Ultimate Survival Technologies Sparkie

Ultimate Survival Technologies Sparkie Units in Tan and Orange

Ultimate Survival Technologies has long been recognized as a producer of high quality and innovative survival solutions. One of their more noted innovations has been the BlastMatch one-handed fire starter. Successfully combining a large ferrocerium “steel” with a unique design, allowing for use when injured or disabled, the BlastMatch has been a hit for several years now. About the only complaint that anyone could come up with was that it wasn’t exactly small. Late last year, Ultimate Survival Technologies introduced a smaller sparking unit, based on the BlastMatch concept, that deals with this “issue”.
Called the Sparkie, this tool features a similar one-handed operating concept, but using a smaller ferro rod, supported on an ABS carriage, and an overall smaller housing. The body of the Sparkie is ABS plastic, with a rubber sleeve for grip. The sleeve is either orange or a tan/cream color. The unit weighs 24-grams (.85 oz), and measures (closed) 2.3 x 1.2 x 0.7 inches (5.8 x 3.0 x 1.7 cm). The Sparkie comes packaged either in a plain cardboard box, or in a blister-pack for retail display, and comes with a cube of UST’s excellent WetFire tinder.

Blister Packed Sparkie, with WetFire beside First and Second Generation Orange Sparkies

To operate the Sparkie, the user has a couple of available options. The first is to place the end of the extended rod carriage against a surface, at a 75 – 90 degree angle, and with the thumb depressing the striker against the rod press down sharply. This pushes the ferro rod/carriage into the housing, against the pressure of the striker blade, which shaves the ferro rod to create sparks. The second option is to use the thumb, or extended forefinger, to operate the carriage while applying force with the closed hand or thumb to compress the thumb tab above the striker.

The First and Second Generations – Problems and Solutions
When first hearing of the Sparkie from UST early this spring, it seemed like a very promising idea. Though, at the time, UST did mention that a second generation was forthcoming, featuring a higher temperature rated plastic, it was a surprise when research prior to receiving the evaluation unit found problems being reported. The reports, on the Equipped to Survive foundation’s web forums and on Zombie Hunters forums, reported the carriage binding inside the body of the Sparkie after relatively few uses (three, specifically, in the EtS forum report). These jams were resolved, presumably through cleaning, by the original reporters. The reason given in the reviews, based on feedback from UST, was that debris and “smoke residue” caused the units to jam.
When the first Sparkie sample came in, I began working with it almost immediately. I was able to reproduce the jam in short order, with the carriage bound inside the body where it would not come out again. This occurred after relatively few spark producing strikes. The carriage was freed by some random manipulation, tweaking and prying. After this, I did not encounter another issue of binding – Though I did approach use of the unit with greater caution.
The sparks produced had a noticeable effect on the plastic of the body on the ferro-rod side of the carriage, causing a good degree of melting. Observing this, it was my conclusion that the binding may have been caused by the heat of the sparks, and resultant heat of the rod, causing melting or deformation of the plastic internally. This makes more sense than “smoke residue” sticking the unit, which does not appear to have tolerances close enough for such fine fouling to be an issue. This is not to rule out debris, however – It is entirely possible that some form of debris was causing the jams as well. With these possibilities, I approached further use with caution, and allowed the Sparkie time to cool off before pushing the carriage back into its closed and locked position after use. I was also mindful of debris, though I continued to ignore most of the smoke residue. No further jamming problems could be produced, in dozens of strikes, with that Sparkie unit.
However, at a certain point, the rod stopped staying retracted inside the body. The latch mechanism either wore off, broke or melted enough to stop functioning. Other than preventing locked retraction of the carriage, this caused no functional issues with the Sparkie, and it continued to produce strong sparks.
My initial feelings, based on this first generation sample, were quite mixed. The form factor of the Sparkie, and the quality of spark it produced were excellent. The functionality, when working appropriately, was also very nice. It provided an effective, compact and user friendly fire starting tool capable of very good results in a variety of conditions.
However, the obvious fragility of the unit, whether low-melting point plastic, susceptibility to debris. or tight tolerances unable to handle heavy residue, was a serious downside. If it bound up enough to require a good amount of fiddling, including tapping against a rock and prying, to free the carriage, and the plastic was as easily melted as it appeared, was it a reliable option for woods use? More importantly, was it a reliable option for survival in harsher, or more hostile, environments than a night out in a storm? In further use of the problematic first unit, it was fully capable of doing its intended job: Starting fires. But, as an end-user, my faith in the unit would always be somewhat handicapped by those questions Waiting for the second generation samples seemed the best course of action.
The wait was worth it. Not only did Ultimate Survival Technologies upgrade the plastic in the Sparkie, they upgraded the overall design as well, resulting in improved functionality. In testing, no jams or binds, as were endemic with the first generation Sparkie’s, could be produced. Residue, debris and heat all seemed to leave the second generation Sparkie’s as functional as they started out, even after multiple sparkings in rapid succession without cooling or cleaning.

