A couple years ago, I tested, wrote about, and was chided on my ostensive misuse of Industrial Revolution’s FireSteel product, a sparker stick originally developed for the Swedish Department of Defense. I had trouble getting the darn thing to work with the company’s prepackaged kindling, and I was roundly chided by readers who saw my review as a sign of macro incompetence in the “survival” realm of outdoors disciplines. Sigh.
This summer, a new strike-to-spark firestarter debuted at the Outdoor Retailer trade show, the EXOTAC nanoSTRIKER, and I promised myself that I’d try and make amends. The nanoSTRIKER looks like a small pen, its tiny cylindrical shape concealing a rod of spark-able metal hidden inside a threaded compartment. Its body is made of anodized aluminum. As the name says, this firestarter is truly “nano” in size, and its weight is about 15 grams.
The secret sauce with this magic pen is its ferrocerium/magnesium rod, which sends out sparks at a purported 5,500 degrees F. It is waterproof and lasts for about 1,000 strikes. To use it, you unscrew the nanoSTRIKER’s tip to reveal a striker with sharp edges. Pinch the striker between a finger and a thumb and press its edge into the ferrocerium/magnesium rod. A strong flick generates a healthy flaming spark, a tiny molten ball of metal that can ignite objects with which it then comes into contact.
It worked in my test. I ignited my alcohol stove several times on a recent overnight climbing trip in the Uinta Mountains of Utah. A single flick of the nanoSTRIKER’s small striker is all it took, no matches needed.
You can’t drag the striker along the rod’s surface. No spark will come that way. The striker has a sharpened tungsten-carbide edge. The key to its successful use is to press that edge firmly into the rod’s soft metal and “set” it in place. From there, a strong flick will generate flying sparks in a starry stream.
Lighting a campfire with this small stick will be more difficult than putting fire to a flammable liquid like in my stove test. Your kindling will need to be shaved, tiny, fibrous, and ultra-dry. Dry grass or leaves might work. Practice at home before leaving the Bic lighter behind.
Overall, the nanoSTRIKER is a neat product. It costs about $27 from Georgia-based Exotac Inc. While its ultralight design will make backcountry weight watchers happy, the small size does come with some ergonomic disadvantages — the tiny striker is difficult to grip. You literally pinch it in your fingertips while striking, requiring fine motor skills that may be lost with cold hands.
For me, the nanoSTRIKER will not be the only firestarter I bring into the woods. Flame and warmth are too important to trust to one source, and waterproof matches will live beside the nanoSTRIKER in my pack just in case. But when igniting my stove, I’ll take out the ferrocerium/magnesium rod and unscrew the small striker to shoot balls of molten metal, a scorching shower to ignite all things in its path below.