Off Road Innovations

Some Like It Hot: How to Choose a Fire Starter That’s Right for You

A fire starter is a critical part of any emergency kit, and you want to make sure you’ve got one on had in your rig.  We mentioned it in our 10 Essentials article, which should be required reading.  But what about when it’s not an emergency?  How do you choose the right fire starter that goes beyond the essentials?

First Things First…

Make sure you actually know how to build a fire before you need to build a fire.  The internet’s a wonderful thing – being new to outdoors skills is to be expected, but don’t put your life in danger by going off unprepared.  

Kinds of Firestarters

Fire Pistons

Sometimes called slam rods, this is an easy-to-use, unique option.  They work using an airtight chamber and quickly compressing air with kindling inside the chamber which, thanks to physics and sciency stuff we’re not qualified to explain, is forced to ignite. Then you move quickly to transfer that kindling before it burns out.  It’s basically a super useful party trick.

Fire pistons are reasonably easy to use, but they come with this disclaimer.  If the airtight seal is damaged in anyway, the fire starter quickly becomes dead weight–it won’t do anything.  Make sure to have a backup for this one available.

Magnesium Blocks

Magnesium block fire starters are simple to use.  They come with an attached rod that you use to scrape the side of the block into a small pile.  Flip the block over, and use the striker to light the pile up.

Check out this UST Magnesium Fire Starter, or this simple, cost-effective version from Coghlan’s

Flint and Steel (Ferro Rod)

Flint and steel, or as they’re more commonly called these days, ferro rod, firestarters are the most commonly available kind on the market.  Some come with a striker included, though most require the use of a knife, which you should already have on hand anyway.

Here’s our favorite fire starters for every situation…

The Jack Of All Trades
Maybe you are an all-around outdoorsman.  The last trip you took wheeling had you catching and cleaning your own dinner in the most beautiful dining room around – the outdoors.  If that sounds like you, meet the Light My Fire FireKnife.  

This handy little guy includes a Mora of Sweden knife – and you know they are making quality stuff, with over 120 years in the business.  A super sharp knife, flexible enough to clean fish, sturdy enough to break up kindling, and with a firestarter to boot.

As a matter of fact, just buy a FireKnife.  Throw it in your glove box now.

The Answer For Ultra Light Packers

Looking for a super reliable, compact, ultra-light firestarter that works great in any moisture conditions?  Put the Exotac FireROD™ at the top of your list.  The FireROD is a flint and steel style striker, with room in the top to keep kindling dry and ready to build a fire.  

The 5/16” Ferrocerium rod works great, even wet, and is good for about 10,000 strikes before it needs to be replaced.  If you manage to get through that many strikes, don’t worry, we’ve got the replacement rods you need, too. Make sure you keep a good knife handy to use as your striker, and you’ll be up and running in no time.

The One Your Grandfather Used

Despite all the technology available to us, we can’t in good conscience skip over old faithful.  Your grandfather started fires with matches, and with good reason. They’re lightweight, and don’t generally take much practice to get the technique down.

The good news is that they’re cheap and lightweight.  The bad news is that they’re a pain to use in the wind, they generally don’t work in the rain, and unless you’re carrying 10,000 matches (not necessarily recommended), you have to worry about replacing that almost-used-up box in between trips.  Keep them as a backup, but make your life easier with a better first choice.

Carry a Backup

We’d recommend a plain old lighter (keep it handy and dry with an Exotact Firesleeve), and a weatherproof container of matches for good measure.  They’re both small and lightweight, and the peace of mind will be well worth it if you ever find yourself needing fire.

Keep Some Packable Tinder Handy

You never know when you get where you’re going exactly what the tinder choices are going to be when you get there.  In dry conditions, you can just use what’s around – dry bark, dead pine needles – options abound! …sometimes. In other places, tinder’s not as readily available.  Or worse, you’re surrounded by it, and it’s wet from that cold storm that just blew through. Don’t be a victim of circumstance. Keep some easy tinder handy – it could make your life a lot better on a cold, wet night.

There are a few options available, but our must-haves are the UST WetFire tinder packets, which you can easily keep on hand and dry for when you need tinder in a pinch.  Shave up a cube with your knife, strike at the pile of shavings, and you’ll be warm and cozy in no time.

Coghlan’s makes some great cost effective options as well – the fire sticks and fire paste are great to get a fire started.  Coghlan’s also offers the Fire Disc, which can be broken into 4 pieces, or even used an emergency source of cooking heat if you can’t find anything to burn in an emergency.

A Final Note About Fire Starters

As the old saying goes, practice makes perfect!  Don’t let the first time you use your fancy new fire starter be when you’re freezing cold, and the sun is setting on a great day of wheeling.  Play with it at home, and know what you’re in for. Some people will prefer certain styles of fire starters. Know how to use whatever your choice is before you head out on the trails.  Now get out there and play with fire!

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