Ferro Rod — Best Survival Fire Starter | The Atomic Bear
By: Jeff Truchon 06/01/2023

What Is a Ferro Rod?

If you have ever been stranded without means to start a fire, you will have experienced firsthand the need for a reliable and effective method of starting a fire. A ferro rod — short for ferrocerium rod — is a pen-sized tool made of a metal alloy that produces sparks when scraped with a hard surface.

Ferro rods are the prepper’s fire starting dream come true. They’re typically made of cerium, lanthanum, and iron, as well as traces of praseodymium, neodymium, and magnesium. The combination of these metals creates a highly reactive element that is capable of generating sparks at temperatures up to 3000 °C (5430 °F).

Ferro Rods Are Effective Survival Fire Starters

Hypothermia is among the top ten causes of death in the wilderness, and exposure to cold can kill in a matter of hours. Fire is the best way to warm yourself and ward off hypothermia – but starting a fire can be difficult without matches or a lighter. This is where a ferrocerium rod comes in handy. 

A fire starter is an essential piece of survival gear. It gives you and your family the ability to:

  •  — Cook wild means and other food items
  •  — Sterilize water
  •  — Signal for help
  •  — Warm yourself or others to prevent hypothermia
  •  — Create a barrier to keep insects and animals away
  •  — Light up an area to see at night
  •  — Ward off dangerous wildlife

In a survival situation, these abilities could mean the difference between life and death.

Are Ferro Rods Best for Starting Fire?

You will have heard of flint and steel as a fire starting method; there are others, too, like lighters, matches, and even magnifying glasses. Ferro rods tend to be the more reliable option for survival situations. 

There are five key reasons for this:

  • #1. Ferro rods are wet-weather resistant. Unlike matches, which are rendered useless by rain and snow, a ferro rod will still produce sparks even when wet – and it's easy to dry with a simple wipe down.

  • #2. Ferro rods are durable. Don't worry, this device will last you a long time. They can withstand being dropped, stepped on, or even submerged in water without sustaining damage. In survival situations where you may not have access to your usual gear, a ferro rod can be a lifesaver.

  • #3. Ferro rods are easy to use. Even if you've never used one before, you don't have to think about how to use a ferro rod to start a fire. It's simple to get the hang of striking a ferro rod with a hard surface to create sparks.

  • #4. Ferro rods produce intense sparks. The sparks generated by a ferro rod are hotter than those from flint and steel. They're generally more effective at igniting tinder, making it easier to get a fire going.

  • #5. Ferro rods are affordable. At The Atomic Bear, we sell our ferrocerium tactical pen kit for $10.99 and our fire spark kit for $16.99. For the price of a couple of fancy coffees, you can own a reliable fire starting tool that could one day save your life.

Compared to tools like magnesium bars – which require a two-step process that can be difficult to master – a ferro rod is a more foolproof way to create sparks for starting a fire. You'll need one of these in your go bag.

How Does a Ferro Rod Work?

Ferro rods do not rely solely on friction, as wooden fire starters tend to do; they are actually designed with specific proportions of metals that produce sparks when they are scraped together. 

Baron Carl Auer von Welsbach, a scientist of the late 1800s and early 1900s, first discovered this special combination of metals while he was experimenting with different alloys. Combining 70 percent cerium and 30 percent iron produced an alloy with a particularly low ignition temperature. His alloy produced sparks when scraped.

Ferrocerium raw material to make a ferrorod
Lump of ferrocerium alloy. Image from Recoil Offgrid

Welsbach experimented further, and since then, scientists have perfected the alloy. The proportions are:

  •  — 20.8% Iron;
  •  — 41.8% Cerium;
  •  — 24.2% Lanthanum;
  •  — small amounts of neodymium, praseodymium, and magnesium.

The science is fairly simple. Since this combination of metals has a low ignition temperature, it only takes a sharp instance of friction to produce sparks. 

