We may earn revenue from the products available on this page and participate in affiliate programs. Learn more ›

When you need a flame to light a fire, you probably reach for a butane lighter or a pack of matches. That’s true whether you want to light a toasty fire in a family room fireplace, or an emergency fire deep in the Alaskan wilderness.

If you’re home and you’re out of paper matches or your lighter’s empty, you can run out to a convenience store for more, or wait until the next day. But if you’re in the middle of nowhere, and can’t make a fire to warm yourself or melt snow for drinking water because your matches are wet or your lighter is out of butane? You may die. That’s why emergency fire starters, which typically aren’t affected by water or wind and are sturdier than paper matches and butane lighters, are key elements of survival kits.

Note that just as important as a fire starter itself is fuel. If everything around you is wet, or doesn’t burn easily, you’ll need to have your own tinder to get your fire going. Here’s a look at some current choices of emergency fire starters and their advantages.

Instant Light

This product allows for over 16,000 strikes, in any climate. Swiss Safe

This device contains both magnesium, which is flammable and burns at 4,000 degrees, and ferrocerium, which produces a shower of sparks when struck by steel. To light a fire with a magnesium ferrocerium rod, first scrape pieces off of the rod onto your fire tinder. Then strike the rod with a steel to shower sparks onto those shavings, which ignite and light the tinder you’ve gathered or brought with you.

Long Burning

This product burns for around 25 seconds—and will even light when submerged. UCO

These often come packaged in a watertight case that has an integral striker. The matches are long, so each has in increased burn time compared to standard matches. Quality waterproof matches will also keep a flame even in strong wind. They’re easy to use, and provide a flame for a long time, though you’re limited by the number of matches you have with you.

High Tech

With a rechargeable battery, this product provides “fire,” of a sort, indefinitely. lcfun

These battery-operated lighters are waterproof and produce an arc of electricity that won’t blow out in wind. Like matches, they’re easy to use. The arc isn’t very large, so you’ll need to insert tinder into the space between the electrodes in order to start a fire, but it’s very hot.

Spark Creator

This product creates a huge stream of sparks, which can be used to alert others to your position—or scare them off. bayite

A ferro rod creates a shower of sparks when struck. Unlike a magnesium ferrocerium rod, there’s nothing to actually ignite, so you must gather tinder. But these do create a thick spread of sparks without much effort, and will do so for thousands of strikes. You can create sparks with your knife if the blade is carbon steel.