Best Fire Pistons: Are They Really Better Than Ferro Rods?

By Jason K. | Updated: 04/13/2023

Today We Will Go Over An Incredible Survival Tool… The Fire Piston

Fire Piston

When it comes to survival skills, making fire is one of the most important.

Fire gives us the ability to:

  • Keep warm and dry,
  • Cook food and sterilize water
  • Make signals during the day and at night

Humans also show a psychological boost from fires.

This moral booster can help to increase your odds of surviving an emergency.

With all these benefits, it’s easy to see why we spend a lot of time (and money) to ensure we can always make a fire.

Today, there are hundreds of tools designed to ensure your fire-making skills.

Tools range from survival lighters to solar mirrors.

They each have their benefits and drawbacks.

Some firestarters are better suited to certain situations than others.

Most experienced adventurers plan on carrying at least two different firestarters. A primary and a backup, just in case.

But what did people do before modern technology made fire so simple?

Our ancestors didn’t have access to mass-produced plastic lighters.

They also didn’t carry boxes of waterproof matches or have Ferrocerium rods.

So if your primary source of fire is a bow drill, what can you carry for backup?

A compression fire starter is a smart option.

↓ Fire Piston Demonstration: Phantom Flex Slow Motion ↓

So today, I’m going to rely on my Engineering Degree & Gear Testing experience to we’re going to cover the following topics:


Best Fire Pistons For Sale

What’s A Compression Fire?

How A Fire Piston Works

How To Use A Fire Piston

Best Tinder To Use

How To Make A Your Own

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Best Fire Pistons For Sale Today

Let’s now look at a few of the best fire pistons on the market today.

I want to show you various types, styles and prices to choose from:

1. Our Top Pick
Campfirepiston Hickory Piston

This is a very nice-looking model with a wooden handle that saves your hands. Especially when compared with the knurled grips of other options.

The aluminum inner cylinder and piston are well constructed and should stand up to years of use.

Plus, the hickory outside makes this one a great survival gift to show off to your friends.

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↓ Hickory Piston Review ↓

PSKOOK Metal Fire Piston

This piston is very compact, but that comes at the price of ease of use.

The small handles make it harder to grip and less stable during use.

However, the small size makes it easier to pack and lighter than other models.

Also, the dual o-ring seal ensures no air escapes, helping maximize your chances of success.

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↓ PSKOOK Piston Fire Starter, A True Ancient Technology Tool! ↓

Wilderness Solutions Scout Fire Piston

The Scout Piston is manufactured from a space-age polymer and features an aluminum piston shaft.

It also comes with some char-cloth and a spare O ring.

Finally, it has a LIFETIME WARRANTY.

They will repair or replace any product that fails to perform for any reason.

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↓ Wilderness Solutions FireStarter Piston ↓

SXTL Piston Kit with Char Cloth

This kit comes with all the parts and accessories you need to start a fire.

This piston head is made of copper and the chamber is made of aluminum. This combination of metals makes for a very durable design.

The kit comes packaged in a tin box that you can easily slip into your backpack or toolbox, ideal for camping or backpacking.

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↓ SXTL Compression Fire Starter Review ↓

What Is A Compression Fire Starter? 

It’s a proven fire-starting device that’s been around for hundreds of years.

It is also called a fire piston, fire syringe, or slam rod fire starter.

They use the fundamental laws of physics to heat and ignite a small piece of tinder.

The design is simple – there are only two parts!

  1. It consists of a hollow cylinder.
  2. And a piston rod.

The first is a hollow cylinder with a smooth interior and an air-tight circular seal.

The cylinder size can range from a few inches in length and less than 1/2” wide to the size of a bicycle tire pump.

The second part is a piston rod that’s a fraction smaller in diameter than the cylinder.

It’s also about an inch longer.

The piston rod includes a small cavity for the tinder to sit.

It also has an airtight rubber o-ring seal on one end and a comfortable handle on the opposite end.

These parts can be made out of nearly any material.

However, metal and plastic are the most common nowadays.

That’s because they allow for incredibly smooth surfaces.

Smooth surfaces are essential for a very tight seal between the two parts.

The piston rod must be tight to the cylinder walls to prevent air from escaping.

This tight tolerance between the cylinder and the rod is what creates the magic.

Survival Gear Checklist eBook Cover -with fire piston on a rock and campfire in the background

Want a free 54 item survival gear checklist?

Click here to instantly download this Complete Checklist PDF. No purchase necessary.

