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|Top Pick: UST Strikeforce
|Best One-handed Starter: UST Blastmatch
|Best Sparker: Überleben Zünden
|Best Value: Survival Spark Magnesium Survival Fire Starter
|Gerber Bear Grylls Fire Starter
|Light My Fire Swedish FireSteel 2.0
|Exotac nanoSTRIKER XL
|Coghlan’s Waterproof Flint Striker
Much to Smokey the Bear’s chagrin, we lit a lot of stuff on fire this week. But don’t worry, it was all Leave No Trace-friendly.
We field tested 10 of the best fire starters and judged them on their ease of use, compactness, and the size and strength of their spark. We found the UST Strikeforce to be the best overall for its reliability and ease of use, though good options abound.
Top Pick: UST Strikeforce
The UST Strikeforce is the bulkiest and one of the heaviest starters we tested. So why is it our Top Pick?
Though it’s certainly not for ultralighters, the Strikeforce is incredibly easy to use and makes great use of space.
Unmatched reliability aside, the flint-based starter is housed in a durable waterproof case. The case doubles as a handy storage compartment for tinder and comes with a lanyard as well.
Though it’s flint-based, the length and width of the rod makes for lots of big, happy sparks that ensure a quick switch fire. The fires we lit with the Strikeforce were consistently instantaneous, making this a great tool for both beginners and emergency situations.
Best One-handed Starter: UST Blastmatch
“Why,” I snorted, “are these one-handed things so popular? Are people really this short on hands?”
Then I thought back to the infamous Aron Ralston, the author and firsthand experiencer of 127 Hours and shrugged. Yeah, I bet Ralston would have liked a good one-handed fire starter.
If you’d also like a good one-handed fire starter, look no further than the UST Blastmatch. It’s the best of its kind.
The Blastmatch is extremely effective, comfortable and easy to use. It does not require a hard surface to work. Just find yourself a heavy log, build your tinder and plunge right into your future fire den for a quick and easy heat machine. It also folds back onto itself for easy, waterproof storage. Handy and simple enough.
Best Sparker: Überleben Zünden
Oh, man! This baby lights up like a Christmas tree.
The Überleben is slick-looking, with its natural, handcrafted handle and ferrocerium rod. Without being a chemist, this fire starter convinced me that ferrocerium can vary widely in quality, and the ferrocerium in this rod is top notch.
Of the ten fire starters we tested, four rods claimed to be made of ferrocerium. Three didn’t light up so well. The Überleben on the other hand sent some of the longest, brightest and most consistent sparks, despite being comparative in size to the smaller Sparkforce, Bear Grylls, and Light My Fire fire starters.
The brand claimed to produce a “molten metal shower of sparks,” and it delivered.
The Überleben is also a multi-tool of sorts, coming with a bottle opener, hex wrench, map scale, ruler, and both scraper and serrated edge for sparking. Not to mention that the lanyard is long enough that you can wear it as a necklace, which is kinda fun. Of all the starters that included accessories like this, this one was my favorite.
Best Value: Survival Spark Magnesium Survival Fire Starter
The Survival Spark is a small, multi-tool of a fire starter with some extra handy gadgets to go along with it.
It lights up well and works exactly as promised — all at a fraction of the price of most of the others. With the added compass and whistle, this is a well-priced addition to any emergency bag.
The only claim that really makes me snort is that this fire starter is “windproof.”
To get a good crackle going on a magnesium starter, you must carve off a bit of the outer coating and make a pile of shavings. Magnesium shavings are obviously lighter than a feather and can blow away with the slightest waft of your hand. It is not easy to use under windy conditions, but then again no striking fire starter really is.
Reviews of the 6 Other Fire Starters We Tested
There are very few things I dislike about the UST Sparkforce, Bear Grylls, and Light My Fire fire starters. They just didn’t match up to the competition. That being said, the problems I have with the nanoSTRIKER, Sparkie, and Coghlan’s are definite dealbreakers.
The UST Sparkforce is a mini version of our Top Pick, the Strikeforce. It’s effective and while the boxy design is far from ergonomic, you won’t be using it long enough to notice.
This is a quick strike starter, able to light fires just as fast as its big brother. Like the Strikeforce, the detachable cap can store a bit of tinder and the case itself locks up for easy pocketability.
While it doesn’t have any versatile gadgets to go along with it, at 1 oz, this would make for a simple, lightweight edition to your backpack.
You may expect a celebrity-endorsed product to fall short when pitted against the big dogs, but TV survivalist Bear Grylls has put his money where his mouth is with this easy to use, beginner-friendly rod and striker.
The sides have been painted with helpful distress graphics in case of emergency and the rubber handle makes it easy to hold in your hand — an ideal feature for the practicing survivalist. The rod is made of ferrocerium and produces a hearty dose of sparks when used correctly.
I’d recommend this starter for beginners or as a holiday gift for the camper who already owns everything.
One of the only fire starters to boast ergonomics as its elevating trait admittedly isn’t the most comfortable to hold.
