A toasty fire is a welcome addition on any chilly evening. Less welcome is the hassle of wrestling with damp wood or crumpled-up newspapers to get the first flames going.
Enter fire starters. These quick-light products make it easy for anyone to have a roaring fire—using just a single match or the flick of a lighter. The downside is that they’re not all created equally. Some fire starters border on amazing for their ability to help ignite a fire rapidly, while others are difficult to light or won’t stay lit long enough to ignite a wood fire. We wanted to know which ones were worth buying, so we tested them in our own fireplaces, chimineas, wood-burning stoves, and fire pits.
Ahead, learn what to remember when navigating the options—and find out how the following products earned a place in our lineup of the best fire starters.
- BEST OVERALL: Superior Trading Co. All-Natural Fire Starter
- RUNNER-UP: Lightning Nuggets Fire-Starting Nuggets
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Rutland Safe Lite Fire Starter Squares
- BEST FOR EMERGENCIES: Bayite 4-Inch Drilled Ferro Rod Flint Fire Starter
- BEST FOR FIREPLACES: Double Tree Forest Products Fire Starter Kindling
- BEST WEATHERPROOF: Kiknek FireFlame Quick Fire Starter
- ALSO CONSIDER: GreenSpark Fire Starter
How We Tested the Best Fire Starters
We considered a variety of factors when selecting which fire starters to test. We chose products that would burn long enough to ignite wood or charcoal without needing to add other burnable materials, such as wadded-up paper or cardboard. A fire starter should also be easy to use, so we chose options that light easily with a match or lighter, with the exception of the ferro rod.
In actual testing, we followed the manufacturers’ instructions—placing one or two fire starters as suggested and using them to start the recommended fire types. For many of the tests, we used a traditional fireplace, but we also used a fire pit, a chiminea, and a wood-burning stove if the directions recommended use with those types of fires. We also tested a few fire starters to see how well they worked for lighting charcoal, but only if they were listed as safe for use with grilling foods.
If a fire starter was advertised as waterproof, we dropped it in a glass of water and then attempted to light it. We determined that many waterproof fire starters aren’t genuinely waterproof but rather water-resistant. In other words, they needed a little time to dry out before lighting.
We timed how long it took for a fire starter to catch fire from a match or lighter, how tall its flames were, and how long it burned before going out. We discovered a fire starter needed to remain lit for 5 to 9 minutes, minimum, in order to ignite the rest of the wood and logs in a fireplace fully. The only fire starter we tested differently was the ferro rod, which is intended to start grass or other highly flammable materials on fire via sparks. We tested it on dry grasses and small twigs to see if it would start a fire.
During the testing phase, we awarded points based on how well each fire starter performed the tasks. After testing, we added and averaged the scores to help categorize the products.
Our Top Picks
We tested several top-selling fire starters—mostly small accelerant products, but also a ferro rod that can be carried in a pocket on a camping or hiking trip. Our driving goal was to determine which fire starters performed the best in their relative categories. We didn’t test matches or lighters, but we did use them to light the fire starters. The following products vary by type and use, but each is a standout as a fire starter, and each earned its spot in this lineup by being a top performer in our hands-on testing.
These Superior Trading Co. fire starters are easy to use, safe, and effective. We found that just one pod was typically all we needed to get a log fire lit and burning. Made from wood shavings and food-grade wax, the pods are odorless, nontoxic, and environmentally safe, making them ideal for everything from indoor fireplaces to camping bonfires.
It took about 4 seconds for the pod to catch fire when we lit it with a single match. It started burning slowly, but within 5 minutes, the flames were about 8 inches tall, and the pod continued burning for about 15 minutes, which was plenty of time to ignite the logs.
The manufacturer lists these fire starters as waterproof, so we dropped a couple in a glass of water and then retrieved them. We couldn’t get them to light immediately, but that was understandable. Once they dried out, they lit quickly and burned well. We used them in a fireplace and a charcoal grill. We placed one Superior Trading fire-starter pod under the charcoal basket in our grill and lit it. By the time the flame from the pod burned down, the charcoal was lit.
These are handy little fire starters, but we wished they came in a box rather than a plastic sack because the sack didn’t offer much protection for the pods, and about a quarter of the pods were crushed and unusable.
- Material: Wood and wax
- Number: 50
- Scent: None
- Made from natural materials, recycled sawdust, and food-grade wax
- Odorless and nontoxic, which is especially great for using them in grills where food is prepared
- Waterproof but need to dry out before use
- These are slightly more expensive than some of the tested fire starters
- Some of the bagged pods had been crushed during packing or shipping
Get the Superior Trading Co. fire starters at Amazon, Lowe’s (24-pack), Target (24-pack) or Superior Trading Co.
