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Mini bic & Light My Fire questions
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Eileen Duncan
(eileensd) - MLife

Locale: The Sierra or the SF Bay Area
Mini bic & Light My Fire questions on 07/09/2012 14:11:47 MDT Print View

How many uses in a mini bic?

For 4-5 day trips, I generally pack whatever partially full bic(s) I have lying around and they do just fine. But I'm about to do the JMT (longest leg will be 9 or 10 days, and I'll use the lighter 2-3/day), and I just realized I have no idea whether a single mini bic will do. How many uses do you get out of a mini bic?

Light My Fire - what am I doing wrong?

For back up, I'm thinking of bringing a Light My Fire FireSteel. I've never used this method before, so I just tested it out with my alcohol stove (AntiGravity Gear) in the backyard. I put alcohol in the stove and in the primer pan and went to work with the steel. Some of the black paint scraped off the steel and then I saw sparks, but NO FIRE :( I tried a bunch of times - holding the steel at a varying distances (2-6 inches) from the primer pan/stove each time. A couple of times I pulled the steel back toward me, and I also tried by moving the striker down the steel. Each time, there were a few sparks but the alcohol didn't catch. I have no idea what I'm doing wrong. Maybe not enough sparks? How hard to you have to press? How far from the fuel should I hold the steel?

Thanks to my mini bic, I'll now enjoy some Annie's mac 'n' cheese as I await your responses ;)


Edited by eileensd on 07/09/2012 14:12:46 MDT.

Ben 2 World
(ben2world) - MLife

Locale: So Cal
Re: Mini bic & Light My Fire questions on 07/09/2012 14:16:00 MDT Print View

I've been using mini BIC's for years now, and while I haven't done any scientific tests, each one lasts quite a long time -- certainly more than 9-10 days of routine use. But regardless, I always bring two with me - the second as backup.

Bill Mason
(billIII) - F
yes on 07/09/2012 14:24:45 MDT Print View

A mini bic will easily last your 10 days at 2-3 times per day if you're just using it to light a stove then putting it away. A full normal size bic is supposed to give you exactly an hour of flame. I think they used to advertise this. If the mini is 20 minutes I bet you can light your stove a fair few times in that.

I prefer the mini clipper lighters to the bics as they light downwards - holding the lighter nearly upside down- much nicer. Mine is a third full and weighs 12 grams. You can also remove the strike bit and use it to make sparks if the gas runs out and replace the flints and fill the lighter back up.

The firesteel is easier if you use a knife and should light your alcohol pretty easily, I hate the strikers they tend to come with which are fiddly and useless. If you were cold trying to grip that and strike would be a nightmare.

Edited by billIII on 07/09/2012 14:32:19 MDT.

Stephen Barber
(grampa) - MLife

Locale: SoCal
Dump the firesteel! on 07/09/2012 14:24:56 MDT Print View

I wouldn't use the firesteel to light alcohol directly. Instead use it to light a bit of fluffy cotton, and use the cotton to light the alcohol.

Better yet, just use the mini-bic to light everything you need to light. Have a second mini-bic as back up. The mini-bic is much more useful than the firesteel (a flame will light more things than a spark), and weighs less.

drowning in spam
(leaftye) - F

Locale: SoCal
Re: Mini bic & Light My Fire questions on 07/09/2012 16:05:44 MDT Print View

Sparks ideally should hit the alcohol. This isn't necessary if the alcohol is warm and there are enough alcohol vapors nearby for it to catch, but I always aim for the sparks to hit the alcohol. In fact it's often the sparks from my mini bic that'll light my stove...more reason for a mini bic. I did remove the shroud from my lighter though.

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
Mini-bics, flint, and alcohol. on 07/09/2012 16:36:06 MDT Print View

Mini-bics are 11 grams when full. I should deplete one and reweigh it, but haven't used one up yet. EVERYTHING with fuel in it (butane, propane, bics, etc) gets weighed when it comes into my house full and that weight is recorded on it in laundry marker, "full = 11 g". Then, I reweigh when empty and record that on the container, "empty = X g" or "tare = 15.9 oz" (for a propane cylinder).

A flint will give you a hot, burning bit of flint, metal, magnesium, whatever, which I'd estimate to be at about 2300F. That's enough to light a lot of things, maybe anything IF the conditions are just right. But a flame is hotter AND has very short-lived, very energentic species that don't normally exist. Those high-energy species transfer a lot of energy and are one of the ways that a flame front propagates. All of which is to say, it doesn't surprise me that a mini bic is far better than a flint at lighting a dodgy fuel.

Why do I call alcohol a dodgy fuel? The flashpoint of pure ethanol is about 55F - the temperature at which potentially flammable vapors can exist above the liquid fuel. Sparks add little heat and so you're pooched on a cold morning. Gasoline, by comparison has a flash point of -50F which I've been close to, but never below. But a mini-bic will obviously raise the temperature of the liquid and especially the vapors to a point where it can ignite.

In a pinch, you could scrap metal filings on a piece of paper or toilet paper, light it, and then use the burning paper to light the alcohol.


