One of the single most important resources you can have in a survival situation is fire, and when it comes to creating one, modern fire starters are indispensable.
Extremely easy to carry, brutally simple, and capable of igniting in virtually all conditions, this is something that every prepared person should have with them or as part of their emergency kit.
But how much life can we expect from one of these tools? It’s easy to tell when a lighter is low on fuel. Just how long will a firestarter typically last?
A modern firestarter will provide anywhere from 5,000 to 15,000 lights. This depends on the composition of the alloy, the size of the fire starter, how skillfully it is used, and how well it’s maintained.
It turns out there are many variables concerning the useful service life of any given firestarter. The good news is that any quality model you buy will last for a very, very long time…
Unless you’re using it constantly, you can expect it to be there and work when you need it. Keep reading and I’ll tell you more about how many lights you can get out of a firestarter.
Yes, it is. Even though a firestarter, whatever you might call it, is basically just two pieces of metal that you struck together they can still wear out. That’s because absolutely anything can wear out in time.
But digging into the science a little bit more, most modern firestarters, usually called fire steels or ferro rods for short (the latter short for ferrocerium rod), function by emitting a shower of blazing hot sparks when struck by a striker, another piece of actual steel.
These sparks don’t just come from nowhere magically; they are actually tiny, glowing particles of metal!
A better way to think of it is that each and every strike of your firestarter consumes a tiny amount of material. Given enough strikes, you can use it all up, although this typically takes a very long time.
Another major factor that will affect the service life of your firestarter is the composition of the ferrocerium alloy.
Each manufacturer has their own preferences and puts their own spin on the composition, but the end result is that you’ll have a firestarter that’s a little harder or a little softer.
Make no mistake, they are all extremely hard to the touch, but this hardness or lack thereof contributes to how many sparks you’ll get from a strike.
The rule of thumb is that harder alloy compositions last much longer but they don’t produce as many sparks from a typical strike. That’s because less material is physically being consumed.
Conversely, your softer alloy blends produce a much larger and more intense shower of sparks but they wear out much quicker due to greater consumption.
Either is fine, just keep this in mind when purchasing so you have a better expectation of the useful lifespan.
A simple factor in the lifespan calculus but one that’s easy to overlook: larger, thicker firestarters have more material to consume and that means they last longer, all things equal.
This is complicated by the different shapes of certain brands. Most firestarter rods are exactly that- cylindrical- but some are shaped like slabs or even polygons.
If in doubt, depend on a thicker model lasting longer, or if shapes are not equivalent expect a heavier one to have more lights in it. A tiny “hideout” model might only have 5,000 lights in it under ideal conditions, or even less. A big, chunky one could be good for 15,000+.
Modern firestarter materials are the standard these days, but we can’t count out primitive fire-starting methods, either! Long before ferro rods were even a thing, human beings were using flint, or chert, in conjunction with a piece of steel to the same effect. They worked even though the composition of the materials was quite different.
Generally speaking, naturally sourced flint or chert is more fragile compared to modern alloys, and so you shouldn’t expect to get quite as many lights from a piece that is approximately the same size.
Important because there are still sellers of these natural materials out there, so it’s worth checking to see what your chosen model actually contains!
As always, the skill of the user makes a difference. If you are well-practiced and have a relatively light touch with your striker when starting a fire, you can expect it to last a lot longer.
Clumsy or brute force usage is only going to consume more material that is needed to get a fire going, and will consume more of the firestarter per strike no matter what. Basically, unskilled users or sloppy handling equate to waste.
To clarify, this does not mean you’ll only get a couple of dozen lights out of a firestarter just because you’re a newbie or because your hands are shaking so bad you don’t have any fine motor control. Not at all!
But it’s no exaggeration to say that the better you are at handling the firestarter and the more skillful the preparation of your tinder and assembly of your kindling the more you will save.
Proper, skillful use of the firestarter could increase the number of lights by two times. Likewise, you might only get half as many if you handle it poorly.
Something that lots of folks forget in my experience is that these modern alloy firestarters can corrode or rust.
Exposure to the elements is always a factor, but particularly exposure to saltwater and human perspiration can dramatically accelerate corrosion. Any metal that corrodes away is useless, and the same goes for your firestarter.
Considering the circumstances under which you are expected to use it, a certain amount of exposure is absolutely unavoidable but by taking the best care of it that you can, you can extend its service life and get more lights.
Also, here’s a pro tip from me: wipe down the firestarter with a thin coat of oil to preserve it against the elements. This is especially critical if you are near a saltwater environment or, like me, if you just have highly corrosive sweat.
Abuse and neglect could cost you thousands of lights from your fire starter!
Easily. Just pay attention to it! Look at the size of it: Just like you can sharpen a pencil down to a nub, over time, your fire starter will get thinner and thinner or shorter and shorter. Long before you truly use it up, it will probably break.
If the firestarter is getting a little long in the tooth from plenty of uses, add another one to your kit.
Then you’re gonna love my free PDF, 20 common survival items, 20 uncommon survival uses for each. That’s 400 total uses for these dirt-cheap little items!
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