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The Best Survival Fire Starters: As Recommended by Experts


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Last Updated: October 9, 2020

What makes one fire starter better than another for survival?

It must be reliable and able to light a fire in bad weather. 

It should also be easy to use, even if you have gloves on or your hands are trembling from cold.

Ideally, a survival fire starter will also be reusable or capable of giving thousands of lights so you don’t have to worry about running out of fuel.

Based on these requirements, here are the best survival fire starters for emergency prep, bug out bags, and bushcraft — as recommended, field-tested, and used by real survivalists

Botton Line Upfront – My Recommendation

Because fire is so important for survival, you don’t want to rely on just one fire starter.

I recommend getting a few reliable lighters to put in your emergency kit and a reusable waterproof fire starter, such as a Ferro rod.

And, to make sure you can start fires in adverse conditions, don’t forget to pack some fire tinder or char cloth in your kit too!

Survival Lighters Comparison Table

NameTypeNumber of Lights*Ease of UseWaterproofRefillable
Bic LighterSparkwheel lighter3,000EasySomewhatYes
UCO StormproofPiezo lighter70012-15 FeetYesYes
Uberleben Zunden Ferro Rod Ferro rod12,000-20,000DifficultYesNo
The Friendly SwedeFerro rod10,000DifficultYesNo
UST BlastMatchFerro rod4,000ModerateYesNo
Tesla LighterPlasma arc lighter300Very easyYesYes
FancySpark Permanent MatchPermanent match50-100EasyYesYes
Campfire PistonFire pistonInfiniteDifficultYesN/A
UCO Stormproof MatchesMatches25EasyYesYes
Exotac nanoStrikerFerro rod3,000DifficultYesYes
Zippo EFKSparkwheel 1,700ModerateYesYes
UST StrikeForce Ferro-magnesium rod4,000DifficultYesNo
SE All-WeatherMagnesium block with Ferro rod300DifficultYesNo

*Before needing refill or recharge

The Best Survival Fire Starters

1. Bic Lighter

The classic Bic lighters are what are known as “plastic sparkwheel lighters.” When you spin the little wheel, it strikes a flint below and makes a spark. The spark ignites the fuel.

While Bic lighters generally aren’t considered survival lighters, they are actually one of the most reliable and easy ways to make a fire.  It is almost foolproof (my daughter learned to use one at just 5 years old). Bic lighters are pretty reliable too.  They advertise they can give about 3,000 lights (realistically it’s more like 1,000 to 2,000).  Even though Bic lighters are meant to be disposable, you can refill them.

You can even still use a Bic lighter after it is empty since the sparkwheel makes a spark.

And the biggest plus of all? 

They are dirt cheap.  You can get multi-packs of Bic lighters for very cheap, which is why they are a great barter item to have around for emergencies.

Obviously Bic lighters aren’t perfect.  They are only somewhat waterproof and don’t work great in windy conditions.  They will also run out of fuel eventually.  But, they are still the survival lighter I’d recommend for most people to keep in their emergency kits.

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2. UCO Stormproof Lighter

The UCO Stormproof is a piezo electric ignition lighter, which means it works by pressing a button.  This is much easier to use (especially with gloves on) than a sparkwheel lighter like the Bic.

Most piezo lighters are really cheap, terrible quality, and not reliable.  The UCO Stormproof is an exception.  It is made with a tough body which is completely waterproof.  They claim that their lighter will last for 30,000 ignitions!

The UCO lighter uses a triple jet system which is adjustable and can make a very hot flame. This is really useful for starting a fire with sub-par tinder.  Unfortunately, the stronger flame does mean that the UCO Stormproof will run out of fuel after just about 700 lights.  Make sure you get some butane fuel for refilling it.

Buy Here: Check Prices on Amazon

https://www.amazon.com/UCO-Stormproof-Windproof-Lighter-Emegency/dp/B016NW8BDQ

Check out these other picks for Best Waterproof Lighters

3. Uberleben Zunden Ferro Rod

Ferro rods and strikers are usually the go-to fire starter for survivalists.  Yes, they take some practice to learn how to use but have the advantage of working in all conditions.  If you aren’t familiar with Ferro rods, read this post on ferro rod fire starters.

