Camping & Survival

Zippo Survival Lighter

Shiny silver Zippo lighter on bed of rocks

The Zippo Survival Lighter is not a new product from Zippo. Instead, it is a notation that the Zippo is without a doubt the best, long-term survival lighter in world. Some would argue that point. However, there are some great points, which I believe make the Zippo your ultimate firemaking friend.

Shiny silver Zippo lighter on bed of rocks
“The Zippo’s shiny finish can even be used for a signal device.”

Unless you just arrived here from Mars, you have undoubtedly handled a Zippo lighter at some point even if you are non-smoker. Zippos were invented in 1933, and the design has been continuously tested and refined over almost 80 years. The operation is infallibly simple, and the design is elegantly bulletproof. Today, they are durable is an understatement. Actually, Zippo just posted a picture on its Facebook site of a Zippo that stopped a .38 Special bullet and saved a man’s life.

The major flint, wick, and cotton batting components are all easily replicable. With a near unlimited selection of case motifs, you will certainly find one that fits your personality, and Zippo even has a few various case-size styles as well. As the saying goes, if it isn’t broke don’t fix it.

The movie, Book of Eli, set in the post apocalyptic future, gave me reason to pause about what survival would be like 20+ years after “it hit the fan.” Small details caught my eye in the movie such as the Zippo lighter had became a valuable negotiable trade item. I would image Zippos would be highly valued for a number of reasons.

Features

The 100%, USA-made Zippo will really be the only lighter which will work after all the pressurized or disposable butane lighters are broken or empty assuming you have enough flint. However, flints from disposable lighters can be harvested, and wicks and cotton packing material can be made. The Zippo is the only lighter that can run on almost any flammable fuel, and will ignite when a spark is applied to it. Even if you don’t have fuel or a wick, the cotton stuffing can be removed and used as tinder with the striker to still make a fire. Yes the old 1933 design does sound like the survival tool that could continue to put a spark in your fire well into an uncertain future.

Another benefit of the Zippo is that the wick can be adjusted for different heights for a little or a lot of fire depending on the need or the fuel used. Thumb free, it can provide a small sustainable no-hands fire where other methods would be impractical or inconvenient and when placed on a fireproof surface it can burn from full to empty—a feat no other commercial lighter can do without exploding or melting into puddle of plastic. Key to being hands-free and self-standing means you can heat a cup of water, which I have done, or use it as a simple heat source for everything from melting paracord to taking a little chill out of your one-man tent.

Zippo lighter with Made in USA stamped on top
“As always Made in USA”

I have several Zippo lighters, however, my newest acquisition is the mirror polished version which now provides me with all the benefits of the Zippo plus a very effective personal signal mirror which combines two common survival devices in one handy package.

Fit, Feel

The quality of Zippo has gone through a number of updates and today’s model is without a doubt a much more refined and higher quality lighter than the previous versions. Despite the refinements to improve fit, finish, and literally limitless style options, Zippo has continued that original design and the classic Zippo open, strike, and close sound distinctive only to Zippo.

Survival Functioning

The Zippo lighter has some unique benefits as a survival tool such as a near indestructible case, function unaffected by altitude, easy maintenance and repair, no-hands burning, signaling/mirror if you have a polished model, and simple functioning. You should, however, know what preferred Zippo supplies to have on hand to support your Zippo long term. In an article I found online, the author compiled 448 days of Zippo use data lighting approximately 3 cigarettes a day which provided interesting information such as, flints lasted an average of 44 days, refills lasted on average 12 days, and wicks average life span was 111 days.

Based on the compiled data such as this, a Zippo user would need 12 oonces of Zippo lighter fluid, two packages of flints, and two wicks per year to run in factory spec state if you are a chain smoker. It is common practice to stash a couple wicks and extra flints under the felt. A 6-month supply of one wick and six flints can easily fit under the felt and batting for the time you need it. All handy information to know.

Where almost every other lighter requires a special fuel, in a survival situation the Zippo can operate on almost any fuel which will ignite when exposed to a flame. Although not recommended by Zippo, several users have tested various alternative Zippo lighter fuels. The list below demonstrates some of the tested alternative fuels for a survival situation and ranks them from the likely best to worst.

  1. All wick lighter fuels (Zippo, Ronsonol, etc.)
  2. Camp Fuel (naphtha)
  3. Some Paint Thinners (naphtha)
  4. Rubbing Alcohol (isopropyl alcohol)
  5. Everclear / Grain Alcohol (ethyl alcohol aka “moonshine”)
  6. Kerosene
  7. Cologne
  8. Diesel Fuel
  9. Jet Propellant (JP – 4)
  10. Lamp Oil
  11. Gasoline (dangerous but does work)

One of the most significant notes of his testing was validation that Camp Fuel, which many of us have already tested in Zippos, works as well as wick lighter fluids. I have noticed camp fuel typically does have a smellier burn than some of the more refined wick lighter fuels. From a disaster preparedness perspective, you should have a low tech, manual pressurized camp stove and at least a gallon of camp fuel on hand anyway. However, it is good to know that one gallon of fuel could also be used as a nearly infinite supply of Zippo lighter refills as well.

