To our ancestors, having fire was the difference between life and death. To heat, to cook, to see, to defend against wild animals, and much more. In our day, while we have other tools to help up meet the needs listed above, fire remains an important piece of life.
A fire starter is a particularly critical piece of equipment for backpackers. And not just any fire starter. A fire starter that is reliable and simple to use.
Our Fire Starter Reviews
While there are many folks interested in learning how to make fires from hand drills, bow drills, or other primitive means, when it comes to backpacking, getting a fire started is mostly a “means to an end” situation. A day on the trail is exhilarating but can also be exhausting, so when it’s time to make a fire, you don’t need another 45-minute exercise in patience (especially if it’s in the dark!).
In that light then, lighters and matches truly are the best fire starters. In a matter of 1 second, you have an instant fire on your hands. Fuel tablets are another quick source of easy fire. However, lighters can be broken, matches can get wet, and fuel tablets aren’t idea for folks who prefer not to resort to chemical means.
So many of us opt for fire starters that can generate an extremely reliable spark, no matter if it’s wet, windy, or even if they get dropped 100 times. This is what most of us are typically referring to when we say “fire starter.”
1. Bear Grylls Fire Starter (Best for Backpacking)
In our research, we’ve found that the best fire starter for backpacking is the Bear Grylls fire starter. This compact ferro rod is inexpensive and gets the job done easily. It comes with a durable metal striker, and promises years of use.
It also has a lanyard and a built in whistle. Finally, it closes together securely, creating a little waterproof space to keep tinder or other small supplies.
2. Ralix Survival Spark (Best Magnesium Fire Starter)
Magnesium is an interesting fire starting material. People using magnesium create small shavings of the metal, that can be ignited with a single spark. The shavings of the magnesium burn bright and hot, making them a great candidate to help you get your other fire materials lit.
Our favorite magnesium fire starter is the Ralix Survival Spark. It comes conveniently with a scraper, so you can quickly create a small amount of filings to sprinkle on top of your tinder. The Survival Spark is rated to start up to 15,000 times, and also comes with a whistle, compass, and lanyard.
3. Steve Kaeser’s Natural Firestarter Kit
If you’re looking for a true “fire starting kit”, the best choice is Steve Kaeser’s Natural Firestarter kit. This thing is really cool. It comes in a small metal tin, and includes hand cut pieces of fatwood, fatwood shavings, wax-coated jute twine, and a ferro rod and striker.
With enough fire starting supplies for several fires, this puppy has you covered. And best of all, it’s natural. If you’re somebody who appreciates an effective product with a minimum of synthetic or factory-made touches, you will love this kit. You can usually find it on Amazon for right around $10. Love this thing!
4. Uberleben (Ferro Rod Fire Starter)
The word “ferro rod” is actually short for Ferrocerium, which is an alloy that comes from “ferrum” (iron), and cerium. With a little friction and striking from a piece of steel, this alloy creates sparks easily, that can be used to ignite your tinder bundle.
Our favorite ferro rod is the Uberleben. It’s minimalist, simple, and extremely durable. It comes in a couple of very thick sizes, giving you more surface area to create sparks with. It’s freakin’ German, what else do we have to say? 😉
5. Lifesport Gear Fresnel Lenses (Solar Fire Starters)
What about using the power of the sun to start a fire? Bingo, solar fire starters! Pretty much every kid a couple episodes with using a magnifying glass to light things on fire (hopefully not your sister’s hair or a bunch of ants).
Lifesport Gear makes a 6-pack of fresnel lenses, that are about the size of a credit card, inside of a small cover. Rotate it out, find the best angle to use with the sun, and watch your tinder light in front of your eyes. On that note, all of the methods on this page require delicate tinder and managment when getting started, but in particular, the magnifying glass will need very fine grass or other tiny fibers, for best results.
What’s The Best Homemade Fire Starter?
There are a handful of interesting and effective methods to get a fire started with some simple everyday options. Here are a few:
6. Better Wood Products (Fatwood Fire Starters)
Fatwood (also called “heartwood”) is the pitch-saturated wood in the center of a pine tree. Because it’s just the wood itself, fatwood is actually not a true fire “starter”, but more of a fire “accelerator.” With it, you can quickly grow a humble little flame into a voracious fire. Essentially, it’s glorified kindling. No disrespect in saying that, it’s kindling that performs extremely well. But it’s just not something that can actually generate a fire for you.
One of the most appealing things about using fatwood to get your fire started, is that it’s 100% natural. No chemical additions, nothing synthetic. On the downside however, it takes up a little more space in the pack than some backpackers want. It’s combustible, so there’s no “multiple use” option. When it’s gone, it’s gone.
7. Pine Cone Firestarter
Using a pine cone as a fire starter can be a simple and effective method to help you get your fire going. Pine cones are effective for essentially the same reason as fatwood. They have an ample amount of pine sap, which is very flammable. This helps by giving you a quick and easy route from small flame to sputtering, crackling fire.
The bonus here, is that depending on where you are backpacking, there is a chance that you could have pine cones where you set up your camp, removing the need for you to carry something additional. Of course, you can also bring pine cones from home or collect them on the trail as well, just not as cool as having them waiting for you when you get to your camp.
8. Best Fire Starter Material
Plain and simple, the best fire starter material is dryer lint. A dryer lint fire starter is exactly what it sounds like. Basically, you clean the screen from your clothes dryer, ball it up, and save it for later.
You can throw it in a small Zip-loc bag, to make sure that it’s waterproof and stays dry. Without getting too far into the physics of it all, essentially, the lint in your dryer screen works well for 3 reasons:
- It will likely be mostly cotton
- It will be very dry (at least when you get it out of the dryer… hence, get it in a Zip-loc bag!)
- The individual particles that make up the dryer lint are extremely small, make them uber-combustible.
Anyway, this one ain’t fancy, and yes, anybody that’s tried this can tell you that you will invariably get a “burnt hair” smell from using this stuff, because…. there’s usually a couple hairs on the dryer screen!
So, What About Flint Fire Starters?
Real live flint is a bit of a rare goose to get your hands on. Flint is an actual stone, so when you hear people say “flint and steel” and then pull out a ferro rod, they’re just using it as a manner of speech (or if they actually believe themselves, they’re just straight up wrong).
Anyway, because of the fact that flint can be hard to find, and coupled with the fact that there are so many other commercial products on the market that are affordable and accessible, we actually don’t recommend that you go out of your way to try to buy real flint. At the end of the day, fire is fire, and if you have a couple of other methods that work really well, there’s nothing more magic in a piece of flint that you can’t get from any other striker implement.
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