Male hand starts fire with a fire steel, fire striker

How To Use a Ferro Rod the Easy Way

Whether you have embarked on your first outdoor adventure or are looking for new ways of starting fires, I will show you one of three sure methods of starting a survival fire or campfire. Let’s dive in and explore some fire-making methods – particularly how to use a ferro rod.

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But All I Need is a Lighter or Matches – Wrong!!

BushLife - How to Use a Ferro Rod
Outdoor Campfire
After using a Ferro Rod and Striker to make an outdoor campfire by the river in the woods, a hot meal is being cooked over the fire in a metal pot

Thinking you just need a lighter or matches is beyond wrong – it can get you killed in a survival situation. You already know one method of starting a fire – which is using a lighter or matches. But what would you do if those matches were wet or your lighter ran out of fuel? What happens when your lighter is too cold or wet to work? 

Without a fire, you are now facing a night without warmth. Without a means to dry wet clothes. And without a method of cooking a warm meal or boiling water. Unknown to many, a fire is also a means of deterring predators. The wolf or coyote knows that smell means humans, and they stay away!

That is why we stress the importance of always carrying 3 sources of ignition

  1. Lighter
  2. Stormproof matches
  3. Ferro rod

What is a Ferro Rod?

To answer that, let’s go back in time a bit. All of us have heard of flint and steel, which, in addition to the bow drill, are your primitive methods of starting a fire. 

With flint and steel, you strike metal with a sharp piece of flint. This removes small pieces of metal that oxidize and generate heat. Heat which can ignite fine tinder!

Instead of the Stone Age, a Ferro rod, more properly known as a ferrocerium rod, can be described as the Space Age. Unlike flint and steel, the Ferro rod is a man-made metal alloy that comes in the shape of a rod. 

Are All Ferro Rods the Same?

No, these Ferro rods come in various diameters from .25 in. up to 1 in. Depending on the size of the Ferro rod, it can provide anywhere from several 1,000’s of strikes to a lifetime of strikesEach strike provides super hot sparks to the tune of 3,315 °C or 6,000 °F!

No matter what altitude you are at, how cold it is or even if the Ferro rod is wet or fully submerged in water, your Ferro rod is meant to produce a spark no matter what.

How to Buy a Ferro Rod

Exotac Nano Striker
Exotac Nano Striker Ferro Rod

Since this is your first Ferro rod purchase, you want to look for one that is easy to handle. The extra-large rods, also known as mammoth rods like the Uberleben Hex Fire Starter, are the easiest to use

As your experience grows, you can transition to compact Ferro rods or even mini ones like the Exotac Nano Striker, which by the way, has a permanent home on my keychain. Ferro rods with a mounted handle are easiest to use for beginners. Or you can opt for Ferro rods with a predrilled hole for a paracord strap or carabiner for easy carry.

Do not forget to consider the environment. In cold environments, opt for a larger Ferro rod. Imagine breaking through the ice in the middle of nowhere. Your fingers will not work as they should when you get out. These are the times we only have gross motor skills to rely on, and the bigger rod will make a big difference in your ability to use it.

What is the Best Ferro Rod to Buy?

For the most part, all my Ferro rods seem to perform sort of the same, except for one. Although that one standout rod works, I’m just not impressed by it.

A contributing factor in performance is the varying ratios of alloys used in the Ferro rod-making process. The challenge here is that manufacturers don’t divulge what’s in their rods, so it’s not something for us to look for.

Quality of materials is always a factor as well. While price is never a guarantee, as long as it’s not a super cheap product, we can only assume we are getting something decent.

Size Matters

If anything, I would pay more attention to size than anything else, especially in your early learning days. Only time and owning a few of these Ferro rods will help you find your favourite. Below are a couple of options to consider, and since bigger is easier, let’s only look at a 3″ Ferro rod and a 5″ – 8″ version.

The Fire Fast Trekker Ferro Rod

The Fire-Fast Trekker is made in Austria and has a hardwood handle (which you scrape off for use as a tinder in an emergency), a 550 paracord strap, and a hardened steel striker. More importantly, it has a magnesium bar attached, which will be covered further below in my post. The 3″ Fire-Fast Trekker Ferro rod is not huge, but it’s like the MacGyver of Ferro rods.

Ferro Rod Made By überleben

At 1/2″ thick, the überleben Kräftig is a larger Ferro rod. You can choose between 5″ or 8″ in length. It’s nice to have at least one big rod in the arsenal. The bigger Ferro rods seem harder to come across, so get it while you can.

How To Use a Ferro Rod

Now that you have a Ferro Rod, let’s look at how to use a Ferro rod for beginners.

Step #1: Grab the top part of the ferro rod and hold it in your non-dominant hand. 

Step #2: Place the other end of the Ferro rod on your tinder or just above it, and keep the rod at an angle. 

Step #3: With your free hand, position the striker or the knife’s spine (see below) at a 45-degree angle. This angle is what will help you produce the sparks.

