Fire Starter in your Pocket – The Times When You Really Should Have One

This magnesium fire starter is the real deal.
One that’s made by Doan, made in the USA:

DOAN magnesium fire starter, military issue Made in the USA
A Real Doan magnesium fire starter made in the USA

A quick short story inspired this post:

I was talking with a friend the other day who said something that I thought was very much worth mentioning here on the blog.

We were out in the White Mountain National Forest doing more work on our snowmobile trail system getting ready for winter.

Here in the Fall we tend to get windstorms that inevitably take down trees which we in turn must clear. Several of us will take our ATV’s loaded up with gear, chainsaws, and other complimentary tools to get the job done.

During a break while on our last outing I was showing him my survival kit. I keep it in the compartment under the front hood of my Polaris.

I had joked about how I was using up my drinking water that day faster than I thought (lots of tree work and sweat!). And I mentioned how I wish I had taken along more water (although it turned out I had enough).

The conversation turned towards having a water filter. I opened the compartment and showed him the LifeStraw which I keep there among my other gear. We then started comparing what we each had with us on our ATV’s for ‘kit’. (I had the most toilet paper – a squished roll in a ziploc bag.) Actually I had the most survival related ‘stuff’ (because I purposely had that in mind when I put it together).

Now  with that said, this person has his own ATV loaded down with enough stuff to withstand a nuclear disaster if you ask me. ;) I feel pretty good riding with him knowing that he is well equipped. You really need to be when out in the middle of ‘nowhere’ in the forest without cell phone reception!

Anyway, during this break the third man on the crew was (finally) replacing the chain on his Stihl. We would constantly kid him about it because that chain was seemingly dull beyond what any more filing could possibly fix. Since it was a Stihl chainsaw, my friend asked him about magnesium, because apparently he had heard that Stihl was utilizing magnesium die-casting.

This led to a joke that he better not catch a spark on that thing because it will flare up in flames and you’ll never be able to put it out! This then led to the mention of the magnesium fire starter – which I keep in my kit along with other fire making means.

So by now you are wondering where am I going with this, since the title of this teaser post is “There are times when you really should keep this in your pocket…”

Well here it is… My friend says “I always keep a fire starter in my pocket” (which could be any number of things – a lighter, magnesium fire starter, a FireSteel, etc..).

I said, “Really?” He said, “Yes, especially when I’m riding (snowmobiling, ATV’ing, ) because you never know if you get thrown off, or some accident where you can’t move (broken bone, etc..) and can’t get back to your kit, at least you can start a fire.”

I thought what a very good tip!

To have on your person a way to make a fire, especially during activities while alone which may risk getting into a jam…

Of course the other guy on the crew joked (who is also my friend),
“I don’t need that!” “I’ll just rub two sticks together!”

Another excellent fire starter, made in New Hampshire:

Read more: A Firestarter Kit List


  1. Good point. I never would have thought of an extreme situation. However I do keep a lighter on my person when out, there is some sort of comfort in having it on me.

  2. OK, so what did the guy have in his pocket as a Fire Starter?
    Thinking Thermite or a little C-4 with a match???? :-)

    1. A flare,,,,
      Friend of mine who hunts on the big island for the DLNR doing eradication/invasive species control carries flares, ever try lighting a fire in a rain-forest in pouring rain? He said that’s the only thing that works, has had to spend the night more than once when the extraction chopper couldn’t get to the pull out site because the weather/visibility went to shiff.

      1. Is that a flare in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?
        (Seriously this is a good idea, especially for wet climates)

  3. Ken,
    Is that your pants pocket?
    If it is, what sort of pants?
    That’s the thing I really don’t like about most military/tac pants is the slash pocket, cant hook a tape measure on em, those look like the angle is good

      1. Bummer,
        The slash pockets just arent conducive to hooking thumbs nor tape measures, well, guess ill be stickin to my faded 501s!

      1. Thank you Ken,,
        I have a bunch of tac style pants but i hate them for doing finish work or shop work, tons of pockets but being able to hook a tape on them and not have it drop off is a big one, especially in the shop where im trying to be efficient,
        So thank you for finding that…

  4. I quit smoking in 2005 but I still carry a lighter. I have other fire starting option in each vehicle but the lighter is always in my pocket. DW and I used to watch “Man, Woman, Wild” with Michael Hawke and his wife. He had a hundred ways to rub sticks together and make fire but he would always say “just carry a dadgone lighter.

  5. I just picked up a couple of the magnesium fire starters at harbor freight last weekend. They were $2 a piece. I needed to setup another GHB for another vehicle. You make a good point about caring them with you at times like that. Looks like another trip to harbor freight this weekend. Another good artical Ken.

    1. Bender; You might want to actually check out those “magnesium” fire starters as many of the starters on the market are a very low level of magnesium and something else, aluminum maybe. I had a few from sports/outdoor stores that I tried. They were difficult to get any magnesium off the block (too hard of a compound) and when you did, it would not light! Not a product I would recommend as (IMHO) when you need it, you dont want to find out you have an inferior product. There are some made here in the USA and yes they do cost a little more. But they WORK! I’m sure that Ken has done an article on them somewhere if you search the site. YMMV, Loclyokel.

  6. Duct taping a similar length piece of fat wood, trick birthday candle, or compressed particle fire starter to a Bic can be very beneficial in wet conditions.

