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Light My Fire – Fire Steel

Light my Fire - Fire Steel

Every backpacker or hiker should carry a fire steel with them in their emergency gear repair kit. For just $8, this is one emergency preparedness and survival tool that you shouldn't be without.

If you're not familiar with fire steels, they consist of two components a metal striker and a magnesium rod. When the striker is scratched along the magnesium, it throws off sparks, regardless of whether it is wet or dry, making it a very effective way to light tinder or stove gas without matches or a butane lighter.

I've carried a fire steel in my emergency kit for years, but never used it until last weekend when I discovered that I didn't have a way to light my stove on a long backpacking trip.

The canister stove that I use has a piezo sparker built into it, but it broke down after two years of hard use. When I discovered this, I went rummaging in my gear repair kit for matches, but found that I didn't have any! I did however have a fire steel and used it to light my stove gas for the rest of the trip.

Although you should be able to use a fire steel right out of the box, it helps to practice using it to light tinder, denatured alcohol, isobutane canister gas, or white gas at home before you need to light these in the backcountry: you don't singe your eyebrows by venting too much gas before you create your spark.

Based on my experience using a fire steel on this last trip, I'll never bother with matches ever again!

Weight: 1.0 oz, includes magnesium rod, metal striker, elastic cord

Expected Lifetime:  3,000 strikes or more

Range: Works wet and at any altitutde

Certifications: Approved for use by the International Survival Instructors Association

Disclosure: The author owns this product and purchased it using their own funds.

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21 comments

  1. Well, yes … but having used firesteels extensively, they are not quite as foolproof as you make them sound. To be able to use them effectively you will need to practice. Sure, lighting a stove is a no-brainer with anything that provides a spark (e.g. empty lighter). But a firesteel and many tinders, especially natural ones are a different story. Many tinders that you would light very easily using a lighter or a match are much harder to ignite using a firesteel without practicing quite a bit first to get the technique right. I love firesteels, and it's true that they work in any condition. But should you really be in dire need for a fire, you don't want to use them for the first time. A small 2-inch bic lighter is still more effective in most cases …

  2. My brother and I used a fire steel to start our cooking fire the last time we were out on the trail. We did it mostly to see how tricky it would be to use, and as promised, it worked wonderfully.

    The shower of sparks, plus the dry tinder we were fortunate enough to have, made it a no brainer.

  3. To save a little weight I carry the Firesteel Mini and use the back edge of the small knife I carry to create sparks rather than carry the supplied metal striker. I tried relying on this set-up on a three-week section hike to light the gas stove I brought–I've always had mixed luck with piezo starters–but purchased a small disposable lighter after a week. I found the Firesteel a great backup but it was really much easier to use a lighter, especially if there was any wind. With the Firesteel and lighter I see no need to bring matches.

  4. Love these. It has become my primary fire starting tool… it has moved from the emergency kit to my main cook kit.

  5. I'm with you on this. The sparking sticks (I think its zirconium not magnesium) are really much more useful than matches. Outside of lighting stoves, I've used cotton balls (real cotton NOT polyester) that have been macerated with petroleum jelly, hand sanitizer, very dry grass, cat-tail fluff, and (in the glorious south – doesn't work up north) shredded pine needles.

    One of my favorite scouting demos is to dunk the sparking stick and a petroleum jelly macerated cotton ball in water and then light a fire.

    Practically speaking, it has made life a lot more comfortable on canoe trips where everything is damp (or worse).

  6. Gasp. You got a piezo stove even though you had a fire steel!

  7. I've used one of these for years. They are light and always work regardless of the weather. The Piezo igniter on most stoves is terrible but this item always works. Everyone should carry one!

  8. Hello, I believe the striker is not made out of magnesium, as this is often a fuel used along with a firesteel. Fire Steels are normally composed of a ferrocerium rod, which is commonly called flint nowadays, even though it differs from actual flint. Further Reading: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ferrocerium

  9. I use one of these to light my trangia stove. Just aim it at the pool of alcohol and let 'er rip. Kinda spooks other campers though – the shower of sparks followed by the POOF of the stove catching.

