There is an infographic that has become quite popular enthusiasts on social media like Facebook and Pinterest with all types of outdoor called Top 10 Fire Starters (by While we absolutely love the idea of an infographic that visually organizes and ranks awesome fire starters, there was just something a little off about this particular infographic to us, but it took us a minute or two to figure out what it was. Some of the pieces on this infographic just didn't quite fit together properly in our minds for some reason... but why?

While we like the concept behind this infographic very much, we felt that there were some real opportunities for improvement in it:

First off, the items listed in Top 10 Fire Starters are all sort of lumped in together as an extremely loosely termed category of “fire starters”, but as you will quickly see, not all “fire starters” are created equal. Several of the “fire starters” on this list are purely ignition sources while others are purely tinders. Several are a combination of the two (like the steel wool and battery fires starting method). It is important to distinguish between the two types of fire starters because having one but not the other can make a huge difference when attempting to start a fire in an emergency situation.
Another issue that we have with the list offered on the Top 10 Fire Starters infographic is that many really great fire starters (both ignition sources and tinders alike) are notably absent from this list. 

So... we decided to take our own stab at a version of this Top 20 Fire Starters infographic!

Top 20 Fire Starters and Tinders!
Top 20 Fire Starters and Tinders!

Let’s run through our list in a little more detail, shall we? It’s hard to fit a lot of good information into such little spaces!


Top 10 Ignition Sources (Fire Starters)

Butane Lighters

Butane lighters are the ultimate fire starters and are the ideal backbone for every survival kit. Quality disposable lighters like the classic Bic are optimal. In a pair of skilled hands, lighters are virtually a guaranteed fire. Lighters are the easiest and most reliable way to make fire even for beginners. Lighters are beyond simple to use requiring almost no skill. They are compact, lightweight and can produce fire after fire.

Even a “dead” lighter can be used to start a fire simply using the “sparkwheel” and flint on the top of the lighter with a suitable tinder or spark catcher like charcloth or a petroleum jelly cotton ball.
As terrific as lighters are, they are not perfect. Starting a fire with a lighter can still be a challenge in wet and windy conditions. Careful attention must be given to your fire making materials, construction, environment, weather conditions and location of your fire bed for one to successfully create a fire in adverse conditions. That being said, most would still agree that lighters are by far the ultimate fire starting tool.

Stormproof Matches
Stormproof matches are next on our list because they too are lightweight and compact, reliable and even resistant to adverse conditions. They burn hotter and longer than both conventional matches and even “strike anywhere” matches. Stormproof matches are even resistant to wind and rain even after submerged in water! Stormproof matches are a terrific item to have on hand or in your kit as a backup method for starting fire since they are so compact and lightweight.

You can make your own “stormproof matches” by taking common “strike anywhere” matches and coat them in paraffin wax, varnish or nail polish giving them a nice watertight protective coating. Or you can seal a few of them up in a soda straw by crimping the ends of the straw and melting it shut on each end.

Magnesium Fire Starters
Quality magnesium fire starters (like the classic Doan Magnesium Survival Fire Starter) are terrific fire starters that have been issued by the military for decades. They even work in wet conditions. Magnesium fire starters combine the terrific spark rendering ability of a ferro rod with the ability to make highly flammable magnesium shavings. These shavings burn incredibly hot and actually burn hotter when wet!

The Doan is not the only quality magnesium fire starter out there. There are a number of quality magnesium fire starters available that are as nice or nicer than the Doan. You can even get magnesium pencil sharpeners that you can scrape shavings off of in the same way and use the sharpener to create tinder with by sharpening sticks just like you would a pencil!

Ferrocerium Rod
Ferro rods are brilliant fire starters and are often favored by outdoor enthusiasts. Compact, lightweight and reliable, ferro rods can light many more fires than a lighter or book of matches provided you assemble a proper tinder bundle to ignite from a spark. All you have to do to get a shower of sparks from a ferro rod is to scrape it firmly down its entire length with a high carbon knife or tool blade.

Ferro rods are waterproof, durable and very reliable. Many survival enthusiasts carry a ferro rod as a primary ignition source. You simply have to know how to create a proper tinder bundle in order for it to ignite from a spark from a ferro rod. Once you do you are set!

Electricity is another great way to start a fire. A common and popular way to start a fire with electricity is with a 9 volt battery and steel wool. Metallic gum wrappers and cylindrical batteries work as well. Most common batteries, both large and small, will generate a spark when properly coaxed. The leads from car and motorcycle batteries can be contacted to create a spark over fuel soaks rags to start a fire as well.

Starting a fire with electricity may require a little creative ingenuity on your part, but electricity should always be considered a viable option for starting a fire when other options are not readily available.

