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The Best Fire Starters (Review & Buying Guide) in 2021

These reliable fire starters are sure to spark a blaze anytime, anywhere.

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BY Brian Smyth / LAST UPDATED ON February 22, 2021

When you want to start a fire, you need one of two things: an outdoorsman's skill set or a good fire starter. Starting a fire isn’t always easy, particularly if you’re dealing with windy or wet conditions, a lack of fire materials, or an absence of the right tools. Fortunately, a fire starter can make this tricky task a whole lot easier.

 

Fire starter products allow you to spark and light a fire in just seconds — whether you’re camping, lighting up a barbecue, or starting up a campfire or fire pit. Having the right fire starter on hand can make a big difference. If you’re looking for a fire starter that’ll work quickly in any setting, check out some of the very best fire starters right here.

Best Overall
Zippo Emergency Fire Kit
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Summary
Summary

This fire starter kit is perfect for emergency use. It features a flint striker wheel, five fuel cakes, and a water-resistant storage case.

Pros
Pros
  • Allows users to light the fuel before placing it 
  • Water-resistant fuel has a five-minute burn time, and it stores in a floating, water-resistant case
Cons
Cons
  • Replacements for the tinder cakes included with this kit can be relatively expensive to purchase
Best Overall
Zippo Emergency Fire Kit
Best Value
 UCO Stormproof Match Kit with Waterproof Case
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Summary
Summary

This match kit gets you the most bang for your buck, with 25 stormproof matches, a waterproof case, and extra strikers. The matches are windproof and waterproof and can be ignited when wet.

Pros
Pros
  • Kit contains 25 stormproof matches
  • Floating, waterproof case has a 40-match capacity
  • Has three strikers, which can be used to reignite a wet match
Cons
Cons
  • These matches only have a 15-second burn time and are not “strike anywhere” matches
  • Included strikers are not waterproof and should be stored inside the case
Best Value
 UCO Stormproof Match Kit with Waterproof Case
Honorable Mention
Fire-Fast Trekker
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Summary
Summary

This handy fire starter uses the magnesium and Ferro rod design and features high-quality components, including a beautiful hardwood handle.

Pros
Pros
  • Combines both fuel and an ignition system into its design
  • Uses high-quality components and has good ergonomics
Cons
Cons
  • This is an expensive fire starter. It is bulky and weighs 4.5 ounces 
  • There are no replacement parts should the Ferro rod or magnesium ever wear out
Honorable Mention
Fire-Fast Trekker
The Best Fire Starter
Amazon

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Our reviews are driven by a combination of hands-on testing, expert input, “wisdom of the crowd” assessments from actual buyers, and our own expertise. We always aim to offer genuine, accurate guides to help you find the best picks.

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Benefits of Fire Starters

  • Comfort. Fires can be incredibly comforting, whether in the fireplace at home or outside in the cold. A solid fire starter is an easy means of creating a sense of safety and security virtually anywhere.
  • Easy entertainment. With a quality fire starter, starting the charcoal grill becomes almost an afterthought. Now, all you need is a couple of burgers.
  • Emergency preparedness. Fire is an essential survival tool and having access to it is a must in any outdoor setting. 

Types of Fire Starters

Fuel Source

Fuel sources are an incredibly convenient type of fire starter. These fuel sources minimize the effort needed to start a fire, particularly when naturally-available tinder and/or kindling are scarce. Fuel-oriented fire starters come in various types, with the most common being fire bricks, nuggets, magnesium, and fatwood. Whether in the backcountry or the backyard, fuel-source fire starters can be quite the morale booster, but they all need an ignition source to be of any value.

Ignition System

Fire starters often come in the form of an ignition system. These systems rely on various means to generate heat, sparks, fire, or some other high-intensity heat source, such as an electrical current, that will easily ignite tinder and sometimes even kindling. Ignition sources, such as Ferro rods, generate extremely hot sparks, while others, such as butane lighters, create actual flames that can be touched to the gathered fuel.

Combination Kit

On a technical level, a true fire starter is a combination of both a fuel source and an ignition system. This combination is ideal for outdoor adventuring and emergency preparedness, as it keeps both key fire-starting elements together. The most common combination kits take advantage of magnesium, often in a block form, and a Ferro rod. Another great variation on this concept is the stormproof match kit. Both designs resist the weather quite well, making them a great choice for use in poor weather conditions.

