Tuesday, January 13, 2015


I've said many times that, whenever possible, I cheat at survival/preparedness. One of my favorite ways to "cheat" at firestarting is to use lighters. Matches break or get wet; ferro rods and other sparkers require practice to use, and are particular about their tinder, but lighters are dead easy and stone simple.

Lighters are lightweight, reliable, and (usually) cheap. Most shrug off being wet, and they light a wider variety of questionable tinder than spark methods. There are three main types of lighters, each with their own unique advantages and disadvantages.

Clockwise, from left: Barbecue lighter;
three of the author's refillable lighters and a case; and a disposable lighter at center.

  • Refillable liquid-fuel lighters: The best-known example is the Zippo, but there are many varieties. When maintained properly, they last virtually forever. (I confess to having a small collection of these, some being twice my age or more.) However, there are weaknesses to this variety of lighter:
    • They are by far the most expensive of the three types. 
    • They require regular fueling. 
    • They are cumbersome and clumsy to use when lighting survival fires.
  • Disposable lighters: Sold at every grocery store, gas station, and beer-bait-and-ammo in the country, these are a preparedness staple. They're cheap, often priced at less than $1. They can't be refueled, but will light hundreds of times or more, depending on their size. They also have the most compact form factor of the three types, fitting neatly into a pocket, backpack or purse compartment. They're also rather covert, as they are so common nobody bats an eye at seeing one among regular pocket gear, in contrast to a box of matches or a flint and steel.
    • They suffer from the same firestarting clumsiness as a Zippo
    • They can run out of fuel at an inconvenient time.  
    • Capitalize on their low price and carry a spare, or some other manner of starting a fire.
  • Barbecue lighters: Similar to a disposable lighter in that they come pre-fueled and are usually not refillable, these lighters use a piezo or other sparking device instead of a wheel and flint. This enables them to produce a flame 6" or more from the user's hand. Some even have a flexible wand. This makes them, from a firestarting standpoint, the cream of the crop for lighters. 
    • On the downside, these lighters are quite a bit more expensive than common disposables. 
    • They also take up quite a bit more space than the other options, pushing the borderline of being too large to be commonly carried.

  • Bonus: Everstryke Permanent Match. Seen all over the internet, the Everstryke match is an interesting hybrid of a lighter, match, and ferrocerrium rod. There have been mixed reviews across the internet (and the BCP community), and here's my take.

Quarter for scale.
In short, it mostly works. It requires fuel, just like a refillable lighter, and is used by sparking the ferro rod, which catches flame on the captive wick. The form factor is delightfully small, almost cute. Mine evaporates fuel, albeit at a far slower rate than my zippos, so it occasionally needs to be fueled, even in storage. The ferro rod is small, making it more difficult to spark than dedicated rods, and the match "stick" is a bit short to be truly useful. Basically, it's a neat gizmo, and likely worth exactly what you pay for it. I wouldn't depend on it as a source of fire without having at least one different backup on hand.

There's nothing wrong with taking Easy Street when you can.


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