    Closest thing I have to bringing fireworks with me on the trail :-)

  10. In winter, meths can be hard to light with a spark as it doesn't vapourise much. I put in a wick made from TP and aim the sparks at the paper. Those who insist on using stones and snow balls might find this technique less easy.

    Hammaro paper usually lights and will set off other fuels, even damp birch twigs if you are patient.

  11. The thing will rust away pretty badly if you get a little water in your emergency kit. I replaced mine with a saran-wrapped mini-bic and keep another bic for regular use.

  12. Jeff – I believe you are correct. It is a magnesium alloy, but only 2-4% magnesium.

  13. I know it isn't LNT but where it is legal, I enjoy a campfire.

    So I think a write-up on fire building is a logical companion to this one.

    Prep is first – gathering of fire steel, tinder, kindling, a bucketful of twigs, an armful of sticks, a handful of branches, and a couple of logs. Also something handy to fan the flames. I do this prep b/c I don't want to have to leave the fire unattended while I am searching for more fuel.

    I know many use a tee-pee shape, but I like a lincoln log chimney of twigs and sticks with some kindling in the middle.

    With my fire steel, I use dryer lint as the tinder to catch the sparks and use pine needles or white birch bark as kindling. I keep extra dryer lint handy to feed that initial flame until the kindling starts to burn.

    I find the toughest step is from the kindling to the twigs; once I have the twigs burning well, the rest seems easy. I think it helps to slowly add twigs by leaning them on the inside of the chimney.

    Dry lint is pretty good but I want to try other tinders. I am thinking of trying vaseline soaked cotton balls as tinder. I also found instructions on the web to make char cloth from denim or 100% cotton clothing. For an alternate kindling, I have seen fat wood advertised and want to try that.

    I bring a 21" sven saw for cutting logs from dead wood and a full tang, 1/8" thk, fixed blade knife for battoning.

    In the winter, I build the fire pit as a three sided box of small dia logs with a pit floor of small dia logs as well. This acts as a reflector to direct the heat at you. Learned this from wintercampers.com.

  14. The trick with vaseline & cotton balls is to pull them apart so the fibers are visible so that it can catch the spark. Char cloth is good for catching sparks but a bit tetchy to get into a flame (it's fun with a piston fire starter) – you need to have a small bundle of something else that will burn quickly to put it in.

  15. I use a magnesium block for my fire starter. I also carry some drier lint and I have some pieces of a larger sawdust and wax fire starter that puts off a good flame.

    I use my magnesium block every time I camp out. I do this to keep my fire starting skills sharp. In fact I can't remember the last time I used a lighter or matches to start a campfire.

  16. Pat,

    How much Mg do you shave off the block? Do you do that at home or on the trail?

    I carry one for a few years and finally broke it out on a cold December afternoon. It was pretty time consuming to make a quarter size pile and I lost a bit to the wind.

    I was so frustrated that I threw the whole thing in the fire pit. When it did ignite the block added a nice green color to the flame.

    I am an easy target for all those little things next to the counter. Ohh shiny…

  17. I try to do the recommended quarter that the instructions say but I don't always do that. If I have good tinder, even some lint from the drier on some dry leaves or pine needles works well. If I put the shavings on the lint or the wood and wax mix I talked about earlier I don't need as many shavings. They say quarter sized but I usually use dime or nickel sized.

    I use a light knife just for the block. That way I don't dull my good knife. I make the shavings in the field. I never do it at home and I always use the striker to light it. My friends and I will even practice doing this at home to keep our skills sharp. We even wait for ti to rain or snow and then do it at home to practice in bad weather. I've used it in some bad weather but I can't recall the wind blowing any shavings away. But at that point in the fire making process I tend to keep everything sheltered so the wind doesn't blow out the first initial flame.

  18. The rods from firesteel.com look like they throw a much more impressive shower of sparks:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_XQQLt9lzlw

  19. I have to say that for the past couple of hours i have been hooked by the impressive posts on this blog. Keep up the great work.

  20. I’ve used the smallest Light My Fire and never did like it. Finally the flint fell out one day and it was impossible to find in the dirt. The two larger ones work much better, and put out a better spark.

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