Top Brands

Coghlan’s

In 1959, Norm Coghlan started his company, Coghlan's, focusing on natural gas and camping essentials, and it has operated out of Winnipeg, Manitoba, since its inception. Today, Coghlan's specializes in camping and survival gear, such as camp tools, cooking gear, and candles. The Coghlan's Fire Sticks are a prime example of what the company has to offer.

Rutland

Rutland launched in 1883 as a family business in Rutland, Vt. Originally a manufacturer of stove and fireplace maintenance products, the company has grown to become a leader in the industry and is currently headquartered in Chapel Hill, N.C. Its products, such as Rutland Safe Lite Fire Starter Squares, are manufactured and produced in Illinois.

UCO

UCO first went into business in 1971, and its unusual name stands for “Utility, Comfort, and Originality.” Operating out of Redmond, Wash., the company specializes in lighting and fire-starting lighting products, the most famous being the UCO Stormproof Match Kit. When it comes to emergency preparedness or outdoor adventuring, UCO leads the way.

Zippo

In 1932, the brainchild of George G. Blaisdell sprang to life as the Zippo Manufacturing Company. Since its inception, the Bradford, Penn.-based company has specialized in lighters, many of which accompanied U.S. troops into combat during World War II. Today, Zippo still focuses on lighters, although the company has expanded its products such as the Zippo Emergency Fire Kit.

Fire Starter Pricing

  • Up to $15: Fire starters in the price range tend to be non-electric ignition systems, small packages of fuel sources, and fuel-ignition combination sets.
  • Over $15: This category is home to electric fire starters, premium ignition-only tools, and large or bulk packages of fuel sources.

Key Features

Fuel Type

A fire starter’s fuel is critical to understand to know how best to use them. Common fuels include sawdust/wood shavings, magnesium, butane, fatwood, and electricity. Each has its pros and cons, and buyers should understand these differences before purchasing one. Some fuel sources combine a combustible fuel, such as wood shavings, with a waterproof or highly water-resistant binder, such as paraffin wax, a pairing often seen in fire-starting bricks and squares.

Ignition Type

A fire starter’s ignition system is critical for sparking hot blazes. Usually, ignition will come from sparks, although alternatives, such as electricity and air pressure, can work just as well. Sparks are generated by friction between metal and flint or ferrocerium, a synthetic flint alternative. Ferro rods and butane lighters leverage this ignition system, while arc lighters rely on electricity generated by a (usually) rechargeable battery.

Portability and Security

When looking for a combination fire starter, wisdom urges buyers to consider both the tool’s portability and security. The best tools will be both small and lightweight, although to achieve this, some tools may sacrifice ergonomics to a certain degree. Security is another consideration for fire starters that use multiple parts, such as some Ferro rod and magnesium kits. Good designs ensure that the striker and rod are attached, often with paracord.

Other Considerations

  • Intended Use. As with many things, potential buyers should consider the intended use for their fire start of choice. For example, those looking for something to use in a fireplace or outdoor fire pit probably already own a lighter and will only need a fire-starting fuel source. On the flip side, those looking for something to keep in their bag or emergency survival tool kit would be wise to consider a fuel and ignition combination package.
  • Ease of Use. Consider how easily a fire starter can be used. In the backyard, time to ignition is no problem, but in the backcountry, the longer it takes to start a fire, the longer it takes to warm up, eat, and drink safely.

Best Fire Starter Reviews & Recommendations 2021

Best Overall
Zippo Emergency Fire Kit

This kit combined both an ignition system and a water-resistant fuel source into a single package. The ABS plastic container safely stores five paraffin wax-coated cotton tinder cakes. The lid uses an O-ring to create a water-resistant seal and features a flint wheel for easy and reliable fire ignition. This lid has another attached lid designed to protect the flint wheel assembly from damage and accidental sparking. The flint wheel provides up to 1,700 sparks, and users can purchase a new wheel rather than replacing the entire kit. The Zippo Emergency Fire Kit also floats, making it harder to lose than more traditional fire starters.


After starting five fires, users need to replace the tinder cakes. Unfortunately, Zippo’s tinder refills are relatively expensive, and most other tinder sources do not enjoy the light-then-place convenience of this Zippo offering.