First [Top] and Second [Bottom] Generation Sparkies

The design itself was also improved in two ways: First by the addition of a small notch in the end of the carriage, allowing for a more direct placement of the spark. Second, by allowing the ferro rod to turn in the carriage, so that a fresh side may be presented if the initial one is worn too low for effective sparking. Whatever the cause(s) of the initial failures and jams, UST responded effectively, putting out an upgrade far superior to the original.

Second Generation Sparkie, Showing Notch, Next to Original

Working with the Sparkie
Although the first unit had it’s problems, one thing it did was produce excellent sparks. It was carried and used on multiple occasions to start small test fires, and also to light actual camp fires. Once the second generation samples were received, those rotated into regular use. The initial testing of the second generation units was shaped by experience with the first one, however. As the first Sparkie sample had experienced lock-up being repeatedly sparked for function testing, it seemed only reasonable to subject the second generation to the same handling, and go from there.
Now, to make it clear – The Sparkie is not designed to be repeatedly used in a short period of time – It is designed to light a fire, probably in an emergency, and be put away. However, it is possible to have reason to “strike” it multiple times in attempting to build one fire, as tinder materials will respond differently in different conditions. The issues with the first unit, and that others had, were the result of reasonable use (a few strikings). The intention of repeatedly and rapidly “striking” the second generation units was to see if they surpassed this mark, and at what point the same or similar problems or failures could be introduced. The short answer is: They couldn’t. Hundreds of runs of the carriage, dozen of actual sparking strikes, and the most heavily tested second generation unit is still going strong.

Taking the Sparkie to the field proved even more rewarding. In use, the Sparkie throws a generous shower of very hot sparks. UST’s blend of mischmetal and other components for their ferrocerium rods is among the best, as all their sparkers can be characterized by very healthy amounts and qualities of spark. The Sparkie, in keeping with it’s smaller rod diameter, doesn’t emit quite the same volume of sparks as a BlastMatch or Strike Force, but the amounts are quite sufficient for most tasks. The Sparkie produces large and extremely hot sparks, which will readily ignite a variety of tinder materials.
Chemical tinder, such as Ultimate Survival’s own WetFire, and Solkoa’s FastFire, ignite readily, as does treated cotton tinder (Four Seasons Survival’s Tinder-Quik and PJ balls), under spark from the Sparkie. Natural tinder, such as dry grass, stripped and shredded barks, etcetera, also light readily from the sparks.
The quality of spark thrown by the Sparkie makes a difference in inclimate weather as well. Torrential downpour is going to be highly problematic for any fire tool, but in damp, windy, generally less than ideal conditions, the Sparkie remains highly functional. Careful selection of tinder, and good fire building skills, are of course required, but the Sparkie was able to consistently provide a hot, thick, burst of sparks. This made things that much easier in overcoming environmental challenges – Fighting the weather, and fighting your fuel, are to one degree or another almost a given in a survival scenario: Not having to fight your tools too, goes a long way.
The Sparkie also allows for very good control of the spark direction, allowing very focused striking. It was rare, particularly when using chemical tinder or very dry natural tinder, not to get ignition on the first or second strike. This is as opposed to less directionally focused units, where the first or second strike may go wide, or achieve too much spread and not focus enough of the burning metal compound onto the tinder, demanding adjustment in position and angle.
In use, the different means of using the Sparkie proved to be almost equally effective when properly executed. Placing the operating rod against a small stone, or other resistant surface right at the edge of a tinder bundle, allowed for positive striking and consistent placement of the spark time after time. Most soils are too soft, and provide too much give, to strike the Sparkie against, so use of a small flat rock or similar is recommended.

