Lisa Mods — Bic Lighter Gets Shralped

This post by blogger  

Mod your Bic. Shown here with the child lock getting excised.

I’ve tried starting a few survival type campfires from scratch in cold and wet conditions. My early attempts tended to be epics involving half charred wads of kleenex and poetic thoughts such as “where there is smoke, there may be no fire.” But with some practice and the proper equipment I’m feeling confident I can start an emergency campfire just about anywhere I can find fuel.

Key is to carry multiple ignition sources in your emergency kit. We’ve covered this in a few other “fire starting” blog posts, but the minimum is to carry a couple of small butane cigarette lighters as well as a pack of waterproof matches, along with kindling material such as few cotton balls soaked with Vaseline. In addition, carrying a small flint type ignition device is a good idea (and is legal in your airline luggage, while my understanding is that it’s better to leave butane lighters and matches out of your luggage).

Available lighters worked fine for us until the 1990′s. After that, regulations required child safety redesign to make them harder for children to operate. Bic complied by installing a metal guard that must be pressed firmly in order to rotate the spark wheel. Technically the guard is designed to prevent “85% of children under the age of 51 months” from lighting up. I don’t know how effective the changes were, but they did make the lighters harder to operate, especially if your fingers are stiff from the cold. Is it possible the Bic “improvements” could kill more people in desperate survival situations than the number of children they saved from immolation? I’d like to see the numbers.

At any rate, after undergoing a slight mod Bic lighters are our favorite inexpensive ignitors. No, at, even a simple lighter isn’t safe from the tool box.

The safety guard can be easily removed by opening the metal tabs on the top and popping it off. In addition to making the lighter easier to ignite, it allows you to dry the spark wheel if it’s wet by rolling it on your pant leg or jacket sleeve. Another trick we discovered is that sunscreen is flammable. We’ve had the best luck with lip balm, so if you need to start a fire and don’t have your regular fire starting kit, rub twigs with your stick of lip balm which will make it easier for them to catch the flame from starter twiggies.


Lip balm works as a fire starter in a pinch.

We carry two mini Bics instead of one large one and that gives us a spare. The mini Bics are the same size as duct tape which we wrap around the stem. A rubber band wrapped around the trigger keeps it from getting accidentally turned on.

Butane compresses in the cold which makes the flame small, so warm the lighter in your hand or pocket before use. Lighters with flame adjustment tabs are handy to maximize flame size. I haven’t found a way to increase flame size on Bics without the flame adjustment tab.

Beyond all that, over the years we’ve found that no matter what fire starting items you carry, they should be tested. A number of years ago, one member of the WildSnow crew had to be rescued because he got benighted and couldn’t start a fire with gear he carried and thought would work. Gear testing should include everything you carry, not just your beacon.


15 Responses to “Lisa Mods — Bic Lighter Gets Shralped”

  1. Joe Risi April 24th, 2014 1:28 pm

    I know only a few seconds had past after we proclaimed the Scout’s honor that we each broke out our magnesium fire starters and modified BICs to cause mischief…

    Ahh to be 7 and a pyromaniac…

    If only that yellow BIC man could speak, what trouble I would be in now.

  2. Jack April 24th, 2014 1:59 pm

    ok, i’m just compelled to offer: having good knowledge of dry tinder in wet environments is good too: very small branches on the trunks of various evergreens stay dry for a long time. birch bark from fallen birches will light while wet (try it) and gives a lot of heat energy. My favorite artificial fire starter is a small bottle of hand sanitizer -> a lot of alcohol in that stuff, and dual purpose. I like the spirit of this post!

  3. Martin April 24th, 2014 2:55 pm

    First thing that came to my mind when I saw the headline foto: You removed the metal piece to save some more nanograms of gear weight…

  4. Lou Dawson April 24th, 2014 3:01 pm

    That too!

  5. See April 24th, 2014 6:48 pm

    FWIW, alternative method is to gently pry both sides of the metal windshield away from the sides of the wheel so that the punched tabs pop out of the detents in the plastic underneath. Then lightly squeeze the sides of the windshield back together before putting it back on so that it will fit tight and flush with the body of the lighter.

    Just an hour ago I was looking for jute twine at the local grocery store to soak in wax for tinder. I’m thinking I can save multiple grams over goopy cotton and container.

  6. GeorgeT April 24th, 2014 7:51 pm

    Lint from your clothes dryer and cheapo farmer matches in a plastic bag is old school and works at less weight.

  7. Charlie Hagedorn April 24th, 2014 8:49 pm

    Here in the PNW, keeping lighters dry is critical; if they’re saturated, they never seem to light until they’ve dried out completely. Carrying two can be wise.

  8. Mike April 25th, 2014 8:09 am

    Hand sanitizer also work extremely well for starting fires. I usually have gauze in a first aid kit that I can soak with sanitizer and light with a lighter or just a flint. I always have a bic lighter due, mostly in part, to my lifelong dedication to inhaling the vapor of various burning plants, but I do always carry a flint and/or a waterproof matches.

  9. RobinB April 25th, 2014 10:33 am

    Small chunk of bike inner tube is effective though smoky fire starter and never gets saturated.

  10. JQ April 25th, 2014 11:20 am

    Dry lighter(s) and some goo are key.
    BTW my access to WildSnow via Firefox has stopped. Now I get a page about Apache & C-panel.
    Chrome & Safari sem OK

  11. Lou Dawson April 25th, 2014 1:27 pm

    JQ, can I work with you a bit and try to fix the Firefox issue? It seems to be very intermittent but I’d like to fix. I’d just need you to look at it now and then after refreshing your cache, while I make some tweaks. If you’re game, please email us using the contact link in menu above. Thanks, Lou

  12. Lou Dawson April 25th, 2014 1:30 pm

    Oh, also, if you’re using any Firefox add-ons, if you don’t mind disabling them and seeing if Firefox starts working with this site, that would also be useful information.

    Thanks, Lou

  13. Rod April 25th, 2014 1:58 pm

    at altitude butane lighters don’t work very well. I use a rechargeable lighter, with an adaptor from Brunton to fill them with a stove canister gas mix.

  14. milt April 26th, 2014 11:19 am

    why at altitude? my intuition would be if anything, performance would be better. low temperature would be the issue.

  15. XXX_er April 26th, 2014 11:54 am

    yeah I use the cheap ronson lighters which are refillable from their canister , they work much nicer than a BIC but altitude does affect them

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Welcome to Louis (Lou) Dawson's backcountry skiing information opinion website and e magazine. Lou's passion for the past 45 years has been alpinism, climbing, mountaineering and skiing -- along with all manner of outdoor recreation. He has authored numerous books and articles about backcountry skiing and is well known as the first person to ski down all 54 of Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks, otherwise known as the Fourteeners! Books and free back country news and information here, and tons of Randonnee rando telemark info.

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