Sunlight is another terrific way to start a fire. With a solar fire starter you can focus sunlight to start a fire by concentrating it on a material that you wish to ignite with one of two options: reflection or refraction. A terrific example of using refraction to start a fire is using a magnifying glass to concentrate sunlight on the surface of a combustible material. A Fresnel lens is a great item to keep in your kit or wallet because of its ability to concentrate sunlight like a conventional magnifying glass without all the bulk and weight of a conventional magnifying glass. You can even concentrate sunlight to start a fire with just a water filled container or even a condom!

Reflection methods of starting a fire also concentrate sunlight on a focal point on your tinder only instead of bending light waves with refraction you bounce (reflect) sunlight from a general area into a concentrated point with a concave reflective surface. A great illustration of this is disassembling a large flashlight and using the concave reflector to concentrate sunlight down into the bulb area where you would place your tinder (bulb removed first, of course). If you are clever enough, there are all kinds of options for taking materials with reflective surfaces (aluminum foil, retired compact discs, etc.) and devising them into a concave shape (like an old satellite dish, hub cap, etc.).
Many survival experts and survival programs refer to this fire making method as a “parabolic lens” method, but that is actually not accurate. The reflector from a flashlight is not actually a lens at all. It is a reflective surface that works on an entirely different principle than a lens does. A reflector collimates light waves and redirects them as opposed to bending them into a concentrated spot like a lens does.

Some chemical reactions are exothermic (a chemical reaction that literally “releases heat” resulting in combustion). There are a number of such chemical combinations that result in combustion. Simply having a familiarity with a few of these chemical combinations could turn out to be a life saver. One of the more infamous of these combinations is potassium permanganate and glycerin.

As with other fire starting methods, make sure you do your research before haphazardly combining chemicals. Be smart and be safe. Take the necessary precautions by wearing protective gear when prudent and always mix chemicals in well ventilated locations. Noxious and/or caustic fumes can do terrible physical harm to the human body... even kill you. Always be extremely cautious when mixing chemicals.

Sparks result from many fire starting methods and can be created in many different ways. Ferro rods & electricity are just two fire making methods that produce sparks, but you can also produce sparks by simply striking a carbon steel edge (like on a knife or tool) against a piece of flint like our ancestors did for millennia. You’ll need a good tinder to catch that spark.

While starting a fire with only a spark takes a bit more knowledge and skill than simply lighting a fire with a lighter or a match, it’s really all about preparing a suitable tinder/spark catcher that can take that spark and turn it into something you can work with like either an ember or flame. Not all tinders are capable of this.

You need a tinder with a very favorable oxygen to fuel “surface area” ratio (extremely fluffy or fibrous). A single spark, while very hot, is also very tiny and very momentary. If you are going to depend upon a single spark to start your fire, you are going to need a “fuel” that can take that tiny and briefly hot speck and convert it into an exothermic reaction (in this case an ember) that you can eventually coax into a fire. The smaller and briefer your source of heat is, the finer your “fuel” (tinder) will have to be. Fluffy and fibrous tinders like petroleum jelly cotton balls (fluffed finely), fine cotton fuzz (like lint), charcloth, etc. Natural tinders like fluff and dander from cattails, milkweed, thistle and sycamore fluff could work as well.

Friction fire is a primitive fire making method that was heavily relied upon well before the matches and butane lighters of today, especially before the advent of steel. Fire bow, fire plough, hand drill, and fire saw and fire thong are all examples of friction fire making. Unlike the butane lighters and matches of today, each of these primitive friction fire making methods requires a tremendous amount of skill developed by practice and experience. That being said, the time, energy and effort invested in those skills can be quite rewarding.

Many “survival experts” on TV make starting a fire with a friction method look really easy. It is not. DO NOT simply assume that you will be able to start a fire with friction when your life depends on it having never done so before. You are setting yourself up for a colossal disappointment. It is not nearly as easy as it looks.

On the positive side, friction fire making is an impressive and beautiful skill that only a small percentage of outdoorsmen and women have mastered. Learning this skill is an impressive feat and is often regarded as the “litmus test” of a true survivalist or bushcrafter. Anyone who puts in the time and energy to learn this skill and all of its nuances not only adds another fire making “tool” to their fire making “tool box”, but they also earn the respect and admiration of their fellow outdoor enthusiasts.

Fire pistons are regarded by many to be nothing more than a novelty in the primitive fire making world, but a quality fire piston in the right hands can be more reliable than other methods. Fire pistons are compact, lightweight and can be very reliable. Like other primitive fire making methods, practice is recommended. It is unwise to simply acquire a fire piston and never use it until you actually need it.

Top 10 Tinders and Fire Starters

PJCBs (Petroleum Jelly Cotton Balls)
Petroleum jelly cotton balls are indisputably the ultimate “tinder” for many reasons. OK, will maybe not indisputably, but pretty darn close. They are so cheap and easy to make, the’re fairly water resistant, compact, last virtually forever, and will ignite from even a tiny spark! They are easy to carry in a capsule, tin, or even a re-sealable plastic bag.

