Friday, May 18, 2012

Fire When You Need It

When I need a fire, I want to be able to make one without a lot of delay.

That means having a reliable source of ignition, good tinder that will hold a flame long enough to ignite kindling, and good kindling that will hold a flame long enough to ignite the fuel wood.

If the fire is to survive, it must be built on a dry base — ideally mineral so it won't carry the blaze into the surrounding vegetation. We'll discuss fire bases in another post, but for now I want to focus on the ignition problem.

I've been testing a fire starting system made by Exotac ( and I like what I see. The "system" I'm talking about is the polySTRIKER XL ferrocerium rod. Think of it as a modern version of a flint and steel.

This is a lightweight, compact product measuring roughly 4 inches in length and tipping the scale at .4 ounces. The tungsten carbide striking tool snaps securely into a cavity in the rod handle, and a lanyard keeps them from getting accidentally separated.

I've used lots of different fire strikers over the years, and there are some that I like better than others. This one rises to the top of my list because of the quality of sparks it creates. One of the reasons it excels is the ultra-sharp, angular tungsten carbide striking steel. When scraped along the ferrocerium and magnesium rod with proper speed and pressure, a shower of 5500ยบ F globules rain down on the tinder like a bad day in Sodom and Gomorrah. What more can be asked of a fire striker?

The sparks are strong enough that they are capable of igniting a camp stove, instead of using matches. And the striker is waterproof, able to create the ignition ingredient for a fire even after it has been dunked in water. So if I pay attention to the rest of the process — good tinder and kindling — I am nearly assured of success when using this striker.

And on that note, the company also markets a flat tin (about the size of a chewing tobacco tin) of Fatwood Shavings. These shavings are very small, so they catch fire easily. And they are infused with pitch, so they hold an aggressive flame for a long time. A small pile of fatwood shavings beneath the tinder bundle will help ensure success.

Another handy tin contains a 6-hour survival candle that offers 3 wicks. Choose to ignite 1, 2 or all 3 wicks as your situation demands. These tins are shaped for easy fitting in a pocket, and don't weight much.

So, part of my test was to see if I could ignite the fatwood shavings by directing sparks from the polySTRIKER XL, and also to see if I could light the candle wick with those sparks. The fatwood shavings lit up easily and instantly. The candle wick eventually caught a spark and ignited, but the challenge was getting the spark to hit the wick just right. The best method I found was by placing the tip of the striker rod vertically on one of the wicks and shaving down.

After using this product for a while, I have to give it a thumbs-up. My only concern is that the tungsten carbide striker is so sharp that is carves off significant slices of the rod, and I might not end up getting the advertised 10,000 lights before the rod is worn out.

But, you know what? I'm not going to worry about 10,000 lights. I only need one fire at a time, and this striker will definitely give me that. When it comes time to replace the thing, I'll pop the $17.95 for a new one. I think I can afford that every few years. By the way, the tin of fatwood shavings retails for $5.95 and the candle for $6.95. I'm adding these to my BOB.


  1. I'm pretty sure I'll continue to manage with my lighters and strike anywhere matches in a water proof container. In my 69 years I've never been in a situation where my life depended on making a fire.

    But if I ever take up the fine art of arson. :-)

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  2. I was suggested this web site by my cousin. I'm not sure whether this post is written by him as no one else know such detailed about my trouble. You're wonderful! Thanks!
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  3. Very nice. I will have to pick me up one of those. Sounds like it would come in nice in handy in several situations.