I have seen just about every survival gadget imaginable over the years, the worst being an overseas-manufactured plastic whistle that does about ten things—terribly. When it comes to survival gear, knives and fire-starters are two items whose quality should not be compromised, yet often is.
I spent the better part of last year’s Alaskan season using a ferrocerium-rod fire starter that pulled out of the handle it came with at the start of the trip. Luckily for me, I caught it right before it disappeared into the duff of the forest ground and became lost in the wild! I knew there had to be a better way to attach a ferrocerium rod to a handle that won’t come loose and possibly disappear when I need it most.
Jeff Randall of Randall’s Adventure & Training/ESEE Knives told me about a new fire-starting system called the Lightning Strike Fire Starter. I contacted the distributor, Holland Guns, and obtained one for evaluation and for future classes and adventures.
The product is based on a simple system that allows for a consistent shower of sparks to be focused on a single area. About the size of a Mini-Mag flashlight, it comes with a striker attached via shock cord and a waterproof chamber in the handle that acts as a positive grip for the fire starter. The Lightning Strike is made of aluminum and the ferrocerium rod is bolted in, making it impossible to pull out like conventional ferrocerium rods. The tube is hollow and open at the end where the sparks are concentrated and focused out from. The Lightning Strike is available in red, blue, and green. I received the red colored one, which I believe to be an excellent color for outdoor survival gear.
NEVER BE COLD AGAIN
My name is Reuben and I am a recovering frostbite victim! During the Polar Vortex in early 2014, a fellow outdoorsman and I took to the woods of Harriman State Park in New York. The temperature got down to about 10 degrees Fahrenheit. On my feet I was wearing trail runners that hadn’t seen one minute of dryness during the entire trip. After a few hours, numbness set in while we were making camp.
With evening approaching, it was time to warm up the camp and cook some food. I planned on using this fire to warm my numb feet, but as luck would have it, everything was frost covered and damp. I’ve been there before—quite a few times.
I was pretty sure we would get a fire going, but time was of the essence. Anyone who has ever used a small axe and knife on a pile of wet, snow-covered wood will tell you it’s tedious work. Making small dry sticks and shavings for a fire is about the hardest work two people can do when the mercury is dropping fast and frostbite is unknowingly setting in.
Regardless of the method used to make the initial ignition for the fire, much preparation went into making sure we would have a “sustainable fire.” Larger pieces of wood had to be split and split again until they were small sticks the thickness of pencils and fingers— only the dry stuff was acceptable.
Most people who are new to firemaking will get a small flame going, throw a few sticks on it, and then scurry around the woods looking for more fuel. In a winter wonderland, one cannot be so ill prepared. Once it’s time to make that final step, which is the ignition, it’s best to do it right the first time.
A few minutes can seem like a lifetime when a person is cold, and the ability to start a fire fast is like having a magical power. The Lightning Strike Fire Starter has an advantage over conventional spark-based fire-making methods for two major reasons. First, the shower of sparks is focused on one central area at the end of the tube. Second, the ferrocerium rod will not come loose and fall out.
When using the Lightning Strike, hold it at a 30- to 40-degree angle to the tinder. Hold the tinder in place by resting the open end of the tube on the tinder to keep it from blowing away or being knocked out of place.
Put the metal striker inside the slot and, with moderate pressure, scrape toward the tinder, which will generate a controlled shower of sparks into the tinder. The Lightning Strike Fire Starter is said to produce a spark that is up to 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit!
The slot cut into the tube exposes the ferrocerium rod and acts as a guide, wasting no energy, heat or sparks due to bad technique. This is what makes the Lightning Strike so effective. It looks like the engine of a fighter jet starting up and getting ready to take flight. It puts out such an effective shower of sparks that I can imagine it being used as a signaling device in a pinch.
I built many fires for cooking and warmth with the Lightning Strike Fire Starter and noticed that the ferrocerium rod inside seemed to wear down quickly. Since the rod is fixed in one position and can’t be rotated, it flattens out with use, but the intensity of the sparks has not lessened.
When dropped into a creek, the Lightning Strike Fire Starter stayed visible and easy to find. Needless to say, the inherent nature of a ferrocerium rod allowed it to be used right out of the creek—try that with matches or a lighter!
The supplied Lightning Strike Tinder is a cotton substance that has been impregnated with a type of petroleum fuel that makes it burn for a few minutes. The chamber itself is capped with a large rubber covering. I tested it to make sure that water cannot get inside by leaving it in water for about 20 minutes. When I checked, the inside was completely dry.
Simply put, the Lightning Strike system lights tinder faster than regular spark-based methods. The bright red color ensures it will stay visible in the woods, jungle, desert, or waterways. It is pretty much foolproof and bombproof. The size makes it hard to misplace, and the waterproof chamber adds to the usefulness of the overall design.
Retail price of the Lightning Strike is $60.00.