The only down side that we can see to PJCBs is that you actually have to carry them with you. That’s why we make up batches of them at a time and stuff them in all of our kits and in all kinds of nooks and crannies. We put them in airtight watertight containers (like capsules, old film canisters, pill containers, Ziplock bags, etc.) and stuff them into all the smallest pockets and pouches in our kits. Got a fire steel or ferro rod with a built in capsule? Put PJCBs in it. We put petroleum jelly cotton balls in our fire kits, EDC, Bug Out Bag, 72 hour kits, car kits, camping kits and even start our backyard fire pit fires with them. Do yourself a favor: Make a batch of these, container them up and put them everywhere. They come in extremely handy even in non-emergency situations!

Commercial Tinders
There are a variety of commercially made tinders available for purchase. One of the most popular is WetFire, a highly water resistant “tinder” or firestarter. A little money saving tip: If you like WetFireWeber (yes, the company that makes grills) offers a product for starting charcoal that is essentially the same exact product but the cubes are larger, you get more of them and for far less money (half the price!). Check them out here! Weber Charcoal Starters.

There are many other great commercially made fire starters like EsbitInstafireLive Fire & Tinder-Quick just to name a few. You should try several types of commercial fire starters to see which ones work best for you!

Trick Birthday Candles
Trick birthday candles are an underrated fire starting tool. They are cheap, compact, lightweight and easy to carry. Like regular candles, the wax in trick birthday candles is a terrific asset when starting a fire in wet conditions. The added benefit of using trick birthday candles is once they are lit they can’t be blown out by the wind! Trick birthday candles are a wonderful item to keep in your kits.

A number of chemicals are flammable, will easily ignite, and can be leveraged as fire starters. Alcohol is found in many household items like hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes. Lighter fluid, charcoal starter, kerosene, and other fuels are also terrific options.

When it comes to hand sanitizer, not all hand sanitizers are created equal in terms of fire starting capabilities. Most hand sanitizers are between 60% and 70% alcohol. The products with lower alcohol content do not flame nearly as well as the products with higher alcohol content. Obviously this fact stands to reason, but your luck with using hand sanitizer as a fire starter can vary depending on how much alcohol is in your hand sanitizer, so take a careful look before you purchase hand sanitizer for your preps.

Denatured alcohol is another popular “fuel” that burns cleanly and is often used in compact alcohol stoves. Clean burning chemicals and fuels are ideal since you may likely use your fire to cook food with. Dirtier burning fuels like gasoline, kerosene and oils can leave your food tasting like chemicals at best and even inedible at worst, so choose your chemicals for fire starting carefully.

Wax is another versatile fire making tool. Wax is virtually water proof and is terrific for making all kinds of fire starters from toilet paper tubes, sawdust, shredded documents, dryer lint, egg cartons, and much more. You can also shave off thin strips of wax from an old candle to help start a fire in wet conditions. Most people simply toss old candles once they burn down past their prime, but resourceful individuals see the unused potential in these little chunks of wax and set them aside until they have enough to make come great little DIY fire starters for their fireplace, fire pit, for survival kits and more! You can even coat cordage like jute with wax to protect it from moisture and enhance its fire starting abilities!

Fatwood is an amazing natural tinder because of its natural high resin content. You can buy it commercially or you can find it in the wild if you know how to locate it. Fatwood burns hot, long, and is water resistant. Many survivalists and bushcrafters carry fatwood in their fire kit.

Fatwood is created when a high resin wood tree (like pine or cedar) experiences some kind of debilitating trauma like being blown over or struck by lightning in a storm. The roots of the downed and damaged tree continues to pump moisture, nutrients and resin toward the tree, but there is no longer any tree left to receive those substances. Therefore they end up concentrating at the base of the tree leaving a stockpile of concentrated highly resinous wood in the remaining stump. Any time you see a downed pine or cedar, you should always check the remaining stump/trunk to see if it is a fatwood jackpot!

Charcloth (or char rope) is a terrific traditional tinder that is super easy to make. While charcloth won’t produce a flame, it will catch a tiny spark creating an ember that you can coax into a flame in your tinder bundle. To create charcloth, you simply need to heat cotton cloth in an air deprived container.

Foraged Natural Tinders
There are many wonderful natural tinders all around you if you simply know where to look: dried grasses, birch bark, cattail, milkweed, thistle and sycamore seed dander, tinder fungus, abandoned bird nests, and many more. The best tinders will catch from just a spark.

Improvised and Processed Natural Tinders
While there are many natural tinder materials available in the wild, there will be times when finding suitable dry natural tinder can be a challenge. That’s when you have to process natural tinders down even finer to produce a material that will take a spark or produce a flame. Feather sticks are a great example.

Improvised/Repurposed Tinders
Cotton balls, cardboard, dryer lint, feminine hygiene products, egg cartons, newspaper, shredded documents, lip balm, rope, wine corks, sawdust, gum wrappers steel wool, toilet paper tubes and many more. Most of these work best when combined with petroleum jelly, wax, or alcohol.