The flints on the Zippo are very good compared to most other disposable lighter flints. When using a Zippo to start tinder when the fluid is dry, simply move the wick over to the inside and loosely place your tender in the wick cage. If you have nice, dry and light tinder, perhaps some of that cotton battening from the lighter itself, would start right up.

Zippo lighter atop gift box
Beauty and survival all in one package for under $30… it even comes gift boxed.

Once the tinder is lit, move it to your pre-prepared tinder bird’s nest to facilitate more flame and larger tinder. Tip: standard cotton, like fluid filler, is actually synthetic and does not burn well, so I do recommend replacing all or some with cotton that will provide you with extra tinder. For longer-term storage, your Zippo can be filled and then dipped in wax to seal it from evaporating. However, the wax should be removed prior to use. Another option is to use an empty contact fluid bottle to carry your spare fluid for extended storage.

Final Thoughts

I always carry a couple disposable butane lighters in all my purpose-built Bug Out Bags with ferrocerium rods. High-end, windproof micro-torches are without a doubt the fastest firemaking tools available, however they go through fuel quickly. Then what? In a long-term survival situation, the problem occurs when a refill is needed and this is where the Zippo becomes the preferable firemaking tool.

Ferro rods are an indispensable back up option, however a lighter will always be quicker and simpler fire making option. If a catastrophic event occurs, the Zippo becomes a barter-able item. Until then you can slip one of the most well recognized and coolest fire making tools in your pocket all for about $20, for the “just in case” we hope will never happen whether on the streets or in the woods.

Gas maskMajor Pandemic is an editor at large who loves everything about shooting, hunting, the outdoors, and all those lifesaving little survival related products. His goal is simple, tell a good story in the form of a truthful review all while having fun. He contributes content to a wide variety of print and digital magazines and newsletters for companies and manufacturers throughout the industry with content exposure to over 2M readers monthly. www.MajorPandemic.com

The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (16)

  1. I’ve never been able to get these lighters to work with kerosene and it sure won’t work with lamp oil
    Alcohol would probably work but evaporates quickly
    Never worked with nothing but lighter fluid

  2. I am pro-Zippo. I first used them when I was in the Navy. The windproof quality has barely been mentioned, but it needs to be emphasized: it is a strong point for the Zippo. The holes in the chimney surrounding the wick allow you to produce and SUSTAIN a flame in quite windy situations, whereas Bics would be snuffed out quickly. Regarding water: I once dropped a Zippo into the bilge (the lowest part of a ship, where water is always sloshing around). I was happily surprised to find it about 2 WEEKS later. I allowed it to thoroughly dry out, used a soft wire brush, replaced the flint, refilled it, and it fired up just fine. I smoked 30 cigs a day: the wick lasts way longer than the article stated. I only remember replacing the wick once after 6 years of continuous use. Flints last longer than stated. Also, do use the silvery-golden Zippo brand name flints; other flints (like Ronsonol) gum up the wheel. Also, do keep 4 flints in between the batting and the cotton; don’t need an extra wick in there since they last for many years. Zippos are very reliable, can use multiple fuel sources, can be used after waterlogging, and (emphasizing again) are very wind-resistant.

  3. I have my dads Zippo, dating from WWII as well as several I’ve acquired over the decades. Even a tiny one made for the Navy Chiefs Club at the Old Brooklyn Navy Yard in the 60’s and more.
    On Marine recruiting duty in Olean, NY 77-79, the Zippo manufacturing plant in Bradford, PA was in my recruiting area. I wanted to thank some folks, mostly former Marines who had aided our recruiting effort so I acquired a supply of Marine EGA tie tacks to use as emblems and visited the Zippo plant office in Bradford, PA.
    I asked if their was any way they could affix the Marine EGA tie tacks to Zippo lighters after removing the pin on the back and offered to pay for them.
    An older gentleman who talked with me said he would take care of it after noticing me in the office lobby, in Marine uniform. It turned out, he was one of Carlson’s Raiders in WWII and now worked at Zippo.
    Several weeks later, I received a box from Zippo with twenty-five lighters with the Marine EGA tac welded to the front and compliments of Zippo engraved on the back.
    I gave them all out except one, which I still have. There was no charge by Zippo. I’m ashamed to say that I have forgotten that Marines name who helped me that day in Bradford but I’m honored to have met him. Years later after learning much more about what Carlson’s Raiders really were and what they went through while accomplishing their mission under the most dire circumstances, I have a much greater appreciation of that man and his position with Zippo. Semper Fi.

