Fire is one of man’s oldest, and most useful tools. We use it to warm ourselves when we’re cold, to cook our food, to signal when we’re lost, and as a crucible to make other tools. Having a reliable means to do so can range from being a simple matter of convenience to an issue of survival. Woods Monkey takes a look at two modern solutions From Exotac to the age-old problem of being able to make fire when you need it.
As coincidence would have it, I had just stumbled across the Exotac website and was looking at a new match case and striker from the same when I received an e-mail from my editor asking me if I had any interest in reviewing the very same products. Well, if that isn’t fate, I don’t know what is. Naturally I jumped at the chance. It turns out that we were able to get a couple of review samples of both the MATCHCAP match safe and the nanoSTRIKER ferro rod through EDC Depot. Lets take a look at both products and see what they’re all about.
Match safes are nothing new. Probably since matches have been around folks have been looking for ways to keep them safe and dry with various tins, jars, and tubes being used over the years. Good match safes are hard to find though and I can only think of a couple that are rugged, waterproof, and easy to use. Well, you can now add one more to that short list, the Exotac MATCHCAP. Before you even see the MATCHCAP you’ll find yourself being impressed. Rather than a plastic bag, or even a clamshell packaging, the Exotac MATCHCAP comes nicely packaged in a small box, tastefully finished with images of the case stored inside. Once you open up the box you’ll find your new MATCHCAP safely nestled in a fitted liner, along with a set of instructions and a couple spare O-rings and striker pads for the case. The MATCHCAP itself is constructed of aircraft grade 6061 aluminum and coated with an anodized finish for durability. You can get them in either black or gunmetal gray. The outer casing is knurled for both a secure grip and for use as a striking surface with strike anywhere matches. It’s sealed by means of a screw on cap and O-ring and is waterproof down to 5 meters. So, if you’re a Navy SEAL this might not be waterproof enough for you, but for most folks that should be plenty to survive the elements or a dunk in the creek or a pond.
The cap features a lanyard loop sufficient in size to fit a double width of paracord through. The overall length of the MATCHCAP is 80mm, that’s about 3.15 inches to everyone in the U.S. that isn’t an engineer. That’s pretty compact considering that my K&M Match case measures in at a hefty 4 ½ inches and both cases are rated for the long NATO Lifeboat matches and REI Stormproof matches. Admittedly the K&M has a compass built in as well, but even taking that out of the equation the MATCHCAP is still about ½ inch shorter. Suffice it to say, its pretty compact for what it is. Weight is listed at 28 grams. I weighed mine loaded with matches and with a paracord lanyard on it and it came it at an even one ounce on my postal scale.
Unlike a lot of other match cases the MATCHCAP comes with not one, but two, striking surfaces. One is located on the base of the case, and another is on the side, where the cap covers it when it’s screwed on. The one on the side of the case will work with both strike on the box or strike anywhere matches, whereas the one on the base is good for strike anywhere type matches only. Both striking surfaces, as well as the O-rings, are easily replaceable and are available from Exotac. Capacity for the MATCHCAP is 12 REI Stormproof matches, 16 NATO Lifeboat matches, or 10 kitchen matches. Exotac advises against packing the match case too full and recommends leaving about ¼ of the volume empty. They also recommend striking away from the opening of the case to avoid any stray sparks from getting inside the case and igniting the other matches inside.
The other new product from Exotac is their nanoSTRIKER. Ferro rods of various sorts are nothing new to the outdoors world but the basic rods have a couple of drawbacks. First, uncovered rods are prone to corrosion and damage depending on where and how you carry them. I know folks do various tricks such as covering the rod in a rubber tube to protect them form damage or wear when carried in the pocket or with other gear, or painting them with clear nail lacquer to keep corrosion away in salt-water climates. It’s not an insurmountable issue but its something to consider when you add a ferro rod to your kit. The other issue is how to carry the striker. While most rods come with a striker typically attached to the rod by a cord of some sort, I know I almost always ditch the provided striker. It adds bulk to the striker and often gets in the way of how you intend on carrying it. I’ve also found that other materials like the spine of a knife, the back of the saw on a SAK, or a piece of hacksaw blade tend to work better as strikers anyway. If you want to carry one with the rod though, the factory ones aren’t always the greatest choice.
Well, Exotac addresses both of these issues with their nanoSTRIKER. The nanoSTRIKER takes a compact ferrocium rod and houses it in a light but durable 6061 aircraft aluminum body. This is the same material that they make the MATCHCAP out of it and its treated with the same anodized finish, although nanoSTRIKER’s are only available in black at this time. The rod screws into the aluminum case, complete with rubber O-ring, and is protected from both the elements and any sort of damage when you carry the rod on a key ring, in your pocket, or have it stowed in a kit. The outer surface of the sleeve is knurled so that you can easily unscrew the rod even with cold or wet hands. At the tip of the rod’s handle, another piece unscrews to reveal a striker. It’s a clever and compact way to carry a rod and striker together without the bulk of a typical slat striker piece. The nanoSTRIKER features a sturdy handle of 303 stainless steel and a uniquely designed 440C stainless steel striker that is hardened to 50HRC. The striker has an “I beam” shaped cross section to allow numerous sharp edges to ensure good sparking capability. The ferro rods on the nanoSTRIKER are rated for 1,000 strikes and are replaceable for an extremely affordable $3.99 from Exotac. The nanoSTRIKER also comes nicely boxed complete with a split ring for key ring carry, spare O-rings, and an instruction manual.
Both Exotac products are extremely well made. Fit and finish is excellent and they exhibit a modern and functional design. They’re both lightweight and compact and will easily slip into your pocket whenever you head afield, or will stow easily in a kit, or in your pack. Construction is solid and shouldn’t leave you with any concerns for the integrity of the matches or the condition of the rod even if you take a spill, or drop your pack at some point in your trip. You can probably find cheaper match cases and basic rods than the Exotacs but I doubt you’ll find anything of their build quality for the money. While you can buy direct from Exotac, we got our review samples from Mark Kochan of EDC Depot. EDC Depot carries the MATCHCAP for $22.95 and the nanoSTRIKER for $24.95. You’ll save a couple bucks there and can pick up some other handy gear while you’re there too.