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.
This fire starter kit is perfect for emergency use. It features a flint striker wheel, five fuel cakes, and a water-resistant storage case.
- 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
- Replacements for the tinder cakes included with this kit can be relatively expensive to purchase
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.
- 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
- 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
This handy fire starter uses the magnesium and Ferro rod design and features high-quality components, including a beautiful hardwood handle.
- Combines both fuel and an ignition system into its design
- Uses high-quality components and has good ergonomics
- 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
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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 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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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
- 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.
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.
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.