There are lots of things that separate humans from animals. We have electricity, we have bitchin’ hot rods, we have BitCoins that no one understands, and – most importantly – we have fire. Our ability to control fire is the thing that has separated us from wild beasts since the dawn of time. If you are a camper, a hiker, a backpacker, or just someone that takes a stroll in the forest from time to time, you know how important fire is. It will save you from animal attacks and allow you to fight off the elements. If a trip outdoors is in your future, you are going to need fire; and if you need fire, you need a fire starter.
This list assumes you already are carrying the basic fire starting implements such as a case of waterproof matches and a weatherproof lighter. The fire starters below are meant to act as supplements to these items.
Exotac NanoStriker XL
You’ll see a lot of ferrocerium rods if you are seeking a fire starter, but the NanoStriker XL is a different animal. First off, the rod isn’t strictly ferrocerium but a ferrocerium and magnesium blend, which means it doesn’t throw dainty little sparks, it throws fireballs on a miniature scale in the rain, snow, or London fog. You can also scrape the rod to get some flakes onto your tinder which will help it ignite thanks to the magnesium.
When not in use the rod slides into the aluminum handle to protect it. This is important as the ferrocerium can easily undergo oxidation making it degrade and essentially rust, which will limit its efficacy. By being able to stash it away in the aluminum handle, it will come out dry and ready to burn every time. The only drawback is that even the larger variants are keychain-sized. If you’re a big, strapping lad, it could be a little clumsy to hold the tiny apparatus. [Purchase: $27]
Gerber Bear Grylls Survival Series Fire Starter
If you need one with a truly manly grip, then naturally you need look no further than an item that bears Bear Grylls’ name. When the Man vs. Wild star tells you something will work under the worst conditions, he has the video evidence to prove it. It uses a true ferrocerium rod that is mounted into a large handle for an easy grip and striking. When not in use, both the metal striker and the rod are covered so they don’t corrode.
The handle also includes a waterproof section where you can keep tinder in the event you find yourself stranded with nothing but wet wood and need something to catch your spark. It comes equipped with a lanyard for easy wear and a rescue whistle for alerting saviors to your presence, or calling for help in the event a Grizzly is eyeballing you during mating season. Be careful when using the striker as too much pressure can cause it to bend or even break, but you really have to be pressing on it. [Purchase: $12]
Strike Master K1
This is for the old school pyromaniac who doesn’t believe in any fancy, space-age nonsense, or any of that high falutin aluminum garbage that the kids are using at their Burning Man festival. You’ll find no ferr-whatsit here. The K1 uses true flint and steel to make sparks the way they were supposed to be made. Though the design is decidedly classic, it is still one of the best available for throwing a really good spark with ease.
It’s small enough that it can be carried anywhere and simple enough that with a little practice, you’ll be burnin’ down the house in no time. The one nod to modernization that the K1 makes is the inclusion of a magnesium plate that you can scrape. By throwing your spark at magnesium flakes, you ensure a brighter, hotter fire that will help get wet kindling blazing away. [Purchase: $5]
Rothco Aurora Firestarter 900
Rothco boasts that the Aurora 900 is made with aerospace quality, which must mean that you can start fires while in orbit around the Earth. While that particular claim sounds strange, when you first pick up the Aurora 900, you see what they mean. It feels like something an astronaut would have for those lonesome nights on an alien world.
The knurled aluminum case with o-ring feels serious about safety while the built-in 440C stainless steel striking blade seems as durable as a tank. The Aurora is on the small side with absolutely zero space wasted. Every part of it seems solid and reassuring. It is clearly intended for no-nonsense survival. The rod is ferro-magnesium making it good for both striking and scraping. [Purchase: $20]
Lightning-Strike Fire Starter
The Lightning-Strike is a bit larger than nearly any other starter on the market. It is about the size of a small flashlight, but has some unique characteristics that make it a very good option, especially for the newbie. It has space for everything you need, from the ferrocerium rod to the striker to a large compartment for lots of tinder. It even comes with special tinder designed by the company. The tube design is what makes it truly special. When you scrape along the rod, the tube directs the spark wherever you are pointing it so there is no more messy guesswork or sparks starting fires you don’t want. [Purchase: $60]
Wilderness Solutions FireStar II
Dammit marine, don’t you realize all of the other options mentioned above throw a spark? That’s just fine and dandy if you want to give your position away to the enemy! At least you’ll be toasty warm when Charlie hunts you down! If you need something that is a little more covert, then you need a fire piston mechanism to get your blaze going. Enter the FireStar II.
This works by putting the tinder inside of the cylinder and then moving the piston up and down to spark it. The motion will feel a little perverse at first, but when you need a fire in gale force winds that blow sparks away, you’ll be grateful you have it. It requires a little more patience and practice than the other models, but when the fan is about to paint the room brown, you’ll be glad you have it. [Purchase: $65]
Ultimate Survival Technologies BlastMatch
For some reason, the best fire starters are all low-tech. They work better in adverse conditions and can deal with time in the elements better than even the most rugged technology. The BlastMatch is the closest you will find among the group that has any “technology” to it at all. Rather than using a separate striker and rod design, everything is contained in a single unit.
When you want to get a spark out of the BlastMatch, you just unfold it, press the button and let it do the work. It is true one-handed starting. Inside is a flint bar and tungsten carbide striker that produce excellent sparks nearly every time. The bar even rotates to ensure even wear from extended use. When not being used it comes with its own waterproof housing. This could be the easiest one we’ve ever used. [Purchase: $13]
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