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Q:

The Best Fire Starters: SE 2" X 3/16" Flint/Fire Starter w/ Lanyard

What should I bring as an emergency fire starter on my next camping trip?

    Photo: Bob Parks

A:To judge the difference between the premium Swedish fire starter and an inexpensive version from China, I picked up the $3 SE 2" X 3/16" Flint/Fire Starter. Though “flint” is a misnomer, the SE Flint/Fire Starter uses a two-inch piece of steel with a serrated edge to allow you to scrape off magnesium and generate sparks to ignite them along with your tinder.

Both the Swedish and Chinese version created large sparks. Light My Fire contends that their magnesium rod generates sparks of 5,400 degrees Fahrenheit, and I suspect the Chinese tool does the same. Both are completely waterproof: I dunked them, and they both worked fine after I patted them dry with the edge of my shirt. The Swedish version claims to be good for 3,000 ordinary strikes, and the Chinese version, though it has a smaller diameter, seems good for many hundreds of strikes. (Swedish manufacturer Light My Fire sells replacement rods, so you’re covered when the FireKnife runs out.)

The only difference was ergonomics. If you’re going to create a fire on a rainy day, you need to grip the fire rod and steel firmly. Nothing is more comfortable than the grippy rubber handle on the FireKnife. And its magnesium rod has large indents to hold with your fingers. In an emergency, the FireKnife would be the easiest to handle and manipulate with cold hands.

CAVEAT: I have to admit—though it breaks the verisimilitude of my rainy day fire starting story—that I brought professional welding goggles in the woods with me. Two hours of looking at magnesium sparks with its attendant UV light waves would have likely damaged my eyes, but the goggles kept the experiment safe. One thing to keep in mind if you ever do end up using fire starting tools: enjoy the warm fire, but don’t look too closely at the sparks!

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