Step #4: Holding both the Ferro rod and striker firmly, with a downward motion, scrape the Ferro rod with the striker. You’ll know you are doing it right when you see the sparks flying. 

TIP: You may find it easier to hold the striker steady and pull up on the rod. This helps to avoid splattering your tinder with the striker.

RELATED: How to Build a Campfire: The Basics of Fire Building

Get Your Tinder In the Right Spot

Make sure that the end of your rod is next to or right on top of your tinder pile so the sparks land in it. The tinder is what needs to catch the sparks for it to ignite. At first, it can be a real challenge but don’t get discouraged. Success with a Ferro rod generally requires some practice and a lot of patience. The more you practice, the better off you’ll be.

Pro Tip!

Most Ferro rods come with a striker, but if yours does not, don’t panic. The most efficient striker would be a short (or broken) piece of hacksaw blade. In a pinch, even the back of a boxcutter blade will suffice just be super careful with it. If you use a Leatherman, the spine of the saw will work. You can even use a high-quality knife as long as it has a 90-degree spine. Never use the knife’s blade, as it will cause damage – unless it’s an emergency.

If you look at my Backpack Gear Load Out post you’ll notice the Morkaniv Garberg Carbon knife is my go-to for the bush. This knife has a 90-degree spine and is made from carbon steel. You now have one hell of a striker that’s harder to lose in the bush!

Further Reading: Morakniv Garberg Carbon: What Makes Bushcraft Knives So Special?

What is Tinder?

Using a Ferro Rod for Fire-Starting with Tinder
Using various tinders such as grasses, birch and pine cones, male hands start fire with ferro rod and a fire striker or knife

At this point, you may be wondering what is tinder. And no, it’s not a dating site. Tinder is anything that can easily light. If you already know what tinder is, you may need to re-think that in terms of how to use a Ferro rod. 

For example, dry grass, cattail fluff, scraped birch bark, fatwood shavings and so on are excellent sources of tinder. Dryer lint even works well. Just remember the word fluffy – the fluffier, the better. Remember that your tinder needs to be dry!

In my tribulations of learning the Ferro rod, I can’t begin to tell you how frustrating it was. So, I’ll say it again and again, practice! Then practice some more!! I promise it gets a lot easier with experience.

A product called Flamers Firelighters will work wet and take flint and steel sparks to act as your tinder. It takes some work out of having to gather tinder in the woods. I always keep my tinder DRY in a ziplock and suggest you do the same. 

A Huge Tip: Vaseline Dipped Cotton Balls

If you want to cheat a bit, actually a lot, I have a secret for you. I have something 100% surefire. Cotton balls dipped in Vaseline NEVER fail to light! It’s not by accident my survival fire kit has a ziplock (shhh, don’t tell anyone) with many cotton balls dipped in Vaseline.

Here is a short video I made on How to Use a Ferro Rod, where we light a vaseline-dipped cotton ball during a light rain.

A short video I made on How to Use a Ferro Rod. Here we light a vaseline dipped cotton ball, in a light rain.

You can light and use the burning cotton ball to get some bigger tinder going, even working up to wet kindling if you have to. I should also note the vaseline-dipped cotton ball will burn for quite a while.

What is a Magnesium Bar?

Ok, you’ll remember above where we have a link to a Ferro rod with a mag bar. Magnesium bars have long been used in the military as a fire starter. Hopefully, you see the pattern that even the army doesn’t rely on lighters and matches alone. 

Magnesium burns very violently when powdered or shaved. A magnesium bar is even easier to use than a Ferro rod. Let’s look at how to use a mag bar. 

Start with scraping off small chunks of magnesium with a scraper or the back of your knife – the scrapings go right into your tinder bundle. Using your rod, you then throw a spark into it, and your odds of ignition have just gone up by a lot.

Do I suggest it – not necessarily. Yes, it works great, and it doesn’t hurt to have, but the Ferro rod is the absolute gold standard for the bush, and you really should learn how to use the Ferro rod.

Final Thoughts on How to Use a Ferro Rod

Without knowledge, the amount of gear you need goes up. However, with knowledge, the gear level comes down – it’s a simple inverse relationship. Here is a startling fact that I learned during my hunting course – hunters who were found dead in the woods, for one reason or another, were mostly found with all the gear they ever needed to survive!

I am not trying to scare you, nor should you be afraid to get out there and enjoy the wild. It’s a lot safer than you think, and no, there aren’t that many hunters found dead:) I’m simply saying swiping the credit card for cool gear is not a replacement for learning real-life skills. I don’t know about you, but I like the feeling that I can survive many situations with a good bushcraft knife and a Ferro rod. Now that’s empowering! So what are you waiting for, get out there, practice using your gear and enjoy what nature has to offer!

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How To Use a Ferro Rod: The Easy Way
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Stelios Lazos
Stelios Lazos

Stelios comes from the corporate world where he was a highly successful executive. Inspired by his love for the outdoors he has re-located with his family to live to the BushLife where he blogs about his adventures. Finding inspiration in the never-ending questions from aspiring outdoors people, Stelios aims to share his knowledge, one post at a time.

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