When it comes to lighters you have two choices, refillable or disposable. Refillables also come in two types, liquid, and gas. The gas refillables use presurized aerosol cans of butane. They are not really any better than disposables in terms of savings and utility. If the butane is not available you are pretty much screwed. They also have problems with leaking gas, and with deformation of their fill nozzles which can easily render them useless. That is why I long ago dispensed with them, and went with liquid refillable lighters and disposables. While disposable lighters are common, inexpensive, and should be a part of every emergency kit, a refillable lighter is also worth considering.
Refillable Lighters Closed 06/07/2011
The Zippo company, in Bradford PA is the largest, oldest, and most famous manufacturer of refillable lighters in the U.S. Their windproof lighters are basic simple mechanical devices that rarely, if ever fail. There are other makers, and even no name generics, but the quality is not the same. However they all seem to be copies of Zippo lighters, and use the Zippo lighter supplies. If you are going to get a refillable lighter, get a Zippo.
The advantages of a refillable lighter are many. It is, of course, refillable. Once a disposable lighter is empty it’s empty. You can’t do anything with it but throw it away. A refillable lighter can continue to be refilled indefinately. Reillable lighters are supposed to be used with only the recommended lighter fluid. But over the years people in difficult situations have filled them with gas, aviation fuel, charcoal lighter fluid, coleman fuel, benzene (naptha), rubbing alcohol, booze, and even cologne. In a prolonged outage of services you could keep using the refillable lighter with almost any flammable liquid that you can get your hands on.
Refillable Lighters Open 06/07/2011
Most refillable lighters, and especially Zippo lighters, have a wind screen. They will ignite in wind, and even in rain as long as they aren’t totally soaked. They also use a wick, and so remain lit until extinguished. This means that they can be used like a candle in an emergency. All the refillable lighters that I have seen are metal. They are durable and will stand up to tough use and abuse.
Refillable Lighters Close Up 06/07/2011
Refillable lighters also produce a bigger spark than disposables, due to the large flint and the steel wheel. So even if you run out of anything to fuel it, it can still be used as a fire starting aid. Just like an ancient flint and steel. People have used dryer lint, cotton balls, tissue, dried leaves, old bark, and piles of dried grass as tender to start a fire from a spark from an empty refillable lighter. Anything dry, highly flammable, and small can be used as tinder.
Zippo And Supplies 06/07/2011
The downsides to refillable lighters are that they require supplies and are more expensive initially. You have to fill them with lighter fluid. While any flammable liquid will generally work, using anything but the recommended lighter fluid will void your warranty. So don’t experiment with anything else until you absolutely have to. In an emergency the warranty will be the least of your concerns, but until it would be nice to have free or cheap repairs and replacement if anything does go wrong. You have to replace the flint when it wears down. The flint is held in a metal tube that goes up through the body of the lighter. A spring and metla plunger apply tension to it to keep it pressed against the steel wheel. And once in a while you will also have to change the wick. This is similar to a candle wick, and in a crisis candle wicks or even some string or cord could be used instead. Again, until it is absolutely nessecary to do otherwise, use the recommended wicks.
Zippo Fluid 06/07/2011
The lighter fluid currently runs about $1.50 for a 4 ounce can. According to people who use their lighters a lot a 4 ounce can of fluid will last about 6 or 7 months. They report that they have to refill their lighters about once a week. If you don’t use yours that often then both the fluid in the lighter and the can should last you a lot longer. If you do not often use your lighter it is recommended that you not fill it, as the fluid will evaporate from the lighter eventually. There is a larger can of fluid available, but I have not priced it.
The fuel is basically naptha, or benzene. However other additives or substances in the mixture are not know. Anyway at the prices it sells for it is easy to stock a couple of cans. That should last you a year if you use your lighter daily. If you rarely use it, and don’t even fill it until needed then that may well be a lifetime supply.
Zippo Flints 06/07/2011
Flints currently cost $0.79 for a pack of 6. Heavy users report having to change flints about once a month. So for less than $1 you get a 6 month supply. At that price and considering their small size you could easily have a pack of flints in your emergency bag, your home emergency kit, and your vehicle emergency kit. That would give you more than a year of flints for cheap. There is also a larger pack of flints, which I have not priced. I believe it is a 12 pack, as it is about double the size of the 6 flint pack.
Zippo Wick 06/07/2011
Heavy users report that they have to replace the wick about once a year. Wicks vary widely in price from $1.50 to $3.00. That isn’t too expensive to have one in your emergency bag, your home emergency kit, and your vehicle emergency kit. As mentioned in a crisis you could probably replace a wick with something else. But with all of the stories I”ve read of people using alternatives fuels, I have never read of anyone even needing to replace a wick or flint and having to improvise. I guess they either are easy to find even in desperate times, or else they so rarely wear out that the crisis has passed by the time they need to be replaced.
Anyway, for less than $5 or $10 you could have several years worth of Zippo supplies on hand. And that is where the long term savings come in. While Zippo’s are more expensive initially, in the long run they are actually cheaper if you use lighters frequently. And as mentioned previously, they will last indefinately with minor resupply.
Plus Zippo lighters are just plain cool. I’ve used them for years off and on, and never had one break or fail. I’ve subjected them to some pretty tough abuse and the worst thing that ever happened was that one lid became misaligned and this caused the fluid to evaporate faster. I highly recommend having a Zippo lighter for every day use, and in each of your emergency kits.