According to Greek mythology, the Titan Prometheus gave fire to mankind after stealing it from Mount Olympus. When Zeus found out, the thief was chained to a rock, where an eagle could feast on his liver every day for the rest of eternity.
Fortunately for us, fire is much easier to come by today. With the simple flick of a lighter or strike of a match, producing a flame is a breeze — even in the wilderness.
Anywhere you make it, a fire needs three elements: heat, combustible material and oxygen. These nine fire starters take care of those first two. All require a little more work than your Zippo, but since none are dependent on fuel, they’re more reliable in a dire situation. A fire can purify water, cook food, keep you warm, and scare away predators; to sum it up, having a fire starter on your person may help save your life.
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Five Common Types of Fire Starters
Ferro Rod: Short for Ferrocerium, ferro is a relatively soft metal alloy made, most often, with a combination of iron and magnesium. These types of fire starters need to be used with some kind of striker tool — usually, a piece of edged metal that is literally scraped quickly against the ferro rod — in order to create a shower of sparks, which limits their versatility somewhat and requires the use of two hands. However, the benefit is that they make some of the hottest, brightest sparks and are quite easy to start fires with.
Flint and Steel: When people think of fire starters, this is usually what they're imagining. Typically made up of two parts, a piece of steel and flint (a form of quartz), these types of starters are usually operated by physically striking the flint and steel together, which actually shaves off bits of the steel and ignites them. They can be durable, but the sparks aren't as powerful and, therefore, not as easy to start a fire with when compared to some of the other options. If using this option, make sure you have some kind of tinder beneath in order to properly start that fire.
Lighter: Undoubtedly the simplest fire-starting tool, lighters are modern inventions (at least compared to the rest of these common types) that are easy to use with one hand and are remarkably reliable... so long as they have fuel in them, usually in the form of ignition fluid (like butane) or even electricity. Obviously, that means they're limited by how much fuel they have and, especially with cheaper disposable versions, they don't always work in inclement weather — especially wind and rain.
Magnesium Block: Operating on roughly the same principle as ferro rods and flint-and-steel fire starters (meaning they're meant to be used with an additional striker or striking surface), this variety differs in that the magnesium typically comes in a rectangular format rather than a cylinder. The benefit to this is that it allows for a lot more surface area, meaning you can create a huge amount of sparks. The downside to these is that they can be a bit more unwieldy than their counterparts.
Matches: Typically made out of wood and tipped with a material or materials that can be easily stricken and ignited — usually on a sandpaper-like surface but strike-anywhere varieties can be used on a multitude of surfaces — these are amongst the most common and well-known fire starters around. However, they lack reusability; once you've used one, that's it. For fire-starting purposes, we recommend using a weatherproof variety, as non-weatherproof matches are essentially useless when exposed to even the smallest amount of moisture, but weatherproof ones can, in some cases, even be utilized in a torrential downpour.