Fire Starter Options and Backups

If you’re like me, you like to have a back-up and then a back-up back-up. Every method of starting fires has their pros and cons. Let’s look at a few things to think about when you’re worried about starting a fire.

Magnesium Scraper

These work well, but you have to use more magnesium to get your fire started than most people think you do. These can work even when they’re wet. While the bars are small and easily portable, they will wear out fairly quickly and then what will you use?

Flint and Steel

Starting a fire with a flint (an actual piece of flint rock) and a steel takes practice. The good thing about this is that the flint lasts a long time provided you get a good sized chunk of it. The steel should last a long time too.


Yes, there are people out there who can make fire this way, but I’m not one of them. I don’t mind trying it out during the Mountain Man demonstrations just for fun, but I’m not going to rely on this method in a survival situation. If you do, great. Not for me.

Fire Pistons

I ordered one of the fire pistons from Rose Mountain Fire Pistons (looks like their website is messed up now) after reading an article in some outdoor magazine several years ago about how reliable and easy to use they were. Well, I’d say they are reliable, but again, using this method takes practice. The videos of the guy who makes them show him getting a healthy spark from just one plunge of the piston. It doesn’t work that well for me.

Here’s what these are…there are several brand and makers of these fire pistons but I chose this company because it’s a good price and it’s handmade. The woodwork is beautiful and it’s a nice piece that I admire. They work by putting a piece of tinder (char cloth is recommended) in the special holder tip and then you rapidly plunge a piston down to super heat and compress air. That causes the char cloth to catch fire. You tip the spark out of the piston and into your tinder pile. You are supposed to lightly lubricate the piston before using so it glides smoothly. I figure a small container of petroleum jelly would last a good long while and if I ran out of that, why I’d just use squirrel fat or something.

I get frustrated with it because it takes me a lot of tries, but I do eventually get a spark. I kind of consider this my back-up back-up, because I know that as long as I have some easily flammable material that I can stuff in the end of the piston and a pile of dry tinder, I should be able to use this thing for a long time.


I keep a few lighters here and there around the house and in the car because I think that’s the easiest way to get a fire started. If you keep lighters in your bug-out bag, place a few in a waterproof bag. The nice thing about lighters is that they are cheap and lightweight. But the cheap ones break. They don’t work well when it’s windy. And if they get wet, forget about it.

What do all of these fire starter methods all rely on? Dry tinder! It doesn’t matter how many matches you have, if everything you’re trying to burn is wet, you’re not going to get a fire. Ensure your success by gathering materials that will almost guarantee that you can get a fire started. Now that the weather is warming up, make it a point to go out and stock up on moss, bark, grass, and whatever else you can stockpile. Keep it in an Altoid tin or an actual tinder safe in a dry bag. Some alcohol gel could also be a good thing to have too.


Yes! I took a chemistry class in college and we each burned Cheetos to measure how much heat came off of them and into water we were trying to boil. I had never thought much at that point about emergency preparedness or survival gear but the site of that single Cheetoh burning for almost two minutes straight stuck with me.

These things are made of so much oil that they actually burn easily and stay lit. Consider stashing a bag of them in your kit or in the glove box. It doesn’t matter if they’re stale or not. They burn and they burn well.

Steel Wool

Get the finest grade of steel wool you can and use that as your tinder. It goes up almost immediately. Keep a 9 volt battery around and touch both poles of it with the steel wool and you have an instant inferno.