To anyone who preps or has even a passing interest in the survival niche, having a reliable way to make fire is one of the most essential needs that we address.
There is no easier and more convenient way to make fire than with a modern lighter.
However, not all lighters are created equal and the two titans of the lighter world are BIC and Zippo.
I’ve been carrying both of these lighters for 20+ years and this article is going go over the pros and cons of each, and what is the best EDC (Every Day Carry) lighter for preppers.
Hopefully, by the end of it, you’ll have a better idea of which lighter is best for you.
Size and Weight of a BIC vs a Zippo
When we look at the overall physical size of each of the lighters when standing beside each other, the length of a Zippo is twice as wide as a standard BIC lighter, but the BIC lighter is about 50% taller. Their widths are about equal.
A mini BIC is the same height as a Zippo lighter but also half as long and a shade narrower.
Being plastic, the BIC lighters are on the lighter end of the scale with the full size BIC weighing in at 3/4oz (21g) and the mini BIC at 1/4oz (10g).
The Zippo is made of brass, a metal, and weighs in at 2 1/8oz (61g) when full.
|Lighter||Height||Length||Width||Total Cubic Volume|
|Mini BIC||2.42″ (61.35mm)||0.84″ (21.45mm)||0.42″ (10.77mm)||0.85″ (1.326cm)|
|Full-Size BIC||3.18″ (80.87mm)||0.98″ (24.9mm)||0.565″ (14.36mm)||1.76″ (28.92cm)|
|Zippo||2.24″ (56.95mm)||1.52″ (38.65mm)||0.51″ (13mm)||1.73″ (28.61cm)|
|Lighter when Full||Weight|
|Mini BIC||1/4oz (10g)|
|Full-Size BIC||3/4oz (21g)|
|Zippo||2 1/8oz (61g)|
If weight is the only criteria that we’re judging, then BIC will always beat carrying a Zippo.
However, as with all things in life, there’s theoretical knowledge and experiential knowledge.
When we compare the physical sizes, we also have to consider how they ride in a pocket. My experience is from wearing jeans and cargo shorts for the most part.
While the Zippo is longer, the full size BIC is taller. Even though the Zippo appears to have a larger physical footprint, it tends to ride great settles naturally in the 90 degree corner of your front pocket.
The full size BIC, because it is a taller lighter, tends to leave a more pronounced printing profile in the pocket especially when sitting or lifting your leg. If I put anything else in my pocket with a full-sized BIC, then it tends to annoy me quite a bit and makes my pocket seem too bulky.
THE WINNER: The mini BIC is the perfect size, is discreet, and is my winner for every day carry. You’ll forget it’s even in your pocket and will not print when carrying it unless you’re into skinny jeans.
Product Links to Items Mentioned in this Article (Amazon):
Burn Time Zippo vs. BIC
I’ve never personally tested it, but I’ll go with BIC’s claim that their full sized lighters are good for 3,000 lights with their butane fuel. They don’t specify the duration of those lights, but I’ll assume it’s a single second which should be enough to light a cigarette if you’re efficient at it.
3,000 strikes x 1 second = 3,000 seconds –> 3,000 seconds / 60 seconds per minute = 50 minutes.
This is pretty much confirmed with the testing done by faroutguides.com.
Keep in mind that you will be burning and straining your thumb after 30-60 seconds and BIC discourages using their lighter for a longer duration than this.
Zippo on the other hand runs on lighter fluid (Naphtha) and has a burn time of about 40 minutes when properly refilled. I personally tested this and got 38 minutes and 4 seconds until the flame died, and a flame that started looking weaker at about 35 minutes. I could relight the lighter after a minute or two again but the flame only lasted for less than a minute as the wick was desperately trying to extract any fuel from the reservoir.
Keep in mind that I keep my wick trimmed 1/2 to 2/3 of the way down the throat of the ignition area, and not flush with the throat. That means that my flame is a little smaller than the recommended size, but I’ll get longer burn time and less evaporation of fuel.
|Lighter||Total Burn Time|
|Mini BIC||24-27 minutes|
|Full-Sized BIC||50-55 Minutes|
I refilled my Zippo a two days prior to the test, so when you account for a little evaporation, you might be able to get it out to 40 minutes or a tad but over when full.
If you refill your Zippo weekly or at least every 2 weeks, then you should assume that on average you’ll have 30-35 minutes of continuous flame if needed.
