We Tested the 5 Best Backpacking Lighters of 2019
|Lighter||Score||Weight When Filled||Fuel||Pre-filled?|
|Top Pick: BIC Mini Lighter||
|Runner-Up: Clipper Mini Lighter||
|Best for Adverse Weather: UCO Stormproof Torch||
|UST Wayfinder Lighter||
|Zippo Matte Lighter||
|2.15 oz||Zippo Lighter Fluid||No|
We bought 5 of the best backpacking lighters available and set about testing their water-resistance by soaking them in water, their wind-resistance by trying to blow them out, and their reliability by striking them until we got blisters. Our tests confirmed what backpackers have long known: the BIC Mini Lighter (commonly called the “Mini BIC”) is the best lighter for backpacking.
It is ultralight, reliable, decently water-resistant, and a great bang for your buck.
The Mini BIC’s only downside is it’s not wind-resistant. A simple windscreen can usually solve this problem though.
If you need a lighter for backpacking in extremely wet or windy conditions, we recommend the UCO Stormproof Torch. It was the most wind- and water-resistant lighter we tested.
Also, it’s important to point out the Mini BIC earned the top score in our tests by the slimmest of margins. The Clipper Mini Lighter is an excellent alternative. It isn’t as easy to find in the US however — you’ll likely have to pick one up online or at a head shop.
Read on for our full reviews.
Top Pick: BIC Mini Lighter
Supremely affordable and available everywhere, the Mini BIC earned our Top Pick award because of its reliability, value, and ultralight weight.
When I struck the BIC 200 times, it lit a perfect 200. BIC has perfected lighting consistency.
The Mini BIC is also decently water-resistant. After performing 3 “Soak Tests” with it — submerging the lighter in water, shaking it out, and then trying to light it in 1-minute intervals — it took an average of 2 minutes before it started lighting again consistently.
(To dry it out quicker you can also run it up and down a piece of wood or your pants leg for 30 seconds.)
The BIC’s main drawback is how poorly it holds up in windy conditions. The flame is difficult to light in even a slight breeze.
It’s an easy problem to overcome though — I usually have luck with using my hand or windscreen to block the wind long enough to light my backpacking stove.
If you’re worried that you need something beefier to take into the backcountry, don’t be.
BIC lighters have been put through the ringer countless times by backpackers of all varieties. Every year plenty of AT and PCT thru-hikers complete their hikes having used only Mini BICs. And adventurer Andrew Skurka uses a BIC in his Cadillac Stove System.
Runner-Up: Clipper Mini Lighter
The Mini Clipper is another excellent backpacking lighter.
While not nearly as ubiquitous as the Mini BIC, it performed actually better in our tests.
For starters, like the Mini BIC it lit a perfect 200/200 times.
It is also slightly more wind- and water-resistant than the Mini BIC.
Where it took the BIC 2 minutes on average to start lighting consistently after having been submerged in water, it took the Clipper 1 minute. I was also able to light the Clipper more easily in a slight breeze.
You might be wondering at this point…
“If it performed better in your tests, why didn’t it get a higher score?”
Based on reports I read of backpackers who had used a Clipper for a long time, the general consensus was that a Clipper’s flint wore out quicker than a BIC’s. As such I docked it some points for being less reliable over the long-term.
In my view you still can’t go wrong if you take a Clipper on your next backpacking trip. Let price and availability be your guides if you’re undecided between the two.
Mini Clippers ship pre-filled but unlike BIC lighters they are refillable with butane. You can also purchase replacement flints and replace a used-up one yourself.
Best for Adverse Weather: UCO Stormproof Torch
Most backpackers — whether you’re a beginner or seasoned thru-hiker — don’t need this lighter.
It’s heavy, bulky, and costly relative to BICs and Clippers.
Its flame is impressive but unnecessary for all but the most adverse weather conditions.
But should you truly need a weather-resistant lighter, the UCO Stormproof Torch is your best option.
While neither truly windproof nor waterproof like UCO’s incredible stormproof matches, this lighter was the most wind- and water-resistant that we tested.
When submerged with the cap on, the inside of the lighter remained completely dry and lit immediately after shaking off the excess water. As marketed, the case is waterproof.
