Fire changes everything. From the moment our distant ancestors realized they could start a fire by rubbing sticks together and striking rocks against each other, human civilization has never been the same. These days, fortunately, we have access to fire-starting tools more advanced than those of our forefathers. And in the event of a disaster or emergency, you may just find that you need to use them. If you’ve ever put together a bug-out bag or emergency survival kit, then you know a good survival lighter is an absolute essential.
The Importance of a Survival Lighter
In a survival situation, the importance of being able to start a fire cannot be overstated. You may need it to stay warm, dry your clothes, cook your food, boil your water to make it safe to drink, even scare off wild animals and sterilize wounds.
And at the end of the day, matches—even good quality survival matches—just don’t cut it. At least not in the long run. The simple reason is that matches can only be used one time. Once a match goes out, its ability to start or hold a flame is gone. But a good survival lighter can last years and start hundreds of fires.
Choosing the Best Survival Lighter
There are countless types and styles of lighters on the market—butane, plasma, refillable, disposable—and an equally wide range when it comes to quality. How does one choose the best survival lighter? Start by considering a few key factors:
Factors to Consider
- Quality: Okay, ‘quality’ is a pretty vague term, but you should look for a lighter that’s well-made and durable. You should be confident that it won’t break and be rendered useless if you drop it on a rock. Lighters made of metal and lightweight polymers can take a beating much better than the thin plastic used to make most disposable lighters.
- Water Resistance: You need to be able to start a fire even if you, your lighter and everything around you is wet. Waterproof lighters are especially important if you live in a rainy climate, or travel near water and want to prepare for a potential survival scenario.
- Wind Resistance: Many basic disposable lighters don’t light in heavy wind. That’s not going to cut it when survival is on the line. Look for a lighter with a direct flame or torch-like flame for extra wind resistance. Most “windproof” lighters use butane fuel.
- Longevity: How long will your lighter last? Will you be able to re-fill it when the fuel runs out? These are important questions when you’re in a potentially long-term survival situation. This is why disposable lighters don’t usually make the cut as survival lighters.
- Type of Fuel: What type of fuel your lighter uses is important, because you will eventually have to refill it, and you need to have extra fuel on hand. Lighter fluid is the most common and easiest fuel to get. Butane is also common, and relatively easy to get your hands on. Electric/arc lighters and plasma lighters run on batteries that will eventually need to be re-charged, so be sure to take that into consideration.
Best Survival Lighter of 2021
You’ve weighted the different factors, and you’ve thought about the qualities you want in a lighter. Now comes the time to pick the best of the best. These are the top survival lighters you want in your pack or in your pocket in 2021:
Windmill Classic Stormproof Lighter
Few lighters have a better reputation in the prepper community than the Windmill Classic Stormproof Lighter, and with good reason. The lighter’s ignition system delivers over 30,000 ignitions, and its catalyzer coil provides a clean, hot flame that burns at 2,000°F and can withstand winds up to 80 mph. The fuel is butane, and it’s easy to refill.
The outer shell is made of rough-and-tumble Polycarbonate and colored blaze orange for visibility. It has a built-in lanyard hole, which is a nice touch if you want to affix the lighter to your pack. The lighter is waterproof as long as the cap is closed. Climbers should be aware that the Windmill Stormproof Lighter is not designed for use at altitudes above 8,000 feet.
Everstryke Match Pro Lighter
A unique little lighter with a compact design, the Everstryke Match Pro Lighter is small enough to clip onto your keychain, and also has an attachment that lets you hook it easily onto your backpack. The Match Pro has a replaceable striker and wick, and is capable of 15,000 long burning strikes. It also has a built-in O-ring to keep the fuel from evaporating.
The only issue I can find is that the Everstryke isn’t as wind resistant as many of the other lighters on this list. And although it’s waterproof when the cap is screwed on tight, the lighter itself won’t light if it gets wet while it’s open. But this little guy is otherwise very reliable, affordable, lightweight and easy to refill.