Of all Ferro rods, Uberleben Zunden is by far the best pick.  The main reason is because the Ferro rod is much longer than what you’d typically find on cheap products.

This is incredibly important because, when using this fire starter, you are supposed to move the rod, not the striker.  The longer the rod is, the easier the striker will be to use.  The rod also comes in 3 different thicknesses with the thick size being even easier to use.

Another cool thing about the Uberleben is that the striker is a multi-tool.  It acts as a tinder scraper, map scale, hex wrench, bottle opener, and a striker.  The large wooden handle on this Ferro rod also makes it easier to hold and it comes with a lanyard so you can wear it around your neck.

Yes, the Uberleben Zunden does cost more than a typical Ferro rod but it’s worth paying for, especially if you are new to Ferro rods.

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4. The Friendly Swede Fire Starter

Here’s another traditional-style Ferro rod fire starter which is great for survival situations.

The exposed part of the Ferro rod is actually slightly longer than with the Uberleben Zunder fire steel, which makes it easier to use.  It’s also nice that the striker has a handle so it’s easier to grip.  Overall, it’s a great Ferro rod for beginners to learn on and for expert survivalists alike.

I personally still like the Uberleben Zunder Ferro rod over this one because it’s striker is a scraper and multi-tool.  However, if you have trouble getting a good grip on a striker, then The Friendly Swede Ferro rod is a better choice.

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5. UST BlastMatch One-Handed Fire Starter

The UST BlastMatch is essentially a Ferro rod fire starter but made in a really cool way.  The Ferro rod is housed in a sturdy plastic casing.  When you push down on the casing, a striker scrapes the Ferro rod and causes sparks to fly.  This design means you can use the BlastMatch with just one hand.  It’s also more foolproof than a standard Ferro rod plus striker.

I was slightly skeptical about the plastic casing but reviewers say it holds up well.  The company says that the rod will last for 4,000 strikes and the rod inside even automatically rotates so it gets worn down evenly.

Another cool thing about this survival fire starter is that it is lightweight at just 2.3oz.  It folds up on itself so it is just 4.1 inches long.  It comes in orange and black.  I’d recommend getting orange so you can find it easier.

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6. Tough Tesla Lighter 2.0

Almost all lighters require some type of fuel like butane, which might not be available during a survival situation.

For this reason, I really like the idea of having a plasma lighter in your emergency kit.  These types of lighters use electricity to create a plasma arc between two electrodes.  The arc is incredibly hot and does a fantastic job of lighting tinder, even when it’s not completely dry.

Unlike standard flame lighters, plasma lighters won’t blow out in windy conditions.  Since they light by pushing a button, they are easy to use even with gloves, arthritis, or hand injuries.

Of all the plasma lighters on the market, the Tough Tesla 2.0 lighter is particularly good for survival.  It comes in a waterproof case.  Its battery life is better than most and you’ll get about 300 lights from it. There’s also a built-in flashlight, whistle, and a lanyard so you won’t lose the lighter.

The caveat with using plasma lighters like the Tough Tesla 2.0 for survival is that you need a way to recharge it.  So make sure you also have a reliable solar panel or power bank in your kit too.

Check Prices on Survival Frog 

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7. FancySpark Permanent Match

A permanent match is a cross between matches and a lighter.  It will have a chamber which holds fuel.  However, instead of using a piezo or sparkwheel ignition like standard lighters, it has a spark stick inside.  You remove the spark stick and strike it on an abrasive surface like a match to make a flame.

The benefit to this setup is that you’ll get a larger flame which holds up better against wind than matches. You can refill the permanent match and use it again – which is why most brands advertise they can get 15,000+ lights.

In my opinion, Bic lighters tend to be better than permanent matches.  However, there’s one big benefit to permanent matches: a built-in gasket means fuel won’t evaporate like with most lighters. This makes permanent matches the best survival lighter for bug out bags or stashes which (hopefully) won’t get used often.

There are lots of cheap permanent matches available online.  This one by FancySpark is a better quality than most others.  It’s also small enough to be part of your EDC.

It depends on how long you let the match stay lit for, but expect around 50-100 ignitions before having to refill.  The permanent match itself will last for 15,000+ strikes.

