to as “mag bars,” this is a bar or block which usually has a ferro rod attached to the top of it. Instead of having to gather a tinder bundle that will catch a spark, or bringing cotton balls, you can use magnesium shavings from the bar as much of your tinder bundle, which will ignite with a spark from the ferro rod.
Some mag bars come with their own striker, but you can use the back side of your bushcraft knife to shave off magnesium, and strike the ferro rod. Avoid using the sharp end of your knife for this, as it could dull or damage it significantly.
This is usually a pretty time-consuming way to start a fire as it takes a large pile of magnesium shavings to make a flame that lasts long enough to light your tinder or kindling, and the shavings can blow away easily in any amount of wind. You will want to use additional dry tinder with the shavings, as the shaving bundle itself may not be enough to catch the larger fuel on fire.
Fire is such a basic, fundamental element to human existence, but can be surprisingly hard to make, particularly if the weather is against you. It’s important to practice using any firestarter that you plan on having in your emergency kit beforehand, as matches and lighters can fail on adventures.
Whether using flint & steel, a ferro rod, or a mag bar, you will need a bone-dry bundle of tinder to catch your spark and transfer a flame to larger kindling. Fatwood shavings, birch bark, cattails, dry fluff from plants, or dried animal dung often work well as tinder bundles.
Gather plenty of medium-sized dry kindling (preferably from conifers) and have it on hand to build up your fire once you establish a flame. Make something of a “bird’s nest” with your pile of tinder, using fluffed-up dry materials. Place fatwood shavings or a feather stick (a stick that has been shaved to produce clusters of thin curls protruding from the wood) on top of the bird’s nest.
Once you have a tinder bundle you like, hold the scraper at a 45-degree angle to your rod, with the end of your rod almost touching your tinder. Pull the rod, not the scraper, back sharply. This allows you to get sparks closer to the tinder.
When a spark takes in your tinder bundle it should produce a strong but short-lived flame. Build a teepee of small twigs and pencil-size kindling over the growing flame, which encourages the flame to go upward. Gradually add bigger and bigger sticks and logs until you’ve established a solid base of embers and heat.
Blowing slightly on the tinder bundle near the beginning can help, but only after the flame has caught and the tinder is smoldering. Be sure not to blow out a new small flame in an effort to give it more oxygen.
The problem with matches and lighters is their reliability. Once they get wet, too cold, or too high in altitude, they don’t work well.
Getting a firestarter that’s reliable in all conditions and environments helps ensure that you won’t be left shivering on the ground with an empty stomach after a long day of trekking. We would feel comfortable relying on all of the firestarters on this list in the backcountry (though some are better suited for a backup lightweight “survival kit” than others).
Just as with every piece of gear, price matters. Determining a budget before even browsing your options is important to help you get the best firestarter for your particular use.
Don’t buy something just because of a high price tag. It doesn’t always mean it’s the better piece of gear. Price can be a reflection of quality, but it can also lead to unnecessary and over-the-top products.
It’s also worth noting that this guide covers a broad range of firestarter types. Our “Best Budget” option doesn’t offer the same level of versatility as some of the traditional ferro rods we cover. Think about the type of trips you plan on using your starter on, and use this to help formulate a budget, and narrow in on the best firestarter for your needs.
The best firestarter is the one that best fits your needs and your budget. The firestarter that you feel comfortable using when you need it to work, and doesn’t cost a fortune, is the best firestarter. The best firestarter is one that helps you skip having to learn how to start a fire with sticks and friction alone.
Some people prefer using a Bic lighter, while others love a ferro rod and striker’s reliability. In the end, it’s all about opinion and experience. Test out multiple types to find what fits you best.
Firestarters all work in different ways. A flint and steel method, or a striker and fire rod made from different materials, will work with simple science.
The hardness of the two materials and the contact between the two results in sparks. Your striker needs to be harder than what you are striking it on.
While the firestriker scrapes away a bit of the fire rod, the ripping apart of the material and the friction of the two objects both play a part in shooting small, insanely hot pieces of metal in the direction you want them to go. They stay hot enough in the air (hopefully) to reach your tinder and transfer heat into the dry tinder, resulting in a fire.
Bear Grylls is seen as the Olympian of outdoor survival by many. Still, it’s important to remember that he only uses tools that work well for him.
Bear Grylls teamed up with Gerber to make his idea of the best possible firestarter for survival. They came up with the Gerber Bear Grylls Survival Series Fire Starter, which is essentially the Gerber Fire Starter that we reviewed above, plus his initials. While this is what he came up with, we can imagine Bear used a wide array of different firestarters to figure out what works best for him.
Magnesium firestarters have a magnesium block attached to a small ferro rod strip that together can make sparks. Scrape the magnesium off with a knife or the provided striker, and then build up a small pile of the shavings.
This is what you want to strike into. Once the spark catches, the magnesium will burn hot, fast, and bright.
Magnesium doesn’t work alone as tinder to start a fire. You still need to find dry tinder to place the shavings inside. Magnesium burns around 4,000 degrees F, which helps get a fire started more quickly, but it can take a lot of work to get enough shavings from the magnesium block.