Eileen Duncan
(eileensd) - MLife

Locale: The Sierra or the SF Bay Area
Thanks! on 07/09/2012 17:06:54 MDT Print View

Thanks for your input. I think I'll just stick with mini bic(s) for primary and back-up. They are light weight, and I am already an experienced user ;) If my memory serves me right, I've read a number of posts from folks who religiously use Light My Fire or similar with their (denatured) alcohol stoves. Thus, I thought maybe I was overlooking a more favorable method. Maybe they were also using cotton or similar...

David, I appreciate the interesting mini-lesson. I haven't thought about flashpoints in, well... maybe not since high school science! And good idea weighing things as they come in the house and then after use. It would be really helpful to know exactly how much of various substances I consume during a trip. I've even wondered about chap-stick! I end up re-estimating prior to almost every trip. So time consuming. Too many partially used (and neglected) items in amongst my "gear." Geez.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Mini-bics, flint, and alcohol. on 07/09/2012 17:38:33 MDT Print View

I agree. A mini-bic is OK, if all you need is a plain flame for ten trail days. I have one that I carry. Often, if I am using Esbit fuel cubes, I find that I need a longer flame. By that, I mean a bigger flame and for a longer time, so I carry a maxi-bic lighter with Esbit. I would do the same for alcohol, and I would carry some fluffy cotton to "catch the spark" in case you use a sparker. To back all of that up, I carry at least one book of paper matches (0.2 oz), and that is about twenty matches, and that is covered by plastic wrap to make it rainproof.

How much of this you need kind of depends on where and how you try to light your burner. If you do a really good job of getting out of the wind, it is much more reliable.


Brett Peugh
(bpeugh) - F - M

Locale: Midwest
yep on 07/09/2012 17:41:19 MDT Print View

I have had difficulty lighting my alcohol stove with my LightMyFire also. Some wood also.

a b
Same here on 07/09/2012 17:57:57 MDT Print View

I carried a Light my Fire fire steel for a time. I found the same thing Brett.
While trying to light a fellow hikers alky stove, I found i had to swirl the alcohol around until some spilled out and then use the firesteel to light the stove.
I suspect, like David said, that vapor was what was missing.
Also it takes a LOT of pressure on the firesteel stiker to get big enough sparks to light a cotton ball soaked in vaseline. Half the time this meant so much force I sent the cotton ball flying when i smacked it inadvertantly.
My favorite emergency backup firestarter from the past was a simple Couglhans Magnesium flint bar.
Of course i no longer carry that since it weighed a ton!
(Although those magnesium shavings lit even when soaking wet.)

One more odd thing about the Light My Fire Fire steel.. after a lot of exposure to moisture in my pack pocket, it partially disolved over a period of 100 days.
Pretty hard to beat a Mini Bic.
I like Bob Gross's idea about a match backup too.

John G
(JohnG10) - F

Locale: Mid-Atlantic via Upstate NY
LMF fire steel on 07/09/2012 18:47:09 MDT Print View

The LMF fire steel is very easy after a little practice.
Step 1: make sure the paint (initial use), or dark grey oxide (all subsequent uses) has been removed from the rod in the area you will be running the striker down, about 3/16 of an inch wide. Scrape the coatings off using the striker, using the same motion and pressure as making sparks. You'll get some weak and sparse sparks during this. (if you use it daily, you can skip this step).
Step 2: make sure the striker is being held with the burr facing down. For LMF, this equates to the stamped words are on the upper side.
Step 3: hold the striker against the rod at about a 45 degree angle and stroke down the length of the rod quickly using firm pressure. You should get a ball of 30-50 sparks coming off the end of the rod in about a 30 degree cone.

1/4 of a full stroke has always lit my alcohol stoves (pepsi & cat) from just above the top rim. A half stroke will light it from 1.5-2” above the rim.

Cotton balls light with an 1/8 of a stroke, or the weak sparks from a oxide coated rod. Vaseline covered cotton balls require a 1/2 stroke AND breaking then open to get to the ”only slightly coated” part - which has to be fluffed up first. However, these will dry out and light wet kindling :).

ps: I used to use a mini bic. I lit stoves or fires 2-5 times per day. The number of days is huge. Maybe 2 years worth of camping 1-2 weekends per month.

Edited by JohnG10 on 07/09/2012 18:54:23 MDT.

Jon Fong

LMF fan on 07/09/2012 19:16:07 MDT Print View

Interesting, I only use the LMF: I have had some problems with mini BIC, particularly if they get wet. You do need to clean off the paint or oxide layer to get a good spark. I’ve used the LMF in below freezing weather and in the rain. The LMF has finger depressions that keep the orientation of the striker correct. For alcohol stove, I believe that the recommended procedure is the hold the striker close to the bowl and draw the bar AWAY from the fuel. Moving the bar away reduces the risk of knocking the stove over with the striker. I think that if you practice a bit, you will be able to generate a shower of sparks. Best regards - Jon

Dean F.
(acrosome) - MLife

Locale: Back in the Front Range
firesteel on 07/09/2012 19:55:06 MDT Print View

I've always been able to light my 12/10 stove with a firesteel, though admittedly it takes some effort. I've also never tried in truly cold weather so...

