camping,  Outdoor recreation

The Best Fire Starters for Camping, Barbecuing, and Survival – Popular Mechanics

fire starters

Popular Mechanics; Courtesy UCO

Whether you’re trying to keep warm in the backcountry or cook in the backyard , fire is a vital tool—but it can be a pain to get one going without a good fire starter. Today’s fire starters are more than just a BIC lighter and some kindling or even shredded bark. They’re also better—and safer—than dousing a pile of wood or briquettes with a liquid charcoal starter (a light kerosene), which can leave a taste on your food. A good open fire starter can quickly light and sustain a fire without affecting the smell or taste of the food being cooked in it and can keep your warmth-providing fire burning strong for hours.

The very best Fire Starters

What to Consider

There are two primary types of fire starters: the spark and the tinder. You can technically start a fire with just the spark, but tinder makes it easier to nurture those initial sparks into a full-blown fireplace for keeping warm or getting the grill going. Here we discuss some of our favorite tools to get a fire started and to keep it going.

First: A note on fire in the wild, it’s vitally important to pay attention to local fire bans and use open fire responsibly. Never build an open fire during a fire ban, as it puts human lives, wildlife, forests, and property in danger !

If there are fireplace pits or even fire boxes at a campsite, use those, or bring a portable fire pit like a LavaBox or a Solo Stove . In case camping in the backcountry plus making a fire, look for an existing, well-established fire circle to use or make one with stones. After finishing with the fire, use water to put out all embers. After it cools down break down the fire ring, tossing the rocks and any wood remains away. Disperse cold ash and cover the areas with natural debris (dirt, leaves, twigs, etc . ) to minimize the chance that someone else uses the same area for a fire ring in the future. ( Leave No Trace has some great information about proper backcountry fire management. )

Sparking fire starters are things like lighters, matches or ferro rods. They typically involve using the friction and a chemical reaction between two surfaces to create a spark and/or flame that is used ignite the rest of the material in a fire. Ferro rods are usually made of a soft metal alloy of magnesium (which is highly flammable and reactive) and iron.

Tinder fire starters are a bit different and encompass a wider variety of materials. They’re designed to take the initial spark and create sustained flame, allowing any kind of damp wood in a fire to dry a little before catching aflame, or heating briquettes enough to catch aflame.

Tinder fire starters can include everything from paraffin wax on cotton or sawdust to dried slivers of castoff wood. There are also some novel materials out there that can substitute as a tinder fire starter, including steel wool.

When considering a fire starter, think about how you’re going to use it. If you’re looking for a fire starter for backyard grilling and car camping space and weight aren’t much of an issue, you can use something a bit heavier and more cumbersome, like a box of fatwood sticks.

If you’re going to the backcountry, you’ll want a light, compact, controllable fire starter. Ideally, its packaging should be bright, so it’s easy to see even in low-light situations. It should also be easy to use and reliable, even when wet.

How We Selected

I’ve had a Promethean love of fire since I first felt its heat and enjoyed the mesmerizing dance of its orange tongues of flame. I’ve started fires by doing everything from lighting powdered creamer packets to rubbing sticks together. I looked at a variety of different fire starters (both spark and tinder), used my personal experience, and scoured countless reviews to bring you the products you’ll find below, all of which have average user ratings of 4 out of 5 stars or higher.

For more great ways to get a fire going in your backyard, check out our picks for the best wood fire pits , portable open fire pits , and fire pit tables .


Best Overall

Fire Lite Fuel-Free Lighter

Key Specs

Weight 1 . 8 ounces
Fire Starter Type Spark
Best For Backpacking/backcountry


Best-Looking Ferro Rod Striker

Zünden Fire Starter


Key Specs

Weight 1 . 7 ounces
Open fire Starter Type Spark
Best For Backpacking/backcountry


Best Match

Titan Stormproof Match Kit


Now 32% off

Key Specs

Weight 2 . 9 ounces
Fire Starter Type Spark
Best For Backpacking/backcountry


Best One-Handed Ferro Fireplace Starter

Sparkie Fire Starter


Now 14% off

Key Specs

Weight 1 ounce
Fire Beginner Type Spark
Best For Backpacking/backcountry


Most Cost-Effective Fire Starter

Magesium Fire Starter

Key Specs

Weight 1 . 6 ounces
Fire Starter Type Spark
Best For Backpacking/backcountry


Best Long-Lasting Tinder

All Natural Fire Starters

Superior Trading Co.

Now 21% off

Key Specs

Weight 2 pounds, 3 oz .
Fire Beginner Type Tinder
Best For Backyard/car camping


Most Unique Fire Starter

PYRO Putty

Phone Skope

Right now 17% off

Key Specifications

Bodyweight 2 ounces
Fire Starter Type Tinder
Best For Backpacking/backcountry/backyard


Best All-Natural Fire Starter

Eco-Stix Fatwood Fire Beginner Kindling Firewood Sticks


Key Specs

Weight 2 pounds
Fire Starter Type Tinder
Best For Backyard/car camping


Greatest Fire Starting Rope

Open fire Starter Rope

Black Beard Fire Starter

Key Specs

Weight 2 ounces
Fire Starter Type Tinder
Best For Backyard/car camping/backpacking

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