Which lighter is best for use in cold weather?
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.