nstafire Fire Starter
Burns hot and long. A single packet can start multiple fires.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $21.
Instafire Fire Starter consists of wood, rock, and wax. It doesn’t put out any harmful chemicals when it burns. The pouches come in a set of 30, and each one contains enough to get four fires going—meaning that one purchase could help you start 120 fires. The envelope is waterproof, too, so it’s a good pick for camping or emergencies.
Weber Lighter Cubes are well-regarded and among the most affordable of the starters we tested. They come in a pack of 24 and aren’t individually wrapped, so you’ll have to repackage them if you want to take a few camping. These cubes are great for getting charcoal going (their original purpose) at home, and they also burn hot and long.
Why you should trust us
I spoke to a number of camping and outdoors experts for this guide, including scoutmaster Terry L. Fossum and Dylan Gallagher of Orange Sky Adventures. While many of the experts told us they didn’t use fire starters, their input was valuable. Those who did have experience using the starters helped steer our decision making. I’ve also spent plenty of time camping and using my own backyard fire pit, which came in handy for testing.
In addition, I relied on the expertise of The Wirecutter’s science editor, Leigh Krietsch Boerner. Leigh helped us evaluate the composition of each starter and told us what to look out for when it came to harmful chemicals.
Who should get this
Plenty of people might scoff at the idea of using fire starters. In fact, many of the experts we interviewed did! With a little know-how, it’s not that tough to get a fire going from scratch—but as Terry L. Fossum, scoutmaster, outdoor expert, and cast member of the reality survival show Kicking and Screaming, told us, these “cheaters” (our term, not his) can be convenient in a number of situations.
“Not everyone has the knowledge and experience to … make all the tinder and kindling necessary to start your bigger firewood logs,” Fossum said. “Sometimes you just don’t feel like putting the work in to build a fire from scratch.” Or sometimes you don’t have time. He also told us that starters are helpful when it’s raining or your firewood is wet. “A good Boy Scout can get a fire going in even the wettest environment, but it takes special skill and knowledge.”
Dylan Gallagher, who runs a tour company called Orange Sky Adventures, had similar thoughts. “In rough times, however—such as rainy days or with damp wood—they are a life-saver,” Gallagher said. “A small amount goes a long way, especially if you already know how to begin a fire without one.” In addition to getting campfires going, fire starters can help to light fireplaces or charcoal; you can even cook over them directly, using the heat to boil water or cook in a pot.
Making your own fire starters
We heard from both our experts and Wirecutter readers that making your own fire starters is an easy and affordable alternative to buying them. The two most common suggestions we received were cotton balls mixed with petroleum jelly and paraffin combined with dryer lint. If you’re willing to take a few minutes and package some up, great. But if you’re looking for an inexpensive, premade product that will save you the trouble, we have some recommendations.
How we picked
You can find many fire starters for sale, so we started by reaching out to experts to get a sense of what makes a good one. When we discovered that very few professionals actually use fire starters, we combed through hundreds of product listings from Amazon, Target, Walmart, and sporting-goods stores such as Dick’s Sporting Goods and Bass Pro Shops.
Our original research included both individually prewrapped and nonwrapped starters. After comparing them, though, we ended up cutting the nonwrapped options. Although nonwrapped fire starters are generally cheaper on a per-unit level, you have to bag them up yourself or risk leaving flammable residue or crumbles all over the inside of your pack. We did make an exception for Weber’s Lighter Cubes, which jumped out as a perennial favorite with universally high ratings and a very low price.
We also dismissed any starters that were prohibitively expensive or came in aggressively large quantities. It might be of marginally better value to get a 96-pack instead of a 24-pack, but doing so is worthwhile only if you’re going to use them all. Even if you used a starter for every fire you made, it would take almost two years of weekly fires to get through a 96-pack. And in the meantime, you’d have a big box or bucket taking up space.
Wirecutter science editor Leigh Krietsch Boerner scoured the material safety data sheets (MSDS) for each of our remaining contenders, looking through the material components and assessing whether the combustion of the starters might produce dangerous or harmful substances. Based on this evaluation, we ruled out hexamine-based starters, which produce hydrogen cyanide. Nothing on our final testing list appeared to produce any harmful chemicals, according to the MSDS information.
How we tested
Once we had our finalists, we tested each of them in the most practical way: by burning them. One by one, we put each starter into an empty fire pit, lit it, and let it burn. We measured how long it took until the cube stopped burning. Using an infrared thermometer, we measured how hot the starter got, and we recorded the highest temperature reached. During this process, we also looked for any unusual or worrisome results and noted how easy (or hard) it was to light the starters.