But the trick is just to get a good, aggressive spark from the steel to hit the alcohol. I put a bit of alcohol in the base rim of the 12/10 to be sure I can hit it. Then, have the stove on a big rock so that you can brace the firesteel on the rock too, right next to the stove, and scrape it very strongly.

Edited by acrosome on 07/09/2012 19:56:19 MDT.

Susan D
(susand) - M

Locale: montana
Mini bic on 07/09/2012 21:13:47 MDT Print View

In the past, a mini bic would last me two or three (or more) months using it about twenty times a day, every day.

Andy F
(AndyF) - M

Locale: Midwest/Midatlantic
Re: Mini bic & Light My Fire questions on 07/09/2012 21:22:39 MDT Print View

It sounds like you're not making enough sparks with the firesteel. There should be a shower of sparks, and it should look briefly like one of those hand-held July 4th sparklers. I think the striker which comes with these works well. You probably need to dig into the firesteel harder when striking. Pulling the steel back toward you is great for better aim. I do this, and hold the striker about an inch from the target.

Of course, I sometimes use a mini Bic too. :D

Learn to use both, as there are advantages and disadvantages to each which vary with weather conditions and what you're trying to light.

Edited by AndyF on 07/09/2012 21:23:28 MDT.

Ken K
(TheFatBoy) - F

Locale: St. Louis
Re: Mini bic on 07/09/2012 21:27:49 MDT Print View

>> In the past, a mini bic would last me two or three (or more) months using it about twenty times a day, every day.

That's a lot of stove-lightin'!

I used to have the same problem... And even at 20 (or 40) lights a day, I never had a lighter go empty. They always got lost or "borrowed". If you carry two mini-Bics, you'll always be able make your next town before the second one runs dry.

Jen Churchward
(mahgnillig) - F
Mini Bic on 07/09/2012 21:55:48 MDT Print View

+another on the mini Bic. I tried one of those tiny split pea lighters from County Comm but went back to the mini Bic because it was both lighter and more reliable. IMO fire starting equipment is pretty much the only thing I double up on when considering a gear list... I carry a mini Bic, some waterproof matches and my Jetboil has piezo ignition so hopefully I'll always be able to start a fire.

Eileen Duncan
(eileensd) - MLife

Locale: The Sierra or the SF Bay Area
Will practice :) on 07/10/2012 00:45:24 MDT Print View

Thanks for the continued input! Though each "strike" produced a few sparks, based on the comments, I think I may have been too light-handed/timid with my new fire starter. There definitely wasn't anything similar to a sparkler or that I would describe as a "shower" of sparks. Maybe a sparse drizzle here and there, at best. Also, I might not have held it close enough to the stove.

Having never seen anyone strike steel, I wasn't sure what to expect and assumed it wouldn't require much. If I wasn't careful, I thought the multiple ignition points (from sparks hitting both the fuel in the can *and* that in the primer pan) might produce a huge **POOF** of flame. I'm laughing at myself now... and looking forward to trying again tomorrow. I do like the idea of being able to use the Light-My-Fire.

I'm also pleased to know a full mini Bic will likely last the trip as a primary starter. Mini Bic as primary, Light My Fire as backup, and a book of matches for good measure :)

Edited by eileensd on 07/10/2012 00:47:21 MDT.

Dustin Short
(upalachango) - MLife
Re: Will practice :) on 07/10/2012 01:57:40 MDT Print View

As someone else said, hold the striker still and pull the rod AWAY from the stove to minimize accidentally dumping lit alcohol all over the ground. It's a bit awkward at first but maybe putting the rod in your dominant hand will make the maneuver more intuitive.

James Marco
(jamesdmarco) - MLife

Locale: Finger Lakes
Re: Will practice :) on 07/10/2012 05:34:26 MDT Print View

While Mini-Bics are OK for starting a stove or fire, I do not recommend them. Nor a fire steel. Basically, a standard Bic lighter is just a few grams heavier but contains about 3x the amount of fuel. The packaging around the fuel in mini's is very heavy in relation to the amount of fuel they have. I carry a standard Bic in my pocket as a fire starter. These have never failed to light a fire when needed. The body heat keeps them warm enough to operate in any reasonable weather, barring a bit of dust that can accumulate, now and then. Steels are just as heavy or heavier.

I have used several types of fire starters: magnesium, flint/steel, etc. All get a bit iffy in bad weather. A small piece of candle seems to do about the same, and small shavings on some leaves will get most any fire going. Sparkers work OK, but perhaps more important is the knowledge in your head, which weighs nothing.

I suggest you learn and practice making a fire with a bow drill. Nothing is needed, except the clothing you normally wear, a rock and some found sticks. The ember that is produced will always light a stove or fire in a pinch. Soo, you really only need a lighter for convenience. Even in heavy downpours, I have found dry stuff near the base of trees and under rock crannies. Of course, you need a dry place to work, so a roof is your first concern.