To use your ferro rod, simply hold it at a 45-degree angle to your tinder, and scrape the rod with your knife. The sparks will fall into your tinder, and embers will begin to form. You can then blow on these embers to create a flame.

Tips for Effective Ferro Rod Use

Wilderness adventurers and explorers have perfected the art of using ferro rods over the years. Some have taken to the internet to share their tips for getting the most out of these essential tools. 

  •  — Dan Wowak (UCO) recommends wrapping a piece of duct tape around the end of your ferro rod. Many ferro rods come without a handle, so this trick gives you a little more grip, which is essential when trying to scrape out those all-important sparks. Dan explained that it also gives you a first-aid supply of tape for cuts and scrapes.

  •  — Dan from Coalcracker Bushcraft emphasizes quantity over quality with your spark. Rapidly producing a series of small sparks – whether out of frustration, desperation, or just to practice – is not going to be as effective as taking your time to produce a few large ones. 
  • Push down hard with your knife and scrape as much alloy off the rod as possible in one go. One large flying spark is better than a hundred tiny ones.

  •  — Tim Bates (4WD Adventures) shares his simple hack for the damp seasons. The kindling around you may be too wet to light, so carry a plastic box with you that contains firelighters. 
  • A cotton wool ball works, too – but it tends to burn out before the flame dries out the surrounding wood. Coat your cotton balls in vaseline to keep them last longer.

  •  — Finally, Clarise from Live Ready suggests ditching the ferro rod striker for a 90-degree spine knife. A knife's handle will give you a lot more leverage than a ferro rod striker, and the 90-degree spine will give you a nice, sharp edge with which to scrape the ferro rod. It makes a significant difference to the quality of sparks you can produce.

With these tips, you should be able to get a fire going in no time – even in the most difficult of conditions. Don't leave home without your ferro rod! And it's well worth scouring YouTube for more advice from experts in the field.

Which Ferro Rod Should I Buy?

Examples of ferro rods with strikers

Examples of different ferro rod designs. Image from TentCamping.org

Ferro rod products are all quite similar, as they use the same alloy in a cylindrical rod form. The main differences between products are:

  • — The handles, or lack thereof. Some ferros are simply a rod with a hole drilled for the support rope, while others have a wooden, metal, or plastic handle, often made in the form of a keychain. It's worth purchasing a rod with a handle, as it makes striking the rod much easier (and therefore more effective).

  • — The size of the rod. They usually range from 3 inches to 6 inches in length; three inches tends to be the sweet spot, however, as it's long enough to strike, but not so long that it will snap or take up too much space in your pack.

  • — The striker. This is the piece of metal that comes with the ferro rod, and that you use to strike it. Some are very basic and functional, while others have been designed with a burr to increase the friction of each strike. 
  • Don't let the striker influence your decision too much, however, as you can always use a different piece of metal (like a knife) to strike the rod.

  • — The price. Ferro rods are not expensive, but there is a wide range in price depending on the brand and where you purchase it. You can purchase a more expensive rod which will generally include a handle, casing, and nicer striker, or you can go for a more basic option and mod it yourself. 

Our MTP6 Tactical Pen comes with both a knife and a handle in a convenient screw-join kit, which also includes a safety whistle for alerting search and rescue teams to your location. 

We also stock the Fire Spark Kit that comes attached to a sturdy rope and carabiner. On the carabiner are a striker multitool (stainless steel) and a screw-lid container for storing dry tinder.

Ferro rod and fire starting kit by Atomic Bear

Fire starting kit sold by The Atomic Bear

Bottom Line

In a survival situation, a ferrocerium rod can mean the difference between life and death. It's a small, lightweight tool that can be used to create a spark for starting a fire, even in wet conditions. 

Even if you're not trying to survive, and dry wood is abundant, a ferro rod is still a useful and convenient fire starter that barely takes up any space in your pack. Whether you're an outdoors enthusiast or not, we recommend that you purchase a ferrocerium rod and keep it somewhere safe (but easily accessible) just in case.

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