I have been playing with all kinds of different fire starters from matches to fancy devices and most of them seem to work well. There are literally hundreds of different firesteels and other sparking devices on the market. The problem is how do you sort through this mess. I have had the chance to try quite a few different types and will share what I have found.
The best fire starters I have found is plain old matches or a good cigarette lighter. Normally I would use a Bic, you can’t beat them for price and reliability. With matches, I prefer the strike anywhere matches. The storm proof matches are nice but expensive. But the bottom line is almost any matches or lighters will get the job done. The trick is to have enough. I know many people who think it is easy to start a fire with one match. If you haven’t done it for a while go and try it, especially in a bit of bad weather. Most of us will go through matches a lot faster than we expect, have plenty on hand. Buy extra now while they are plentiful and inexpensive. In a disaster situation I think they will be great trade items.
Products like the Strike Force, Sparkie and the Master Blaster are all good tools. They will start fires. Both the Sparkie and the Master Blaster have an advantage in that you can use them one handed. Basically, they are a spark producing device. Both the Sparkie and the Strike Force come with a limited amount of fire starting material. For what one of these devices costs, you can buy a lot of matches.
Firesteels are a good product and work well. I have several and carry one with me all the time. These will start fires, but take some practice to learn to use. Don’t put one in your kit and think that you will be able to use it in an emergency. When you practice, try it in bad weather. You will learn a lot about kindling quick.
After all this, I will tell you what I carry in my pack. My fire starting kit contains several items, a waterproof case filled with matches, a magnesium fire starter I bought at Harbor Freight on sale for $1.99, and the fire steel I carry in my pocket. An additional item that I carry is a Speedy Sharp, a handy little device that can be used to sharpen a knife, but is great for shaving the magnesium block into fine power. It is also a good tool for making spark on a fire steel or even a good rock. Speedy Sharps are available at http://www.speedysharp.net/. I also carry a 35mm film canister with cotton balls soaked in vaseline. These are excellent fire starters and are to be held I reserve for a really bad situation. Everything in my fire starting kit will fit inside a military soap dish with room left over. Don’t forget to practice fire starting.