Gear Guy

Matches become useless when soaked in the rain.     Photo: sergo1972/Flickr


What’s the Best Way to Start a Fire Without Matches?

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

A:Maybe you just want to test your bushcraft. Or maybe you've consumed too many episodes of Revolution on Hulu and are hoping to lead a band of impossibly attractive survivalists against the tyranny of a post-technology militia. Like some of us. Whatever the impulse, there are several cool tools that can help you build a fire without matches.

The classic methods assume you have no special equipment in an emergency situation. These approaches are either friction-based—bow and drill and fire plow—or light-focusing based, such as an ice lens. Other lens methods involve a magnifying glass, or the much-loved coke-can-and-chocolate-bar approach.

But let’s assume you actually packed a fire-starting device before heading out. Waterproof matches or a butane lighter are easiest to use, but you should also have an emergency backup in case these relatively fragile and easily consumed methods fail.

Frequently, people refer to all fire starters as a flint and steel kit. The truth is that the mineral flint and a piece of steel creates a puny spark that would be difficult to start a fire with. A better solution was invented by the Swedish Department of Defense and consists of a rod made from a mixture of iron, magnesium, and cerium, called a Swedish FireSteel, and it’s sold by Swedish company Light My Fire. It works in the rain and lasts for thousands of strikes.

When you scrape steel against flint, tiny shavings of the steel burn due to the friction. When you scrape steel against a FireSteel, chunks of the magnesium scrape off and are ignited by oxidizing minerals in the rod. The result is a mini pyrotechnics display in your fire circle.

To test this, I reviewed a $35 premium outdoor adventure knife with an onboard FireSteel as well as a $3 fire starter for the sake of comparison. To make things interesting, I cleared my schedule for two hours, walked deep into the woods in a pouring rainstorm, and tried to start a fire with these products. I’ll tell you how I made out after the jump.

Light My Fire Swedish FireKnife
SE 2" X 3/16" Flint/Fire Starter w/ Lanyard

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