Best Value
UCO Stormproof Match Kit with Waterproof Case

This kit includes 25 storm-proof matches that are both waterproof and windproof and are designed to be reignited after being submerged in water. The tough ABS plastic case is durable, protects its contents from moisture, and can hold up to 40 matches at a time. The external striker is perfect for lighting matches, and once it wears out, users can replace it with one of the two extra strikers stored neatly inside the watertight case. The UCO Stormproof Match Kit with Waterproof Case is small and lightweight.


However, these are not “strike anywhere” matches, requiring users to use the included strikers. Unfortunately, the strikers are not waterproof and should be kept dry until ready for use. These matches also have a short 15-second burn time, which means users should have dry tinder and kindling on hand before striking a match.

 Most Convenient
Fire-Fast Trekker

Unlike many magnesium bar and Ferro rod combinations, this fire starter has a convenient 3.5-inch hardwood handle that allows users to use the three-inch rod's full length to generate a higher number of sparks than might be possible on handleless designs. The hardened steel striker also works perfectly as a magnesium scraper, and the 550-pound paracord fastener keeps the striker close at hand. While somewhat bulky, the Fire-Fast Trekker is an excellent tool for hunting, camping, and other outdoor activities.


The biggest drawbacks with this product are its price, size, and weight. This tool was not designed with the ultralight trekker or emergency survivalist in mind, and the high-quality parts raise its price. Of course, this also means that the Ferro rod and magnesium bar are not replaceable; however, by the time they need replacing, this tool will have paid for itself countless times over.

Best Natural Starter
Kaeser Wilderness Supply Fire Starter Survival Kit

For the serious outdoor adventurer, the Steve Kaeser Fatwood 100% Natural Firestarter Sticks provide reliable emergency fire starting capabilities for long-term use. Unlike many fire starting kits, this one uses 100-percent natural, water-resistant tinder and kindling. This set uses fatwood shavings and chips and a 45-inch-long soy-wax impregnated jute twine for fuel. It comes with a 5/16-inch-thick by three-inch-long Ferro rod and a three-inch striker to serve as an ignition system. Once the fuel supply is exhausted, users can easily purchase inexpensive fatwood for a refill. It also arrives in a convenient tin for easy storage and transportation.


This kit provides little fodder for complaint. For some, using a non-waterproof container could be a problem, but thanks to the incredibly water-resistant nature of fatwood, this is highly unlikely to be any real detriment.

Honorable Mention
Bayite Ferro Rod

This fire-starting combo is ideal for outdoor adventurers and others with access to tinder for their fires. The Ferro rod measures four inches long and has a 3/8-inch diameter, making it easy to carry and store. The striker is Bayite’s Striker-Pro, constructed with tool-grade, high-speed steel (HSS), a very hard material that keeps a sharp edge, which is perfect for producing a shower of sparks. The waterproof design makes starting a fire easy with the right fuel, thanks to sparks that hit 5,500-degrees Fahrenheit. The Bayite Ferro Rod uses nine feet of woven paracord to connect the rod and striker.


This tool is a fire ignition system, which means users must have a separate fuel source to start a fire. Also, should the rod or striker need to be replaced, many users will have difficulty reconnecting them using the original paracord’s weave pattern.

Most Versatile
Sharpal 6-In-1 Pocket Knife Sharpener & Survival Tool

In survival situations, a fire and a reliable knife are two critical tools, and the Sharpal 6-in-1 Pocket Knife Sharpener & Survival Tool ensures both. This tool includes one tungsten carbide sharpening slot and one ceramic sharpening slot and an all-weather Ferro rod. To start a fire, pull the rod through the tungsten carbide sharpener to produce the necessary sparks. Once that fire is roaring away, use the coarse tungsten carbide sharpener to grind down worn blade edges and the ceramic sharpener to hone and polish that same blade. It also includes a tapered diamond sharpening rod with a fishhook groove and a high-pitched emergency whistle.


When it comes to fire starting, this tool is designed for short-term survival use only. The Ferro rod is thin and cannot be replaced with a factory product. As such, it is best suited as an emergency backup system.

Honorable Mention
Frog & Co. Tough Tesla Lighter 2.0

This little lightning canister gives users a reliable source of ignition for fires in virtually any context. Whether preparing to roast marshmallows or starting a campsite blaze, this lighter is perfect for the job thanks to its dual waterproof and windproof electrical arcs. When closed, the entire unit is completely waterproof, and the included USB charger makes recharging a breeze after exhausting the 300-ignition battery. In addition to the 10-second auto-shutoff feature, the lighter consists of an integrated flashlight with three settings (high, low, and strobe), an emergency whistle, and a tinder-filled paracord. The Frog & Co. Tough Tesla Lighter 2.0 also includes a three-year warranty and a two-hour recharge time.