  7. When I was schooldays, you were cool if you could start a match by ripping it across your blue jeans zipper. And if you could light your cigarette with your Zippolighter with your head out the window of a car cruising for chix on Lake street heading towards Porky’s you were cool too, but you also banked some valuable survival skills. The Zippo always went into the watch pocket.

  8. I ALWAYS have a firesteel, Zippo (top it off every 4 or 5 days) and a Bic lighter.

    Never smoked (have not taken a single puff of one in my life) but I always seem to find it handy to have a fire-starting method on me.

  9. – I started carrying a Zippo when I went into the Army in the early 70’s. I carried one of three Zippos my entire Army career, then in the 90’s I changed to a Bic. I still carry a Bic today as a matter of course. I don’t, never have smoked. I replaced the whetstone on my ‘pilot survival knife’ a Camillus M5 (after epoxying a piece of sandscreen to the back of the sheath) with a magnesium and flint striker bar. It currently resides in my GHB, which is in my vehicle I will be driving tomorrow. IMHO, the ability to create a fire quickly is one of the most critical tasks in living through any really adverse situation.
    – Papa S.

    1. A Bic is nice in that it doesn’t need filled every 5-days. But it’s problem is it’s made out of plastic and can not sustain a flame for more then 15 or 20 seconds without destroying itself by melting. Also you have to keep your finger on the trigger all the time to keep a flame going.

      A Zippo can run for 10-min and not damage itself, and it can be set down and have a flame without me needing to keep pressing a button. I have found both of these handy.

      But I do keep both a Zippo and a Bic on me as both have their place, as does a firesteel.

      I also always have y Swiss Champ Swiss Army Knife on me all the time.

      1. PS: I no longer will buy or support Camillus as the company that now owns the name no longer supports the lifetime warranty that the old Camillus did.

        Go to a store and read the fine print on the back of the package and or look on-line.

        The old Camillus knifes were good (I have a few of them) but the new ones, not so much…

  10. I always have at lest one lighter on my person . I favor the refillable piezoelectric type over here they are a pound or 2 each ,for cheap lighters they are very reliable and long lasting .

  11. Agreed – I keep a WHITE bodied BIC lighter (easy to see fuel level held against the light) on my person all the time I am out of the house.

    I also keep a BSA spark rod on my keychain, along with a short magnesium rod w/ spark insert and hacksaw unit on as well.

    I’m set pretty much for fire I think.

  12. I carry the shoe lace starter on a ring on my keychain. Worth every penny and have added them to numerous pull tabs on backpacks as well as on my boot lacings.

    1. Great idea regarding adding a FireSteel to pull tabs.

      For those of you who haven’t visited this MSB sponsor yet, you should check them out. You won’t find a better ‘spark’ maker ;)

      1. Ken
        I had tried to buy stuff from those guys, they wont ship to Hi, something about hazmat,,,

  13. In my pockets I carry a folding knife on me then my wallet and then a lighter (usually a Bic lighter) along with truck keys.

    The ferro sparking rod I keep in my “kitchen kit” within my backpack which also contains small cook pot, some fine steel wool to burn after catching the spark ( within a zip lock bag.) along with a water filter. There is still some space within the cockpit for several packs of instant soup before I tie it up within a bandana and tuck it within my backpack.

    One question that came to mind for Ken was: How much down and dead wood was around your route of travel? I figure you must live near the Appalachian Trail and the popular hiking routes will be short of dead, down and dry firewood. I know this is the case in late season along the Pacific Crest Trail running through the spine of California. When I travelled along the Pacific Crest Trail, I carried a small gas stove with me due to lack of suitable wood to burn.

    I agree with Tommyboy about the flare though I would rather exchange the weight of several flares for a small folding saw and a hatchet to split wet wood in order to access the dry heartwood in the center. If you add a couple of the Trioxane fire starting tabs for insurance I can get a fire going inside of 5 minutes. NHMicheal used to mention chunks of sapwood or pieces of pitch are also good though they create a sticky mess within your pocket.

    Bottom line: I guess it depends on where you are going to travel in.

    I wanted to pass on though that the major hiking routes of today are previews of what a post SHTF world my look like: a big wide trail devoid of burnable wood. fire pits both old and recent alongside the trail. Tough to get lost on the trail with all the trash people leave behind. ( used toilet paper, soda cans, used condoms etc.)

    For safety as being the gray man, camp far away from the human highway of major hiking routes.

  14. For what it’s worth, and I know it’s not as nifty as the pocket magnesium firestarting kits, but you can get a 1/2 gallon jug of magnesium filings from Amazon for less than $20. You could fill a lifetime supply of small prescription bottles for emergency fire starting with a cheap Bic lighter for ignition (even if it’s out of butane). FWIW.

  15. I have been using and teaching others to use the magnesium fire starter blocks since the 70’s.
    I own several and have given away dozens to friends and newbies.
    The others are manufactured in China and even have the Ohio address on them. But as mentioned in this stream earlier they are worthless. The misspelled words and improper grammar in the descriptions is a dead giveaway that this is not the real thing, not to mention the ridiculously low prices.
    A true Doan fire starter will go for a sawbuck at Wal-Mart and most sporting goods or camping stores …….Just Sayin’

  16. I know this is about fire, and I always have a mini Bic in the watch pocket of my jeans. When I saw the title and then read the lead-in I thought you were going the Tourniquet route. Just something to think about…I never go out with a chain saw without throwing a Tourniquet in my cargo pocket.

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