First of all, when I say “long term”, I mean “long term”. I published my first impressions back in June of 2021, 18 months ago, over on my site at the Pro-Gun Millennial. To be clear, I have not been using the CoolFire Trainer (CFT) that entire time, but I’m getting ahead of myself. To be perfectly clear: no one paid me for this review. The following is my own personal opinions and I was not compensated in any way for this work. I purchased my CoolFire Trainer with my own money.
What Is a CoolFire Trainer?
The CoolFire Trainer is a device that replaces your barrel and recoil spring assembly with a small, pressurized tank and a proprietary replacement recoil assembly. It small puffs of CO2 gas, triggered by the gun’s striker, which cycles the slide. It replicates your gun’s recoil and resets the trigger, giving you the most realistic dry fire experience possible without using real ammo.
Since it displaces your barrel, it also renders your firearm completely inert as well. The barrel and tank are a nice, bright red color. I really appreciate this detail, as it allows users to quickly tell at a distance what they are holding.
How Do I Use the CoolFire Trainer?
If you can pull your barrel and recoil assembly from your gun, you can use the CFT.
- First, make sure your firearm is clear.
- Next, remove the barrel and recoil assembly like a normal field strip.
- Now install the RED pressure tank as you would your gun’s barrel, and place the CFT’s recoil assembly in just as you would your gun’s recoil assembly.
- Replace the CFT-equipped slide assembly back onto your firearm as you would normally reassemble after cleaning.
- Fill the tank from your CO2 source, and begin practice.
- Using the device is just lining up the sights and pulling the trigger. The device cycles the slide and re-cocks the trigger for you, just let it out and pull again. Just like shooting real ammo, but much quieter and fewer holes in your walls.
- Disassembly is simply field-stripping the gun and then re-assembling with your real barrel and recoil assembly.
In the Pro Column
It is truly as close to shooting real ammo as you can get without actually shooting real ammo. It’s literally your gun. It’s got your red dot, your light, your magazine, your trigger, any mods you’ve added, and any wear or smoothing that you’ve done because, again, it’s literally your gun. I can personally vouch for this.
The part that gets a little different than normal firing is in the felt recoil. The recoil is not quite as strong as my gun’s normal recoil impulse. It’s a compact 9mm, but with the CFT topped off I’d put it at about a .380ACP. Out of a gun that size, very enjoyable. I would put the kick as higher than my LCR shooting .32 ACP, but still less than the gun’s normal 9mm ammo. It does get softer as the tank’s internal pressure goes down, but that’s to be expected.
Topping off the tank every 10-15 shots is a good habit to stay in. If you did that, you’d never really notice the recoil drop off much at all.
The reason that recoil reproduction is useful, is in the aspect of recoil control and building your grip. When we normally dry fire, we don’t get any feedback from the gun on our grip. With live ammo, that gun is going to tell you immediately that you did not build your grip very well. In dry fire, you can have the sloppiest, loosest grip possible and receive no corrective feedback.
The CoolFire Trainer gives you that corrective feedback, helping to keep the shooter from developing bad habits that can then only be noted with live ammo and corrected after possibly thousands of bad reps. Controlling recoil, and therefore the speed and accuracy of follow-up shots, is determined in large amount by a shooter’s grip.
Another aspect that I like about the CFT is the safety aspect of it. Even though it is still technically a firearm, you have removed the gun’s ability to fire ammo, or even chamber rounds.
There is absolutely no way a bullet can enter the weapon with a CFT installed. It is, in my opinion, as dead as an airsoft or blue dummy gun for training purposes. That being said, I would never want one pointed at me or my loved ones, but that is born out of an abundance of caution and not a realistic.
The tank that replaces the gun barrel is painted a nice, bright, eye-catching red color. There is no way to mistakenly put your gun in a firing condition if you even glance at the weapon, or keep it un-firable after your practice session is over. The recoil spring assembly is similarly distinct from the OEM parts.
Another pro of the CFT is the cost savings. After the initial purchase, there is very little cost required to use the CFT. The CO2 is really the only consumable cost, and we’re talking a few thousand trigger pulls for~$35 from a refillable soda maker bottle. You can do other gas options, like standard paintball tanks and one-time-use 90 gram CO2 tanks.
For reference, at time of writing, 1,000 rounds of 9mm costs $295 shipped, before tax. If you get 2,000 trigger pulls from that soda maker, then you’re doing the job of $600 worth of ammo.
