The Gear Junkie Scoop: Zippo Emergency Fire Starter

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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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