Best Survival Fire Starters to Use During an Emergency

Being able to start a fire during emergency situations where electricity and gas are unavailable can be the difference between life and death. Having a survival fire starter on hand takes much of that concern out of the equation.

Survival fire starters can be made from natural materials like wood matches and cotton, or man-made materials like metal. The best survival fire starters are ones that can be used repeatedly and under a wide range of environmental conditions.

With so many versions of this essential piece of survival equipment available, knowing the benefits and drawbacks of each type of fire starter will help you choose the right one for you. Keep reading to learn more about survival fire starters.

Wood Friction Survival Fire Starters

This type of fire starter is the oldest and simplest on this list. Tools like fire plows, fire saws, and bow drills are all wood friction fire starters. These types of tools are the most primitive forms of man-made fire starters and use friction to create a spark that will ignite the tinder.

If you’re looking for a wood friction fire starter that is easy to use, the bow drill is a good choice. This fire starter consists of a bow, drill, and socket. The bow is used to create friction on the drill, which in turn creates a spark that ignites the tinder.

If you’re experienced with wood friction tools, the fire saw is another good and more advanced option. This tool consists of a blade and a saw frame. The blade is used to create friction on the wood, which in turn creates a spark that ignites the tinder.

Wood friction fire starters are very reliable in dry environments and can be a good option for a survival fire starter because they can be made from natural materials found in the wilderness. However, they can be difficult to use in wet conditions and require time and patience to create a flame.

Flint and Steel Fire Starters

Another type of fire starter that dates back to the Iron Age is flint and steel. This type of fire starter uses a piece of flint that is struck by steel to create a spark that will ignite the tinder.

More modern versions of this type of fire starter will use ferrocerium alloy instead of flint. This alloy is a man-made material that creates easier and longer burning sparks when struck with a steel blade than flint does.

Flint and steel fire starters are very reliable in most conditions, which makes them a great option for a survival fire starter. They are also small and light, making them easy to carry around. However, traditional flint can be hard to master by an inexperienced person. For this reason, if you’re a survivalist beginner, look for strikers made of ferrocerium for an easier fire starting experience.

Slam Rod Fire Starters

This type of fire starter is also known as a fire piston or fire syringe. It’s made up of a thick-walled cylinder with a plunger on one end and a piston on the other. The plunger is used to push the piston into the cylinder, which in turn compresses the air inside to heat it to the ignition point. A spark is created that ignites the tinder.

Traditionally, slam rod fire starters were made of natural materials like wood, horn, or bamboo and used animal fat to create an airtight seal. However, more modern versions are made of metal like aluminum and use rubber seals to make them airtight.

Slam rod fire starters can be used in most conditions and are small and light, making them very packable. They have few moving parts, which makes them less likely to break. However, if the rubber seal on the piston breaks, the fire starter will not work. 

There is also some technique required to make the slam rod work, and it isn’t great for all types of tinder. For best results, use char cloth with this type of survival fire starter.

Magnifying Lens

All you need for this type of fire starter is a clear lens that’s made of glass, plastic, or even ice. For this technique, hold the lens close to the tinder and focus the sunlight onto a small area. The concentrated sunlight will then ignite the tinder.

This is one of the most reliable types of fire starters, as it can be used in almost any condition as long as the sun is out. But, it can be difficult to focus the sunlight enough to create a spark with just a lens. For this reason, it’s best to use this type of fire starter with tinder that is easy to ignite, like char cloth.

It’s also important to keep your climate in mind before relying on this type of fire starter. Some areas of the US get little sunlight during certain seasons, which makes magnifying lenses a poor choice for these areas.

Wooden Matches

Wooden matches are one of the most common and versatile fire starters.  They’ve been around for centuries, are very easy to use, and only require friction to ignite the chemical-coated head of the match.

This type of fire starter is great because most people have experience with matches in everyday life. However, using a match as a fire starter in a survival situation can require a bit more technique than everyday use does.

To use a wooden match as a survival fire starter, be sure to support the entire length of the match when striking to prevent it from breaking. Hold the match at a downward angle to allow the flame to climb up the wood of the match and cup your hand to shield the flame from wind or rain. 

The biggest downside to using wooden matches as fire starters is that they are very susceptible to moisture and extinguish easily when wet. They’re also single-use, so a box of matches only goes so far. They also require tinder that burns quickly since matches burn out fast.

To get the most out of your wooden matches in a survival situation, buy strike-anywhere matches that don’t require a special striking surface and carry them in a waterproof pouch.


