Best Fire Starters

Updated May 2021
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

54 Models Considered
18 Hours Researched
2 Experts Interviewed
60 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Buying guide for best fire starters

Ah, an evening in nature. It’s time to cozy up beside a fire and enjoy the moment. Whether you’re lighting the fireplace in a cozy vacation cabin or kindling a summertime campfire, the question is the same: what’s the best way to get a fire started easily and keep it going? There are those who will tell you that fire starting is an art or advanced skill. But the real game-changer is a fire starter, an accessory that makes starting a fire faster, easier, and maybe a little safer too.

A fire starter is a helpful addition to tinder and kindling when building a fire. However, choosing the perfect fire starter is a little trickier than just grabbing the first thing you see. In our buying guide, we go over different types of fire starters and tell you in what situations they work best.

The choice of fire starter depends on several factors, with personal preference being a big one.

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Always clear the ground where you plan to start a fire. Ideally, surround it with rocks and keep away combustible materials and items like tents that may melt.

Key considerations

What is a fire starter?

The term “fire starter” conjures up different images depending on one’s level of experience. For some, it’s simply a handheld lighter that provides a small flame at the flick of a switch. For others, it’s a piece of felt coated in wax that will burn steadily for a few minutes. And for still others, a fire starter is a piece of steel struck against a modern version of flint to create sparks. In reality, the term can refer to any of them.

Think of a fire starter as a combination of items that work together to get a fire going. You need an igniter, some type of spark source, and fuel to keep that small flame going while you build the larger fire. To make the process even easier, experienced campers use a combination of fire starters to start their preferred fire-starter material.  Below, we go into the types of fire starters and fuels in more detail.

Why use a fire starter?

Because it’s a fast, easy way to get a campfire going. Instead of struggling to light a pile of newspapers or damp pine needles and getting soot in your face while trying to heat the embers, a fire starter provides a steady flame. You can sit back and carefully feed more kindling, like twigs and small sticks, into the flame and gradually add bigger sticks and logs. There’s also less risk that a fire starter will go out during the lighting process, and that saves you a lot of frustration.

A note on safety: Always observe fire safety rules whether you’re lighting a campfire or a fireplace. Leave plenty of space between the fire and objects you don’t want to burn. Be careful when lighting and adding wood to a fire. And when you put out the fire, make sure the coals are completely cool. You should be able to rest your hand on them without feeling any heat.

If you’re starting a fire in wet conditions, peel the bark off kindling and larger sticks. The wood underneath should be dry enough for a fire starter to ignite.

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Features

Fire igniter

This type of fire starter creates the initial spark or flame to get a fire going. The category includes the following:

Handheld lighter: The easiest and least expensive fire starter, lighters are available at every corner store. A long-handled butane lighter designed for starting fires is a better choice.

Ferrocerium striker: The old-school flint-and-steel method to start fires is much easier thanks to rods made of a fast-sparking alloy of iron and cerium. Handheld ferro strikers work well for hundreds and even thousands of strikes.

Match: This is an important backup, but matches must be kept dry. Camping stores sell water-resistant matches that work well in humid conditions.

Butane torch: This is overkill for most camping situations, but quite a few campers keep a small butane torch nearby for those times when nothing else works.

Fuel

These materials keep the initial flame going for much longer than a lighter, matches, or striker can. They burn longer than most tinder too.

Fuel tablets: These cubes are made of wax or another solid, easy-to-light substance that burns with a steady flame for several minutes. They’re also used in emergency camping stoves to heat water.

Felt squares: These are simple, inexpensive, and ultralight, though they only burn for a short time.

Magnesium alloy: When scraped off in shavings and placed on tinder, this material flares and burns bright and hot. It’s a popular accessory for those who like to use a flint striker.

Fire log: This is made of compressed sawdust saturated with steady-burning paraffin or other fuel. You can even buy fire logs with blue, red, or green flames.

Fatwood: This is slivers of dry wood cut from pine trees containing lots of resin. Fatwood ignites quickly and burns nice and hot even in the rain.

