How to pick the best fire starter

How to pick the best fire starter

It's always a good idea to have at least two ways to start a fire with you at all times. Whether your electricity goes out or you're outdoors and the weather changes, you get injured or even lost, fire can be the difference between survival or not.


How to pick the best firestarter for backpacking, camping or survival
Left to right, we have a Light My Fire 2.0 Scout, Standard Kitchen Matches, UCO Stormproof Matches, a Bic Lighter, the EXOTAC tinderTIN Shavings and the Solo Scientific Aurora Fire Starter 440C with Magnesium.

Especially as part of your Secondary and Extended EDC, having the ability to start a fire is critical. Fire is one of the basic needs of man as it provides warmth, protection, clean water and cooked food. When you need it most, being able to start a fire quickly can mean the difference between life and death.

As with any part of everyday carry, depending on the situation you are headed in, you need different gear. Know where you're going or where you could possibly end up and pick the fire starter that is the most appropriate for what you're doing (and make sure you have a backup--or two). Use what you like and practice with what you have.

With so many fire starting options, it can be overwhelming as to which you should pick for each situation. Let's take a look at the pros and cons of each fire starting method so you are better educated to figure out what will work for you.

  

Bic Plastic Lighter

Bic Lighter
Smoker or not, having a Bic Lighter on you (even in your Primary EDC) can come in handy in many situations.

Under ideal conditions, a Bic Lighter can light upwards of 3,000 fires (counting a short flame burst as a light). Simply, it's a small plastic container filled with pressurized butane gas. The gas stays pressurized inside the lighter until it turns from gas to liquid by opening the valve. Using your thumb to also rotate a wheel, you create a spark. The spark combined with the gas creates a flame. 

Pros:

  • There are many steps to fire making: 1) spark --> 2) ember --> 3) full flame. A Bic Lighter jumps you all the way to Step 3
  • It's lightweight. Depending on the size, a Bic Lighter weighs around 1 ounce
  • It's small. At less than an inch wide and half an inch long, you can throw these in your bag, organizer or car and hardly notice them
  • It's inexpensive. You can get a 5-pack on Amazon.com for less than $6
  • You don't have to have special kindling that will take a spark; just use a handful of dry sticks and you can easily get a fire started
  • Even when the lighter is out of fuel, it still can throw a good spark that can ignite a tinder bundle
  • You can salvage the flint
  • It will not get damaged long-term by being submerged in water
  • Easy to use if you find a hand/arm injured

  

Cons:

  • Although simple, Bic Lighters are still mechanical with pieces that have to work together to make a flame. There is a chance that they won't work because one of the few parts is defective, worn out or broken (we've had a few in our lifetime not work right out of the packaging and a few that stopped working after they were in the rotation)
  • It will eventually run out of fuel
  • Gas can leak out if you accidentally press the gas release button
  • In colder temperatures, butane stops vaporizing and remains a liquid (at about 40F/4C). If the gas does not vaporize, it will not escape from the valve and therefore you will be unable to get a flame (you can warm up the lighter with your body heat, but it's not ideal if you're in a survival situation and need a fire immediately)
  • Any water in the wheel can prevent a spark from forming and waiting for it to dry can take 1+ hours, even in warm temperatures
  • If ice forms on the upper part of the lighter, you can't use it until you thaw it out or unless you can get the ice to pop out or scrape it away

Shop for Bic Lighters on Amazon.com

  

Metal lighter


Metal lighters are offered in a variety of sizes and materials.

Similar to the Bic Plastic Lighter above, a lighter like the MARATAC Stainless Steel or Brass lighter (or the iconic Zippo lighter) is made out of metal instead of plastic. They are refillable versions of their plastic counterparts, which come with their own pros and cons.

Pros:

  • If the lighter doesn't work, you can use the fuel to assist you in lighting a fire with one of your back-up methods
  • It's refillable 
  • With the three steps to make a fire (spark, ember, full flame), a lighter jumps you all the way to Step 3
  • You don't have to have special kindling that will take a spark; just use a handful of dry sticks and you can easily get a fire started
  • Even when the lighter is out of fuel, it still can throw a good spark that can ignite a tinder bundle
  • You can salvage the flint
  • Easy to use if you find a hand/arm injured

  

Cons:

  • Just like Bic Lighters, the metal lighter is made up of mechanical pieces that can break, wear out or be defective
  • You have to remember to fill up or top off the lighter so it's ready when you need it
  • It will eventually run out of fuel
  • Gas can leak out or evaporate out if it's not sealed properly
  • In colder temperatures, gas stops vaporizing and remains a liquid 
  • Any water in the wheel can prevent a spark from forming

Shop lighters

  

Kitchen Matches

Kitchen Matches
Matches are a classic and reliable way to start a fire.