Zippo Windproof Lighter
Is there a more iconic lighter than a Zippo? Durable, long-lasting and offering that irresistible ‘click’ when you open it, a Zippo Windproof Lighter is a trusted companion that can go with you on any adventure. The solid metal case takes a lot of punishment, and the lighter burns good old easy-to-refill lighter fluid. One of the great things about a Zippo is that it sparks even when the tank is empty, so you can light tinder long after you’ve run out of fuel.
Zippos are nicely water and wind resistant. Just about every component of the lighter, including the flint and wick, are replaceable, so a Zippo can last you a lifetime if you take care of it and replace these parts as needed. One thing to keep in mind is that they tend lose fuel due to evaporation, so make sure you have extra.
Survival Frog Tough Tesla Lighter 2.0
The Survival Frog Tough Tesla 2.0 lights with no fuel and, technically, no flame. Just touch the top-facing plasma dual arcs to something flammable to start a fire. It’s waterproof, windproof, and works at any altitude without adjustment. It even has a built-in safety whistle, flashlight and paracord lanyard that can be frayed for use as tinder.
The Tough Tesla 2.0 it’s a rechargeable lighter, which is something that you might love or hate depending on your needs and preferences. It charges via the included USB cable, and gives you 300 lights per charge (there’s a 10-second safety time-out to keep you from wasting battery). Overall it’s one of the most reliable lighters out there, but it does rely on electricity, at least in the long run.
UST Floating Lighter
Without a doubt, the UST Floating Lighter is one of the most thoroughly waterproof lighters on the market. Not only that, but it floats. So you can drop it in a lake, snatch it off the surface and light a fire seconds later. The UST Floating Lighter also stays lit in winds up to 80 mph, and has an impact-resistant case made of ABS Plastic. It’s powered by butane and easy to refill.
The UST Floating lighter is an all-around great choice for a survival lighter, and there may be no better option fishing trips, kayak adventures and backpacking journeys in rainy climates. It’s long-lasting and reliable too, with a piezo-electric ignition that lights up to 30,000 times.
Bic Classic Disposable Lighter
Okay look, I know I made a point of saying right at the beginning of this article that disposable lighters are not good survival lighters. And I stand by that, but hear me out. Classic Bic Disposable Lighters are lightweight, reasonably reliable, and dirt cheap.
Should they be your only option in a survival situation? Absolutely not. But they’re good to have around. Keep a pack in your pocket, your backpack, your glove box, and one on your nightstand. Along with wherever else you think you might need it. It may just come in handy someday, and the extra preparation will only set you back a few bucks.
UCO Stormproof Torch
The UCO Stormproof Torch has been one of the most well-regarded survival lighters out there for quite some time. It’s a personal favorite, and I’m dismayed to see that these lighters are getting harder and harder to find. The only place I could track one down on the web is directly through UCO’s website, but it’s worth the extra effort to snap one up. These things are great. Here’s why:
These lighters are long-lasting and refillable. You get about 700 ignitions before you have to refill the butane. They’re wind resistant, and waterproof when closed. They snap easily onto any backpack or keychain. They’re durable enough to take a beating last forever. Best of all, you can choose between versions of the UCO Stormproof Lighter that come with either a built-in bottle opener, or a mini spool of duct tape.
Vertigo Cyclone Triple Torch Lighter
Although marketed as a cigar lighter, it excels in survival situations for the same reason it’s great for lighting stogies. It produces a super-hot triple torch butane flame that can light a fire in challenging conditions, from wind and rain to soggy tinder. The flame is adjustable, and the lighter has a reliable quartz-powered ignition.
The Cyclone has a transparent fuel tank. This way you know exactly how much butane is left in it. It also lets you gauge how long until it needs a refill. Vertigo Cyclone lighters are very tough and long-lasting. They can survive being dropped and knocked around a bit without damage.