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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

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