The 10 Best Survival Fire Starters
This wiki has been edited 29 times since it was first published in October of 2015. If you're ever stuck out in the wild, getting a fire going can be the difference between life and death. These survival fire starters can help you easily build a flame in even the most unforgiving of conditions, allowing you to quickly get warm and dry while the weather rages on. Some also feature other gear, like compasses and whistles, and all are easy to carry along in your bag or pocket. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to support our work. Skip to the best survival fire starter on Amazon.
A Brief History Of Starting Fires
This was a watershed moment in human history, as it meant that for the first time, humans could have fire on demand, without waiting on nature to first provide it.
Today, we have a variety of fire starting devices, including matches, lighters, and magnifying glasses.
The rise of human civilization is tied to our ability to control fire. If our ancestors hadn't tamed the mighty flame, we would never have been able to expand to the far corners of the earth, our diets would have been much more restricted, and s'mores would remain a distant, impossible dream.
Using a flint blade to create sparks first happened about 300,000 years ago. This was a watershed moment in human history, as it meant that for the first time, humans could have fire on demand, without waiting on nature to first provide it. This opened up the ability of exploration and colonization, as they could now survive in colder climates while also warding off nocturnal predators.
The first evidence of man using friction to spark combustion came 4,000 years ago in ancient Egypt. This technique involved rubbing pieces of wood together, either by using some sort of plough or relying on a bow or saw.
With the dawn of the Iron Age around 1200 B.C.E., humans developed special tools known as fire strikers. These were pieces of steel that were struck against flint or iron pyrite, creating extremely hot sparks. Fire steels would prove remarkably durable, as they would continue to be the dominant mode of fire-starting until the 19th century. Most households would have a tinder box, which contained a fire steel, flint, and char cloth.
German chemist Hennig Brand discovered that phosphorus was flammable in 1669, and from there the race was on to harness its power. The first friction match, however, wouldn't come along until 1826, thanks to English chemist John Walker.
Today, we have a variety of fire starting devices, including matches, lighters, and magnifying glasses. However, many survivalist fire tools rely on the same principles that our ancestors used. We still try to start blazes by applying sparks to flammable substances — and in all too many cases, our survival still hinges on our success.
The only difference, really, is we've found a much better use for Tinder.
How to Choose the Right Survival Fire Starter
Let's face it — if you're Bear Grylls, you don't need to buy a fancy fire starter. You can make your own roaring blaze using nothing more than two sticks, your own breath, and a cup of your own urine (don't ask what he uses that for).
However, you're not Bear Grylls, and it's important to remember that. No, I'm not putting down your survival skills — I'm simply pointing out that he has a camera crew with him that will whisk him away to safety if he can't get a fire started. If you can't get a blaze going, however, you could die. There's no point in risking your safety just so you can feel like a guy you saw on TV.
The most important consideration, however, is whether or not you're comfortable with it.
The first thing you need to realize is that you should never limit yourself to just one way to start a fire. Things happen when you're outdoors — you could lose your flint, your tinder could get soaked, or maybe your matches just won't cooperate. That's why it's good to have several different fire starters on hand. I'd recommend getting a couple professional methods, while also keeping matches and a regular lighter on hand in a waterproof container.
If you carry a lot of gear, you'll want a starter that's extremely lightweight. Some also come with other devices installed, like a compass, which can allow you to further streamline your pack. However, be careful about getting too small, as you don't want one that will be easy to lose out in the brush.
You also need to decide whether you want to get something cheap that you'll have to replace often, or splurge for a longer-lasting option. There's no real wrong answer here; again, it comes down to whether you're the type who tends to misplace gear, or if you keep the same items your entire life.
The most important consideration, however, is whether or not you're comfortable with it. Again, your life could depend on this, so get something you know you can use, and take the time to practice with it before you go into the great outdoors.
And if you see Bear Grylls while you're out there, hit him up — he probably knows where to find a great hotel in the area.
Tips For Starting A Fire
Once you've found a reliable method for creating sparks, all you need is fuel to burn. The best way is to bring your own tinder, such as fire paste, cotton balls soaked in petroleum jelly, or even dryer lint. If you don't have anything with you, however, look for dry kindling, or if it's raining, see if you can find some sap on any nearby needle-bearing trees. If you're using sticks, be sure to peel the bark off before burning them.
When you're ready to light it up, arrange all your kindling in a pile. Remember that heat rises, so you'll want to build your pile in a tee-pee shape. Don't try to just lay everything in a flat pile, because then your fire will quickly burn out, if it catches at all. Start the fire from the windward side, as this allows air to travel through your embers, keeping them alive and the fire crackling.
After you're done with your fire, be sure to put it out. Take a fire extinguisher with you, and never leave until all the embers are cool to the touch. If you love to camp, the last thing you'll want is to find out you can't go to your favorite spot because you accidentally burned it down the last time you were there.
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