Hypothermia sets in quickly during bitterly cold winter weather when you're unable to maintain your body heat. But even in warmer environments, a harsh wind chill or clothing soaked by an unexpected rainstorm can lead to a dangerous and potentially fatal drop in core temperature. For these reasons and many more, a reliable source of fire is an essential part of any emergency kit, and something you should consider and test thoroughly.

You certainly don't want to learn about a flaw in your fire-starting plan when you're already shivering, numb, and losing muscle coordination.

Last winter in Issue 18, we featured a buyer's guide for manually operated fire-starters, including ferro rods, magnesium bars, several types of matches, and even a primitive fire bow. This time around, we're focusing on tools that can create an instant flame.

Lighters vs. Torches

These two devices share many similarities, but can be differentiated easily by observing their flames. Lighters produce soft and flickering orange flames from flammable fluid or liquified gas, while torches release a fine stream (or streams) of gas at higher pressure to generate intense blue jets. Some of these fire-starters blur the line, offering a manual adjustment that can achieve either type of combustion.

Both lighters and torches can easily ignite a campfire, and many share the same butane fuel, but there are functional differences as well. Lighters generally offer even heat, and simple ignition and fuel systems for long-term durability. Torches generate more powerful and focused heat — enough to solder wiring, braze metal pipes, vaporize moisture, and brulee fancy desserts — but their fuels and Piezoelectric ignition systems may be more sensitive to environmental conditions.

We obtained three lighters and three torches, and evaluated each based on ease of use, reliability, power, features, and cost. Read our impressions and decide if one of these fire-starters is hot enough for your bug-out bag or winter survival kit.

Buyer's Guide

  • Bernzomatic Model: WT2301C Campfire Torch

    Make & Model - Bernzomatic WT2301C Campfire Torch
    Dimensions - 5 by 2 by 1 inches
    Weight - 3.4 ounces (torch only) / 2.97 pounds with 14.1-ounce propane cylinder
    MSRP - $20 (torch only) / $5 per propane cylinder
    URL - http://www.bernzomatic.com

    This full-sized torch features built-in Piezo ignition, so unlike workshop torches, carrying a separate striker isn't necessary.

  • BIC Classic Maxi

    Make & Model - BIC Classic Maxi
    Dimensions - 3.2 by 1 by 0.6 inches
    Weight - 0.7 ounces (including fuel)
    MSRP - $6.50 per 5-pack / $1.30 each
    URL - http://www.bicworld.com

    With 4.2 million lighters produced every day, the BIC has become ubiquitous.

  • EXOTAC Model: titanLIGHT

    Make & Model - EXOTAC titanLIGHT
    Dimensions - 3.3 by 1 inches
    Weight - 2.0 ounces (including fuel)
    MSRP - $50
    URL - http://www.exotac.com

    Liquid-fueled lighters such as the classic Zippo have an Achilles' heel for survivalists — they're not airtight, so the lighter fluid eventually evaporates.

  • Topsense Pencil Torch

    Make & Model - Topsense Pencil Torch
    Dimensions - 6.5 by 1.1 by 0.7 inches
    Weight - 2.1 ounces (including fuel)
    MSRP - $12
    URL - http://www.amazon.com

    We found the Topsense torch on Amazon, and its slim design caught our eye.

  • UCO Stormproof Torch & Bottle Opener

    Make & Model - UCO Stormproof Torch & Bottle Opener
    Dimensions - 4.5 by 1.8 by 1.1 inches
    Weight - 3.3 ounces (including fuel)
    MSRP - $20
    URL - http://www.ucogear.com

    Two versions of this torch are available; each is contained in a hard plastic case with a waterproof silicone cap and small carabiner.

  • Zippo Outdoor Utility Lighter (OUL)

    Make & Model - Zippo Outdoor Utility Lighter (OUL)
    Dimensions - 7.7 by 1.3 inches
    Weight - 6.6 ounces (including fuel)
    MSRP - $20
    URL - http://www.zippo.com

    Mentioning the name Zippo evokes thoughts of the classic flip-top fluid-filled lighters, but the company also offers a line of outdoor-oriented fire-starting tools.

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