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DID YOU KNOW?
Fatwood is a naturally sourced fire starter that is saturated with pine resin, making it water-resistant and easily ignited.
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Accessories

Waterproof match case: UCO Stormproof Match Kit
This waterproof case floats and protects the 25 enclosed matches from water even when submerged, plus the matches will relight after being submerged too, making this a must-have in your emergency kit.

Tinderbox: Kaeser Wilderness Supply Fire Starting Tin
Everything you need to start a fire in even severe conditions. The waterproof, durable, pocket-size case keeps all your fire-starting materials dry and together.

Magnesium alloy bar: HTS Magnesium Block Fire Starter
Having this survival kit mainstay on hand means you can light a fire even in the rain.

Butane refill: Zippo Butane Fuel
Quickly top up refillable butane lighters and torches.

Fire starter prices

Inexpensive: Basic but effective fire starters, including matches, butane lighters, and a few gimmicky flint striker survival bracelets, can be found in the $2 to $5 range, a good deal for budget-minded backpackers.

Mid-range: In the $6 to $12 bracket, you’ll find a good selection of reliable strikers, lighters, fatwood, and fuel.

Expensive: Expect to pay between $13 and $22 for fire starter kits and premium striker sets.

Newspaper burns too quickly to be an effective fire starter, and it tends to smother the surrounding tinder or kindling as it chars.

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Tips

  • Be prepared. Test all of your fire starters before heading out on a camping or hiking trip. Gather the wood, kindling, and tinder you’ll need for your fire before starting it. (You’ll need more than you think.)
  • Be safe. Do not start a campfire in high-risk conditions or when campground rules prohibit it. Fire logs are good, long-lasting fuel for a fireplace but not a good choice if you’re going to cook over the fire because they may contain toxic chemicals.
  • Use a magnesium block correctly. You only need a few shavings from a magnesium alloy block with each use. It’s very helpful when starting a fire in damp conditions, but pair it with dry tinder and kindling for a successful start.
  • Use campfire cups correctly. If you forgot to bring fatwood, stop by the campground office where you might be able to purchase campfire cups, a mixture of melted paraffin wax and wood shavings. Place campfire cups or fuel tabs under the kindling and carefully add to the new fire to keep from smothering the fire starter.
  • Try a butane torch. It can be used to start a hot, fast-burning campfire or quickly start charcoal in the grill.
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Felt squares have been used for hundreds of years as fire starters. Place them in the center of a bundle of tinder and kindling, light, and carefully fold the tinder over the felt until it catches.

FAQ

Q. Are fire starters only for beginning campers?

A. Even the most experienced bushwhackers carry some form of fire starter in their pack, and often more than one. Fire starters offer a little extra help to get a campfire going by providing either a reliable strike, a steady flame to build on, or both.

Q. Is one fire starter enough?

A. There are good reasons to carry more than one type of fire starter. First, after a long day hiking or driving to a remote campground, no one wants their only fire starter to fail, break, or go missing. Second, if you plan to spend more than one night in the woods, you will need a fire starter for each night that you have a campfire. Third, you might need to use a different type of fire starter depending on the conditions.

Q. The National Park where I’m camping has a red flag warning and won’t allow campfires. Can I use my fire starter materials in a little stove instead?

A. Contact the park before you get there and ask what’s allowed when fires are prohibited. It’s a good idea to have a small camp stove in your camping gear for situations like these and for those times when you’re unable to light a campfire.

Q. What’s the best way to set up my fire starter in wet or windy conditions?

A. If possible, build a fire “lay,” a sort of lean-to made of kindling sticks placed over the spot where you want to start the fire. On particularly rainy evenings, you can fold a piece of aluminum foil over the top of the makeshift lean-to so water won’t pour in. Once the lighting spot is protected, get your fire starter ready, light it along with some dry tinder, and slowly feed twigs and other dry materials into the fire to build it. Be extremely careful not to smother the fire starter’s flame.

 

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