A ferro rod (short for ferrocerium) is a great addition to any hikers first aid kit or stash of emergency supplies. You should always have a way to start a fire while backpacking or traveling in the wilderness. 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 a lighter.
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.
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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 ferro rods in general are made of something called mischmetal which contains iron, cerium, praseodymium, neodymium, magnesium, plus lanthanum.
Those metals, when combined and then struck – create sparks.
How long will a ferro rod last?
Ferro rods 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.
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 all ferro rods the same?
First, let me clarify that a ferro rod is not the same thing as a magnesium fire starter, although they do look similar and may be used in a similar way. Ferro rods will usually generate a much hotter spark than your magnesium fire starter, plus you don’t need to invest the time into shaving off the magnesium.
Most ferro rods are made of the same combination of metals – but there can be a difference in the quality of the striker – which does make a difference! Some strike better than others, creating hotter and more abundant sparks than some other strikers.
How to use a ferro rod
- 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 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 this will be. Think very fine wood shavings; dry, fluffy moss; tiny shreds of dead, dry tree bark; or something homemade like a cotton ball 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 scrape off some of the protective coating along the length of the rod, exposing the metal.
- Practice striking it a couple 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, hold the striker firmly in place and pull the ferro against the 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 good sparks land on your tinder, you may have to gently blow on them to really get a flame going.
- Once your tinder has caught fire, it’s time to slowly start adding kindling on top of it.
There you have it, buying and using a ferro rod to start a fire is fairly straight forward – but it does take some practice. Whether you want a campfire for fun, for cooking or to start an emergency signal fire, every hike should have at least one way to start a fire in their pack. I prefer to carry two different ways, like a ferro rod and waterproof matches, in case one method doesn’t work for one reason or another.
My challenge for you – go practice starting a fire in different conditions. If you’re new(er) to this, start with all dry 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 rain storm when everything is wet or in the winter time 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