Here’s my system’s cost breakdown:
- Barrel, recoil assembly, and bottle adapter: $365
- O2 bottle: $45
- Bottle exchange: $30
- Bottle warmer: $25
- TOTAL COST: $465
If you divide my total system cost by the estimated 4,000 rounds I’ll get out of the two bottles of gas, we’re looking at 11.6 cents per trigger pull. Another bottle of gas gets me +2,000 trigger pulls for +$3, 8.25 cents per pull. It is definitely a case of “The more you use it, the cheaper it becomes.”
You can even get parts for different guns without having to purchase a whole new system, lowering the cost barrier for expanding a person’s collection. The CFT is available for an astonishing array of pistols
If you own a semi-auto, CoolFire makes a system for it. [Note from Matt: Not available my CZ P07, P10F, or PCR…so that’s a bummer].
There are quite a few options and upgrades for the CFT, from different CO2 filling options to laser integration for use with systems like Laser Ammo, further increasing the realism and usefulness of the CoolFire Trainer and would be a great match with something like the Mantis Laser Academy.
There are also tank capacity extensions that allow the device to be used for longer periods between top-offs, and quick-fill adapters. I don’t personally see the value in those specific upgrades, but that’s just me.
Now for the Cons
This is probably the biggest thing stopping people from purchasing a CoolFire Trainer, and I think it’s overblown. As mentioned earlier, buying a thousand rounds of 9mm (at time of writing) is $275 +$20 shipping +tax. The exact package I have is $365 +tax & shipping.
It’s real money we’re talking about, and if it doesn’t work it’s going to sting. I went with the soda maker CO2 source, which is another ~$45 or so before the first shot. Averaging out that cost over the estimated 4,000 trigger pulls I’ve put through it drops the cost per round quite a bit, but that initial investment is considerable.
The system isn’t as robust as the gun it’s designed to work with. Now that’s less an indictment of CoolFire as it is a testament to modern handgun design, but it is a change in mindset that the user needs to understand. The system is a little finicky.
The reason this review is 18 months in the making is because of user error. The main issue with normal usage is CO2 temp. When a gas pressure drops, the temperature drops, and if the CFT gets too cold the source gas won’t be able to cycle the slide. You can put workably high pressure gas into the CFT and the trainer will chill that gas to a low enough temperature to keep it from cycling.
The main problem is in the name of the company, lol.
So, just like guns in real life, temperature management is an issue, except here we’re trying to add heat instead of get rid of it.
The best way to add heat to the CFT is to use hot CO2 by using a bottle warmer. CoolFire recommends getting one in their paperwork that comes with the system, but I am telling you that such devices are mandatory. This is the one I have, and it is the single greatest increaser of reliability for my trainer.
I have never gotten mine to run reliably for any amount of time unless I was actively warming my CO2 bottle somehow. In a pinch I would place it in my all-black mailbox in the middle of July, and that worked.Not sure what my neighbors thought of me, walking to my mailbox every 5-8 minutes with what looks like a gun in my hand…
What does not work for warming the bottle is just leaving it outside between sessions. Yes, the summer heat will soak into the bottle, but after leaving my source bottle outside for less than a week the elements had seized some part of the soda maker adapter, and it would no longer pressurize my trainer’s tank. $60 and a week later I received a new soda maker adapter and it worked again.
The problem is that it took me almost a year to break down and buy a new bottle adapter. As I mentioned earlier, this is not an indictment of CoolFire. I just had expected it to be “toss-in-the-dirt-and-go” robust like a Glock or M&P. If you consider it to be a something that isn’t at the admittedly exceptional durability level of a modern handgun design, you can avoid the stupid mistakes I made.
TL;DR: Is it worth it? Yes, with the caveat that you have to actually use it.
The startup cost is a little on the steep side, but will absolutely pay for itself if you use it. The fickleness of it can be frustrating at times, but if you use it regularly it will become a minor annoyance at worst. If you don’t practice regularly, you won’t see the benefits. And you’re already practicing with your carry gun regularly, right?
The CoolFire is a device that will last for years, and will pay for itself in only a few months if you actually use it. If you dry fire once a week for 20 minutes, the CFT will absolutely allow you to build skill while giving you good, usable feedback on your grip and recoil reduction techniques, something that normal dry practice does not. If you do not use it very often, like I did for a while, its wasted money.
There was a time where ammo was cheap, but those days are gone. The CFT allows you to train with your carry gun for the price of cheap .22lr. Even if you switch to .22lr for all your training instead, you would need to purchase a dedicated .22 trainer or conversion kit, which is going to be a similar startup cost as the CoolFire. The one thing that we cannot overlook is that it provides realistic recoil impulse in the privacy & comfort of your own home.
The setup and breakdown for using a CFT is less than the amount of time you’d spend driving to your local gun range, and you can afford to do this one daily.