The Light My Fire FireSteel (Army Model) is the most reliable way to light a backpacking or camping stove, fuel, or tinder that I’ve come across. I’ve been carrying one for the past 10 years since I section hiked Vermont’s Long Trail and had a disposable lighter jam so I couldn’t light my stove. It was a cold night and that event left a lasting impression on me. Never again.
While carrying a firesteel may strike you as antiquated, it really is the most reliable way to light a stove, stove fuel, or tinder that I’ve come across. It never (effectively speaking) runs out of sparks and never needs to resupplied, it will work when wet, in the freezing cold, and at any altitude. I’ve used mine to light every type of stove fuel you can imagine and carry it on every hike I take.
The Light My Fire FireSteel has two main components, a metal striker and the firesteel itself, which is a metal rod with a highly visible red plastic end to make it easy to hold. They’re connected by a cord that keeps them together and helps make them hard to misplace. If you carry a knife, you can also use that instead of the striker, but I keep them together out of convenience.
To use a firesteel, you simply scrape the metal striker (or knife) along the rod. This will generate a shower of sparks that you direct onto some kind of fuel or tinder. For example, if you want to light an MSR Pocket Rocket canister stove (which doesn’t have a built-in igniter), you’d turn on the gas and stroke the firesteel, directing the sparks into the gas. That will ignite the stove. It’s basically the same process with white gas and alcohol, although you aim the sparks for the fuel itself.
In order to light a solid fuel like Esbit or wood, I like to use cotton balls smeared with Vaseline as a tinder. I actually smear the Vaseline on when I use them, rather than beforehand because it makes them easier to resupply and less messy. I carry the Vaseline in a tiny tub so I can also use it as a skin lubricant to prevent or relieve chafing. It’s important to get real cotton cotton balls instead of polyester ones, which are far more difficult to ignite. The same holds for drying lint: it has to be cotton lint and not polyester lint. Before using the cotton balls, it’s important to pull them apart into a few fine wisps. This makes it easier to light.
The FireSteel rod is made with a proprietary magnesium alloy created by Light My Fire, but it’s probably not that different from the ferrocerium rods that are widely available in survival kits or bundled with Mora bushcraft knives. Light My Fire makes two models of FireSteels, the heavier Army Model (50 g; 12,000 strikes) which I use, and a lighter weight Scout Model (27 g; 3,000 strikes) I prefer the heavier model because it’s more robust when used with a bushcraft knife, which I carry occasionally. I’ve found that a knife wears down the Scout Model rather quickly, although it’s fine if you just use the striker key that it comes with. I think the difference in wear patterns is related to the sharpness of the blade and the pressure exerted by the knife, which is much more aggressive than the bundled strikers.
Firesteels work every time and I think they’re a great piece of kit to use.
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