Fire is a key component to survival. It can provide heat, cook meals, and help keep wildlife away.
A fire piston allows you to make a fire without the use of commercial lighters and matches.
My Top Fire Piston
After weighing the pros and cons of the major fire pistons I found, I have come to the conclusion that the Campfirepiston Hickory has the most to offer for your money.
It is lightweight , affordable and comes with char cloth so is ready to use straight out of the box. As an added bonus it is a made in the USA and looks gorgeous.Check On Amazon
How does a fire piston work?
A fire piston (also known as a compression firestarter or slam rod firestarter) works by compressing molecules of air so quickly that heat is generated.
This is accomplished when you press a cylinder through a sealed chamber. The resulting heat ignites a small piece of tinder. You can use this ember to build a fire of any size!
You do need some dry tinder to make a fire piston actually work. Many compare a fire piston to how a diesel engine works.
How to use efficiently
Having a source of dry tinder is key.
You can keep a small supply of this in a small space. Jute twine that has been unraveled and roughed up makes a great source of tinder that you can put in a small tin and keep in a pocket.
- Gather dry tinder, twigs, and other wood to fuel your fire
- Roll up a small piece of char cloth or unraveled jute and place in the end of your fire piston.
- Push the fire piston in with a quick motion. Check for your ember.
- Use ember to ignite dry tinder and then build your fire up with small twigs and pieces of wood.
This video details the process clearly.
Challenges of using a compression piston
- Requires a firm push and quick reaction time to get a viable ember
- Must have dry tinder and small pieces of wood gathered before striking an ember so fire can be built up fast enough to not just go out
- Can seem cumbersome to use in a stressful situation where reflexes and reaction time may be stressed
If you want to use and master the fire piston then it is essential that you practice using it under good conditions before trying to use it out on a trip or during an emergency situation.
Many of those that use fire pistons as part of their fire starting kit also take the time to make some char cloth to help make the process a bit easier. It is easy to make and a little goes a long way.
- Cut a few squares out of an old cotton t-shirt
- Place in a tin with a hole for venting.
- Cook over low heat for 5-10 minutes. You do not want it to catch fire itself. Be patient.
- Let tin cool and remove. A very small chunk can be rolled up and used to start a fire. A single t-shirt can make a lot of Char cloth for your preps!
This is best done outside because there will be some smell and smoke.
Fire Piston Reviews
Your choices are somewhat limited when it comes to ready made fire pistons. Prices can range a lot even if two are made from almost the same materials.
Here are some of the more commonly available options for you to consider. The most weather resistant designs are those made with a solid machined aluminum tube.
- Made of Hickory and aluminum
- Costs less than many of the fire pistons on the market today
- Weighs only 2 oz and measures 4.5 inches long
- Comes with char cloth
- Made in the USA
- Hickory is not as tough under wet conditions as solid metal
- No sealed compartment to store tinder
The Clickspring Fire Piston
- Made of precision machined aluminum
- Compass in end
- Attractive design
- Features a waterproof compartment under compass for you to store char cloth or other tinder
- 5.35 inch length makes it easy to fit in a very small space
- Expensive piece of kit
Wilderness Solutions 2nd Generation Buffalo Horn, Vented
- Made of Asian Water Buffalo horn
- Gorgeous yet practical
- Endorsed by survivalists such as Les Stroud
- Char cloth and jute tinder included
- Natural materials look good but not as durable as aluminum alloy
- Horn can be slick in wet conditions or if hands are sweaty.
Numyth Vulcan Fire Piston V2
- Made of brass and aluminum
- Tough anodized coating protects for long term use
- Knurled handle offers a firm non slip grip even under wet conditions
- Waterproof chamber under the front cap keeps your choice of tinder dry so you can get a fire going fast
- More expensive than a ferro rod
- Can be hard on the hands. Those with limited use of their hands might find it hard to use
BE Fire Piston – Including Ferroceirum rod & Char Cord
- Precision machined from an aluminum alloy
- Waterproof tinder compartment
- Hidden fire steel in plunger
- Mid priced
- Compact size 3 .75 inches long
- Weighs 2.4 oz
- Comes with char cloth
- Plunger cap needs to be checked for tightness since it can loosen after multiple impacts
Wilderness Solutions Scout Fire Piston
- Lightweight compact design
- 100% Made In USA
- Lifetime warranty
- Aluminum piston shaft
- Delrin tube
- Plastic shaft can be slippery
- Costs as much as some solid brass and aluminum fire pistons
Fire Piston Fire Starter
- Lightweight aircraft aluminum
- Moderate cost
- Anodized black coating for added durability
- Simple design
- Dual O-rings create better compression so it is easier to get an ember the first time you push
- 4.5 inches long
- No chamber for storing dry tinder
- Solid black design can be hard to see if you sit it down
How To Make a DIY Version
Factory made fire pistons can be costly so some people choose to make their own using some basic materials.
Here’s a video that details the process.
Fire Pistons Versus Other Firestarters
Without some practice, the fire piston is going to be harder to use for most people.
Of those that do not like the fire piston, the most common reason is that the person simply gave up on learning how to use it after a few frustrating attempts. Fire pistons work but they are not going to be as easy as striking a store bought lighter.
Ferro rods can be easier and more satisfying for some because they can at least get a lot of sparks right away.
Recommended Reading: Expert Tips For Using a Ferro Rod Firestarter
Starting a fire can be challenging under wet conditions or when there is little dry wood around to burn even if you get one going.
Personally I want several ways to light a fire if I am in a survival situation. If I have a fire piston you can bet that I am going to have a lighter or some waterproof matches in a sealed container too.
Fire pistons are an interesting addition to any fire starting kit. Unfortunately they require a bit more skill to use than other fire starting methods.
If they are not properly sealed due to a lost or cracked O-ring then they can cease to function until the ring is replaced. Due to the motion required to plunge the cylinder and the quick reaction time needed, these are not for beginners.