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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- All wick lighter fuels (Zippo, Ronsonol, etc.)
- Camp Fuel (naphtha)
- Some Paint Thinners (naphtha)
- Rubbing Alcohol (isopropyl alcohol)
- Everclear / Grain Alcohol (ethyl alcohol aka “moonshine”)
- Diesel Fuel
- Jet Propellant (JP – 4)
- Lamp Oil
- 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.
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.
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.
Major 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