The ability to start a fire at any time – even under adverse weather conditions – is an essential skill that every survivalist, prepper, and outdoor enthusiast needs to master.
If you ever have to go off the grid or spend a night or two in the wilderness, you will certainly need a fire to keep yourself warm, to ward off insects and animals, to boil water, and to cook food.
One of the most reliable fire-starting devices that you can use to build a campfire is a fire piston. The best fire piston is one that is reliable, easy to use, does not need any fuel, and works well even in bad weather.
How to Choose a Good Fire Piston?
A high-quality fire piston is something that you need to have in your bug out bag, even if you already have windproof lighters, waterproof matches, and other such fire-starting devices. It can come in handy if and when you run out of matches or lighter fuel.
Let us now take a look at the factors you should take into account to choose the best fire piston.
Easy to Grip Piston
To be able to start a fire using a fire piston, you need to slam the piston down the cylinder forcefully. If you are unable to grip the piston firmly, you might find it difficult to push it down the cylinder with the necessary force. As a result, you might have to push it down several times to start a fire.
While it is a minor inconvenience that you can put up with under normal circumstances, it can be very problematic in case of an emergency. So, make sure you choose a fire piston that is easy to grip and use.
While there is no standardized length for a fire piston, it should be long enough for you to hold comfortably in your hands. This is particularly critical if you are taller and larger than the average person.
The purpose of an o-ring is to create an airtight seal, which makes it easier to compress the air inside the cylinder and ignite the tinder. A vast majority of fire pistons available on the market today have o-rings.
However, you can still a few old school handmade models that use string gaskets instead of rubber o-rings. While they too are perfectly capable of starting a fire, fire pistons with o-rings are generally more efficient and tend to last longer.
Spare Tinder and O-Rings
A fire piston does not need any kind of fuel, but it still needs tinder to start a fire. So, make sure the fire starter kit you buy comes with plenty of spare tinder. Similarly, you might have to replace the o-ring on your piston from time to time. So, make sure the kit has a bunch of spare o-rings as well.
Does the manufacturer of the fire starter kit provide instructions on how to use the product safely? It could be a leaflet, a piece of paper with a set of instructions and warnings printed on it, or an instructional video on the manufacturer’s website. You might not need it if you have used fire pistons before, but it can be very useful for first-time users.
Replacement or Money Back Guarantee
This is a key factor you need to consider while choosing the best fire piston, especially if you intend to order it online. If the manufacturer accidentally sends you a defective product or if your product gets damaged during shipping, you should be able to replace it without any hassles.
Similarly, if you are not satisfied with the fire starter kit you buy, you should be able to get your money back without having to jump through hoops.
Let us now take a look at the five best fire pistons available on the market today.
Top 5 Fire Pistons
1. American Heritage Industries Fire Piston Kit
- FIRE PISTON- Light fires with the power of air; Combustion will create brief heat in excess of 500 degrees Fahrenheit and create a powerful burning ember within your char cloth
This is a comprehensive fire starter kit that comes with a fire piston, spare o-rings, spare tinder, char cloth, lubricant, and a piece of paracord. The piston itself looks very well made and sturdy.
The product looks quite stylish and can be a great gift for your prepper and backpacker friends. American Heritage’s choice of tinder is jute, which is an excellent material for starting a fire.
The pack contains a piece of charred vegetable fiber, which can be used as char cloth. It also contains a piece of plain cloth, which you can use to make your own char cloth. All you need to do is put the piece of cloth inside the tin and place it in a fire for a short period of time.
Why it is a Good Choice
It is a comprehensive fire starter package (call it your wilderness solutions package), which contains everything you need to start a fire in the wilderness. The piston is beautifully designed and exceptionally sturdy.
The kit comes with a set of instructions that tell you what to do and what not to do. There is also a link to a YouTube video that shows you how to use the product. The manufacturer offers a 30-day money-back guarantee for all their fire pistons.
|(+) Comprehensive fire starter kit||(-)Requires some practice to use|
|(+) Comes with spare char cloth, tinder, and o-rings|
2. Campfirepiston Hickory Piston
This is a well-made product that comes with a fire piston, spare o-rings, char cloth, and a set of instructions. The piston has an old school vibe thanks to the minimalistic design and the wooden casing.
The instructions tell you everything you need to know about making char cloth and using the fire piston. Once you get the hang of it, you can start a fire on your first try, every time.
Why it is a Good Choice
It is compactly designed and has a sturdy wooden casing that can last you a lifetime. The casing has a distinctive look and helps the piston stand out from the rest, which is all made of aluminum or steel.