When submerged without the cap, it took just one minute of drying in my pants pocket before the lighter started lighting again consistently.
Its wind-resistance isn’t anything to write home about — it was pretty easy to blow out — but it was the best lighter we tested in this regard, just edging out the competition.
I do have some long-term reliability concerns with this lighter however. The more I struck it the more the flame started to sputter. If you do go with the Torch, take a back-up ignition source with you just in case.
There are two versions of this lighter: one comes with a bottle opener, the other with duct tape. I tested the duct tape version.
The Wayfinder Lighter from UST, like the UCO Torch, is a butane lighter with piezo-electric ignition.
UST says it “performs without fail in the most adverse conditions.”
I found it to be reliably unreliable.
When I struck it 200 times, it lit just 87, the least of any lighter by far. It is marketed as “windproof” and is apparently able to withstand winds of up to 80 mph. I didn’t test it in those conditions, but I was able to blow it out by blowing air at a moderate rate.
The Wayfinder’s performance was heavily affected by being submerged in water. The inside of the lighter got wet even when the cap was on. Also, air bubbles came out of the fuel refill port, which made me wonder if water was entering the fuel chamber.
It took an average of 9 minutes of drying the lighter in my pants pocket before it lit again, and over 20 minutes before it started lighting consistently.
One of my main gripes with the Wayfinder is that there’s no way to know how much fuel is left. On backpacking trips, especially long ones, this in an important thing to know.
Overall I wasn’t impressed. The unreliability and high price point make this lighter a less than ideal choice for your next backpacking trip.
The Zippo is a classic, but it makes for a bad backpacking lighter.
The biggest drawback of this lighter is its unreliability.
Now, I don’t mean this lighter doesn’t light consistently. It does. The Zippo was the third most reliable lighter in that regard, lighting 175 out of 200 times.
In this case, I mean it’s unreliable because of the issues that stem from its fuel.
First, I had an issue with the fuel leaking. After soaking the lighter in water to test its water-resistance, the fuel started leaking on my hands, in my pants pocket, and on the outside of the lighter.
This poses two threats when out in the backcountry:
- It increases your chances of running out of fuel
- It poses a fire hazard should you light the lighter without realizing it’s been leaking
What’s more, the fuel evaporates slowly out of the lighter. There are numerous accounts online of people complaining about this and trying to come up with their own fixes to the problem.
This even happened to me when I took these lighters with me on an overnight backpacking trip. The Zippo had fuel in it when I left. When I returned just a day later, despite lighting it only a handful of times, it was empty.
The last thing you want on a backpacking trip is for the fuel in your lighter to leak or evaporate. As such, we don’t recommend the Zippo.
And that’s good news actually — the Zippo has the highest retail price of any of the lighters we tested, you need to buy fuel for it and refill it yourself, and it’s heavier than a backpacking lighter needs to be.
Save yourself a couple ounces and a handful of dollars: pick up a Mini BIC or Mini Clipper and be done with it.
Here are the best backpacking lighters:
- BIC Mini Lighter
- Clipper Mini Lighter
- UCO Stormproof Torch
- UST Wayfinder Lighter
- Zippo Matte Lighter
Alternative Ways to Light Your Backpacking Stove or Start a Campfire
In my experience, lighters are the most popular way backpackers light stoves and start campfires.
There are other ways, though, which we’ve also written about. Consider these other products if you’d like an alternative to lighters (click on the link to see our reviews of the top options):
Even if you do go with a lighter, you might want to take a back-up ignition source just in case. Most backpackers I know who do this will carry one in the form of a ferro rod, magnesium fire starter, or pack of waterproof or stormproof matches.
How to Choose the Right Backpacking Lighter for Your Needs
When it comes to backpacking gear, lighter is always preferable.
The lighters we tested ranged from 0.39-3.21 oz. That isn’t terribly heavy in the grand scheme of things, but relatively speaking the heaviest lighter weighs over 8 times as much as the lightest.
Unless you want to go with our top option for adverse weather, the UCO Stormproof Torch, a lighter shouldn’t cost you more than an ounce in pack weight.
