A fire piston is modern day tool well-known to outdoor enthusiasts as it’s one of the most efficient ways to start a fire. This article will focus on the well-designed Bushcraft Fire Piston — the best fire piston currently on the market. But before we delve into the features of this product let me explain what a fire piston is and how it actually works.
A fire piston is also referred to as a fire syringe or slam rod fire starter.
Note: Since the writing of this article the Numyth Vulcan Fire Piston V2 has been discontinued, but we will continually update this article with the best fire pistons available online.
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How Does A Fire Piston Work?
A fire piston is a tool designed to take advantage of heating air via adiabatic compression — a key principle of thermodynamics — to ignite tinder within the fire piston housing, which is then used to combust kindling.
A fire piston is used to rapidly compress air which becomes hot enough to ignite tinder placed at the end of the chamber. When a gas (air) is quickly compressed both its pressure and temperature increase at the same rate which prevents equilibrium from being achieved leaving the opportunity for the absolute temperature of the air to instantaneously surpass that of its environment by a large magnitude — making it hot enough to ignite the tinder.
The cylinder air simultaneously becomes the heat source and the oxidizer, and consequently fueling the tinder. This process is very similar to the way a diesel engine works; by lighting the fuel placed in the cylinder via compression.
You’ll notice that fire pistons are quite narrow — and for good reason — as this streamlined design provides the proper airflow to enable human hands to compress the cylinder air down an increasingly narrow piston tube. The science of adiabatic compression restricts the size of the end chamber to a relatively small space, but in the case of a fire piston, it’s sufficient enough to hold and ignite tinder.
Now, I know some of you out there prefer the old school means of starting of fire by using matches. Yes, I know. Matches are still an excellent method for starting a fire but if you prefer this traditional make sure you get strike-anywhere matches, or stormproof matches. Read my recommendations for the best strike anywhere matches (and stormproof matches).
The Bushcraft Essentials fire piston is equipped with a completely waterproof (IPX8) capsule for tinder storage, the detachable handle contains a ferrocerium rod as an alternative method for making fire. In case of emergencies you will always have at least one reliable source of fire available.
The piston and the vent are properly sealed with two gaskets. The piston gaskets are made of durable nitrile rubber and are therefore are very resistant to abrasion, heat and cold. The gaskets are compatible with all lubricants as well.
Fire Pistons to Consider
Of course, there are other fire-starting options for you to think about when deciding upon the right tool for you. It all depends on what your needs and preferences are. You could consider a traditional fire starter, such as the Swedish FireSteel 2.0, which was originally made for the Swedish department of defense. Yes, Sweden does have an army. Or, the always popular Bear Grylls magnesium fire starter which works under any conditions and incorporates a ferrocerium rod at its core.
As far as quality fire pistons go, it’s more difficult to find good alternatives to the Numyth Vulcan Fire Piston V2. But here a couple that you might be interested in.
Wilderness Solutions has a full line of fire pistons, although some are hit or miss — no pun intended — but they do have a couple of good quality fire starting pistons that you might want to add to your list.
Let’s start with their 2nd generation fire piston…
The Wilderness Solutions fire pistons come in two different styles and I recommend the Buffalo Horn from Amazon as it explicitly states that it’s the 2nd generation model whereas the Coco Bolo listing does not state which model version it is.
These particular fire syringes are waterproof and also come with a char cloth kit. I think they’re beautiful to look at and the most aesthetically pleasing design out of the group, at least in my opinion, but that doesn’t make them exceptional fire pistons — although they are quite good. The 2nd generation models are more reliable and contain O-ring seals, as well as a patent pending pressure relief valve.
Using a fire syringe takes practice. It’s not as simple as using matches but if you spend a little time learning how to use it properly it will make your life so much easier in the long run.
Buy from Amazon: Wilderness Solutions Buffalo Horn
The Wilderness Solutions Scout is the most popular fire syringe from their product line. Unlike the Numyth Vulcan Fire Piston V2, this Scout fire piston is made of a hard plastic so durability may be an issue over the long-term. The manufacturer obviously decided it needed an upgrade as well as they created the Scout Pro. Even on their website they state:
The original Scout fire piston is a great performer and entry level fire starter – but it has one drawback. Since its non-vented, trapped air inside the cylinder causes the piston to pop back out as if on a spring.
For less than $10 you can buy the improved version model which is named the Wilderness Solution Scout Pro, which is clearly a significant improvement over the original Scout version. Personally, I’ll happily spend a little more money for an updated product if the benefits are substantial. In this case it seems like it’s worth the additional cost, especially if you intend to rely on this tool for survival situations. Don’t buy cheap products when your life depends on it. Ever!
Let’s now have a look at the Scout Pro fire syringe.
The Scout Pro is a big step up from the Scout as the casing is made from aluminum. Not only is the overall durability improved due to the use of harder materials but the Scout Pro incorporates a patent pending pressure relief valve that allows you to vent the piston by opening the valve 1/2 turn and then depressing the piston.
Fire syringes are a fun item to play around with but if you’re serious about using them while out in the wild then you better make sure you know how to use it before going out on any adventure. If you’ve never used a fire piston then this video will help you learn how to do it properly:
Which Fire Piston should you buy?
As far as I’m concerned the answer is easy. The only fire piston you need is the Numyth Vulcan Fire Piston V2. It’s the most durable and well-engineered of the bunch. It’s solidly constructed from aluminum alloy with a hard anodized type III coating, for extra protection. It uses double 0-rings and overall you can tell it’s been made with a lot of love and attention.
I understand that everyone has their own personal preferences, which is precisely why I’ve added additional options for you select from. Take your pick.
My only advice is to make sure you know how to use it and it works consistently before ever venturing out into the wild. Bring a box of matches just in case.
The Numyth Vulcan Fire Piston V2 is built to last. Made from an aluminum alloy with an anodized coating and precision machined; this fire piston is tough — the perfect fire starter under any conditions. It will easily endure the typical wear and tear you’ll put upon it while you’re out on your adventures.
This Vulcan Fire Piston is well designed. They’ve added a watertight storage area with a removable cap for storage of your tinder. This allows you keep everything contained within the unit. No more searching your backpack or pockets for your tinder. It’s nice to know that your tinder, or other small items, will be safe and dry.
When it comes time to clean up, no problem. Just remove the bottom cap of the tube when it’s dirty and clean it, making look brand new again.
Easy to grip with it’s textured handle means it won’t slip out of your hands when conditions are wet.
Watch this informative video to see how well this fire piston is put together.
What do you think so far?
It also comes with all of these accessories: Zippered plastic storage pouch, instructions, spare o-rings, and extra lubrication.
Buy from Amazon: Numyth Vulcan Fire Piston V2
- Very Durable. Made from aluminum alloy.
- Coated with hard anodized type III.
- Tube cap & tinder capsule sealed with an O-ring.
- Piston sealed via double o-rings.
- Designed with square threads for increased lifespan.
- Compact. Can be made into one piece.
- Easy to clean thanks to the removable cap.