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Do You Trust a Handheld Piezo Igniter?
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Delmar O'Donnell

Locale: Between Jacinto & Gorgonio
Do You Trust a Handheld Piezo Igniter? on 05/10/2014 21:37:56 MDT Print View

A handheld (gasless) piezo igniter came with my canister stove. Considering that a sealed bag of strike-anywhere matches is my backup, would you take the piezo igniter, or a mini bic? Or take the piezo and use a bic as backup, and leave the matches at home?

I guess what I'm asking is, how reliable is the piezo, like this here:

If you say leave the piezo at home, I assume you are recommending using a bic to light the canister stove?

Edited by Bolster on 05/10/2014 23:56:55 MDT.

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

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Do You Trust a Handheld Piezo Igniter? on 05/10/2014 21:43:55 MDT Print View

Piezo igniters have a bad reputation for failure at high elevation, so I've never bothered with them. For ignition, I use either a mini bic or else a full size lighter as my primary, and I carry a pack of paper matches wrapped in plastic for a backup. That is because I generally cook with Esbit, and it needs some flame. If you are using a canister stove, then you might be able to ignite it with the spark from an empty lighter, but you better test that.


Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Do You Trust a Handheld Piezo Igniter? on 05/10/2014 21:46:29 MDT Print View

A separate piezo lighter is no more reliable than an attached one and has the possibility of being dropped or lost. I like a Bic for daily use with matches in a match safe and a firesteel for the most stable backup.

Edited by dwambaugh on 05/10/2014 21:47:18 MDT.

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

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Re: Do You Trust a Handheld Piezo Igniter? on 05/10/2014 21:56:05 MDT Print View

Dale, there are too many people running around with a firesteel in their emergency kit, and they couldn't start a fire with it if their life depended on it (and someday it might!).


. .
(RogerDodger) - F

Locale: (...)
... on 05/10/2014 21:59:05 MDT Print View


Edited by RogerDodger on 07/01/2015 13:49:26 MDT.

jerry adams
(retiredjerry) - MLife

Locale: Oregon and Washington
Re: Do You Trust a Handheld Piezo Igniter? on 05/10/2014 22:15:31 MDT Print View

I've used refillable Ronson Piezo lighters for years. They're cheap.

Some of them fail quickly, others last for years. If one lasts for a trip, I'll figure it's a good one and make it a spare.

Sometimes one will die on a trip so I revert to spare, so I carry a third one just in case.

(This may lead you to think they're unreliable junk : )

I bought expensive one from REI. Consumed fuel so it ran out quickly. Kind of heavy. It did light in a windstorm though.

Never used piezo at altitude, but I never go to altitude.

I've used flint and steel lighters, and they get wet, and then they don't work, although it is possible to dry out in pocket. Plus, the flint and steel abrades my thumb, especially when wet.

steven franchuk
Re: Do You Trust a Handheld Piezo Igniter? on 05/10/2014 23:14:59 MDT Print View

"Piezo igniters have a bad reputation for failure at high elevation, so I've never bothered with them."

LIke all mechanical devices piezo igniters can break and for that reason you should carry a backup of some sort. However based on what I have read the big problem with piezo ignitors is probably related to air fuel mixture. The air fuel mixture of a stove will changes with altitude and that could make it more difficult for the piezo to ignite the fuel.

One advantage of of the Kovea / MSR ignitor you can move it to different locations around the burner and you might find a location that works better at altitude verses the location that works best at lower altitudes. Most stoves have the piezo mounted in one location which may not be the ideal location at altitude.

I got one last december and I have not yet used itso I cannot say how well it works. However it does appear to be mechanically robust.

