Fire-Starting Tools – What are Your Options?

Picture this: you’re miles into the wilderness, the sun is setting, and the temperature is dropping fast (I’ve experienced this more than once and it’s …

Picture this: you’re miles into the wilderness, the sun is setting, and the temperature is dropping fast (I’ve experienced this more than once and it’s not as charming as it may sound). The comfort and security of a warm fire are not just welcoming; they’re necessary.

Whether it’s to boil water, cook food, signal for help, or provide warmth, fire is a fundamental survival element. But how do you start one? Rubbing sticks together like in the movies? In reality, most of us will reach for a fire-starting tool. And there are many.

In the wide world of wilderness survival, the choices can be overwhelming. From the simplicity of a box of matches to the high-tech allure of an electric arc lighter, there are fire-starting tools for every scenario and skill level.

In this article, we’ll go over the various options available, discuss their features, and help you decide which tools deserve a spot in your pack. Because when the cold creeps in and it’s time to light that life-saving fire, you’ll want the best tools at your fingertips.

Traditional Matches and Lighters


Having the right tools like hunting knives, water filters, and navigational tools is the essence of each survival adventure.  When it comes to making fire, matches have been the go-to fire source for generations. They are lightweight, portable, and inexpensive.

When considering matches for survival situations, it’s wise to choose waterproof or stormproof matches.

These specialized matches will light even in heavy rain or wind. Keep in mind, however, that they are consumable and can run out, so pack accordingly.

Type of Matches Features
Safety Matches
  • Encased in waterproof containers
  • Reliable in damp environments
Strike Anywhere Matches
  • Versatile, can ignite on various rough surfaces
  • No need for a specific striking surface
Windproof Matches
  • Produce a robust flame
  • Burn even in gale-force winds

Disposable and Refillable Lighters


The convenience of lighters makes them a popular choice. Disposable lighters are cheap and widely available, but they can fail in cold or wet conditions. In contrast, refillable lighters can be more reliable and may offer waterproofing, wind resistance, and even refillable fuel reserves.

Higher-end models like butane torch lighters can produce a consistent jet of flame in all weather conditions.

Lighter Type Description Advantages
Disposable Lighters Lightweight and convenient, suitable for calm, dry conditions. Lightweight, easy to use
Zippo Lighters Known for their windproof qualities and refillable nature. Windproof, refillable
Butane Torch Lighters Produce a powerful jet flame that resists wind and moisture. Wind and moisture-resistant, powerful flame

The Case for Both

Having both matches and lighters as part of your kit offers redundancy. If one fails, the other may suffice. Lighters can quickly ignite a flame, while matches can be a backup or used when precision is needed.

Keep both in waterproof containers and have ample supplies.

Ferro Rods and Magnesium Starters

Ferrocerium rods, commonly known as ferro rods, are a staple in the survivalist’s toolkit. Striking a ferro rod with a hard surface, like a knife or striker, produces a shower of hot sparks. These sparks can reach temperatures around 3,000 degrees Celsius, capable of igniting a variety of tinders.

A ferro rod’s durability and reliability, even when wet, make it a superior choice for challenging conditions. Ferro rods are almost unaffected by water. They have a long lifespan, capable of thousands of strikes.

The sparks generated are significantly hotter than an open flame, giving them the ability to ignite more stubborn tinders.

Magnesium Fire Starters: An Intense Flame Source

Magnesium Fire Starters

Magnesium fire starters are another robust option. Scraping shavings off the magnesium block and then igniting them with a spark or flame produces a fierce blaze that burns at approximately 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

This intense heat can light even damp tinder. They are a bit more labor-intensive but offer a reliable fire-starting method when other options might fail. Magnesium burns hot enough to light damp materials.

They can be a primary or supplementary fire-starting tool. Fine magnesium shavings are necessary for quick ignition.

Utilizing Both for Optimal Results

A combination of a ferro rod and magnesium can cater to a broader range of situations. Use the Ferro rod for a quick spark, and turn to magnesium in wet conditions or when you need a hotter and longer-lasting flame to get your fire going.

Advanced Fire-Starting Gadgets

Electric Arc Lighters

Electric Lighter

Electric arc lighters are a modern innovation, using a high-voltage electric arc to produce a flameless heat source. They are windproof and rechargeable, often via USB, making them an environmentally friendly option.

However, they do rely on power, so their use is limited by battery life and the ability to recharge in the field. Flameless and windproof, they can work in harsh weather. USB rechargeable, which is convenient but requires power access.

No fuel or flame means they are safer to use and store.

Solar Fire Starters

Harnessing the power of the sun, solar fire starters focus sunlight into a concentrated beam to ignite tinder. They are fuel-free and eco-friendly, providing an unlimited source of fire-starting potential during daylight hours.

Their limitation, however, is obvious: they are dependent on sunny conditions to operate effectively. They work without fuel or batteries, using only the sun. Compact and lightweight, they add minimal bulk to a pack.

Their effectiveness is contingent upon weather and time of day.

Blending Tradition and Technology

While advanced gadgets offer unique advantages, they should complement, not replace, traditional tools. Just like choosing a type of shelter, or a technique for sharpening your knife, the choice of tools you’ll utilize depends on your needs and preferences.

A solar starter can be excellent on sunny days, while an electric arc lighter offers a safe and windproof option. But always have a ferro rod or matches at hand for when technology fails or conditions are less than optimal.


Can a Ferro rod be used in any type of weather?

Yes, a ferro rod is designed to be weather-resistant and can produce sparks in rain, snow, and wind. The high temperature of the sparks can ignite tinder in even the most challenging conditions.

Are there any techniques to make a magnesium fire starter work faster?

To make a magnesium fire starter work more efficiently, shave the magnesium into very fine particles, as they will catch fire more readily.

Also, protect your pile of shavings from the wind while you are preparing it, and make sure your striking technique is swift and firm to generate the necessary sparks.

How long can I expect a quality Ferro rod to last?

A high-quality ferro rod can last for thousands of strikes. Its lifespan depends on the frequency of use and the amount of material scraped off with each strike. With moderate use, a ferro rod can last for several years.

Is it safe to carry a butane lighter in my pocket while hiking?

While butane lighters are generally safe, they can be sensitive to pressure and temperature changes. It’s best to carry them in an outer pack pocket where they are less likely to be subjected to body heat or accidental pressure that could cause leakage or damage.

Can electric arc lighters be charged using portable solar chargers?

Yes, most electric arc lighters can be charged using a portable solar charger as long as the charger has a USB output compatible with the lighter’s charging cable. This can be a convenient way to recharge your lighter on multi-day backcountry trips.

Do solar fire starters work during overcast conditions?

Solar fire starters are much less effective under overcast conditions. They require direct sunlight to focus a sufficient amount of heat to ignite tinder. While they may still function to some degree, it will be harder and take much longer to start a fire without bright sunlight.

The Bottom Line

Your fire-starting toolkit should be as diverse as the environments you explore. By equipping yourself with a range of tools—from the simplicity of matches to the advanced technology of electric arc lighters—you ensure that, no matter the challenge, the warmth and security of a fire is just a spark away.

Redundancy is crucial, trust me, always have backups and be proficient in using each tool. Your survival could one day depend on it.