Forget about newspapers and kindling. We were able to get a real wood fire going using just one small Lightning Nugget. Once lit—it took three matches to light the nugget—it burned brightly with a hot flame about 6 inches high for a little more than 10 minutes. The nuggets are made from a blended composition of all-natural, recycled, and nontoxic flammable materials, including pitchwood sawdust and paraffin wax.
Pitchwood is a type of pine that contains natural resins, which are flammable.
When burned, these nuggets give off a slight pinewood scent, making them suitable for fireplaces and campfires. We were hoping for more of an aroma, but it was pretty weak. Each box comes with 50 nuggets, and since it takes just one nugget to light most fires, one box goes a long way. They’re not suitable for use in grills, however, since they do contain a scent.
- Material: Sawdust and wax
- Number: 50
- Scent: Pine (very slight)
- Light pine scent offers pleasant aroma when lit
- 50 nuggets in 1 box for plenty of fires
- Made of natural wood and wax, so there is no worry about toxic chemical fumes
- Unsuitable for use in grills because of pine scent
- May require more than 1 match to light successfully
Get the Lightning Nuggets fire starters at Amazon, Ace Hardware, or Tractor Supply Co.
Buyers need not spend a lot to get quality fire starters. Each box comes with 24 squares, and they’re one of the more affordable fire-starting options.
We placed a couple of Rutland fire-starter squares beneath logs in our fireplace. They lit quickly—within 1 or 2 seconds of touching them with a lit match. The flames rapidly engulfed the squares and remained burning for about 8 minutes, which was more than enough time to ignite the logs in the fireplace.
The fire-starter squares are made from recycled wood chips and wax. Although the manufacturer claims they’ll light when wet, we couldn’t get them to light after we dropped them in a glass of water and then took them out. After about 15 minutes, however, they were dry enough to light.
These are nontoxic fire starters, and we couldn’t detect any odor as they burned, making them suitable for starting charcoal fires for grilling food. It took two Rutland squares to get the charcoal in our grill started—the first one burned out before the charcoal caught, so we slipped a second one under the charcoal basket and lit it. The briquettes caught fire within a few minutes after that.
- Material: Recycled wood chips and wax
- Number: 24
- Scent: None
- Lights quickly with just a single match
- Burns for up to 10 minutes, typically long enough to ignite most log fires
- Made from natural and nontoxic ingredients, so they can be used in grills to cook food
- The squares have a shorter burn time than some other tested fire starters
Get the Rutland fire starters at Amazon, Ace Hardware, or Tractor Supply Co.
This ferrocerium fire starter can help light a fire for those who find themselves without matches or perhaps lost in the backwoods. The waterproof ferro rod creates showers of hot sparks that burn at a temperature of 5,500 degrees Fahrenheit when the steel tool is struck against it, helping to ignite small pieces of paper and tinder.
This was the first time we’d used a ferro rod, and we weren’t quite sure how it would work. We didn’t receive any instructions with the rod, so we watched a video online. Nothing could be simpler—we learned that by striking the rod with the included steel striker in a downward motion, we were able to send a shower of sparks flying in the direction of the strike.
We gathered some dry grasses in a circle of stones, and with just two strikes on the ferro rod, sparks caught fire in the grass. We were impressed and felt slightly like survivalists on a reality TV show. We then used the ferro rod to light the burners on our propane grill, which worked on the first strike.
The ferro rod comes attached to a braided paracord—a thin nylon cord—that can be unbraided and used for a variety of purposes if needed, such as replacement bootlaces or to tie branches together for a makeshift shelter. Once we got the hang of this little fire starter, we were pretty impressed with how well it worked.
- Material: Ferrocerium and steel
- Number: 1
- Scent: None
- A single downward strike with the steel striker creates a shower of sparks
- Compact and lightweight enough to carry in a purse, pocket, or backpack
- Starts a fire without a lighter or matches
- It takes a little practice to get the strike’s direction just right
- Unsuitable for lighting charcoal because it only creates sparks—not flames
Get the Bayite fire starter on Amazon or at Sears.
The narrow cedar kindling strips from Double Tree are just the ticket for a traditional way to start fires—without having to go outdoors and swing an ax.
We usually chop our own kindling from seasoned wood, but it takes time, and it’s no fun when it’s bitterly cold outdoors. These kindling strips are cut from cedar, so they’re fragrant—imagine the scent of a cedar chest—and the natural oils in cedar wood help them catch fire quickly.