Check Prices on Amazon

8. Campfire Piston

Fire pistons aren’t as well-known as other survival fire starters but they are pretty cool: they work by forcing compressed air out of a chamber, causing a spark.

Compared to Ferro rod strikers, fire pistons are harder to use.  They don’t get as hot, usually require a char cloth, and are a bit bulkier. For this reason, a Ferro rod is the better choice over a fire piston when it comes to survival use.

However, there is one big benefit of a fire piston: A fire piston is reusable.  Even Ferro rods will eventually wear down and need to be replaced.  By contrast, a fire piston will work forever so long as you take good care of it.

Another benefit of a fire piston is that it is easier to use than a Ferro rod if you have arthritis or other hand issues which would make it difficult to use a striker. I’d still rather have a lighter with a large spin wheel but a fire piston would be a good backup.

The Campfire fire piston is our top pick because it’s affordable, made in the USA, and small enough for a bug out bag.  See our other picks for Best Fire Pistons here.

Check Prices on Amazon

9. UCO Stormproof Matches

If you prefer to use matches as your survival fire starter, the Stormproof Matches by UCO are the best you can get.  Compared to other matches, the UCO matches burn for much longer – 15 seconds versus about 5 seconds with typical matches. They are coated so they are completely waterproof.

But the real reason these matches are so cool is because they are nearly impossible to extinguish in normal circumstances. You can literally dunk them in water after lighting them and they will relight. The same goes for dirt, sand, or other materials: you can completely cover the match and it will re-ignite once uncovered.  It’s actually really cool to test out.

As for the UCO matches being windproof, it is pretty amazing.  You can hold them directly into the wind (or test this using a strong fan); the match might look like it has gone out but will relight on it’s own.

The matches come in a waterproof case which floats if it falls in water.  The cool thing about the case being waterproof is that you can also keep some tinder in there.

There are only 25 matches in the case.  However, it’s refillable and can hold up to 40 matches.  I’d recommend getting a lot of these and keeping them in your Bug Out Bag as well as your hunker down kit.

Buy Kit Here: Check Prices on Amazon

Get Refill Matches Here: Check Prices on Amazon

10. Exotac nanoStriker XL

Most rod and striker fire starters come with two pieces that are clunky and a bit annoying to carry around.  By contrast, the Exotac nanoStriker XL fire starter has an incredibly smart self-contained design that is only slightly larger than a Bic lighter. It’s is gorgeous, practical, and high-quality.

To use the Exotact nanoStriker, you unscrew the striker from the bottom.  Then you unscrew the middle section; this is where the rod is stored.  Flip it around, screw it into the handle, and you are ready to make sparks.

The Exotact nanoStriker XL’s rod is made from a combination of ferrocerium (Ferro) and magnesium.  The Ferro gives durability and produces thousands of sparks when struck. The magnesium means you get hotter and longer-lasting sparks.  You should be able to get 3,000 strikes out of the rod. Replacement rods are available if you manage to wear out the original.

Buy  Here: Check Prices on Amazon

11. Zippo EFK Emergency Fire Kit

Zippo lighters are great for everyday use but they aren’t great for survival situations, especially bug out bags, because the fuel evaporates so quickly.  However, Zippo has come up with an Emergency Fire Kit which is perfect for prepping.  It requires no fuel and can be used up to 1,700 times.

The fire starter in the kit uses a Zippo flint spark wheel, just without the spark guard you’d normally find on a Zippo lighter.  You spin the wheel to produce hot sparks which can be used to light a fire.  For novice survivalists, it’s easier to use than a Ferro rod or other rod-and-striker fire starter.

A cool design feature is that the spark wheel fits on top of a waterproof plastic case.  When you buy it, the kit includes 5 cotton tinder rolls inside.  You can put your own tinder inside once these run out.  The entire kit is really compact and has a lanyard hole so you can attach it to a pack.

I love that the Zippo fire starter is so easy to use (at least easier than a standard Ferro rod) and is one-hand operational.  You can even replace the spark wheel if it wears down.  I wouldn’t want it as a primary fire starter but it’s a great backup in case you run out of lighter fluid or matches.

