Testing $1 fire starters from Walmart. Insta-Fire and Firestart


While browsing the camping section at Walmart I saw two fire starters that were under a dollar. As you know, I am a bit of a pyro and wanted to test these out and see if they were the next big survival fire starter that I need to add to my supplies.

The first product is the “As Seen on Shark Tank” product called Insta-fire. I’ll call this the Dippin’ Dots fire starter. It claims to be:

  • Eco-friendly
  • Smokeless
  • Does not contain harmful chemicals
  • Good for camping, emergency, fireplace, or campfire
  • “Military Grade”! — Oooo… Fancy…
  • Lights wet wood because it burns at 1000 degrees
  • Burns on snow and floats on water
  • Nonvolatile with no unexpected flare-ups
  • Burns in winds up to 30 mph
  • Has a 5 year shelf life, and more…

The second product is an indoor/outdoor fire log by Duraflame called Firestart. It more or less resembles the inside goo of a Fig Newton with bits of wood chips in it. It is sticky and I ended up tearing the wrapping while trying to get it out of the packaging.


Taking both products outside, I tried lighting a US quarter sized piece of each. The ferro rod was not able to ignite either one so I switched to my trusty Zippo lighter and held the flame to each product for over 10 seconds. The Firestart did not light and the Insta-Fire lit for a few seconds before going out. It wasn’t even a particularly windy day and I was blocking the flame with my hand and huddled in a corner. The Insta-Fire claims to burn in winds up to 30 mph, but the trick is first lighting the darn thing.

Having no success outside I wanted to give them the best shot possible and took them into the garage. This time I took a book of matches and figured if I couldn’t light them by the time the match burned out then I wasn’t interested in it. The Firestart took a light but burned such a small flame that didn’t spread to the rest of the piece. The Insta-Fire caught flame and burned decently for a few seconds before self extinguishing itself again and leaving many unburnt pieces behind.

Okay… So far this is very disappointing. Lets try Insta-Fires’s bold claim of being able to float and light on water. This time I wasn’t messing around and poured in 1/4 of the bag into a cup of water. And the Dippin’ Dots fire starter did float! It also lit into a good sized flame. I lit the Firestart and placed that in the water to see if it would float and it just instantly sunk and went out.


Overall I would give the Firestart a 0/10 for survival and prepping purposes. As a fire log in a fireplace it might have some potential, but I will not trust this to start an emergency fire. It just doesn’t hold a flame well enough or burn hot and large enough to do much good.

The Insta-Fire gets a 2/10. One point for being cool and burning on water, and one point for at least lighting into a semi-usable flame if you put 1/4 of the package together. But again, not trusting this for an emergency situation. It’s problem is that you do need to use a large cup of it to actually do anything with and all the pieces don’t burn before it extinguishes itself. One of it’s main claims is to be nonvolatile and not flare up, but I want it to! I want it to catch fire easily, spread to all the pieces and burn completely. 

I’ll just stick to my cotton balls and vaseline for now. They catch easily, burn very long, produce a large and hot flame, and are DIRT cheap! 


  • Comments (8)

    • 5

      Very cool Jay! Good to know which products out there work and which don’t. 

      Thanks for sharing your findings.

    • 3

      I wonder if rolling the Instafire in a piece of paper like a cigarette would lead to a better fire starter. The paper would catch easily and ignite the pellets and keep it all contained. Keeping the material together might be it’s issue, because in that picture of you lighting them floating on water, some of those have floated away from the main pile, those clearly won’t catch fire. — I enjoyed reading your post by the way.

      • 1

        Just like in Mr. Mark’s comment below, maybe having it in some flameable paper would help it catch fire easier and contain the material. I have some left over fire starters from this experiment and will need to do an update.

        Thank you for the suggestion.

    • 6

      Sounds like a fun, inexpensive experiment–albeit with disappointing results.  Does “military grade” mean “Beware of overpriced dud product from government contractor” 🙂

    • 4

      I happened to use Firestart this past season at our deer camp several times and had good results. Our camp is located within a cutover so there is plenty of dead wood on the grounds, although most is damp. I didn’t take it out of the wrapper. I just tossed it in our fire pit and lit it with a lighter. The only time it failed to start a fire was during a light rain and the wood was getting wet pretty fast. It will remain a standard tool in our camp.

      I wouldn’t call it a “survival” fire starting tool, but it does work pretty good.

      • 1

        For me, the Firestart struggled to catch fire. Maybe if I had it wrapped in paper and lit that like you did with the wrapper, it would have worked better.

        You also used the entire log, I was using just a small sliver of it. The instructions say to use 1/2 or the entire log like you did, so maybe that also is why it didn’t function as well for me.

        For this test I wanted to see if these fire starters could be rationed out into smaller pieces that would be useful during an emergency, and they both failed in that regard. If used in their entirety, like they were designed to be, they would have worked much better.

      • 3


        Thanks for the post. Your test was an eye opener for me. I have never used these types of ‘fire starters’, I started hundreds of wood stove fires and coal stove fires with cotton balls and scrap wood kindling and thought these products would be a waste of money.

        If I have to use the whole thing to start a fire I can do that just as easily the ‘cotton/vaseline’ way for next to nothing.

        Maybe these products are really ‘fire accelerants’  and not fire starters.

      • 2

        Maybe they are just overpriced and ineffectual junk…. Cotton and vaseline work just fie, as do dry pine needles. Shredded Utah juniper ark is fasntastic – Cost $oo.

    • 1

      Has anyone packed Weber Lighter Cubes (24-Pack) in their bugout bags. They are $5.49 a pack. They are sealed and start with just a lighter.