Reviews - Firestarting Equipment
The ability to make fire in survival situations can mean the difference between life and death. Tools that aid an individual to make fire have varied throughout time. If you go camping, hiking, or keep a survival kit in your car, having tools that allow you to make fire quickly and efficiently are extremely important. Solkoa has produced a series of products that make fire quick and easy even in rain or wet conditions.
The first item I will take a look at is the Emergency Fire Starting Kit. The kit comes with Solkoa's basic Faststrike rod which is made of ferrocerium and measures 3 inches in length. The rear of the rod has a rubberized handle that is approximately one inch long and is equipped with a lanyard hole. This handle is slightly thicker than the striking rod which makes it easier to hold. One drawback to the design of the handle is that it does shorten the length of the Faststrike rod and leaves about 2.5 inches for actual striking. I found this a bit challenging due to the large size of my hands. Attached to the handle is a black nylon lanyard which is connected to a 3 inch carbon steel hacksaw. Together the rod and the saw weigh only 1 ounce. This is a really great feature if you do not want your fire starting gear to be heavy. The emergency kit also includes 2 Fastfire tinder cubes that are wrapped in durable foil.
Each cube weighs only 0.2 ounces and measures 1"x1"x1". Combined, the entire kit weighs approximately 1.5 ounces. According to its website, Solkoa states that each cube can be cut into eighths which would allow for the Emergency Fire Starting Kit to start approximately sixteen fires. In addition, the packaging of the kit claims the Faststrike rod can be used over five thousand times. The packaging of the Emergency Kit has a lot of useful information. On the front side of the package you can find instructions on how to use the kit. The backside of the package includes detailed information on the Fastfire tinder cubes and Faststrike rod. I liked this feature as well. Some kits that I have used provide little information compared to Solkoa's, which highlights their excellent attention to detail about their products. The cost of the Emergency Fire Starter Kit is $11.95 and is a good value.
Next is the Faststrike Maxx which retails for $14.95 by itself. This a slightly larger fire steel than the one included in the emergency kit. The Firestriker Maxx is made of ferrocerium, measures 4 inches in length and 13 millimeters in diameter. It weighs 3 ounces and is connected by a lanyard to a 4 inch carbon steel hacksaw blade. The hacksaw on this version can also be used for other purposes in addition to being a striker. Solkoa claims that it can be used to start more than five thousand fires. The few tests I used it for gouged the ferrocerium rod quite a bit. Both rods and strikers worked great but I found myself using the Faststrike Maxx more as it was easier to hold in my hands. The added weight isn't as much of a concern for my hiking gear. People who are more concerned about adding even a few ounces of weight or space may want to consider the smaller Faststrike included in the emergency kit.
To test out this gear, Woods Monkey Associate Editor Tim Stetzer and I tested the functionality of the Fastfire tinder cubes in wet conditions and used the kit to create a small campfire with some kindling. We first used about a quarter of a tinder cube and set it on fire using the striker on a flat rock with no kindling. The Fastfire tinder caught after a couple of strikes and burned without smoke or any discernible odor. It stayed lit for a few minutes until all of the material had burned. The fire left a small chemical mark on the rock but left no other trace. Next, we took a larger piece of the tinder cube and lit it. Then we placed the burning tinder in a small tin of water. Solkoa's literature states that it will burn when wet. We tried to light a piece of the tinder cube while it was floating in water but this proved unsuccessful.
The third test involved using a pocket knife to shave the Fastfire tinder cube into small chips. This method was very successful and the tinder caught on the first try. For the last test we built a small campfire in a fire pit. Using the shaving method Tim and I used a portion of the tinder cube and set it on fire on top of some kindling. I used the Faststrike Maxx to start this fire and it caught after a couple of passes of hacksaw on the rod. The tinder caught and within less than a minute the small kindling began to smoke and catch fire. Next we added a few larger sticks to the kindling to keep the fire going. The entire process of building the fire took less than five minutes using Solkoa's products. I was quite impressed with the Fastfire tinder cubes. The fact that they burned in water and caught quickly, even with a minimal amount of spark, was proof that the product worked.
Solkoa also sells a refill package that contains 4 Fastfire tinder cubes. I really liked this option as an alternative to having to buy another Firestrike rod. The 4 tinder cubes weigh less than an ounce together and could be added to your kit with minimal weight increase. Considering how well the tinders burn I plan on stocking up on a couple of refill packages as they are significantly smaller and lighter than other fire tinder I have carried. One major bonus of the refill package is the cost. Four tinder cubes cost only $4.95 and in my opinion very affordable considering the number of fires you can start with each package.
The only adjustments I made with both Faststrike rods was to increase the length of the lanyards connecting the rods to the hacksaw. During testing of the Faststrike Maxx I found it easier to detach the hacksaw striker from the rod. From a practical point of view it makes more sense to keep them tied together but I had a bit of difficulty getting a lot of spark off the rod with them tied so close together. I would also recommend a case of some sort for your kit to keep the Faststrike rod and fuel cubes together in one place. Solkoa sells a lightweight machined aluminum case called the Suma that sells for $49.95. This is a bit more expensive than their other products and I didn't have the opportunity to handle one for this review. However, there are any number of other alternatives such as plastic or cloth bags or tin, leather or plastic cases.
Overall, I really liked all of Solkoa's Fastfire products that were tested for this review. I have used all sorts of traditional and modern fire starting kits and I think this is definitely one of my favorites. All items were simple to use and made of quality materials. The Faststrike Maxx is really easy to use and throws out a massive amount of spark. The compound used in the Fastfire cubes is extremely lightweight, easy to store and long lasting. The packaging of the Emergency Fire Starting Kit with the ferrocerium rod, hacksaw and two cubes is a real value. Most kits in my experience sell each piece separately for a significantly higher price. Pricing for all of Solkoa's products is reasonable even for those who are budget conscious.
As Ian mentioned, I had the opportunity to try out the Fastfire gear with him during our test session. I also was impressed with both the Faststrike rods and Fastfire tinder. The Faststrike rods throw a great spark and worked well not just with the provided hacksaw blade but also with the spines of a couple of knives tested. Either model would be a good addition to a fire steel loop on a knife sheath or as an addition to a PSK. The Fastfire cubes were impressive as well. While a little larger than some other commercial tinders, I thought they made up for the difference in the fact that you could break them down and make multiple fires from a single cube. While we didn't have luck starting a hunk of floating Fastfire tinder, I'm not really sure this means much. Really, when are you going to try and light a fire on water? It was more an exercise to see if we could do it. We still had absolutely no problem lighting wet tinder once we shaved some off the cube so that it could catch a spark, and the tinder would continue to burn if you lit a cube and dropped it in water. Both of those gave us great confidence that the Fastfire tinder should work great even if it got wet or if you were trying to start a fire in the rain. When we did our burn tests we were impressed with burn times too. We had plenty of time to add tinder and get a fire going while the cubes burned. All in all, it was a very successful test. Like Ian, I plan on adding some Fastfire to my kits as well. - Tim Stetzer
For further reading visit: http://fast-fire.com
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