Running the Sparkie with the Index Finger

Digitally operating the Sparkie, with the index finger, came to be preferred for it’s ease, in not requiring gathering a suitable surface to place the Sparkie against. You can hold the unit directly over the tinder, and cast spark directly onto it from above. It’s also possible to strike to Sparkie in this manner from within a cupped off-hand, providing initial shielding over the tinder as it ignites.
Both methods generate an equal amount of sparks, and achieve roughly the same speed from striking to ignition. Use of one or the other will be user, and situation, dependent.

Cautions
There are a few things worth noting about the Sparkie – Not problems, so much as things to be aware of to get the most from the tool.
The Sparkie is not as rugged as a Blast Match, or many other sparker options. It is designed to be light weight, and highly functional in an emergency or for occasional use. If routinely building a fire in the woods, another tool would probably provide a higher degree of functionality over the long term.
The Sparkie should not be struck against a surface at angles other than between 75 and 90 degrees. The operating carriage can become damaged if put under the additional strain of running at more extreme angles than those recommended.
Also, it may still be possible to cause damage to the unit if the operating rod is closed while still extremely hot. Multiple sparkings in short succession can cause the ferro-rod to get fairly hot, and it would contribute to the long term durability of the unit in this case if it was allowed to cool before closing it up.
Additionally, when using the Sparkie with the index finger to operate the rod, the tip of the finger will be exposed to the spark shower to some degree. No serious burns occurred during our evaluation, but some users may find the sensation unpleasant if they aren’t expecting it.

Conclusions
In the context of its intent the Sparkie excels – It provides a lightweight, reliable, solution for starting a fire when you absolutely need one. Where a larger, more complex, unit may get left behind, or be useless if the owner is injured, the Sparkie will fit into the smallest of packs, and retains its functionality even if the user has lost the use of a limb. On merits of functionality, ease of use, quality of spark, and size, the Sparkie has proved itself invaluable, and has earned a permanent place in my kit for for daily carry, and longer outings.

The Sparkie is available from a wide variety of retailers specializing in outdoors, camping, wilderness and tactical concerns. Pricing is under $15 across the board. At any price, the Sparkie is a good investment and will serve the user well.



3 responses to “Ultimate Survival Technologies Sparkie”

  1. […] for course announcements, product/services updates and similar news items. In short: Posts like this, and this, will be published in the articles section, while posts like this or this will continue […]

  2. Darren Edwards says:

    Hello there, I’m a big fan of your site and would like to thank you for the knowledge and skillsets that you impart! Just a quick comment on tinder…I’ve been trying to sharpen my survival skills and tinkering around with different tinder combinations and found a great one. I started saving my dryer lint(free, doesnt cost a penny) and soaking it in vaseline(compressed once soaked into tight balls). I’ve tried the cotton ball/vaseline combo and found that the dryer lint/vaseline seems to burn alot hotter, larger flame and way longer. Dont know why, may be the combination of different materiels or possibly chemical residue from washer, dryer agents, but it does seem to work extremely well once lit. Just a little info to pass on, cheap, works well and usefull! Thanks!

    • BFE Labs says:

      Darren – Welcome to the conversation – Many thanks for the kind words, we’re glad to know our work is hitting the mark for you!
      Thank you for the information as well – I’ve used plain dryer lint, and petroleum-jelly cotton balls (PJ Balls), but never combined the ideas. Very nice! I think you’re probably right about the different materials in the lint burning more aggressively than plain cotton.

      We’re doing some work with various tinder products, and working on a series of evaluations (which are overdue at this point, but they are coming…) and hope to be providing more information in this area soon.

      Thanks for reading, and sharing!

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