If you fail to refill your Zippo on a regular schedule, then you may experience far less flame time or none at all if you let it go too long due to the evaporation that occurs with the lighter fuel. I recommend refilling on 7-14 day basis. We’ll get to the process of refilling later.
THE WINNER (Part 1): BIC wins the title of having the longest flame for a new lighter when compared to a refilled Zippo.
However, a BIC is light an alkaline battery and a Zippo is like a NiMH rechargeable battery. Yes, the NiMH rechargable battery might only perform at 70-80% when you do a time test, but it can be easily refilled thousands of times in less than 30 seconds. The BIC, like an alkaline battery, is simply trashed or recycled when it dies.
THE WINNER (Part 2): Zippo wins for overall flame time during the life of the lighter. BIC gets 50 minutes and is trash. A Zippo can burn for 40 minutes, die, be refilled in 30 seconds, and give me flame for another 40 minutes (with this process repeating indefinitely as long as I have fuel).
BIC vs. Zippo when Wet and Windy (Waterproof/Windproof)
A BIC, without a modification or carrying case, is exposed to the elements and will not work immediately after having been submerged in water. However, whipping the lighter repeatedly in a downward motion to clear the water and using your mouth to air dry the ignition area will get the lighter back in business within minutes.
A zippo is a little trickier to get going after you’ve submerged it in water. Without any modifications, the cover of the Zippo is enough to protect the lighter from a splash or a quick dunk, but if you let it sit in water for any length of time your wick will not light and water will mix with your lighter fluid in the reservoir.
To get your lighter operational again (if you don’t want to wait for the wick to dry), you’ll just need a multitool with pliers (a link to the one I’ve carried every day for the last several years). Simply pull the inner portion of the Zippo out with your fingers and dump any of the water out that is in the shell of the Zippo at the bottom of the reservoir.
Next, take your multitool pliers and pull the wick out 1/4″ to expose a portion of it that is still saturated with lighter fluid. The lighter should produce flame after a strike or two. Without the pliers though, you’ll be at the mercy of evaporation for that water to dry out of the wick.
THE WINNER (Waterproof): Without modifications being made to help waterproof either lighter, the Zippo wins due to the enclosed case that its in. However, both lighters are not waterproof without modifications, the Zippo is just more water resistant “as is”.
THE WINNER (Windproof): Zippo wins this battle due to how the fuel is carried up to be ignited. Since the wick is saturated in liquid fuel, it draws more fuel up through a capillary action and wind doesn’t really have an effect on this process. A BIC emits a gas when the butane toggle is depressed and it doesn’t take much of a wind to render it useless. Care must be taken to shield a BIC from the wind.
Reliability of a First Strike: BIC vs. a Zippo
A BIC strikes like a Honda Generator starts — they both work on the first attempt as long as you haven’t sabotaged anything. At most, you may need two strikes but it is rare.
While a Zippo has a lid that closes over it to protect the ignition area against foreign objects, the BIC is infamous for storing up pocket lint in the head of its lighters. This, along with having just been submerged in water or out of fuel, is the only reason you may not get flame on your first strike.
Use a paperclip or anything small to scoop out the pocket lint and you’ll solve your failure to light.
BIC lighters are sealed as well, so their shelf life is nearly infinite. A Zippo, on the other hand, must be refilled every 7-14 days to work reliably. You’ll still get flame after a month, but you won’t have it nearly as long.
The body heat you generate only helps the evaporation of the lighter fluid inside a Zippo. Though the fitting of the inner portion of the Zippo into the shell is tight, it’s not air tight, so you’ll slowly lose fuel every minute until it’s gone.
This evaporation also affects the wick of the Zippo as well and leads to an unreliable “first light”. If you use your lighter a couple times a day, then you probably won’t ever experience this. If you’re not a smoker or don’t regularly use your Zippo, then you will likely have to strike your lighter several times to get it to catch and then start drawing fuel up the wick.
THE WINNER: BIC wins the battle for the most reliable first strike.
Ability to Light in Freezing Temperatures
The butane in BIC lighters does not like freezing temperatures and will not operate if the lighter itself is at those temperatures. That being said, if your BIC is kept in a pocket and pulled out to use in freezing temps, then it will work just fine because the lighter itself has been against your body heat.
|Lighter||Will it Work if the Lighter is Frozen?|
If you do leave your lighter somewhere and it froze, just place it under your shirt and in your armpit for 30-60 seconds and you’ll get a flame again.