The included paracord tinder is ideal for survival situations, but not much else, thanks to its limited supply. Additionally, this fire starter is quite expensive compared to its more traditional competitors.

Honorable Mention
Lightning Nuggets Fire Starter

These small nuggets are made of food-grade, plant-based tinder that will work for all types of fuel. They can help fire up charcoal, firewood, fire logs, and briquettes, and they are an excellent alternative to petroleum-based lighter fluid. Each nugget is guaranteed to burn for more than15 minutes and reach a temperature of 480 degrees with an 8-inch flame and is made to be environmentally safe and non-toxic. Nuggets can be used with charcoal chimneys, pizza ovens, smokers, wood-burning ovens, fire pits, backcountry use, and more.


This fire starter is a fuel-centric design that lacks an ignition system, which means users will need a match or a lighter. Otherwise, the main challenge facing this fire starter is the specificity of use. Users who place the domed surface down and light to the top of the starter should have no issues, but deviations from this lighting method can result in frustration.

Honorable Mention
Rutland Safe Lite Fire Starter Squares

The Rutland Safe Lite Fire Starter Squares can light a fire in any grill, smoker, fire pit, or wood stove without flaring up in a burst of heat and flame. Made of recycled wood chips and wax, these fire starters will not affect the flavor of food cooked over a fire. These versatile squares allow users to start a fire even in wet conditions and do not require kindling to get a flame going. Each square measures two by two inches and meets the strictest air quality standards in the U.S., eliminating any concerns about the smoke they might generate.


While it only takes one of these fire starter squares to start fires indoors or outside on calm days, the process is faster and more reliable when using two squares, cutting the product's cost-effectiveness in half. Also, these starters are only fuel sources, so they require a separate ignition source.

Honorable Mention
InstaFire Granulated Fire Starter

The InstaFire Granulated Fire Starter will light and burn in winds up to 30 miles per hour, and because it's naturally insulated, it can burn directly on top of water, sleet, snow, or ice, and work with wet wood that otherwise wouldn't light. Once lit, it'll burn for 25 minutes at up to 1,000 degrees, all without lighter fluid. This starter is made from recycled wood, volcanic rock, and a blend of food-grade paraffin wax. It doesn't contain harmful chemicals, and it features a 30-year shelf life.


These fire starter fuel packets are incredibly convenient, yet they do require ignition from another source. Beyond this, the biggest challenge is the price. When used in good conditions, the price is only pennies above competitors, but in inclement conditions, fires require more fuel from a single pouch to get started, costing users more per fire.

Tips

  • After selecting a fire starter for outdoor use, practice with your preferred tool(s) before heading into the backcountry. Consider purchasing extras to achieve proficiency before the stakes are raised.
  • When selecting a fire starter for emergency preparedness, choose at least two different fuel sources and ignition systems. This creates a fail-safe system should a fuel or ignition source fail for one reason or another.

FAQs

Q: What is the best fire starter?

Stormproof matches and lighters will work best for most individuals, but we recommend learning how to use a Derro rod/flint. These may take practice to master, but they are completely weatherproof, unlike matches and lighters.

Q: What are the two most effective items to have in your kit for fire starting?

For most scenarios, the two best fire-starting options to keep on hand are stormproof matches and a Ferro rod/magnesium bar combination. Those taking a survival kit on an airplane, replace the matches with an inert alternative—security frowns upon lithium-powered arc lighters.

Q: What is a good natural fire starter?

Fatwood is nature’s best fire-starting fuel, as it is exceptionally water-resistant and relatively common. Fatwood is found in long-dead pine tree knots and stumps near the ground where the pitch has settled over time. It is identified by its relatively dark, rich color and turpentine-like scent.

Q: How long do fire starters last?

This will vary from fuel to fuel, but the average burn time for most commercial fire fuels ranges between five and 10 minutes, with most sitting at the low end of that range.

Final Thoughts

Starting fires can be a daunting task, but the Zippo Emergency Fire Kit minimizes the challenges and frustrations of starting a fire in poor conditions. To reduce costs, the UCO Stormproof Match Kit with Waterproof Case is another great option for both outdoor use and emergency preparation.