Which lighter is best for use in cold weather?

Frozen lighters

Many people (including The Prepared) say to carry a butane powered BIC lighter.

While I do agree that they are great because they are cheap ($1-1.50/each), pretty dumbyproof, don’t evaporate fluid, and just work, they do not work the best in cold weather. To test this I placed five lighters in my freezer for 30 minutes and noted the results.

The two lighters on the left in the picture above are regular Zippos that run off of lighter fluid. The three lighters on the right are two standard butane BIC lighters and a Zippo lighter with a butane torch insert.

The two lighter fluid Zippos work off of having a liquid fuel suspended in cotton that evaporates up the wick. When pulling these straight from the freezer they did not light on the first strike but required about 5 seconds to warm up just that little bit to start evaporating the fluid. It lit to a full strength flame and worked every strike there after.

The two BIC lighters had to be warmed up in my hand for about 20 seconds before the smallest of flames would be released. Even a couple minutes after being removed from the freezer they still had very small and weak flames. The Zippo with the butane torch insert was the worst of them all. It was very very cold and required many minutes in my hand to be able to light.

Summary – Butane does not function well in cold temperatures. If a butane lighter is part of your EDC or emergency bag these will need to be placed in a pocket close to your skin and warmed up before use. 

The trouble with the lighter fluid fueled lighters are that they do evaporate unless they are sealed with an O ring like a peanut lighter. If you don’t EDC one of these and fuel them up weekly, then storing them dry in your bag and having a small 4oz bottle of fluid ($3 at Walmart) or storing fluid in a fluid canister are options in an emergency bag.


  • Comments (7)

    • 3

      How about matches?  I have lit fires in very cold weather (-30F) with no problems

      • 2

        I have a BIC in the GHB in my car, so it’s good to know it might not work optimally in the cold and that I should have something also like matches. Thanks for sharing this information, I didn’t even know butane didn’t like the cold.

    • 2

      I appreciate the tip about warming a lighter up before using it in very cold weather. It’s also unfortunate that they aren’t as strong in the cold. This doesn’t actually sour me on bic lighters much, since leaving it in my pocket for a minute before use doesn’t seem like a big deal, and because even a small flame can be used to light a piece of paper or other tinder.

    • 4

      I have a rechargeable electric plasma arc lighter which I really like for candles (no flaming heat rising back on my hand when I have to light them from directly above). There are inserts for zippos and smaller ones available. This post made me wonder how it would fare in cold temperatures. Into the freezer for 30 minutes to check. It still made a weak pulsing arc and after a short bit (which I didn’t time), it started a stronger pulsing arc that lit a candle. So not too different than the zippo lighters and no liquid fuel.

      • 2

        An important takeaway from this thread is that is wise to have redundancy in your fire lighting gear.  When I am outdoors, I always have a lighter (usually a Bic), premium matches in a waterproof container, and a ferro rod and steel.  The total weight and volume is trivial.

        The need for a fire ranges from “nice to have” to absolutely critical and I have experienced several critical situations.  I am never without fire equipment (including tinder) when out and about…

      • 1

        Alicia – Thank you for testing an arc lighter! I don’t have one of those so I couldn’t test something like that. Lithium ion batteries do not like extreme cold, so your test results look to be what I would have expected. 

        You also mention a nice thing about those arc lighters are that there is no rising heat to burn you. There are some situations when an arc lighter or even one of those candle arc lighters would be preferred to any other lighter or match.

        Hikermor – Yes, that was my goal with this thread to show that the BIC in your bug out bag isn’t broken, just needs some warming up. And to have redundancy. No fire method is the best and all have their pros and cons. Luckily, a fire kit with multiple methods of creation can be assembled into a very small package.

    • 2

      Thanks for sharing this. I had no idea it wasn’t widely known but not everyone lives in the great white north. I do a LOT of cold weather stuff and don’t own a bic. My go-to is stormproof matches, my backup is flint/steel/tinder. Same with stoves – anything other than actual wood or white gas is a massive failure below freezing, especially when you get below 0F. I swap about 50% of my gear in the Winter but fire is something that gets better with practice so I keep that the same year-round.