“Cheap things no good! Good things no cheap!” (Confucius, 492 BC)

Imagine a world where the only way of starting a fire was using firesteels. Now imagine the pitch someone who had just invented the disposable lighter might make:

“It’s amazing! I put a tiny ferrocerium rod inside that can be sparked using a wheel with just your thumb – one handed use? no problem! It’s good for around 2000 lights and, best of all, it’s got it’s own completely waterproof fuel source built in, so need to carry around all those cotton balls anymore. It’s ultralight and, you’re not going to believe this, but I’m going to sell them for less than a dollar!”

They would fly off the shelves…and they do.

But, at the back of your mind you might be thinking that it’s all too good to be true….that something so cheap can’t really be suited to a hard core life in the wilderness and that something more expensive would surely be better?

There is only one advantage to being a smoker and that is that you learn a lot about lighters… and what is the lighter of choice of most hardened smokers? A disposable lighter preferably from a good brand name (Cricket, Bic, Clipper etc).

But what are the disadvantages of these lighters and how do you get round them?

They are easily lost. This is true, but having a case for the lighter (that is attached to your belt) solves this.

They can break. Also true, although it is harder to break them than you might think. I have had problems with wheels coming off disposable lighters made by cheaper, no-brand companies and the best thing is to avoid these and go for the well-known branded lighters (BIC, Cricket, Clipper).

They don’t work when wet. True of the wheel and flint models (although not the case with a piezo) but not such a problem as people think (just dry it off a bit and make sure your thumb is dry). The case I make in the video keeps the worst of the rain off and I’ve tested it during a downpour with excellent results. Some people use a balloon to fully seal the lighter but I don’t think this is necessary.

I can’t tell how much fuel is left. This is true of the non-transparent bodied lighters and it is the one thing that annoys me about Cricket lighters (who don’t produce a variant in transparent plastic). Clipper do produce a model that is translucent and you can see the amount of fuel in it, they also have a mechanism for allowing a quick and easy flint change and can be refilled.

The wheel mechanism can get damaged or full of lint and stuff from my pockets. Again, a simple plastic case solves this.

If it runs out of fuel in a survival situation I’m stuffed. This is not true, the lighter still produces sparks and with a bit of forethought you can attach some items that will make fire starting with an empty lighter easy.

You can’t change the flint on a Cricket/BIC. Not true; you can change the flint (although it is a bit tricky and I recommend practising it first!) …then all you have to do is duct tape a spare flint to the side of the lighter.

If I take the guard off an empty lighter the wheel can fly off. This is true, but a simple piece of wire gets round this problem, so if you duct tape a piece to your lighter you’re good to go.

Firesteel are a cheaper way to light fires. A firesteel can light 12,000 fires (assuming you get it to work on the first go), but a standard Cricket lighter can light 2,000 fires….do the maths.

So, in this video I look at how to modify the lighter to turn it into a long term survival tool

… it’s cheap, easy and well worth doing.

I usually carry three lighters – one in my pocket and two in my pack. This might seem excessively cautious but the fact is they don’t weigh much, didn’t cost much and, when combined with a bit of inner tube, are an almost bomb proof method for fire lighting in the jungle.

In the short video below I look at how to light a candle using both a firesteel and an empty lighter (plus charcloth).

Lighters are such useful tools that is worth giving them a little protection from being bashed around too much and, if using an empty lighter as a sparker, treating it gently!