Invented in England during the early 1800s, the first wood kitchen matches were named "Lucifers" due to the lighting power they came with. They have changed over the years to become much safer, but it's also diminished their lighting power.

The term "kitchen matches" is a fairly generic term as there are couple types. It includes:

  1. The kind that are made out of a cardboard 
  2. Wooden kitchen matches with a green or red tip (what is pictured above)
  3. Wooden kitchen strike-anywhere matches that have a white tip at the end

Cardboard or wooden kitchen matches are both dependent on a strike pad, so your best bet is a strike-anywhere kitchen match. That's what we'll focus on for our pros and cons.

Pros:

  • With the three steps to make a fire (spark, ember, full flame), strike-anywhere matches jump you all the way to Step 3
  • You don't have to have special kindling that will take a spark; just use a handful of dry sticks and you can easily get a fire started, although you may need a couple matches to fully get it going
  • Matches are simple to use and fairly easy to master
  • Not effected by altitude or temperature
  • Easy to use if you find a hand/arm injured

  

Cons:

  • Need to keep them dry; You can dip them in wax as a back-up to keep them dry (but in hotter weather you could easily end up with a waxy mess)
  • You can't really "strike-anywhere" as some surfaces will not work
  • Strike-anywhere matches are not as readily available anymore (Ohio Blue Tip Match Co. that made the hard-core matches you grew up using are now out of business) but you can find them online or more often in rural areas
  • It still takes a little bit of practice to know the technique and materials you need to light it
  • In wet/snow/rain conditions, making sure you're able find something to get a strike on and keep it lit can take experience and practice

  

Stormproof Matches

EXOTAC's Matchcap XL is designed to keep UCO Stormproof Matches dry and accessible.
EXOTAC's Matchcap XL is designed to keep UCO Stormproof Matches dry and accessible.

UCO's Stormproof matches take the kitchen match to a different level. A chemical on the match head makes it easy to ignite and is extended about halfway down the match body, which allows it to burn regardless of the elements (even underwater). 

Pros:

  • With the three steps to make a fire (spark, ember, full flame), stormproof matches jump you all the way to Step 3
  • Much more reliable than kitchen matches
  • Store seemingly forever until you need them (no fuel to dry out, like a lighter)
  • Simple to use, even with frozen hands
  • In conditions of rain/snow/wind, they will stay lit
  • Not effected by altitude or temperature
  • Easy to use if you find a hand/arm injured

  

Cons:

  • Not "strike anywhere" matches, although they will strike on a variety of surfaces
  • Have to be kept dry
  • Even though they are fairly fool-proof matches, it still takes experience and practice to ensure you can effectively use these in a life/death situation

Shop the UCO Stormproof Matches

  

Ferro Rod

Ferro Rods
There are many different brands and variations of ferro rods, so finding one that you personally prefer can take time. Here is Light My Fire's Swedish FireSteel 2.0 Scout in red and Solo Scientific's Aurora Fire Starter in black.

When struck, a ferro rod can spark as hot as 3000-5000 degrees Fahrenheit, which can ignite a dry pile of tinder quickly. Shavings of magnesium are created with a scraping motion which also lights the savings, creating very hot sparks.

Pros:

  • Not effected by water and can be used even if it's been submerged
  • Not effected by altitude 
  • Lasts a very long time
  • Durable and not prone to breaking
  • Can be stored for long periods of time

  

Cons:

  • A ferro rod uses shaved off sparks to light tinder; the colder outside temperatures are, the quicker the sparks will cool when they come off the rod
  • It takes skill and practice to be able to reliably use a ferro rod
  • If you're injured, a ferro rod is harder to use (think about if you only have one hand)

Shop Ferro Rods

  

Candle

Easily looked over as a good back-up fire starting method, candles can have a place in your EDC. They are dependent on being lit by one of the methods above but once they are lit, but can provide much needed assistance.

Having a birthday candle (preferably the "trick" candles that are hard to blow out) or a tea light candle are great candle options.

Pros:

  • When used with another fire starting method, you can extend the use of a flame which can come in handy if your kindling is not 100% dry
  • "Trick" birthday candles will stay lit in windy weather
  • Not damaged long-term if they are submerged in water
  • Store for long periods of time

  

Cons:

  • Dependent on another fire starting method
  • Can't light with a ferro rod
  • Made out of wax, candles will melt into a huge mess if exposed to sunlight and heat

  


  

Do you carry a fire starter in your Primary or Secondary EDC? What do you carry? Any other pros and cons we missed?

Shop all fire starters and tinder