Everyone and their uncle Bob knows that building a fire— and keeping one burning– is a major pillar of survival. Without a fire, you’d freeze to death, be unable to purify your water, cook your food, or protect yourself from the harsh environment.
As a prepper, it’s crucial to have more than one way to start a fire. Don’t get us wrong— BIC lighters are great, up until they run out of juice or encounter a heavy rain shower. When that time comes (and it most likely will), you’d better have a ferro rod fire starter in your kit.
Wait, What’s The Difference Between A Ferro Rod, Firesteel, and Flint and Steel?
Preppers and outdoorsmen use the terms firesteel or flint and steel interchangeably to describe a ferro rod. These are actually misnomers since (a.) ferro rods do not contain carbon steel and (b.) while ferro rods use friction to create fire, they’re entirely different from traditional flint and steel.
Let’s break down the difference:
A ferrocerium or ferro rod is an alloy made from a combination of elements like iron, cerium, lanthanum and small amounts of other rare earth metals like neodymium and praseodumium. These elements are known for their low ignition rates and pyrophoric properties, so they’re the perfect ingredients for a fire starter. A small amount of magnesium is sometimes added into the mix to create bigger and hotter sparks.
Using a ferro rod is pretty simple: you scrape off some shavings with a striker, the shavings burn as they come in contact with the air, they create sparks, sparks catch on some fine tinder and boom: you’ve got yourself a flame.
You’ll notice that ferro rods do not include carbon, so they technically can’t be called “fire steels”. The moniker has a nice ring to it, though. A Swedish brand actually adopted the term for their line of ferro rods and magnesium block fire starters.
Flint and steel are a different creature altogether. They’re like the ferro rod’s great-great-grandfather, the old dog of percussion firemaking. As the name suggests, flint and steel is a two-piece firestarting implement: you’ve got your carbon steel on one hand and on the other, you’ve got a hard rock like flint, chert or quartz to strike the steel and create sparks.
These fire starters were also called “firestrikers” because of the striking motion needed to create a spark, but that term has evolved to include modern ferro rods as well.
Two Is One, One Is None: Why Carry A Ferro Rod
Any self-respecting prepper or outdoorsman should carry a ferrocerium or ferro rod as redundancy for fire-building. Here are a few reasons why you should carry a ferro rod in your camping backpack or bugout bag:
Ferro rods are weatherproof
One of the best reasons why ferro rods are great for fire starting is that they’re basically impervious to bad weather. Unlike matches or lighters, ferro rods don’t get soggy when wet or fail to function when it’s too cold out. You can submerge them in water, or use them in wet or freezing conditions at any altitude and they’d still be good to use. Ferro rods do not need fuel, nor do they depend on air pressure to create sparks.
Things can get really hot
The average ferro rod is capable of producing sparks as hot as 3000 degrees Celsius. With the right technique, or when used with some magnesium shavings, you can ignite even the most stubborn tinder in no time.
Ferro rods last a long time
Ferro rods don’t last forever, but they can produce around 4,000-12,000 strikes and that’s kind of the same thing. The average outdoorsman or prepper can use a single ferro rod for years on end without needing to replace it. In contrast, lighters need fuel and a small piece of flint to create sparks, which can run out or wear out over time.
Since ferro rods are made from an alloy, they’re pretty durable and can withstand a lot of use and abuse. You can drop them, throw them, bang them around and all you’ll get is a scratch or two. You also don’t have to worry about breaks and leaks. Many ferro rods are also designed to have aluminum or plastic casings to reinforce durability.
Ferro rods are portable
Ferro rods take little space and don’t weigh much. You can carry one around in your bug out bag or EDC kit without a hitch. Some ferro rods are also designed to be small enough to be attached to a key ring or lanyard.
Things To Consider When Looking For A Ferro Rod Fire Starter
These days, ferro rods can come in all shapes and sizes. How do you know which one is the best for you? Here are some factors to consider when choosing a ferro rod:
Like any piece of gear, you have to determine when and where you’re using your ferro rod. Are you packing one for your bug out bag, in case you need to get out of dodge? Do you need one as a backup for when you’re hunkering down indoors? Or do you think you’ll need one for everyday carry? The gear’s purpose will ultimately determine all other factors along the way.
Material and Lifespan
As far as material goes, ferro rods can be divided into two categories: hard and soft. Hard ferro rods contain higher amounts of iron. They don’t produce as much sparks as softer ones and are harder to scrape off, but they do last longer.
Softer ferro rods, on the other hand, tend to produce big, bright sparks because of their higher magnesium content. They are cheaper, but they also wear out faster.
Size and Weight
Size and weight also play an important part when picking the right ferro rod. There are smaller ones that can be worn with a lanyard or put on a keyfob. These are lighter, but have smaller diameters, as well as strikers. You’ll need to use your fine motor skills to get nice, hot sparks from these types of ferro rods.
