You Need a Spark Rod
If you aren’t already including spark rods in your camping and survival equipment, you will probably look on them in a better light after we address all the benefits they offer as fire starting devices. Spark rods are the ultimate back-up plan for emergency fire starting. They are crush roof, waterproof and don’t lose their effectiveness over time. But which ones are best for which situations? Here’s our review of the top five spark rods on the market.
Spark Rod 101
You should take the time to read the directions on your new spark rod. The proper use of each device can be understood by reading through the written instructions provided. This will help you avoid some very common mistakes and confusion.
Tinder For Spark Rods
The best spark rod won’t help you if you are using the wrong stuff for tinder. Always strike your sparks into dead, dry, fluffy, plant-based material like dead grass, crushed dead leaves, and shredded fibrous tree bark.
My Favorite Spark Rod Tinder
The dead and stringy inner bark of the tulip poplar tree is my favorite tinder for spark rods, whether the conditions are wet or dry. Strip this bark off dead branches and trees, and then pound it with a rock to make it fluffy and more flammable.
How to Use a Magnesium Bar/Spark Rod
This inconspicuous grey block of soft metal has a spark rod glued to one side. The proper operation of this fire-making tool is to scrape off some of the grey magnesium into a container using your knife at a 90-degree angle, until you have enough scrapings to cover the side of a quarter. Next, dump these scrapings into the center of a bird’s nest-shaped bundle of tinder. Then use your knife or a scraper to strike sparks into the magnesium shavings. When a spark catches the magnesium, it will burn white hot and ignite your tinder.
Magnesium Bar/Spark Rod Pros
This is usually the cheapest and most commonly available spark rod. It’s small, lightweight, waterproof, virtually indestructible and relatively easy to operate. You can use it with the magnesium scrapings, or just use the spark rod alone.
Magnesium Bar/Spark Rod Cons
This tool has few cons, but scraping the magnesium can dull your knife. It’s also the skinniest spark rod in this review, yet I am still using one I bought 10 years ago, so it won’t wear out too quickly. This tool is ideal for a keychain, toolbox, or any other place where you want to store a back-up fire starter.
How to Use the Blast Match
The Blast Match from Ultimate Survival Technologies (UST) is a well-designed device that incorporates a spring-loaded spark rod and thumb activated scraper all in one tool. Just put the tip of the spark rod into your tinder, push the button with your thumb, and plunge the device downward to throw a big shower of sparks that will light most tinder on fire.
Blast Match Pros
The Blast Match can be operated with one hand, making it ideal if you’ve injured an hand or arm. The large diameter of the spark rod means it should last for years. Water nor time will negatively affect its quality. Even if the plastic housing breaks, the rod still works if you scrape it with a knife, or even a sharp, hard rock.
Blast Match Cons
The black plastic housing doesn’t stand out visually if you drop it in the woods. I lost one that way once. The housing is also a little flimsy: this is the only spark rod device that I have ever broken.
How to Use the Strike Force
The Strike Force spark rod tool from UST is a heavy-duty rod that has a scraper built into the rod cover. It also has a storage space for UST’s WetFire product, which is a flammable cube of waxy tinder material. Just scrape the bar down the rod, into your tinder or Wetfire shavings, and you’ll have fire in no time.
Strike Force Pros
Pros include a sturdy construction, the WetFire caddy in the handle, the highly visible orange color and the incredibly hot sparks this device creates. This rod is ideal for your Bug Out Bag, or if you are going to be hunting, camping or hiking in very wet places.
Strike Force Cons
The closest thing to a con is that you need two hands to operate it. The WetFire will lose effectiveness as the volatiles evaporate out of the cube after a few months of opening the cube’s packaging.
How to Use the Sparkie
One more UST goody is the small, one-hand-operated Sparkie. This is a shrunk down version of the Blast Match, with a spring loaded rod and integrated thumb scraper. Place Sparkie’s foot into tinder, mash down the thumb button, and push the sparks into your tinder.
Sparkie Pros
Sparkie is small enough to fit on a keychain, and, as mentioned, you can operate it with one hand. It is the ideal back-up to your other back-ups.
Sparkie Cons
Sparkie’s rod is slender and the rod material seems softer than other products. I am using the rod up more quickly than any other product I have ever used. The small moving parts make it more likely for breakdown than other rods.
How to Use the FireSteel
The Swedish Fire Steel from Light My Fire is a compact spark rod with a very effective steel scraper. Run the scraper down the spark rod to create a surprisingly large shower sparks.
FireSteel Pros
This fire starter makes the best sparks of all the small-diameter rods. It is long lasting and would be a good addition to any survival kit. It is ideal to hang on a keychain or a zipper pull, so it’ll always be handy.
FireSteel Cons
It’s small enough to lose easily. It requires two hands to use, and the small pieces are hard to hang onto with gloved or very cold hands.
Final Analysis
I have several of these products scattered through my gear, vehicles and on my keychain. The Strike Force is the toughest of the bunch, the Blast Match is the most likely to get you a fire if you are injured, and the others make a nice back-up series.

Spark rods are the ultimate back-up plan for emergency fire starting. Here’s how to use them.