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12. UST StrikeForce Fire Starter

Here’s another fire starter by UST.  It’s also a Ferro rod fire starter but uses the traditional two-handed striking method.  The rod is fairly short, which makes it a bit harder to use than the Uberleben Zunden and Friendly Swede Ferro rods.  However, the UST StrikeForce has the advantage of a practical design.

I really like that the UST Ferro rod comes in a self-contained case.  To use, you open it up to reveal the striker and the rod. The case basically acts like a handle for the striker, so it is easier to use with gloves.  Another advantage of the case is that it holds tinder and keeps it dry.

No wonder the StrikeForce regularly gets called the best fire starter by expert survivalists.

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13. SE All-Weather Emergency Fire Starter and Magnesium Fuel Bar

This fire starter combines the spark-producing capability of a Ferro rod with the heat of magnesium.  To use, you first use the scraper or a knife to shave off some magnesium from the bar.  Then you strike the Ferro rod which is built into the side of the bar.  The sparks from the Ferro rod quickly ignite the magnesium.

This is a particularly good option for survivalists who aren’t great at blowing embers into flames.  The magnesium bar is also incredibly useful for fire starting when you don’t have any other good tinder available; it’s easier to carry around one magnesium bar than a zillion Vaseline-coated cotton balls – though the cotton balls ignite easier.

On a downside, the Ferro rod built into this fire starter is very small.  It doesn’t do a great job of throwing sparks. Any of the other Ferro rod fire starters reviewed here will do a much better job; the main reason to choose this one is to have the magnesium for tinder.  They don’t list how many lights you’ll get out of this but I’d estimate about 300.

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Types of Survival Fire Starters

Lighters

There are many different types of lighters.  These pros and cons are for the ones which use fuel.  Even within fuel-based lighters, there are numerous types and some are better than others for survival.

Pros

  • Easy to use
  • Cheap
  • Reliable
  • Make strong flame
  • Many different types

Cons

  • Run out of fuel
  • Prone to breaking
  • Not fully waterproof
  • Some types subject to fuel evaporation

Plasma Lighters

Plasma lighters are fairly new technology and often get overlooked for survival.  They are definitely worth considering though, even as your primary fire starter, since they work well in all situations so long as you keep them dry and charged.

Pros

  • Very easy to use
  • Push-button operation
  • Rechargeable
  • Safe
  • Windproof
  • No fuel required

Cons

  • Not waterproof
  • Expensive
  • Need electricity to recharge
  • Cheap ones prone to breaking
  • Lose charge in storage

Striking Method (Fire Steels)

This category of survival fire starters includes flint & steels, Ferro rods, and magnesium rods.

Note Ferro rods and magnesium rods are not the same. Ferro is made from various metals, including magnesium.  Rods made from just magnesium are softer, wear down faster and are harder to spark.  However, when you do create sparks, they are hotter and longer lasting than those from Ferro.  You can also scrape pieces of magnesium off the bar to use as tinder.

Pros

  • Can be used thousands of times before wearing down
  • Waterproof
  • Reliable

Cons

  • Very high learning curve
  • Require two hands
  • Require high-quality tinder
  • Difficult to use with gloves on

Fire Pistons

These are a little-known type of survival fire starter which rely on compressed air.

Pros

  • Reusable
  • Waterproof
  • Can make your own

Cons

  • High learning curve
  • Need some maintenance
  • Requires high-quality tinder
  • Won’t work if the rubber gasket is damaged

Matches

Matches were the original survival fire starter once we moved past friction-based techniques.  Today, there are some good brands of matches which are especially suited for survival situations. You can also make your own waterproof matches and containers.

Pros

  • Easy to use
  • Cheap
  • Readily available

Cons

  • Blow out easily
  • Usually not waterproof
  • Sandpaper striking surface wears down quickly

Magnifying Glass/Solar Fire Starter

These are also useful to have as a signaling device.  Learn about signal mirrors here.

Pros

  • Use infinite times
  • Lightweight and compact

Cons

  • High learning curve
  • Only works in daylight
  • Breakable

Friction-Based Methods (Primitive)

There are numerous primitive ways to make a fire without matches or a lighter.