Bigger ferro rods can give you more strikes, and they’re easier to work with due to their larger surface area. You won’t need to fumble around with these bigger varieties, especially when it’s cold out. The downside is, of course, the weight. If you’re serious on weight savings, you might want to stick to small or medium sized ferro rods instead of the bigger ones.
Ease of Use and Ergonomics
Consider the ferro rod’s ergonomics and ease of use. Check out the handle--- it should fit well in your hand and have a comfortable grip. It should be easy to hold, even when you’re wearing gloves and of course, should be made from durable material (usually plastic, hardwood, fatwood or aluminum).
Ferro rods can also come with additional features like lanyards made from a length of 550 paracord, emergency whistles, tinder compartments, fatwood handles or accompanying magnesium blocks. Consider your need for these features and your skill level before choosing.
Last but not least, there’s the price. Ferro rods are generally affordable at around $10-$15 on average, but there are some brands that go beyond the $20 mark due to additional features. Softer ferro rods also tend to be cheaper, while the harder ones fetch for a heftier price tag.
What Are The Best Ferro Rod Fire Starters In The Market Today?
Gerber Bear Grylls Fire Starter
- Produces good sparks
- Rescue whistle is functional
- Has compartment for tinder
- Ferro rod is smaller than the others
We honestly didn't expect a lot from the Gerber Bear Grylls fire starter, but it surprisingly blew everyone out of the water with its capable ferro rod, ergonomic grip and extra features.
At first glance, the Gerber Bear Grylls fire starter looks like a kitschy piece of ripoff gear, but upon closer inspection, the opposite is actually true. Sure, it may have the "Bear Grylls" stamp of approval that most of us love to hate, but when you strip it down to functionality, this fire starter can undoubtedly deliver.
It's got a robust cylindrical body made of tough plastic. It’s obviously chunkier than most, but it does give a good grip. Printed all around the barrel are some basic distress signal tips like Morse code SOS, hand signals and alpine rescue signals. It also has a small handbook full of basic survival tips. You can obviously do without these printed tips and reminders if you're a seasoned prepper, but they're great to have in hand for newbies or weekend campers.
The ferro rod is smaller that what we’d like, but the striker makes up for it big time. It’s plenty capable of producing a lot of sparks, enough to ignite your tinder with just one strike. The grip is ergonomic, too. Unlike Light My Fire, Gerber’s lanyard has just the right length for you to pull back and strike that ferro rod.
Aside from the ferro rod’s solid performance, what we love that the Gerber Bear Grylls fire starter has a lot of small features that make up one reliable survival tool.
It has a hollow compartment for fire starters. Pop the cap open and you'll find a cotton ball fire starter stuffed inside. Small detail, but a great touch nonetheless. The firestarting kit also comes with a small rescue whistle that's capable of making a whole lot of noise--- something you’d want to have in case of emergencies.
All in all, the Gerber Bear Grylls fire starter doesn’t look like you should take it seriously, but it does its job pretty well--- and then some. The price point isn’t so bad, either. The ferro rod itself could have been bigger, but overall, we’ll begrudgingly admit that this one’s a great product.
- Extra-large ferro rod
- Comes with a 9-foot long paracord
- Produces large sparks
- Striker is small
- No handle
There's a couple of reasons why this giant fire starter is selling like pancakes on Amazon--- it's big, it's cheap and most of all, it works like a charm.
At first glance, the Bayite fire starter looks too good to be true. Seriously, a six-inch long ferro rod, with 9 feet of paracord?
Will this thing actually work, or will it be a flop?
Thankfully, we got positive results upon testing--- in the form of huge sparks. Once you scratch the protective layer off, the Bayite will easily give you a lot of hot sparks in a jiffy. You don't have to try very hard, either. The material on the Bayite is on the softer side thanks to the higher magnesium content, so the shavings come off quite easily. One stroke and you'd be able to light a good piece of tinder.
You don't have to worry about wearing your ferro rod too easily, either. You can strike it all you want and you'll only have scratched one side. While we don't know for sure if the Bayite will indeed yield 12,000 strikes as advertised, we are pretty positive that it will last you a long time based on the diameter of the ferro rod alone.
We just wish that they'd come up with a stronger striker, though. As it is, the striker on the Bayite is kind of on the small side and its plastic handle feels rather flimsy. We imagine it would be hard to properly grip it especially when it's cold or raining out. Thankfully, you can just use the back of your knife to remedy this situation.
The Bayite doesn't have a lot of bells and whistles, but it does have a nice, long length of paracord attached to it. It's done in a four strand crown braid out of the box to help you get a better grip of the ferro rod. When the going gets tough, you can easily deploy the paracord and use it to catch food, create shelter, administer first aid and do a bunch of other things.
