What would be the best long term firestarter? The importance of long lasting, durable, reliable gear was not so obvious to me at first. With experience in the bush I’ve learned to value those qualities much more.
I’ve made this list and ranked different methods of starting a fire according to the number of potential fires, reliability, durability and ease of use.
Top 7 best long term firestarters for wilderness survival
7 – Flint and Steel
Long Lasting 4 / 5 Reliability 1.5 / 5 Durability 5 / 5 Ease of Use 0.5 / 5
The Flint and Steel is a time proven way to start a fire. And although it requires char cloth or a tinder fungus to catch a tiny spark it could start 50,000 fires.
You would need to make char out of natural materials like cattail, bark or punk wood though!
6 – Friction Fire
Long Lasting 4.5 / 5 Reliability 2.5 / 5 Durability 3.5 / 5 Ease of Use 0.5 / 5
The hand drill, fire plow, and bow drill methods could start an unlimited number of fires, depending on local materials and cordage. This methods take time to learn but starting a fire with natural materials is worth the effort.
The reason why friction fire is ranked low is because it requires the right materials, practice and effort to make a kit and start a fire.
5 – Lighter
Long Lasting 1 / 5 Reliability 4.5 / 5 Durability 4 / 5 Ease of Use 5 / 5
The BIC lighter deserves to be in this list because although it could only light up to 3000 fires, it just performs so well overall. Arguably 10 lighters will start the same amount of fires as a large ferro rod. Lighters do need to be dry to work; to use a wet lighter strike the flint a couple of times until it sparks again. In below freezing temperatures lighters stop working, you can bypass this by keeping one close to your body heat.
4 – Fire Piston
Long Lasting 4 / 5 Reliability 3.5 / 5 Durability 4.5 / 5 Ease of Use 2.5 / 5
The fire piston is long lasting but its O-ring is its Achilles tendon. You do need to have very fine tinder like dry punk wood for it to work. If you have spare O-rings then your fire piston is a compact long term firestarter that could last for years or decades.
3 – Magnifying Lens
Long Lasting 5 / 5 Reliability 1.5 / 5 Durability 5 / 5 Ease of Use 2.5 / 5
The value of a magnifying lens or loupe for fire starting is highly underestimated. With a glass lens you could light an unlimited amount of fires. Sunlight is the main limiting factor. Fresnel lenses work great and are the lightest long term firestarter, but they are not very durable compared to a glass lens. Having many of them would be ideal. This option will work poorly during winter months in cold climates though.
2 – Bank the Fire
Long Lasting 5 / 5 Reliability 1.5 / 5 Durability 5 / 5 Ease of Use 3 / 5
Banking a fire is another great strategy. A fire is kept smouldering throughout the day and at night some firewood is placed and then covered with ashes to keep the embers alive. It is the oldest way of preserving fire. Before humans could start fire they relied on lightning or lava for fire starting. One drawback of this method is that there is a high chance that the embers could die out; another one is that you use up more wood.
1 – Ferrocium Rod
Long Lasting 3.5 / 5 Reliability 5 / 5 Durability 5 / 5 Ease of Use 3.5 / 5
A 1/2 inch ferro rod could start 10,000 to 20,000 fires. They do require a dry, fine tinder bundle to work, and some practice is needed at first. Because it is so reliable, simple and relatively easy to use it is a must-have long term firestarter.
For your long term firestarter needs you could have a 1/2 inch ferro rod, a magnifying lens, and a fire piston or a couple of BICs.
I don’t know about the ferro rods, but it has been my experience, that regular lighter ‘flints’ will disintegrate with prolonged exposure to salt water. This was the type of flint used in zippo or ronson lighters.
Why didn’t you include a fresnel lens?
When I did a lot of Tee Pee camping I found a flint and steel was fine. They just work. 0000 steel wool was what I used in the 60s and red cedar tree bark. It was only later that I used char cloth and you can make that on the go. A ferro rod and magnesium stick to shave will make a super hot fast fire start. I recommend you carry more than one method so that you are always covered!