The kindling comes in a sturdy cardboard box, and we used it to start log fires in both a fireplace and a chiminea. We used a lighter to light the kindling rather than a match, and it took about 10 seconds before the cedar strips started burning. Once they caught fire, they produced large flames that ignited the logs we placed on top of them.
This kindling is 100 percent natural, with no additives, no waxes, and no artificial scent—just pure cedarwood that’s dry and ready to light. It can be used anywhere wood fires are allowed, including fireplaces, fire pits, and campfires.
- Material: Real wood kindling
- Number: 150 to 160
- Scent: Natural cedar
- All-natural product that doesn’t contain any artificial ingredients or waxes
- Being cedar, the kindling is naturally fragrant
- Can be used indoors or outdoors to help start fires
- A bit pricey compared to cutting kindling
Get the Double Tree fire starters on Amazon.
At first glance, we weren’t sure about the Kiknek FireFlame fire starters because they looked like plastic pouches full of white chemicals. We were pleasantly surprised to discover they’re actually natural. What we thought was a plastic pouch is really a clear pouch made from compressed vegetable oil, and the white product inside the pouch is a blend of natural paraffin. As big fans of sustainable products, we were pleased.
We placed a couple of pouches on top of kindling in a chiminea and held a lit match to one of the corners. It took less than 2 seconds for the pouch to catch fire, and once it did, the waxes inside created tall flames that continued to burn for nearly 6 minutes. By then, the logs we’d added were fully engulfed.
Of all the accelerant-type fire starters we tested, these were the most waterproof. We dropped them in a glass of water, retrieved them, and then tried to light them. They lit immediately. We assumed it was because they are entirely nonporous. We also tested two packets in our charcoal grill, which worked well to ignite the briquettes.
The only downside was that they don’t burn quite as long as others we tested, so they might not be as effective if the logs are slightly damp and need more time to ignite.
- Material: Paraffin, vegetable oil
- Number: 20
- Scent: None
- Small, compact, and easy to carry in a backpack, purse, or duffel bag
- Light very quickly—less than 2 seconds—using just a single match
- Made of natural ingredients, including paraffin and compressed vegetable oil
- Don’t burn quite as long (only 5 to 6 minutes) as some other accelerant-type fire starters
Get the Kiknek fire starters on Amazon or Kiknek.
These all-natural fire starters blend recycled pine wood, wool, and stearin wax (a wax made from plant and animal materials) with no added chemicals. That makes GreenSpark fire starters a clean and eco-friendly way to get a fire going. We tested them to start a campfire and to create a traditional log fire in the fireplace.
To get the campfire going, we placed three GreenSpark fire-starter squares on top of some small logs and lit them with a lighter. It took about 3 to 4 seconds for the starters to catch. Once they were burning well, we added some small pieces of kindling and more logs. The GreenSpark squares sent up flames about 6 inches high and burned for around 8 to 9 minutes. That was plenty of time to ignite the larger logs we put on the fire.
The test in the fireplace had similar results, and we enjoyed a roaring fire there. These fire starters are billed as waterproof, so we dropped them in a glass of water and then retrieved them. We couldn’t light them immediately after we took them out of the water, but as soon as the surface wetness dried—about 10 minutes—we could light them once again.
They contain all-natural ingredients, so the GreenSpark squares are also suitable for use in grills for cooking food.
- Material: Pinewood, wool, and wax
- Number: 70, 140, or 160
- Scent: None
- Comes in packs of 70, 140, or 160 squares, enough to start multiple wood fires
- All-natural and recycled ingredients make these fire starters an eco-friendly choice
- The GreenSpark fire starter squares light quickly and burn for 8 to 9 minutes
- The squares require about 10 minutes to dry after getting wet before they will light easily
Get the GreenSpark fire starters on Amazon.
Or, DIY Your Own Fire Starters
The fire starters that earned a spot in our lineup are all relatively inexpensive, and most are made from natural ingredients. For those who want something that looks as good as it lights, consider making pine cone fire starters.
Making them is a simple process of melting beeswax in the top of a double boiler and then dipping the cones two or three times until they have a nice wax layer. For fun, try rolling them in Epsom salts after the final dip—while they’re still warm—to lend a frosty look. For scented pine cone fire starters, add natural essential oils to the melted wax, such as pine or cinnamon.
Types of Fire Starters
In general, fire starters are one of two main types: flame/spark producers or accelerants. Shoppers already know about lighters and matches, but they might not know about other types of flame/spark producers, such as ferro rods.
Accelerants are usually what buyers are looking for when shopping for fire starters, and these products are used in conjunction with typical fire-building materials, such as seasoned logs. An accelerant fire starter is placed beneath the other materials and then ignited with a match, lighter, ferro rod, or other flame/spark producers. Here’s the skinny on all of them.