How Compression Fires Starters Workfire piston lite ember

They work on the principle of the Ideal Gas Law.

If this sounds familiar, you heard about it in high school chemistry or physics class.

The Ideal Gas Law defines the relationship between pressure, volume, and temperature.

The basic premise is this:

For a given amount of a gas (i.e., air), quickly compressing it to a smaller volume results in a dramatic increase in both pressure and temperature.

This can result in a spike in the air temperature of over 400deg F.

Plenty of heat to instantly ignite a fine piece of tinder without a spark!

If this seems far-fetched, it’s not.

It’s the same law of physics that allows diesel engines to work.

↓ How To Use A Piston Fire Starter ↓

How To Use A Fire Piston

Using this simple survival tool is simple in concept but takes some practice to master.

↓ Black Scout Tutorials – Piston Fire Starter ↓

First, take the time to create a nest of tinder and small kindling.

This is where you’ll put the ember produced by the tube once it’s lit.

So ensure it’s easy to reach and have all the fire fuel ready before you begin.

There’s nothing worse than running out of fuel just as your fire starts to take off.

Next, place a small amount of tinder in the cavity on the front of the piston.

Don’t pack it in there, as it needs exposure to air to heat and combust.

If you pack it too tightly, it’ leaves no room for air to comingle with the tinder.

Start the piston into the cylinder, but don’t compress it too far.

Just enough to hold it in place should be fine.

Brace the cylinder against a solid object and grab the handle.

Now, quickly push the piston in, compressing the air and (hopefully) lighting your tinder.

Once you’ve compressed the air, getting it out of the cylinder fast is important.

The tinder needs immediate fresh air – before the oxygen is consumed and the ember dies out.

So as soon as the piston reaches the bottom of the cylinder, pull it back out just as rapidly.

So in and out FAST!

Now quickly transfer the tiny ember into the fine tinder’s nest.

Once it’s transferred, gently fan it (or blow on it) to encourage the flames to grow.

If you’re successful, work up to a larger fire with kindling.

Practice all these motions until they’re smooth and consistent.

Soon you’ll master it and increase your efficiency and success.

Pro Tip: Using a dab of Petroleum Jelly in your tinder bundle can help, if your struggling.

Survival Gear Checklist eBook Cover -with fire piston on a rock and campfire in the background

Want a free 54 item survival gear checklist?

Click here to instantly download this Complete Checklist PDF. No purchase necessary.

Best Tinder To Use

While a piston fire starter can reach high temperatures, it can only maintain them for a very short time.

This means that easily lit tinder work best.

Fine cotton and dryer lint both combust with ease.

However, they burn too quickly and produce no usable embers.

By contrast, char cloth and fine bark fibers light with ease.

And this tinder burns more slowly and allows you time to remove the ember from the piston and use it to start a fire.

You can make char cloth by burning denim or cotton cloth in a closed metal container with limited oxygen.

I use a metal breath mint container with a pinhole vent.

↓ How To Make Charcloth! ↓

how to use a fire piston

How To Make One At Home

Like most tools, you CAN make one yourself with enough ingenuity, skill, and patience.

They’re fairly simple tools to build once you understand the principles behind them.

It also doesn’t have to cost much money (but will cost some “time”).

Watch this video to learn how to make one for just 1$:

↓ Slam Rod Fire Starter – Ignition By Air!! ↓

And here’s another good video on how to make one and some char cloth to go with it:

↓ Making A Fire Piston And Char Cloth ↓

Final Thoughts

Nothing is going to replace a survival lighter as a primary firestarter.

Sorry, it’s too cheap, easy to use, and readily available.

But a piston fire starter is an exciting and reliable fire starter!

It does take practice to master, which I found both fun and challenging.

I like the durability of the build and the lack of moving parts.

There are no batteries and no fuel to run out.

This means it’s a fantastic long-term option that doesn’t rely on modern technology.

For most people, it’s an ideal backup firestarter.

And for anyone into survival or self-reliance, it’s an excellent primary firestarter.

All in all, they’re a tool worth checking out and adding to any survival kit.

Can you ever have TOO MANY ways to make a fire?

I don’t think so.

Jason K.

  • Born & Raised In The Remote Woods Of Michigan
  • Engineering Degree From A Major University
  • Long Standing Member Of Mountain Search & Rescue
  • Offical Gear Tester For Several Outdoor Companies
  • Avid Outdoorsman: Backpacking, Camping, Fishing
  • Years Researching & Writing About Surival & Gear
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