It is affordably priced, despite the fact that it has high-quality hickory handles. The customer service is excellent. The representatives are not only knowledgeable about piston fire, but are also very polite, and are eager to answer the queries about the product.
|(+) Beautiful wooden casing||(-) The piston is only 4 ½ inches long and might be too short for some people.|
|(+) Easy to use||(-) The char cloth provided with the package does not ignite readily.|
|(+) Affordably priced|
3. Dioche Fire Starting Tool
- WILD APPLICATIONS: Nice survival kit for outdoor camping, hiking, exploring, outdoor adventure etc. Great accessories for travelling, picnic, barbecue
This is a lightweight fire starter kit that contains a fire piston, spare o-rings, char cloth, and tinder. You can take it with you when you go backpacking, trekking, or camping. Or you can keep it in your bug out bag and save it for emergencies.
The silver-colored piston is made of aluminum alloy and brass and is slightly over five inches in length. It is neither too long nor too short, which makes it a perfect choice for average-sized individuals.
Lubricant is not included with the package, so make sure you pack some to lubricate the o-rings.
Why it is a Good Choice
It is an all-in-one package that includes 12 o-rings and a generous amount of char cloth and tinder. It comes in a metal case, which is durable and sleekly designed. It’s very affordable – certainly in a low tax environment.
The piston is lightweight, easy to grip, and easy to use. You can start a fire easily, even if you have never used a fire piston before.
|(+) All-in-one fire starter kit which contains all the items you need||(-) The package does not include any instructions on how to use the piston.|
|(+) Comes in a beautiful, portable metal case||(-) The char cloth provided with the package does not ignite readily.|
|(+) Easy to grip and use|
4. Clickspring Fire Piston
This is a high-quality fire piston that can help you start a fire even when it is windy. It is made of brass and aluminum. It is beautifully designed and looks very appealing. If you are looking for a present for your prepper friends or outdoor enthusiasts in your family, the Clickspring piston might be a prudent choice.
The piston contains a liquid-filled compass and has a built-in compartment where you can store tinder. It comes with an extra-long lanyard, which allows you to carry the piston wherever you go.
Why it is a Good Choice
The piston is made of anodized aluminum and is designed to last long. The sleek design and the combination of black and gold colors make it look aesthetically pleasing.
The instructional video is very helpful. It tells you all you need to know about the product – how to use it, how to make your own char cloth, what kind of tinder you should use, and many more. You can find a link to the video on the manufacturer’s website.
|(+) High-quality product||(-) It is very expensive.|
|(+) Aesthetically appealing||(-) The built-in tinder holder is not as well-designed as we expected it to be.|
5. Wilderness Solutions Scout Fire Piston
- 100% made in the USA!! Amazing survival fire starting device that uses air
- Ignites organic tinder by instantaneous combustion
- Constructed of durable Delrin polymer specially selected due its low friction properties.
This is the entry-level product in Wilderness Solutions’ Scout series of fire starter products. It comes with char cloth and tinder. It is made of Delrin polymer – a material that is known for its low-friction properties. So, there is no risk of friction-induced damage or inefficiency even with repeated use.
Why it is a Good Choice
The piston is quite comfortable to hold and use. It is ruggedly built, so you do not have to worry about accidentally breaking it.
One thing we noticed about the piston is that it does not require you to slam it all the way down, as you do with other pistons. A hard shove down the cylinder should be sufficient, as long as you apply a little lubricant before every use.
|(+) Ruggedly built||(-) Entry-level product|
|(+) Very easy to use||(-) Lacks many features|
|(+) Comes with a lifetime warranty|
How Does a Fire Piston Work?
A fire piston primarily consists of two parts – the cylinder and the piston. One end of the piston has a handle, which allows you to grip it firmly. On the other end, a small amount of combustible material – commonly referred to as tinder – is placed.
In order to start a fire, you need to plunge the piston down the cylinder. When you do, the air inside the cylinder gets compressed and heats up, which ignites the tinder placed at the end of the piston. Once the tinder lights up, you need to remove the piston immediately, use it light up a larger tinder bundle or char cloth, and then use it to build a fire.
The Principle behind Fire Pistons
Generally, in order to start a fire, you need three things – oxygen, a source of heat, and fuel. In a fire piston, the air inside the cylinder acts as the source of oxygen as well as heat. The small piece of tinder placed at the end of the piston acts as the fuel.
When the piston is shoved down the cylinder in a forceful manner, the air inside the cylinder gets compressed. As a result, the air molecules move rapidly, come closer together in a very small space, which increases their internal energy, which in turn results in an increase in their temperature.
When you shove the piston down the cylinder rapidly, the temperature of the air inside the cylinder can reach as high as 500 degrees Fahrenheit. The sudden, rapid increase in temperature causes the tinder to ignite automatically. The process is referred to as heat of compression.
How to Properly Use a Fire Piston?
- First of all, you need to check the cylinder of your fire-starting device and make sure it is free of dirt and grime. Similarly, you should also check the piston and make sure it is clean – particularly the cupped end at the bottom where you keep the tinder.
- You need to apply a little bit of lubricant – it could be petroleum jelly, grease, oil, or any other lubricant of your choice – on the piston and make sure it slides into the cylinder without any friction.
