Let’s be honest. “Survivalist Fire Starters” are just toys.
If you really did find yourself out in the woods in danger of freezing to death, you’d probably be a lot happier with a BIC lighter you got at the drug store for two bucks than some crazy gadget you got off Kickstarter for $25 + shipping.
This device is powered by 2 AAA batteries and will start a fire if you shove it into a large piece of steel wool. This would be perfect for anyone stranded in a forest where steel wool grows naturally, somehow!
… Actually, even in the forest of steel sheep, it wouldn’t really be ideal. A Bic in a plastic bag will easily beat it at both reliability and weight, and if you absolutely have to start a fire with batteries and steel wool, you could achieve the same effect by taking the bulb out of your flashlight and shoving some steel wool into the socket.
Any fire piston small enough to carry and operate with your bare hands will only generate a minuscule amount of fire. You need to prep it with a super-flammable material like powered magnesium or “char cloth” to capture a tiny ember barely big enough to see with the naked eye. It’ll take you five minutes to carefully nurse that ember to a fire the size of the flame a lighter would just give you automatically!
Oh look! He’s created a fire! Look at it burn!
If I was freezing to death out in the woods, and had just created this pin-prick of fire, I’d sure feel proud of myself for not wimping out and bringing a lighter.
Here’s another one that belongs in the classroom, not the survival kit.
This was actually removed from kickstarter, not because it’s an absurd product, but because it’s a reselling scam. You can pick these up on eBay for about $7 each. (Cheaper in bulk!)
In ideal, sunny conditions, you could light a cigarette with these, but can you imagine using it as a “Great survival tool”?
There you are, stranded on a mountaintop. You spent the daylight hours hiking back into civilization or hunting for food, and now the sun is setting so you need a fire to cook your dinner and avoid freezing to death in your sleep. You reach into your survival kit and pull out … this. Don’t you feel clever?
I really can’t think of a situation, from a plane-crash in The Alps, to being the last survivor of the Zombocalypse, where I would prefer to have one of these crazy tools instead of an ordinary lighter, but if you absolutely must stock your survival kit with a non-standard fire starter, just get yourself an ordinary ferro rod. They’re dirt cheap and work perfectly fine.
Just be sure to also pack a lighter or some waterproof matches for when you get tired of playing cave-man.