Best Ferro Rods For Backpackers and Wilderness Survival

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Video what is ferro rod made of

A Ferro rod (short for ferrocerium rod) is a great addition to any hikers’ survival kit or stash of emergency supplies. You should always have a way to start a fire while backpacking or traveling in the wilderness just in case you find yourself in a survival situation. While Ferro rods have a small learning curve and take some practice to master using, they ultimately last longer and are more reliable than matches or Bic lighters.

I also always keep one tiny box of waterproof matches in all my packs, but as I said, sometimes matches don’t work well or it’s possible to run out of them if you’re stuck out in the wilderness for an extended period of time. And so the search began for the best fire starter and Ferro rod for backpackers.

Best ferro rods at a glance

Keep scrolling to find out what makes a good ferro rod below…

Frequently asked questions about ferro rods

What are ferro rods made of?

Ferro rod’s exact composition may vary slightly by brand or company producing it. But a traditional Ferro rod is made of something called mischmetal which contains iron, cerium, praseodymium, neodymium, magnesium, plus lanthanum.

Those metals, when combined and then struck with a steel striker – create a shower of sparks. You can learn all about the history and discovery of Ferrocerium here.

How long will a ferro rod last?

A reliable ferro rod should last between 8,000-10,000 strikes, some even more than that – which should last the typical hiker a long time! But obviously, this does vary by the user, frequency of use, and brand.

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Ferro rods typically come with a protective coating on them, so unused or unopened, they’ll last almost indefinitely. Once that coating is scraped off for use, make sure to store it in a clean, dry place when not in use.

Are ferro rods the same as magnesium rods and fire rods?

First, let me clarify that a Ferro rod is not the same thing as a magnesium rod, although they do look similar and have the same ease of use. Ferro rods will usually generate a much hotter spark than your magnesium fire starter, plus you don’t need to invest the time into scraping off magnesium shavings.

Most Ferro rods are made of the same combination of metals – but there can be a difference in the quality of the metal striker – which does make a difference! Some strike better than others, creating a hotter and more abundant amount of sparks than some other fire strikers.

As with most gear (not all, but most), you get what you pay for and Ferro rods are not expensive – spend the few extra bucks to get one of the Light My Fire ferro rods or Uberleben Zunden fire starter.

Favorite ferro rods for camping and survival

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How to use a ferro rod for fire starting

  • First, and I can not emphasize this enough, test out your ferro rod at home or on a designated trial run camping trip, so you practice using it and know you can start a fire with it before you actually need it in an emergency situation. That is not the time to be tinkering, trying to figure out how to throw sparks and start a fire.
  • Find a safe space to practice starting a fire, whether that’s a fire pit in your backyard or a designated ring at a campsite. (Also make sure there are no fire bans in place, they’re very common and taken very seriously in the Western US.)
  • Start gathering tinder and kindling, or make your own fire starter. The thinner and dryer kindling you can find, the easier it will be to make a tinder bundle. Think very fine wood shavings; dry, fluffy moss; tiny shreds of dead, dry tree bark; or something homemade like cotton balls with Vaseline on it. Grab a few handfuls of kindling, or short sticks and twigs that are thinner than your pinky finger.
  • Plus you’ll want some thicker, larger sticks nearby to throw on your fire once it’s started well.
  • Make a small nest out of your tinder, inside your designated fire pit.
  • Grab your ferro rod, and use a sharp edge to scrape off some of the protective coating along the length of the rod, exposing the metal.
  • With a firm grip, practice striking it a couple of times and try to make some sparks!
  • Now position your ferro rod next to your nest of tinder.
  • Pro tip: instead of holding the rod in place and striking it, it’s a good idea to hold the striker firmly in place and pull the ferro against the metal striker, back towards yourself. You’ll be much less likely to accidentally knock over your tinder nest this way 😉
  • It may take several tries, and that’s ok! Pay close attention to when a shower of hot sparks lands on your tinder pile, you may have to gently blow on them to get a large size flame going.
  • Once your tinder bundle has caught fire, it’s time to slowly start adding kindling on top of it.
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There you have it, buying and using a Ferro rod to start a fire is fairly straightforward – but it does take some practice. Whether you want a campfire for fun, for cooking, or to start survival fires in an emergency, every hike should have at least one way to start a fire in their pack. This is personal preference, but I prefer to carry two different methods to light fires, like a Ferro rod and waterproof matches, in case one method doesn’t work for one reason or another.

My challenge for you – practice starting a fire in both good and bad weather conditions. If you’re new(er) to this, start with all dry tinder and wood and maybe a homemade cotton ball fire starter. Then challenge yourself to find natural tinder, then challenge yourself to start a fire after a rainstorm in wet conditions or in the wintertime in the snow.

For more tips on hiking and backpacking gear, check out:

  • Backpacking Gear Checklist: What To Pack
  • How To Choose The Best Backpacking Stove
  • 10 Essentials For Hiking
  • Best Sleeping Pads For Backpackers
  • Best hydration packs for hikers

About the author, Mallory:

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>