The Gear Junkie Scoop: Zippo Emergency Fire Starter

May 10, 2010
Outside Magazine

By Stephen Regenold

Invented during the Great Depression, and seen as a small icon of American design for more than 75 years since, Zippo brand lighters package fuel, spark, and flame in a portable, durable metal case. Flip it open, strike the wheel to light, and flick it shut when you're done--fire snuffed, job complete.

Cigars might come to mind with a Zippo before a campfire does. But this year, the famous Zippo form factor--a flip-open rectangular case, hinged and flickable, with a latch to hold it closed--comes to the
outdoor market. The company's Emergency Fire Starter product, $19.95, includes a flint-wheel sparker and an area to stow four fire-starting sticks.

Designed for the "most rugged of outdoor situations," the kit is something of a survival item. You throw it in a backpack and hope never to use it. But if your matches are wet--and you can't find that disposable lighter hopefully stowed in your bag--the Zippo Emergency Fire Starter is a viable option to produce a flame.

The Zippo "kit" comes with four waxed and water-resistant tinder sticks. They sit stacked in the case beside the sparker wheel. When you need a flame, pull out a stick, spread its tip to expose the cottony filament inside, and commence thumbing the ignition wheel to shoot sparks and generate a flame.

In my test, the product worked as promised. It was easy to ignite a tinder stick during a windless day. Add kindling and a few small sticks on top, and your fire will be roaring in no time at all.

The product weighs two oz. and is as small as a traditional Zippo lighter. It has an orange metal exterior case that is made water resistant with an o-ring seal. I held it under a faucet and not a drop of water got inside.

Replacement waxed tinder sticks come in an eight-unit pack for $4.95. The Emergency Fire Starter product ships with four of the fire-starting sticks included.

For your workaday campfire, the spark-ignited tinder sticks would be an unnecessary hassle. But as an emergency item, Zippo has added a neat alternative to the fire-starting product category. Throw the metal case in your backpack and forget it's there. If an emergency comes, Zippo's wax sticks and flint sparker could save your day.

--Stephen Regenold writes about outdoors gear at

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