I’ve made my own fire starters from dryer lint, Vaseline-soaked cotton balls, steel wool and old rubber bike tires.
But I’ve also purchased some as well. The question is, which store-bought ones are best? Well, here are a few I lit up and field-tested on my last winter camping trip.
This is a common brand, found in stores like Canadian Tire. They’re non-toxic — made of sawdust and wax. They’ll work if wet. They also burn for well over 10 minutes, which means in theory you could just use them as a heat source on their own.
The only negative point is that they are heavier than all the others tested, and a strong breeze can blow it out after it gets going. (Using a magnesium striker to get it started isn’t very easy, but it’s doable.) The price is the lowest, at around $3 for a pack of 12.
This is another common brand. They are paper cups full of 100 per cent recycled eco-friendly wax. The company is more commonly known for their enviro-logs for home fireplaces, not their fire starters for camping. This might be why their fire starters aren’t as popular with many campers. I think they’re one of the best, especially for using in my woodstove while hot tenting in the winter. Some interior campers might find they’re too big compared to the other options — the cup is about a 2.5-cm diameter — but there’s not much weight to them. The starter also burns for a good 20 minutes and has a solid flame throughout. I have to admit that when I first used the product, I expected to find a wick sticking out the centre. Instead, you light the paper cup. However, after using them a number of times, lighting the cup makes much more sense than a wick. A box of 24 cost around $12.
The Firefly Fire Starters were the lightest tested — 32 grams. I bought a pack at MEC — but I haven’t seen them in any other stores. They’re made with a natural beeswax base and are non-toxic. I was impressed, at least once I figured out how to light them properly. (There are no real instructions.) The trick is to peel the stick in half and expose the fluffy, frayed wax material in the middle. If you just put a match to the strip as-is, it’s like trying to light a candle without a wick. They’re not the best choice if you’re using a magnesium striker — but when size and weight matters, they’re a good option. You get nine strips per pack at a price of $5.
I’ve used this brand before and really like it. They’re not easy to find though. Canadian Outdoor Equipment is a good source, and I’ve just recently seen them at SAIL. They’re lightweight, compact and definitely work when wet. Amongst the other brands, the Instaflame work the best with a magnesium striker. The product is made of compressed beech and aspen wood wool — that stuff you see wine bottles packed in at the liquor store — mixed with food-grade paraffin wax. They’re non-toxic, just like the other brands. The only main difference is that the Instaflame’s burn time is shorter. It will burn for only around 10 minutes. But they’re not meant to be used as a possible wood source. They’re made to get your fire going, especially during a downpour. The cost is $4 for a pack of 12.
The ingredients for Instafire are unique. It’s made of volcanic rock, recycled wood pellets and paraffin wax. It’s non-toxic, water-resistant and gives off a slight greenish hue when burning. The burn time is 10 to 15 minutes. It can also be started by using a magnesium striker. However, I had a difficult time igniting it by just using the striker directly. I had to shave off some magnesium first to help get things going. The pack I bought at MEC contained four pouches for $5.