Still, the FireSteel, with its ferrocerium rod and steel striker, is in the mid-quality range. Though I can’t attest to it, the FireSteel claims to last through 12,000 strikes. That’s 4,000 more than the Bear Grylls fire starter, which may be plausible given its longer rod.
If you’re having a hard time deciding between the Bear Grylls and the FireSteel, given their similarities in every way, including price, consider that the FireSteel may live a longer life. Plus, it comes with a whistle.
The ultimate keychain companion, the nanoSTRIKER. It’s tiny size makes it an easy addition to your pocket, for those in-a-pinch situations.
But its high price point is definitely something to guffaw at, especially since small size equates to difficult usability and a shorter lifespan. Surprisingly, despite its size, it’s not even the lightest striker we tested.
While the nanoSTRIKER is cute and ultimately does make sparks fly, unless you’re looking for a base for your car keys or a good gift for a survivalist aficionado, I don’t recommend it.
Picture the UST Blastmatch. Now remove all the unnecessary weight, gut it and make it as light as possible without entirely obliterating functionality.
You now have the UST Sparkie.
Although the Blastmatch is a much better fire starter than the Sparkie because of its size and the length of its rod. The Sparkie is a one-handed wonder that requires either a) hard surface or b) two hands.
I get the concept and I’m exceptionally impressed by the 0.8 oz weight, but the ease of use and functionality fell short on this one and I can’t recommend it. I’d much prefer a simple two piece striker.
I don’t recommend this striker to anyone, unless you’re on a budget and this is the cheapest option you can find.
Technically it does work, but the Coghlan’s Flint Striker is small and difficult to wield. I had to really dig into the outer coating to even get an initial spark, with something like 20 of the first strikes not producing anything.
That being said, once it was broken in a bit, it did seem to work better. The strike takes a bit of finesse, best maneuvered more as a switch than a striking motion. Compared to all the other dummy-proof strikers, I had the hardest time with this one.
How to Choose the Best Fire Starter for Your Needs
When choosing a fire starter, consider first your skill level, how and why you intend to use it and the general specs and makeup of your various options.
You may be reading this article because you want to buy your very first fire starter. If so, you want something beginner friendly that you can practice on for long periods of time and that is really reliable. That’s why the Strikeforce won out in our tests. It is easy to use and effective, no matter your skill level.
If you’re a man (or woman) after my own heart and really just want to shave down weight and size, go for the small stuff. The sheer thought of the 3.7 oz Strikeforce, however reliable it may be, may make you shutter. Instead, you could opt for the nanoSTRIKER or wear the Überleben as a necklace just to shave weight off your pack.
Though if you’re really going lightweight, do you even need a striker? or will you just use the fuel from your Jetboil for an emergency light?
If emergency situations, rather than weight, are your primary concern, get something that will really perform during panic mode. That 0.8 oz striker sounds nice for now, but won’t be as easy to handle under pressure. Under these circumstances, prescribe to ‘better safe than sorry‘ and go for the reliability.
Magnesium vs. Flint vs. Ferrocerium
A quick lesson:
Ferrocerium is a pyrophoric alloy containing metals that include iron, magnesium, lanthanum and cerium. It’s a firecracker on a stick.
Comparatively, flint and steel starters will naturally send fewer and smaller sparks.
Magnesium requires a pile of shavings to really get a light, which can be difficult to near impossible in windy conditions.
Consider that of the ten starters we tested, the top four use three different materials. In short, any materials will work. Don’t get intimidated or impressed by the specs. Just because ferrocerium lights brighter doesn’t always mean that it is a higher quality starter.
A good deal of design goes into making a quality striker as well. Take into consideration the size and comfort of the handle and the length and thickness of the rod.
How We Tested
Cotton balls, alcohol, and ferrocerium make for a pyromaniac’s dream. We put these fire starters to the test with rigorous, repetitive use and carry.
Cotton Ball Test
First thing first, let’s make sure these babies actually work. What better way to ensure a flame than to dose a cotton ball with alcohol? This quick and ease way to identify how each starter handles allowed us to get a good feel for their ease of use and functionality.
Along with this, we did a preliminary gauge and comparison of the spark production. How big, bright and far do sparks fly from each strike rod?
As we’ve mentioned, ferrocerium is a sparkler of an alloy that produces firework-quality shavings. Magnesium creates shavings in the same way but with less spark. Flint works entirely differently.
When apt, we built up shaving piles to create and judge firecracker displays. We set the sparks to tinder and determined how various types handled our flames.
Every Day Carry (EDC) Test
I am a backpacker first, so EDC is important to me. How practical is it to lug a bulky or heavy fire starter around? Depending on your needs, probably not very.
We spent time lugging around each of the fire starters, tucking them in various bags, clipping them to keychains, living with them like we would a potential new pet.
You’d be surprised how much this can matter. You may adore that 8″ dream starter at first use, but once your thru-hiking pack is swollen with other gear and it’s the last piece to cram in, your thoughts change very quickly.