  4. Dad carried a Zippo lighter for over 50 years. Pipe smoker, so he used the lighter a lot. The lighter was in for repair a few times, I remember once they replaced the hinge. As the warranty says the do not guaranty the finish. After nearly 40 years of pocket carry with his keys, he had worn through the chrome finish and the brass of the case. The lighter still worked, and Zippo replaced all of the internal consumables and the case bottom, but not the lid.
    That lighter was used to light the grass every spring, trash, torches, Coleman stoves. He could even light a Coleman lantern if he held his mouth right! This was done by holding the lighter against the match hole, then striking the flint with the flame inside the lantern.
    He didn’t use too many other fuels. Camp fuel and white gas worked almost as good as Ronson. He worked as an engineer on flight line with large military and commercial jets, but only tried the fuel for a B-52 once. It burnt like kerosene, and did not want to ignite.
    Even with all of it’s faults, dad’s Zippo was a survivor. That is, it was a survivor. After dad passed, mom made the Zippo a disposable.

  5. One can go out and buy about three six-packs of Bic disposable lighters for what it would cost to get one Zippo. In a survival situation a single Bic lighter should be plenty to build enough fires for several months. Think how many 18 lighters could build. Take into consideration the Zippo lighter is notorious for its fuel evaporating quickly, then you are wasting fuel in a survival situation. This is NOT a survivalist’s tool. It’s a great lighter, it does stay lit when you are not holding onto it, and its windproof design is great. But in a survivalist’s situation, I’d rather have a few Bic disposables on hand then a Zippo and the necessary fuel to keep it working for more than a few weeks. If one does have a camping stove, I’d rather use the camping fuel for the stove. But, from a survivalist’s standpoint, wouldn’t it be better to burn what nature has provided to cook your meals?

    My vote for a survivalist’s lighter – Bic disposable.

  6. I have a Zippo and keep a small supply of flints and fluid but I don’t think its the best option. The “Survival Match” or permamatch lighters with a striker and fluid supply in about the same size package are much better and do not dry out over time stored in a bug out bag like a Zippo would. You can get almost 20 of them for the price of one Zippo. Unfortunately they are mostly made in China.

  7. I find wicks last much longer than 111 days more like three years with much more use than the stated 3 cigs a day. My fluid only lasts about seven days compared to the 14 days but I carry in my pocket which makes the fluid evaporate faster.
    As far a Bic getting wet, if it gets soaked for say 30 seconds and you quickly dry it off it will be ok but once water gets around the flint it’s done forever. A zippo on the other hand will be dead after a 30 second soaaking but you can dry it out refuel and good to go again unlike a Bic.

  8. I am a smoker I average about a pack a day I have used the same zippo lighter everyday for over 2 years I have changed the flint 5 times in 2 years and I average on 12 oz bottle of lighter fluid a year and I have never changed the wick. I also have the first zippy my father used for over 50 years he averaged 2 packs a day and he had to ask me how to change the wick in his lighter 5 years ago zippo lighters stand the test of time.

  9. It’s just a zippo, nothing special. It’s no survival tool. I have a survival peanut and it’s basically a zippo but it has o rings to keep the fuel from evaporating. Works perfect and cost $4. Buy a survival grenade and get 14 things for half the price e of the zippo. This is not impressive at all. They just called it “survival” to boost sales and attract more preppers and outdoorsman.

    1. I will trust my Zippo, you rely on your peanut. I have been carrying a Zippo for 50 years and they many uses your peanut could never hope to cover.

  10. Saw JP-4 on your list of fuel. Very funny! JP-4 is/was used in helicopters in Vietnam, even in our ‘multi-fuel’ trucks when diesel wasn’t available, which was most of the time in our forward position. Once, our supply lines got cut for a long while. No lighter fluid at the PX. Friend of my used JP-4 in his Zippo. As advertised, it worked like a charm. About a month later, everything got resupplied, including lighter fluid. Friend refilled his Zippo with fluid, wouldn’t lite. After several tries to make it work, he let the fluid evaporate from the cotton. Put in JP-4, lighter began working again. Why? We could never figure it out. He did continue to use his Zippo with JP-4 until we both rotated out. For a while I wondered what happened when he got back to the U.S. and no readily available jet fuel. New Zippo, I suppose.

  11. Keeping your Zippo in a zip-lock baggie slows fuel evaporation, especially when traveling by air. Put in the bag when traveling and at night and I can get a month from a refill.

  12. I have one of the new plasma lighters that charge with a USB cable. One could easily pair it with a solar external battery pack and you would never need fuel.

  13. I had a Zippo years ago but replaced it with several other fire starting options. I might just get another for nostalgic reasons. I DO have a Zippo hand warmer that I use on occasion.

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