- You need to place a small piece of tinder at the end of the piston. The tinder should be readily combustible. Depending on your preference, you can use chaga fungus, jute, or char cloth. The tinder should be completely dry.
- Gather a bunch of twigs, dry leaves, and pieces of wood at the spot where you want to build the fire. You should also have a piece of char cloth with you.
- Once you have everything in place, you can grab the piston by its handle and slam it down the cylinder forcefully. If your device is in proper working condition, you might be able to start a fire at the very first try. Otherwise, you might have to try it a few more times.
- Once the tinder lights up, you should remove the piston immediately from the cylinder. This is very important, as the ember which is produced as a result of the compression process needs oxygen to burn. If you keep it inside the cylinder for too long, it might die out.
- Once you remove the piston, use the ember to ignite the char cloth you have with you. You can then stick the burning char cloth into the wood pile and build a fire.
One thing you need to know about a fire piston is that it cannot build a large ball of fire instantaneously. It can only produce an ember, using which you have to build a fire. So, placing a large amount of tinder onto your piston is of no use, since the heat generated in the compression process might not be sufficient to ignite it.
The best way to start a piston fire is to ignite a very small amount of dry tinder, use it ignite a slightly larger char cloth or tinder bundle, and use it to build a fire.
What is the Best Tinder to Use with a Fire Piston?
From jute plant fibers to chaga fungus, a variety of different materials can be used as tinder for a fire piston. Still, char cloth remains the common choice of the prepper community by a wide margin.
The term ‘char cloth’ refers to a piece of cloth that is charred (not burnt) carefully for the specific purpose of starting a fire. Clothes made of natural fibers – cotton is a very good choice – are ideal for making char clothes.
Most fire piston manufacturers include char cloth in their fire starter kit. Still, it is something you will eventually run out of, especially if you use your fire piston on a regular basis. So, it is a good idea to make your own char cloth so that you can use it whenever you want.
Making Char Cloth – A Look at the Steps Involved
- First, you need a tin or a can made of metal. You also need a piece of cloth made of a natural fiber like cotton.
- Cut the cloth into small pieces and put them in the tin.
- Make a small hole in the tin. The hole needs to be tiny – just to let a small stream of air inside the can.
- Place the tin on a source of heat – it could be a stove, a fire pit, or a bed of red-hot coals.
- You should now be able to watch a stream of smoke coming out of the tin. Wait until the tin no longer produces smoke and then turn it around so that the other side gets heated as well.
- Remove the tin from the fire and let it cool for a while.
- Open the tin and remove the pieces of cloth, which should be completely charred by now. If the charred pieces of cloth are not fully black, they cannot be used as tinder. Similarly, if they are overcooked and crumble to dust if you touch them, they cannot be used as well. The ideal char cloth should be charred to the right extent and still hold its shape.
- Place the pieces of char cloth in a plastic bag or an airtight and watertight container.
Whenever you need to start a fire, you can take out a piece of char cloth from the container, place it in your fire piston, and use it to produce an ember.
How to Make Your Own Fire Piston at Home?
If you are interested in building your own fire piston, you would be happy to know that the process is quite simple.
You need the following materials to build a fire piston.
- Copper tubing
- Brass end cap for the tubing
- A wooden rod to be used as piston
- A wooden knob
- O-rings made of rubber
- Drill bits, sandpaper, and saw
How to Build the Device
- Cut off the tubing to your desired length using the saw. You can choose your own length, but anything over 15 mm might make it harder for you to store and carry it around.
- Smooth out the ends of the tubing using sandpaper.
- Attach the brass end cap to one end of the tubing using glue.
- Taper the other end of the tubing – only the first millimeter or two – using the drill bit or the sandpaper.
- Cut off the wooden rod using the saw. It should be at least a few millimeters longer than the tubing. Smooth out the ends using sandpaper.
- Insert the wooden rod into the hand drill and spin it. As it spins, use a razor blade or fine-toothed saw to make a small, evenly sized incision for the o-ring.
- Place the o-ring in the incision.
- Drill a small hole into the wooden rod to place the tinder.
- Drill an evenly sized hole – which is large enough to fit the piston rod – into the wooden knob.
- Glue one end of the piston rod with the knob.
You can now apply a little bit of lubricant on the piston rod, place a small amount of char cloth into the hole, and insert it into the tubing. If the piston setup is airtight, the char cloth will ignite and produce an ember.
Poignant Aspects to Know
Among the fire pistons listed above, the one made by American Heritage Industries is the clear winner in our opinion. It is well made, durable, and comes with a comprehensive fire starter kit which includes o-rings, char cloth, tinder, paracord, and lubricant. It is also reasonably priced and comes with a money-back guarantee.
A close second is the Dioche fire-starting tool, which is also affordably priced and comes with an all-in-one kit which includes char cloth, o-rings, and tinder.
If you are looking for the best fire piston that you can carry with you when you go hiking, camping, or backpacking or when the unmentionable hits the fan and you need to bug out, you can choose either one of the aforementioned options.