Zippo fares no better in the freezing temperatures. The lighter fuel becomes lethargic and you won’t get a flame until you warm up the lighter for 30-60 seconds under your armpit as well.
THE WINNER: It is a draw between Zippo and BIC with freezing temperatures.
Use as a Candling Device for an Emergency Light Source
When it comes to providing light, the standard and mini BIC are hamstringed. The company itself says to not keep the flame lit for more than 30 seconds. Doing so will start to burn your thumb anyways, which must remain depressed on the butane toggle in order to keep the flame going.
Unless you’re Gary Busey from Lethal Weapon, you’re not going to be sustaining a light source for very long.
The BIC also only provides one size of flame, which is perfectly adequate for lighting cigarettes or starting fires, but doesn’t put out a lot of light to see with in an emergency.
The Zippo lighter is a hands off lighter once the flame is lit. It draws fuel up from the reservoir with a wick, so as long as it’s lit it will remain lit until you close the lid on it.
The Zippo can also get a smaller or a larger flame, depending on the length of the wick you choose to have coming up from the reservoir. The longer the wick, the higher the flame — but you’ll have a shorter duration.
I generally keep my wick trimmed about two thirds of the way down the throat of ignition area so that the flame isn’t obnoxious. If you choose to have it flush with the throat, like is often recommended, then you’ll experience a bit higher flame but your flame duration time will be a bit shorter and your fuel evaporation rate will go up since there is more surface area to evaporate from.
THE WINNER: Zippo is the winner for use as a candling device for an emergency light source. As long as you have a flat surface, you can simply strike your lighter, get a flame, and set your lighter on the flat surface and do your tasks around it with both hands free. As we discussed before, you’ll likely have 30-40 minutes of flame if you’ve been refilling your Zippo regularly.
How to Improve Reliability of a BIC Lighter
Here’s where we get to improve our BIC for maximum utility.
First, I recommend removing the child safety spring that helps protect the circular striker from moving. If your lighter is always on your person, then this spring will be serving no use to you. Simply pry it out with a screwdriver.
The safety spring makes operating the lighter much more difficult in very cold weather when your hands numb and losing dexterity.
Second, protect your BIC from pocket lint and water by using a rubber cap that normally goes on the jaws of a spring clamp and slide it over the head of your lighter.
Doing this will make your lighter waterproof from a heavy downpour or even a quick dunk. Leaving it submerged under water for a long duration MAY render it inoperable until you dry it out as mentioned earlier. The rubber cap creates a 98%+ seal over the lighter, so it’s not perfect, but it does a great job.
I discovered this trick myself by accident in my garage nearly 10 years ago and was laughing when I saw the Dirttime YouTube channel make a video about it a year ago. I missed the boat on making that video!
I did a test where I left it submerged and agitated the water and lighter repeatedly for 10 minutes and it still worked on the first attempt.
How to Improve the Reliability of a Zippo Lighter
For replacement flints and a replacement wick, you can simply stuff them in the bottom of the reservoir between the batting material and the stiff felt-like floor.
To keep your Zippo waterproof against downpours or even full submersion for up to at least 10 minutes (what I tested), use strips of an old bicycle inner tube and wrap them around the lighter as seen below.
This will also slow down evaporation of the fuel in your reservoir.
Overall Prepper EDC Winner: BIC vs. Zippo
|Weight for Ease of Carry||Mini BIC|
|Size (Total Volume) for Ease of Carry||Mini BIC|
|Burn Time||Full-Sized BIC|
|First Strike Reliability||Mini or Full-Sized BIC|
|Waterproof (without Modifications)||None|
|Waterproof with Modifications||Tie between all|
|Versatility (refills, alternate fuels, etc.)||Zippo|
|Hands-free Light Source||Zippo|
You can make up your own mind when it comes to what you’d prefer to carry. As for me, I carry a Zippo and a mini BIC every day.
I use the mini Bic for most tasks, but I like that the Zippo can be used as a hands-free candle. Plus, the Zippo just has that “cool” factor going for it. There’s also been times I’ve needed to start a campfire in very windy conditions and I couldn’t get a BIC to stay lit, whereas the Zippo ran just fine.
Either way, just be sure that you’re carrying one of them so that you won’t find yourself without a flame when you need it the most!