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Reviews > Health & Safety > Emergency and Survival Gear > Ultimate Survival Technology BASE Kit > Test Report by Shawn Wakefield
Backpacking Background: I started camping and backpacking about 25 years ago as a teenager in the Boy Scouts. I am enjoying backpacking again, and I really like going lightweight now and covering a lot of miles. My wife and I take frequent backpacking trips together, and our kids (all under 13) go occasionally. We like to hike in Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas for short trips, but enjoy Wyoming and Colorado for longer trips. My current pack averages 16 lb (7.3 kg) including water and three days' food.
INITIAL REPORT: November 28, 2009
This product is a basic survival type kit including a fire starting device, two fire starting tinders, a signaling mirror, and a loud whistle. All of these, including an instruction sheet, fit into the included ALOKSAK for easy storage. I have included a brief description of each item below:
In researching this product, I was impressed with the UST website. It had a lot of information on each item in the package. Since items in the kit could be removed and carried separately, I will work through my impression of each one:
Fire starter: This item appears to be a flint and steel type fire starter, all combined into a package to allow one handed operation. The flint cylinder is spring loaded, and stores inside the handle. Squeezing the end of the starter releases the internal latch holding the flint. The fire starter alone weighs 26 g (0.92 oz). By squeezing the end of the starter with the flint released, a metal edge is pressed against the flint. By placing the end of the extended part against the ground or another surface and pushing the handle of the starter down, it causes the metal to scrape across the flint and produces sparks. More information on this in action is below.
Tinder cubes: The kit came with two tinder cubes, each individually packaged in a grey plastic wrapper. The cubes are white, and can be broken or cut apart. Each cube in its package weighs 5 g (0.18 oz). The tinder cubes are listed as non-toxic, non-petroleum based, smokeless, and are not supposed to leave any residue when burning. However, no information about the ingredients is available. The website lists this as a trade secret. UST did send an extra package of 8 tinders for testing. This was very nice, as trying to test with only 2 tinders might be difficult.
Signal mirror: The signal mirror was in its own small plastic bag. I assume this would help to prevent the mirror from being scratched while stored or carried. The mirror weighs 22 g (0.78 oz), and is 2 x 3 in (5.1 x 7.6 cm). The website says that the mirror will float. It has a star shaped hole in the center to look through, and it made of two layers of plastic. There is a small hole drilled in one corner, perhaps to carry it on a cord. There are instructions on how to use the mirror printed on the back. I thought that this was a good idea, so that the instructions would always be on the mirror for reference.
Whistle: The whistle is a black plastic whistle with a short black cord attached to one end. The whistle and cord weigh 10 g (0.35 oz). The body of the whistle is 2.5 in (6.4 cm) long and 1.3 in (3.3 cm) wide.
Instructions: The kit does include a paper instruction sheet that is 6 x 8 in (15 x 20 cm) and weighs 2 g (0.07 oz). It gives well detailed instructions on how to use the tinder, whistle, fire starter, and mirror. It folds up and can be stored in the plastic bag.
Storage bag: The kit comes in a 5 x 4 in (13 x 10 cm) ALOKSAK storage bag (internal dimensions given). The bag is supposed to be waterproof to 200 feet (61 m) under water. All of the items fit neatly into the bag for storage or transport.
The Sparkie Fire Starter broke after less than ten test uses at home trying it out. The plastic end of the spring loaded part holding the flint cylinder broke off when squeezing it to release the mechanism. I sent an email late Friday, November 27th, but they will probably not see the email until Monday. I am contacting them as if I had received it as a gift to see what they say. I am able to manually release the flint extension to try it out initially. I was able to ignite the following: alcohol stove with denatured alcohol, dryer lint, and WetFire tinder shavings with one or two strokes of the fire starter. I tested this inside my wood stove at room temperature, dry, with no wind. More extensive testing will be done in the field. The picture shows the small plastic part that broke off during my initial testing.
The WetFire tinder cubes are a white, wax looking material. It is roughly in the shape of a cube, and shavings can easily be cut off with a small pocket knife. They do not feel dense, are slick feeling on the surface, and have very little odor out of the package. I cut off a few small shavings into a pile and was able to light them with two tries of the Sparkie fire starter. They burned fairly slowly.
The signal mirror could not be initially tested due to the outside weather conditions. It is plastic, and has a very clear reflection. It could be used to inspect my face or eyes, perhaps in case of an injury or something in my eye. The mirror is flat, not curved, and I was able to reflect light from my overhead light fixture onto the wall. I also put it into water, and it does float as advertised.
The whistle was tested outside, and it was very loud. My ears were ringing slightly after blowing it several times. The cord allows the whistle to be attached to a pack strap, and the plastic grip on the whistle cord should allow it to be handled more easily while wearing gloves.
The plastic storage bag will hold all of the items in the kit. It is mostly clear, with some printing near the bottom. The top portion of the bag is dark blue where the closing strip is located. I did fill the bag with water to verify that it is leak proof. I also put considerable pressure on the bag while it was layout flat, full of water, and the seal did not pop open nor did it leak at the seal or at any seam.
FIELD REPORT: February 9, 2010
UST called on Monday, December 1 about the broken Sparkie Fire Starter. They are shipping me a replacement. The CSR said there was an early manufacturing defect that affected some units. She also said to wipe off the flint strip before closing it to keep it from getting stuck. I took the unit apart and cannot see how dust on the flint strip could cause the problem. It more likely appears to be how the latching mechanism internally holds the flint strip. She indicated this was for emergency use, and not repeated use as a primary fire starting device. She said they had other products with lifetime warranties that were for repeated use.