Lighters are a common type of fire starter that most people are familiar with. They use fuel such as butane to create a flame.

They’re easy to use, very portable, and can create a strong flame for starting fires. Since they require no skill to use, they can be a good option for beginners.

However, lighters have a lot of moving parts that can be prone to failure. They can also run out of fuel quickly and are often difficult to refill in a survival situation. They’re also susceptible to moisture, which can make them difficult to use or even completely useless in wet conditions.

If you choose to use a lighter as a fire starter, be sure to carry multiple with you and keep them in a waterproof pouch.

Pitch as a Survival Fire Starter

Pitch is a natural substance made of sap from pine trees and can be easily ignited.

This type of fire starter is an accelerant. This means you’ll need a source for the initial flame, like a match. However, once the fire is started, the pitch will burn long and hot, helping you create a large fire.

To find pitch, look for live pine trees with broken branches or old wounds. These wounds will leak sap that eventually hardens and becomes pitch.

This natural material works in wet and cold conditions, and it’s free and easy to find if you’re in an area with a lot of pine trees.

One downside to pitch is that it’s very messy and sticky, which makes it hard to pack around. It also can take a long time to ignite, so be prepared to go through a few matches or lighter fluid while you wait.

Gauze and Hand Sanitizer

If you’re ever caught off guard in a survival situation and don’t have any other type of fire starter accelerant, you can pull out your first aid kit to make a fire starter out of gauze and hand sanitizer.

Since hand sanitizer is mostly alcohol, it burns very easily and can be used to ignite gauze. Gauze is a good tinder because it burns slowly and steadily like a wick and can keep the flame alive long enough to create a fire.

To use this method, simply saturate a piece of gauze in hand sanitizer and ignite it.

The downside to this method is that it requires the help of an outside flame like a match. It also doesn’t hold up to moisture well. But if you throw a few matches in your first aid kit, you will always have this option in a pinch.

Cotton Balls and Petroleum Jelly

This fire starter is similar to gauze and hand sanitizer, but better because it’s moisture resistant and burns for a while. This method is cheap and easy, requiring only a bag of cotton balls and petroleum jelly.

For this method to be the most effective, you’ll want to plan ahead and melt the petroleum jelly before soaking the cotton balls in it to absorb as much petroleum jelly as possible. Once they dry, you can pull a couple of threads out of the cotton that will act as a wick, then ignite it.

Like the two previous methods, you do need an outside source of flame like a match for this survival fire starter accelerant. But once lit, these cotton balls can burn steadily for up to 20 minutes, even in the rain. To avoid making a mess with the petroleum jelly, be sure to store these fire starters in a sealed plastic bag. 


What are fire starters made of?

Most basic fire starters are made of a material that will create sparks when struck against a hard surface. The most common materials used are ferrocerium and flint which can be struck by steel.

Ferrocerium is a man-made material that consists of small steel particles embedded in a ceramic matrix. When it is scraped with a striker, it creates sparks that can easily ignite a tinder bundle.

Flint is an ancient material that has been used to start fires for centuries. It is a type of rock that contains silicon and oxygen. When it is struck against steel, it creates sparks, similar to ferrocerium.

Other fire starters are designed to be lit externally and then used to ignite a tinder bundle. These fire starters can be made of materials like gauze, cotton, petroleum jelly, wax, or even animal fat.

What Is The Best Kind Of Survival Fire Starter For Wet Weather?

The best kind of fire starter for wet weather is one that is not only moisture resistant but also burns for a long time. If you’re dealing with a lot of rain and can’t find cover, you need something that will burn steadily because the wood and tinder will be wet and take a while to light.

One of the cheapest and best moisture-resistant fire starters that we talked about in this article is cotton balls and petroleum jelly. Cotton balls are very absorbent and will soak up petroleum jelly easily. This will make them both super waterproof and flammable.

Make sure to store these fire starters along with matches or a lighter in a waterproof container so they’ll be close together when you need them.

What Is The Best Kind Of Survival Fire Starter For Cold Weather?

When you’re dealing with freezing temperatures, it’s important to get a fire going fast to prevent hypothermia. So, the best kind of fire starter for cold weather is one that will create a lot of sparks. This will help to ignite the tinder bundle quickly and create a fire.

One of the best fire starters for cold weather is a ferrocerium rod. This material will create a lot of sparks quickly and is very easy to use for most people.

If you’re looking for a fire starter that will be able to withstand most conditions no matter how wet, windy, or cold, cotton balls soaked in petroleum jelly are your best bet when combined with a ferrocerium rod.