All things considered, the Bayite firestarter is a robust, no-nonesense firemaking tool that's best suited for seasoned preppers who don't mind a bit of weight. It's the epitome of KISS--- keeping it simple, stupid. It might not have a lot of tricks up its proverbial sleeve, but it will keep you warm--- and alive when SHTF.
überleben Zünden Fire Starter
- Ergonomic handle
- Lightweight and minimalist
- Multipurpose striker
- High price point
Avid bushcrafters will love the überleben Zünden Fire Starter--- we know we did. With its ergonomic wooden handle, heavy-duty ferro rod and multipurpose striker, this made-in-Germany beauty checked all of our boxes and more.
This firestarter comes in three kinds: trad, pro and fatty. For this review, we got the trad variety, which has a ferro rod of about 0.7 centimeters in diameter.
The überleben trad is pretty light at only 1.7 ounces. It also has a very simple, straight-forward design, but don't be fooled: this firestarter's functionality is no joke. You get a ferro rod that can take up to a whopping 12,000 strikes, a hardwood handle that feels comfortable in the hand, a decent length of 550 paracord and a striker that also serves as a ruler, hex wrench, bottle opener, and map scale, plus a concave serrated edge.
This multipurpose striker is actually one of the best features of the überleben. Not only does it allow you to do other tasks like open bottles and tighten hex screws, but it also does a pretty darn good job of creating sparks. It's just the right size and has rounded edges for great grip.
Despite being thinner than most strikers, the uberleben's striker is solid and can take a beating. You won't have any trouble creating a shower of sparks, even if the uberleben's Sånft-kōrr™ ferro has a harder material than, say, the Bayite or Bear Grylls firestarters.
The concave serrated edge is a nice touch, too. You can use it to scrape magnesium shavings or create tinder from dry sticks and twigs.
The paracord is shorter than what we'd like it to be, but it's not a big deal. You can just switch that one out with a longer one.
All in all, the uberleben Zünden Fire Starter is a solid companion for most outdoorsmen, especially avid bushcrafters. The only downside to it, really, is it’s price point.
Light My Fire Swedish FireSteel 2.0
- Ergonomic handle and striker
- High price point
- Whistle hardly produces a sound
- Lanyard too short
Light My Fire is a pretty popular firestarter among many survivalists and outdoorsmen, but it's not without its faults. Let's get those out of the way before we proceed with the good stuff.
First, the accompanying whistle just doesn't cut it. It makes a sound, but just barely. It’s nowhere near the Gerber’s whistle. Good luck trying to attract a rescuer with it.
Next, its lanyard is way too short. Like the whistle, it functions, but just barely. It lets you pull the ferro rod back enough for the striker to hit it, but it literally comes up short, so you might want to change it with a longer length of 550 paracord.
Now that we got those gripes out of the way, let’s take a look at what we like about the LMF, starting with the ferro rod itself.
We love that for such a compact firestarter, it’s got a robust and chunky ferro rod. We love the material itself, too. LMF is known to have a harder alloy composed of iron, magnesium, lanthanum and cerium. Its sparks aren’t as huge as the Bayite, but you can rely on the LMF to keep producing sparks for much longer.
We especially like the handles on both the ferro rod and the striker. They’re designed to fit your thumbs well, so they’re quite ergonomic, even if the handles themselves are made from light plastic.
Overall, the LMF’s a good choice if you want a low-key minimalist firestriker with an ergonomic grip. We’re not big fans of its whistle and lanyard, though.
Exotac nanoSTRIKER XL Ferrocerium Fire Starter
- Lightweight and portable
- Aluminum casing is durable
- High price point
- Striker handle may be too small for most people
We had high expectations for the Exotac nanoSTRIKER XL. Unfortunately, this tiny firestriker failed to deliver in some key areas. Here’s what we found out:
At barely one ounce, the Exotac nanoSTRIKER XL is the lightest and smallest ferro rod in the bunch. It’s also only half an inch in diameter, so you can easily fit it in a key chain or your pocket. This feature makes the Exotac a hit among folks who want a small firestarter for EDC or ultralight backpacking.
On the flipside, this might not be the best choice if you have big hands or if you need something more substantial. The whole firestarter only clocks in at barely 4 inches, so there isn’t a lot to hold on to if you’ve got meaty paws. You can use some paracord to improve grip on the striker, but we’ve seen loads of firestarters with more ergonomic handles.
As far as design goes, the Exotac nanoSTRIKER has some pros and cons.
We really like the tough anodized aluminum casing that houses the ferro rod and striker. Each end of the casing is equipped with O-rings, making the Exotac practically waterproof. You can leave this little thing fully submerged and still use it without a hitch. We love the knurling on the Exotac's body, too. Since this firestriker's pretty thin, any feature that will enhance grip and dexterity is very much appreciated.