A lighter consists of a metal or plastic container filled with a flammable liquid or compressed gas. A lighter lights by simultaneously creating a spark with the flint wheel while releasing a controlled amount of the fuel with a button. Unlike other methods, a lighter creates an actual flame, making it significantly easier to start a fire.
Matches are the tried-and-true method of starting a fire. Like a lighter, a match creates an actual flame versus a spark, making it an easier way to start a fire. However, many matches are susceptible to damage from water.
A ferro rod is a fragment of ferrocerium attached to a piece of steel. When the steel is struck against the rod, tiny shavings of ferrocerium become oxidized and ignite as a result of the friction, burning at a high temperature of more than 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
Flint and Steel
Flint and steel consist of a steel striker and a piece of flint. When the two are struck together, they produce heated pieces of steel in the form of sparks that ignite a piece of cloth or tinder, starting the fire.
Magnesium comes in rods. To make a fire with it, simply strike the edge of a knife blade into the full length of the rod to ignite a small amount of magnesium. The magnesium spark reaches a temperature of about 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit, igniting the tinder.
Accelerants are the most popular fire-starter products, and we tested a number of these. Nuggets and squares consisting of flammable oils, wax, and recycled paper and wood are the easiest to use; however, they require an ignition source, such as a match or a lighter. Once lit, these fire starters typically create tall, hot flames that light the materials above them.
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Fire Starter
In addition to types of fire starters, there are a few more features shoppers should consider when choosing a fire starter, including ease of use and convenience. While any fire starter will make starting a fire easier than using tinder, not all fire starters are suitable for all types of fires.
Size and Convenience
As handy as fire starters may be, their usefulness is, to a degree, dependent on their convenience. Look for fire starters that are lightweight and compact, ranging from 1 to 6 inches in length. Typically sold in cases of 12 or 24, these pocket-size pouches, pods, or cubes can be stored in plain sight or tucked out of sight.
Reliability in Inclement Weather
Most fire starters consist of wax, oil, and dense recycled wood, which holds up well in wet weather. Some fire starters are waterproof—drop a ferro rod in water, and it’s not affected. Just dry it off, and it will still throw a spark that will ignite dry material. Fire starters also tend to burn at high temperatures of 800 degrees Fahrenheit or more, which allows them to withstand windy conditions better.
Fire starters are meant to facilitate the sometimes painstaking process of starting a fire by providing a persistent flame that can then catch on nearby kindling. To do so, the fire starter must burn long enough to establish the fire. The longer the burn time, the more likely users can achieve a robust blaze. Our tests determined that most burn an average of 3 to 15 minutes.
The earliest fire starters were infused with flammable compounds, which gave them a chemical smell. On the other hand, today’s best fire starters are nearly odorless. We tend to appreciate the less-noxious modern versions, so we don’t have to inhale chemical fumes. However, fire starters that contain natural essential oils can lend a pleasing scent to the product that enhances the user’s experience without the need for toxins.
The best fire starters tend to be made of environmentally friendly materials, be it wood waste (sawdust or shavings), nontoxic wax, recycled paper, or waste textile fibers. Bear in mind that using fire starters typically results in faster and more complete ignition, which reduces the amount of airborne soot and smoke. Don’t miss our DIY fire-starter option below to find out how to make eco-friendly fire-starter accelerants from pine cones and beeswax.
A key to using a fire starter effectively is understanding how to arrange logs and kindling around it. Ahead, learn about how to build a fire correctly and use a fire starter to light it quickly.
Q. How do you use a fire starter?
To use a fire starter, begin by setting up your wood. If building a wood fire, you’ll need some kindling, which will ignite more quickly than a full-size log. Place the fire starter under the kindling or charcoal, allowing access to the fire starter with a match or lighter. Light the fire starter with a lighter or match.
Q. How do you start a fire in a fire pit?
To start a fire in a fire pit, you need wood, kindling, and a fire starter. Place small pieces of kindling on top of one another until they form a shape resembling a log cabin about four layers high. Place the fire starter in the middle of your log cabin, pile kindling loosely in the middle, and then light the fire starter.
Q. How do you start a fire in a fireplace?
Begin by placing a layer of kindling and two or three small pieces of firewood on the fireplace grate, then place your fire starter in the space beneath the grate. Lighting the fire starter will ignite the kindling, which will, in turn, ignite the logs. Add larger logs as needed to keep the fire burning.
Q. Do fire starters expire?
Fire starters are made up of materials that include recycled wood fibers, paper, oil, and wax that do not expire; hence, most fire starters do not have a shelf life.
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