Pros

  • Can make out of found items

Cons

  • Very high learning curve
  • Don’t work well in wet environments

Science Hacks

With a bit of scientific knowledge, there are plenty of ways to make a fire – such as using lemon and a battery to make a flame.

Pros

  • Can produce large flames
  • Easy to do

Cons

  • Must have the items handy
  • Can be dangerous

Tips for Choosing a Survival Fire Starter

1. Difficulty Level of the Fire Starter

There is nothing wrong with using a Bic lighter for survival.  In fact, you should use a lighter as your primary survival fire starter!

When push comes to shove in a survival situation, it won’t matter how cool your gear is or how skilled you are at various fire-starting techniques.  What will matter is that you can actually get a fire lit!

Also bear in mind that you might not be the only one using your fire starter.  Unless you want to be stuck with all the fire duties, then having an easy-to-use lighter is just smart.

2. How Much Tinder Will You Bring?

Most spark-based fire starters will only work if you have really good tinder.  There’s only so much tinder you can bring with you in your fire kit.  Yes, you can find or make tinder but this takes time.

For this reason, I personally think Bic lighters are the best survival fire starter; the strong flame means you’ll be able to get a fire going even if you only have sub-par tinder.

3. Consider Cold Weather and Gloves

If you live somewhere cold or will be using your fire starter in cold weather (which you should plan for, since this is a survival fire starter after all!), then it should be glove-friendly.  Choose one which has a sparkwheel which is easy to rotate or nice big handles on the pieces.

Read more cold-weather survival tips here

4. Fuel Type

The reason that Bic and other lighters usually aren’t considered “survival” fire starters is because they will eventually run out of fuel.  In a survival situation, you won’t always have a way to refill them.  By contrast, rod-and-striker based fire starters can deliver thousands of sparks before they wear down.

5. Durability

You can buy a cheap fire starter for just a dollar or two.  However, don’t expect it to be the best quality or very durable.  It’s worth spending a bit more for a fire starter which won’t break on you when you need it most.

6. Shelf Life

Want to throw a fire starter in a Bug Out Bag and leave it there?  Then you’ll need to consider the shelf life of the fire starter. Yes, fire starters can go bad!

  • Bic Lighters: The seal on Bic lighters is actually pretty good.  They should last 3+ years without the fuel evaporating. However, you must keep them out of sunlight as the UV light can degrade the plastic.
  • Zippo-style lighters: Fuel evaporation is a big problem with Zippo lighters (which is why none of them are on this list of best survival lighters). Expect the fuel to evaporate in just two weeks.
  • Ferro rods: Ferro rods have an indefinite shelf life. However, they might corrode a bit in high-humidity areas, if they come in contact with salt water, or if they aren’t clean.  Many people coat theirs with nail polish to prevent corrosion.

7. Know How to Use It!

Ultimately, the most important thing when choosing a fire starter for survival isn’t how durable/waterproof/many sparks you get from it; it’s that you know how to use it.

For example, a lot of people pack Ferro rod fire starters into their bug out bags because they are considered one of the best fire starters.  But, if you haven’t learned AND practiced using one, it might end up being useless (you don’t want to learn how to use gear when you are already in a survival situation!).

I’m not saying you shouldn’t get a Ferro rod or any other difficult-level fire starter.  Rather, keep some easier options in your emergency kit until you’ve gotten some practice and mastered the Ferro rod.

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Leave a comment

  1. I really enjoyed this article. All the listed “lighters” are workable, no question. In addition to which ever igniter one chooses good tender cannot be dismissed. Something to catch the spark or flame and hold it while it is nourished to life is essential: char clothe, a “bird’s nest” or something to hold that all important spark. A simple flint and steel and a proper receptacle to hold the spark while it is nourished to an actual flame can replace all the modern goodies listed IF one is familiar with them and takes the time to become proficient in their use. The simpler, the better. And: no survival gear is adequate or even useful if the user doesn’t know how to use it.

    Reply
    • Exactly! Which is why a cheap Bic lighter is still the best survival lighter for most people. I’ve taken to carrying a small container of vaseline in my BOB along with cotton balls for fire starters. The vaseline-coated balls can burn for 5 minutes or so — enough to dry out wet tinder and small kindling.

      Reply

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