Now, for the not-so-great things, like the ferro rod itself. The entire firestriker is made to be compact, so the ferro rod is screwed onto its base. You can easily remove it as needed but this also means that the rod can get loose after some time.
We’re not big fans of its striker either. Unlike most regular ferro firestarters, the Exotac’s tungsten carbide striker is sharp, small and cube-shaped. You can easily lose it, if you’re not careful. Using it also takes a bit of practice (and a lot of fine motor skills!) to produce some decent sparks. Can you imagine trying to start a fire with the Exotac while wearing a pair of thick gloves during the winter? We can, and it ain’t peachy.
All in all, we think that the Exotac nanoSTRIKER XL is ideal for folks who don’t mind getting a smaller, lighter firestarter, like ultralight backpackers or those building an EDC kit. However, if you need something more robust with a cheaper price tag to boot, then you might want to look at the other ferro rods on this list.
UST BlastMatch Fire Starter
- Compact and portable
- Thick ferro rod
- Plastic casing and cover is flimsy
- Many moving parts
- One-hand operation is not smooth
Hand injuries are extremely common when you're out and about, so the folks at UST took it upon themselves to come up with a firestarter that can be operated with just one hand. The result? The UST BlastMatch Fire Starter, a compact, spring-loaded firestarter with a built-in striker.
The idea is to create sparks by pushing the ferro rod onto a flat surface, like the ground or a smooth slab of rock or wood. The ferro rod rubs against the small piece of flint, it creates friction, you get a shower of sparks. Sounds like a great idea, right? On paper, it does. In real life? Not so much.
Looking at the BlastMatch, you'll see that it's pretty compact. It clocks in at around 4 inches when closed and doesn't weigh all that much, so it's not a problem for our ultralight friends. The ferro rod's pretty thick and robust, too. The downside is that the casing is made from flimsy plastic. Drop this and it’s game over for that one-handed operation.
Another drawback is the mechanism itself.
First off, trying to push the ferro rod onto a flat surface can be pretty taxing on your hands. You gotta keep the Blastmatch perpendicular to the surface or tilted at a 45 degree angle to create decent sparks. You also need to put a considerable amount of pressure on your fingers to create friction with the flint. If you’re looking for a hassle-free one-handed operation, you’ll do a better--- and easier--- job with a Zippo or a BIC.
We’re also not big fans of the moving parts involved. The more there are, the higher chances of malfunction. The spring can easily rust and stop working altogether. The hinges on the cover don’t look like they could withstand a lot of use and abuse, either.
The only advantage that the Blastmatch has against the traditional lighter is that it’s waterproof. You can also twist the mounted ferro rod so you can scrape on another side.
If you’re still keen on testing out the Blastmatch for yourself, make sure to practice using it with both your dominant and non-dominant hands. Working the spring mechanism takes a lot of getting used to, so practice and find out what technique works best for you. It’s also wise to keep a spare striker around, in case the spring mechanism ultimately breaks. While the Blastmatch’s concept and execution leaves a lot to be desired, its ferro rod’s pretty decent.
Bonus: How To Use A Ferro Rod (Proper Technique)
Before attempting to use your ferro rod to start a fire, make sure you’ve got the right materials.
Homemade firestarters like cotton balls dipped in vaseline make great tinder; these things are easy to make, and they light up in no time. You can also use fatwood shavings, dryer lint, steel wool, and char cloth as tinder.
Next: master the art of striking. Any noob can make sparks, but it takes skill to produce really hot sparks that consistently land in the same area.
There are a couple of ways to do this. One is to focus your ferro rod right on top of your tinder and pull the ferro rod back. Another technique is to hold your ferro rod on top of your tinder, but instead of pulling the ferro rod back, you keep it in place and firmly scrape off some shavings with short strokes instead.
Both techniques ensure that the ferrocerium shavings do not cool off before they hit the tinder.
Redundancies are important, whether you’re prepping for a disaster or just heading out for some quality time outdoors. When it comes to making fire, a ferro rod covers the bases that a normal lighter couldn’t, making it an indispensable part of your bug out bag, EDC kit or camping backpack.
Gerber’s Bear Grylls firestarter may look kitschy, but it sure has a lot of cool features, including a reliable ferro rod, a rescue whistle and a waterproof tinder compartment. While it may not look attractive to seasoned preppers or outdoorsmen, it sure would come in handy for beginners and day campers.
The Bayite is a robust, no-nonsense firestarter, and we recommend them to folks who don’t mind the additional weight.
The uberleben and LMF ferro rods are great for bushcrafters and outdoorsmen who want light and minimalist firestarters.
Exotac’s nanostriker is ideal for EDC folks who want something that can fit into a key fob, and while the Blastmatch had its pitfalls, we imagine it would come in useful for someone who wants a plan C (after lighters and regular ferro rods have failed).
So, which of these ferro rods sparked your interest? Let us know by leaving a comment below!