This first round of testing knocked out a few starters quickly based on how easily they lit and the gunk they left behind. We then repeated this process with small pieces of store-bought firewood to see how well they actually got a fire going, not just how well they burned by themselves. All of our finalists were able to light the wood before burning out.
Finally, we took the remaining packaged picks and submerged them in water for five minutes. Then we unwrapped each starter, inspected it for signs of water entry, and lit it to confirm that no water had gotten through (or if it had, that it hadn’t affected the lighting ability).
*At the time of publishing, the price was $21.
Instafire’s Fire Starter is the best tool for anyone looking to start a fire easily. It lights quickly, burns hot and long, and doesn’t produce any harmful chemicals. A single packet can start up to four fires, and the packaging keeps water out, making it a smart choice for camping.
The starter is a mixture of wood pellets, perlite (volcanic rock), and two types of paraffin wax. It comes in 1.75-ounce packets that themselves come in multipacks, or in a 1-gallon shaker. It’s also available as a charcoal starter in a lightable package and as 2-gallon, 4-gallon, and 5-gallon buckets of emergency fuel.
You can use a single packet of Instafire to start multiple fires. The company’s website suggests using a quarter of a pouch to get small tinder and dry wood going, or half of a pouch for larger material or wet wood. We do wish these specific instructions were printed on each package, although it does say “Lights up to 4 fires” on the front. For setup, the instructions recommend placing a stack of small logs around a pile of Instafire, leaving room for airflow, before you light the starter. Small brush and kindling never hurt to get a fire going, either.
When we lit the contents of a package of Instafire, it burned hotter than any other starter we tested—994 degrees Fahrenheit, to be exact. At 8 minutes, 16 seconds, the burn time wasn’t quite as long as that of some of the competition, but that could be because we used an entire packet piled high, rather than just a portion, where more material could be exposed to the flame. The material lit from a lighter instantly, and it didn’t leave behind any gross residue. The company even claims that the leftover ash is a natural fertilizer.
Depending on the number of packets you buy at once, Instafire costs a little over a dollar per unit, or as little as 25¢ per fire if you use a pouch to start four fires. That’s certainly more expensive than our runner-up, but we think it’s a reasonable price, especially because this isn’t a product you’re likely to use on a regular basis.
The company claims its starter burns on snow, ice, and even water. We were able to confirm that last bit by floating some of the material in a bowl of water and setting it aflame—it burned without issue.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
You have no way to reseal the Instafire pouch once you’ve opened it, so if you don’t use all of the fire starter before moving on, you risk spilling the contents. The packet is also physically larger than anything else we tested, but it’s pretty flat, so it shouldn’t be too obtrusive in most bags.
A nonwrapped pick that’s great for charcoal
Weber’s Lighter Cubes cost significantly less than the Instafire pouches and are just about as effective, if not more so. The one drawback to these cubes, however, is that they don’t come individually wrapped, making them more difficult to pack. Beyond that, they’re a great pick for use at home, where you don’t need to worry about transporting them, or if you’re willing to split them up and pack them into bags yourself.
The cubes come in a blister pack of 24. You can poke out as many cubes as you need at a time, but we found that the foil isn’t especially strong, so you may end up tearing open more than you intend if you’re not careful. The cubes are waxy and white, measuring roughly an inch square. Weber’s instructions (specifically aimed at lighting charcoal) say to use two or three at a time. Following that guideline, we lit three cubes in our test. They burned for a longer time than any other starter, lasting 10 minutes, 50 seconds, with the heat reaching 898 degrees Fahrenheit.
Weber doesn’t make any claims about waterproofing, and the blister pack doesn’t seem to be watertight. If you were to repack the cubes yourself, you may have good luck in keeping them dry, but there are no promises as with the Instafire starter.
The best way to pack these cubes up is to toss them into an airtight container, such as a zip-top bag or plasticware. If you’re camping or otherwise going somewhere they might get wet, make sure the seal is tight so you don’t limit their efficacy.
In our tests, the EZ Fire Firestarter packaging took multiple attempts to light. Once the starter got going, it put out a lot of black smoke. It left behind a glossy residue, as well as some of the plastic packaging.
Of all the starters in our test group, Ultimate Survival Technologies’s WetFire Tinder takes the most work to start up, because it requires that you scrape some shavings off first. The task isn’t difficult, but it is an extra step. In our tests, once it was going, it burned the coolest (435 degrees Fahrenheit), and it lasted for only 6 minutes, 14 seconds, the shortest amount of time in our lineup.
By any measure, the Survive Outdoors Longer All-Weather Fire Cubes were the most expensive starters per unit that we tested. In our trials, they burned for about 40 seconds longer than the Instafire pouches, but about 100 degrees cooler. We were a bit thrown off by the instructions, which didn’t clearly indicate whether we were supposed to light the wrapper.