Struggling from the embrace of the river, you feel the cold setting into your bones. It can't be more than 40 degrees out here, and you are soaked to the bone. It was dumb idea to try to cross the river, but you did it anyway. Your foot slipped and you feel into the water and were immediately swept away. After being buffeted by rocks and waves foe what seemed an eternity, you made it to the edge of the river and managed to pull yourself ashore.

Now, what? You're cold and wet and all to hell. You did manage to save your pack, and thanks to careful packing skills, some of your stuff is still dry. Unfortunately, one of those things is not your lighter. You had been carrying your lighter in you hip pocket like you always do. Shivering you scan the area. There's plenty of fallen wood and tender. It hasn't rained in weeks. If only you had a spark.

Frustrated, you rip into your pack trying to find something. Nothing. You find some semi dry clothes (long johns and an extra shirt) in the bottom of your pack and change into them. As you are zipping your pack closed, you suddenly stop. Hanging from the exterior zipper is a piece of what looks like steel. It's not just steel. It's ferrocerium. Firesteel. It's what is going to save you and dry you out. You bought it as a novelty in the camping store. Just something cool looking to hang from that back of your pack. Thank God for fashion.

You quickly gather together some tender, kindling, and several larger pieces of wood. You pile some tender together, shave a little of the ferrocerium off the block into the pile, say a silent prayer, and run the back of your knife down the block. A shower of sparks spring into life, falls to the tender, and ignites the pile of ferrocerium. The tender quickly flames up. Feeding small twigs and leaves to the growing fire, you smile for the first time in hours.

So what is FIRESTEEL?

Invented by Baron Carl Auer von Welsbach for the Swiss Army,FIRESTEEL or ferrocerium is a combination of iron and other mischmetal. It is commonly called a "flint" now, and sold under the brand names Blastmatch, FIRESTEEL, and Metalmatch. It is not really a flint. It works on the principle of pyrophoricity. Meaning it can ignite when exposed to air and a small amount of heat. This is what causes the shower of molten sparks when you "strike" the FIRESTEEL. Ferrocerium sparks typically burn between 3000 and 5000 degrees Celsius. You can get 1,500 to 3,000 strikes from a single FIRESTEEL.

A FIRESTEEL is an essential part of any hiking or camping pack. It will work no matter how wet it get and is virtually indestructible. It won't break or fail to strike like a lighter or get damp and fall apart like a match. It's easy to use and doesn't require any training to use.

Most FIRESTEELs come attached to a lanyard and include a metal striker/scraper. They can be found online at and as well as many other survival and camping sites. Expect to pay between $5 and $15 for a block and scraper. This is not the place to save a buck. For a few extra dollars you can insure that you have a high quality piece of equipment that will not fail when you need it most.