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 (www.exotac.com) 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 5500º 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.