I received a replacement Sparkie Fire Starter from UST on Tues, December 8, along with an extra 8 pack of tinder for my trouble. The response of UST to this issue exceeded my expectations.
I have carried the kit on all of my trips, and with the included storage bag, I find it extremely convenient to toss it into my pack with my other gear. This convenient way of keeping the kit together would make it more likely that I would carry the kit on most of my trips.
I tested the whistle during the 5 day camping trip. I had a group of Boy Scouts evaluate the volume of the whistle, and they considered it to be very loud. It was louder than my existing emergency whistle that I had been carrying before getting the UST Base Kit. My only concern would be the possibility of losing the black colored whistle in the dark leaves or at night. A brighter color, such as orange, similar to the Sparkie Fire Starter, might be a better color for the whistle. I have considered painting part of it orange, or perhaps replacing the black, short cord with an orange cord to improve visibility.
I tested different tinder materials with the Sparkie Fire Starter. It was able to light, with just a couple of strikes, dryer lint and cotton balls with petroleum jelly. The WetFire Tinder has to be lit as a small pile of shavings, rather than one large piece when using the Sparkie.
I also tested the Sparkie Fire Starter and WetFire Tinder during the 5 day trip. The fire starter could easily start a small pile of shavings from the tinder when the fire starter was placed right in the middle of the tinder and struck. I tested starting a small fire of damp twigs several times, and the heat from the burning tinder was able to dry out the small twigs and ignite them.
After not using the Sparkie Fire Starter for several weeks, I pulled it out to test it again. The latch mechanism holding the spring loaded flint bar seemed to stick, just like the first fire starter. I tried to be very careful when squeezing the fire starter to release the flint bar, but even the replacement fire starter broke when I applied pressure to release the flint bar. It broke in exactly the same place on the plastic as the first fire starter. I suspect that the internal latch holding in the flint bar is holding it too well, and then the plastic end designed with an angle to pull the flint bar out of the latch is too weak. It broke again where the plastic makes a corner at the end of the flint bar. I took the Sparkie apart in order to show how it works. Note the red circle in the photo to the right, showing the latch mechanism that appears to hold the spring loaded bar too tightly. The blue circle shows the point where the plastic broke when squeezing the Sparkie to unlock the flint bar.
I also tested a WetFire Tinder to see the burn time, start to finish. It lights easily with a match, and it burns for about 7 minutes. I was able to start a fire using rather large kindling easily with a whole tinder cube.
It has been unusually cloudy and wet the last month or more, so I have not been able to test the mirror as well as I would like. I did test it at a distance of 500 ft (150 m) with the help of my 11 year old daughter. We were separated by this distance, and I aimed the mirror to her location. She could easily see the flashes and said they were very bright. Actually, I could see the reflected light from the mirror shining on the trunks of trees over 300 ft (90 m) away! I then showed her how to hold and aim the mirror, and I walked away that test distance. When the mirror was aimed right at me, I could see a very bright flash. I hope to test the mirror at a longer distance for the long term report, but I am very impressed so far.
LONG TERM REPORT: April 12, 2010
Long Term Use
Long Term Performance
Since the kit consists of so many items, I will address my opinion of them individually.
Fire starter: This item was the most disappointing piece in the kit. I did use the fire starter a dozen or more times, and usually struck it to generate sparks several times during each use. The first one broke and was replaced. Unfortunately, the second one did not perform any better. The starter does generate plenty of sparks, but it appears the latch design holds the flint rod too tightly, and the angled release design is too weak. I do not feel that I abused the starter or was too rough on it. As both have broken, I did not carry either on my last few trips.
Tinder cubes: These tinders work very well when lit whole with a match, or when the shavings are lit with the fire starter. I have used several of them to start camping fires and fires in my wood stove. I plan to continue to carry a couple of them with me for emergencies. When shaved into fine shavings, they light very easily.
Signal mirror: I was able to test this a second time during the LTR phase, and the report from my test subject was that the mirror was very bright. I like the small size of this item, and I also like how reflective it is. The hole in the middle does make it very easy to aim the mirror after practicing a couple of times. This is another item from the kit that I plan to continue to carry on my trips.
Whistle: I was also able to test the whistle further during the LTR phase and it was reported to be very loud. It was louder than the other emergency whistle that I had been carrying. I plan to replace the short cord with a different cord that is lighter and brightly colored. I would prefer that the plastic for this item be a brighter color. When it is on the ground or in my tent, the black color is sometimes hard to see. A colored cord might be an option if the manufacturer is not able to change the color of the plastic.
Storage bag: Although standard zip type plastic bags tend to get worn out after a trip or two, this ALOKSAK storage bag has held up very well. There are no holes or tears in the bag, and it still closes and opens like it did the first time I used it. I have carried all of the kit in this storage bag, and I am impressed with the durability of the bag. Including the bag in the kit allows me to keep it all together, and because of that, I will be more likely to carry the whole kit with me on my future trips.
I did email UST on February 11, 2010 about the second Sparkie Fire Starter that broke. I never did receive a reply to my email to customer service. I was disappointed they did not reply to my inquiry.
In conclusion, I really like the compact size and light weight of this kit. Both of these aspects make it really convenient to take the kit with me no matter what kind of hiking or backpacking trip I may be going on. I have been impressed by many of the items, but the fire starter just does not seem to be constructed as well as it could be. I also would have liked a response to my second inquiry to customer service. I plan to continue to carry the tinder cubes, whistle, and mirror, but I will have to look elsewhere for a flint and steel type fire starter that I will be satisfied with.
Thanks to Ultimate Survival Technologies and BackpackGearTest.org for allowing me to participate in this test.
- Shawn Wakefield
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