The ability to light a fire is something we take for granted in our society. It is as easy as going to a store, buying a box of matches or a lighter and we already have a flame in our hands. It is so unimportant that we don’t even think about it. Learn all about survival lighters in this article.
However, in a survival situation, with zero tools at our disposal and far from any inhabited area, for example on a desert island or lost in a mountain, lighting a fire is much more complicated than it seems.
Even if we have wood and tinder on the ground, without tools, the neolithic methods to generate a spark, in the real world are almost impossible. And that fire, in an extreme situation can be vital; to purify water by boiling it, to cook, to not freeze at night, or to make distress signals.
Table of Contents
Survival Lighters: Rupestrian Methods
Anyone who has been a “boy scout” in his childhood, has probably seen himself hitting two river stones unsuccessfully, only to learn the hard way that to make a spark, a specific combination of stones is needed. And first, you would have to be able to recognize and find them.
The second most famous cave method is that of rubbing two sticks together. This in turn is the most unsuccessful, frustrating, and demoralizing fire lighting system in existence.
Above left, perhaps the most infuriating and frustrating fire lighting method of all. It’s doable but without practice, be prepared to spend the afternoon twirling the stick and end up with sore hands. With tools and string, you can improve the system by making a bow (above right) or by making a groove in a split branch (below left). Finally, if you have iron-on, you can look for a flint, but you have to know how to recognize it and be able to find it.
Aware of this, mountaineers, people facing survival situations, military, preppers, or apocalyptic survivalists, usually equip themselves with systems to light a flame and a few “B” plans.
This article reviews some of the best options that are available for keeping fire on hand at all times. Matches of all kinds are left out because the number of matches per box is limited and there is no worse feeling than being left with the last match in your hand when you most need a light.
Survival Lighters: Iron and Flint
Every self-respecting survival knife has a bar of flint, magnesium, ferrocerium… in the handle or sheath.
Scratching any of these bars with the edge of the knife, sparks jump enough to ignite the tinder.
The main disadvantage is that this system does not provide a flame – if we needed light – but it is a fairly foolproof method with a tinder. It is windproof and waterproof (the rod and knife dry very easily).
The military standard since World War I. Pocket lighters were invented in the early 20th century and became widespread during this conflict.
In World War, they became one of the main expressions of “trench art”, as soldiers themselves made them by hand by recycling bullets and the brass from food cans.
The casing of a used bullet was filled with cotton or cloth to serve as a gas tank. In the mouth of the casing, where the projectile used to be, a lid was built under which the wick was placed and on one side, a tube was welded or screwed where the lighter stone and a metallic wheel were installed to make a spark.
One of the main characteristics of the trench lighters, which the commercial lighters of the time did not have, is that they had a grid surrounding the flame area, not only to make them windproof but to disguise the light emitted by the flame since more than one soldier was killed by an enemy sniper when lighting a cigarette at night.
Probably the high point of trench lighters was the Austrian IMCO lighters manufactured in Vienna. This is one of the best gasoline lighters you can get, although the company closed in 2012 (after selling 500 million units since 1918).
In 1932 the famous Zippos appeared, manufactured in Bradford, Pennsylvania by “Zippo Manufacturing Company”. Inspired by the IMCO, they were a simplification of these with a square shape. They were used in World War II and practically every conflict since then.
The advantage of gasoline lighters is that it is very easy to make fire with them because, in addition to providing flame, the fuel evaporates and impregnates the surface on which it is applied.
Today they are filled with benzine but Zippos were designed to work with any type of petroleum derivative that releases a high enough flame. You can fill it with high octane Super even though it will stink like a gas station.
The great disadvantage of this type of lighter is that the gasoline evaporates very quickly from the tank, even without using the lighter, so in a mountain or survival situation, it is advisable to carry a can of benzine to refill it.
Survival Lighters: BiC
It may sound strange, but the high point of the lighters came from the French company Société BiC S.A., founded in 1945 in Clichy, France. This was a company dedicated to manufacturing disposable utensils such as the famous BIC pens.
In 1973 they absorbed a lighter company, Flaminaire, also French, and launched their second most famous product worldwide, the BiC lighter.
These butane lighters were designed as cheap, disposable products but have ended up becoming the survival lighter par excellence. Apocalyptic preppers buy and stock them by the case, given how cheap they are.
A BiC lasts long before running out of gas. The full-size BiC, which the manufacturer calls the “BiC Maxi lighter”, can burn more than 3,000 ignitions before all the butane is consumed. Some performance in numbers;
1- A BiC has more than 3000 ignitions.
2- It can burn for more than one hour at a time.
3- It lasts for decades in storage.
4- A box of 50 BiCs allows 3 daily ignitions for 136 years.
Unit price less than 1€.
The fuel does not evaporate as it happens with gasoline ones. BiCs can be stored for decades and still work. They are not waterproof but if they get wet they work again as soon as they are dry.
The piezoelectric version of the BiC Maxi ignites as you take it out of the water without the need to dry it. This version, instead of a stone, has a mini electronic device that releases the spark. The stone is more durable, following a long-term approach.
The two biggest disadvantages are that they are not windproof and that butane does not ignite well at very low temperatures, although BiCs have been ignited at 8,000 meters altitude in the highest camps on Everest.
These are an evolution of the normal butane lighters. They release the flame as if they were a blowtorch. However, they have drawbacks that make them not recommended for survival or emergencies.
Turbo lighters do not work well with any type of butane. Do you have a turbo lighter that has broken? Well, many times nothing happens to it, it is that they need a very refined gas to work well, without impurities. With gas for normal lighters, it is difficult to light them. Other times, once lit, the impurities in the gas cause the turbo flame to cut off.
Like all butane lighters, they do not work well at low temperatures but multiplied by 100. Try heating it by placing it near a stove, with a hairdryer, or by putting it in your pocket. Once the gas gets a little warm, it starts to flame again, but of course, this is not a desirable feature in the middle of an emergency.
Another disadvantage to consider is that the turbo flame uses up the gas tank much faster than a normal BiC. They are also not waterproof unless they come with a case, which makes the final product more expensive.
The biggest advantage of the turbo is that they are windproof. They are especially good for working with paracord when you want to burn the end of a freshly cut rope so it doesn’t fray.
We hope you find this guide about survival lighters.
Learn more about Outdoor Survival Kit for Save your Life.