If you’ll be backpacking for an extended amount of time you might want to consider bringing a back-up lighter or, if your lighter is refillable, extra fuel.
Flint vs. Piezo-Electric Ignition
Flint lighters — like the BIC, Clipper, and Zippo — use a flint to generate sparks.
Piezo-electric lighters — like the UCO and UST — use a spring-loaded hammer to hit a piezo-electric crystal and create an electrical charge.
I found the flint lighters to be much more reliable over the long-term than the piezo-electric lighters.
Unless you need a highly weather-resistant lighter such as the UCO Stormproof Torch, I’d recommend you go with a flint lighter.
There are also battery-powered electric lighters (aka plasma lighters). These are not water-resistant and thus are less than ideal for taking into the backcountry.
There is no perfectly windproof or waterproof backpacking lighter. However, all the lighters we tested sported some degree of weather-resistance.
Although, just because you expect to encounter adverse weather on your trip doesn’t mean that you need to bring along a highly weather-resistant lighter.
While I would generally recommend you go with a Mini BIC or Mini Clipper for the weight and cost savings, there are some situations where a highly weather-resistant lighter might be preferable — such as emergency or survival scenarios. Also, if you aren’t concerned with the extra weight and bulk it’s hard to put a price on peace of mind.
Pre-Filled vs. Empty
BICs and Clippers come pre-filled. The other three lighters we tested come empty and you must fill them with the appropriate fuel, which you also must buy.
Pre-filled lighters are less hassle and cheaper upfront. You don’t have to buy fuel or fill the lighter yourself.
Empty lighters you must buy fuel for and fill yourself. They are refillable and thus may work out to be cheaper in the long-run. The two types of fuel we used were butane for the UCO Stormproof Torch and UST Wayfinder Lighter and Zippo lighter fluid for the Zippo Matte Lighter. (The Mini Clipper can also be refilled with butane.)
Type of Fuel: Butane vs. Lighter Fluid
Backpacking lighters are generally butane lighters. The fuel they use is premium butane.
We also tested the Zippo Matte Lighter which uses Zippo Lighter Fluid.
After testing these lighters side-by-side, I personally would never take anything other than a butane lighter on the trail.
The Zippo started leaking fuel after being submerged in water. The fuel got on my hands, on the outside of the lighter, and on my pants pocket where I had placed the lighter to dry.
How We Tested
For each lighter I did the following 3 times and averaged the results:
- Submerged it in water for 5 seconds
- Shook off excess water for 10 seconds
- Tried to light it
- If it didn’t light, I stuck it in my pants pocket to dry and took it out and tried to light it in 1-minute intervals, recording how long it took before each lighter started lighting consistently again
- Mini BIC: 2 minutes
- Mini Clipper: 1 minute
- UCO Stormproof Torch: immediately when submerged with cap on; 1 minute when submerged with cap off
- UST Wayfinder Lighter: 9 minutes when submerged with cap on; didn’t bother testing with cap off
- Zippo Matte Lighter: 20+ minutes when submerged with lid closed; didn’t bother testing with lid open
(H/T to this reddit thread for giving me the idea for this test, as well as the idea to test a Clipper lighter in the first place.)
This was a straightforward test: I struck each lighter 200 times and recorded how many times each one lit.
- Mini BIC: 200/200
- Mini Clipper: 200/200
- UCO Stormproof Torch: 200/200
- UST Wayfinder Lighter: 87/200
- Zippo Matte Lighter: 175/200
Since I didn’t have time to test long-term durability, I then read reports of backpackers who had used these lighters for extended periods of time. If other hikers consistently reported that a lighter was unreliable over the long-term, I incorporated that into my final reliability rating.
Note: I removed the metal safety band from my Mini BIC prior to testing.
I don’t have a fan or leaf blower, but I do have lungs.
I lit each lighter and then tried to blow it out, starting by blowing lightly and getting progressively more forceful. It was an admittedly crude test.
Overall, I was disappointed in the wind-resistance of these lighters. If you’d like something that is truly windproof (and waterproof), read our reviews of the best stormproof matches. Otherwise, just be sure to bring along a windscreen to block the breeze.