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
Re: Do You Trust a Handheld Piezo Igniter? on 05/10/2014 23:28:03 MDT Print View

For me, the important part of the backup isn't WHAT but WHERE. Namely, somewhere else, not in my cooking set-up. Typically, I've got two mini-Bics. One with my cook kit. The other with repair / first-aid stuff that really gets taken out. I have trouble imagining starting pine needles or wax paper with a piezo.*

I use a built-in piezo to light the barbecue at home for the first year. Then it dies (that's 50-100 uses) and then I install a new one or revert to a long-handled butane lighter.

*Always remember that your canister makes excellent tinder. By way of example: on a ocean beach in Alaska, I went in first in my sea kayak and got lucky. I made it through 5-foot breakers we didn't see from oceanside. I tried to wave my wife off, but she was already coming in and got dumped on just as she was trying to get out of her boat. I wanted a fire fast for her, so I dug a quick trench for my stove, lit my canister stove, put driftwood over the stove until the driftwood was going nicely, and then reached in and removed the stove. The was a big warming fire real quick that way.

Delmar O'Donnell

Locale: Between Jacinto & Gorgonio
Trust Fading. on 05/10/2014 23:52:24 MDT Print View

Steven: Yes, thank you, I could not remember the name of the company that makes the MSR igniters: Kovea, that's it.

David: My biggest reserve about the gasless piezo lighter is what you mention; a bic is multi-use (wood fire or canister or alcohol) whereas the piezo only works for canister. I noticed an Amazon review that said the gasless piezos don't even ignite an alcohol stove. The MSR/Kovea ignitor and a mini bic weigh the same. The bic is a little more hassle to use to start a canister stove.

Both the "store backup separately" and "canister as wood fire starter" are good tips, will remember these, thanks.

Edited by Bolster on 05/10/2014 23:59:35 MDT.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Trust Fading. on 05/11/2014 02:55:11 MDT Print View

Typically there is not quite enough energy in the spark to ignite the gas coming out of the stove. You can be lucky, but not always. yes, I have tried hard to gett he hand-held Kovea one to work reliably. I failed.
I use a Bic.

PS: and like David I carry a spare in the emergency kit.

Edited by rcaffin on 05/11/2014 02:55:48 MDT.

Owen McMurrey
(OwenM) - F

Locale: SE US
Re: Re: Trust Fading. on 05/11/2014 04:11:04 MDT Print View

I have an old Primus canister stove("Ultralight" @7oz!) that saw occasional use for ~15yrs, and don't recall needing anything but the piezo to light it, though it sometimes takes several tries. Trust is another thing altogether, though. I've never fully trusted it. I'd call it being "pleasantly surprised" that it lights sometimes, when it doesn't work immediately.

I also use a Bic, as my newer stove has no built-in lighter, and carry a firesteel as backup that I use with alcohol stoves, too.

Woubeir (from Europe)
(Woubeir) - F - MLife
Re: Do You Trust a Handheld Piezo Igniter? on 05/11/2014 04:26:55 MDT Print View

And what about a firestarter ? (Relatively) Cheap, light, works all the time (ok, sometimes more then one strike is needed) and can be used for a long time (the minimum I've seen is 3000 strikes).

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Re: Do You Trust a Handheld Piezo Igniter? on 05/11/2014 15:15:20 MDT Print View

> And what about a firestarter ?
Needs two hands, which makes lighting a stove inside the tent tricky: how much gas leaks out while you fumble with the striker? And getting a spark can be difficult when your hands are shaking with the cold. Otherwise, outside in fine weather, no worries.


Stuart R
(Scunnered) - F

Locale: Scotland
Re: Trust Fading. on 05/11/2014 15:21:03 MDT Print View

The amount of energy required of a spark to ignite a gas mixture depends critically on the gas/air ratio:

Ignition Energy

Min Bics have the gas/air ratio much better controlled than what comes out of a stove burner head, but even thay can fail at altitude, apparently. I've had no trouble at 2500m (which is not very high).

Paul McLaughlin
(paul) - MLife
Re: Do You Trust a Handheld Piezo Igniter? on 05/11/2014 17:44:18 MDT Print View

I've heard of numerous failures of Piezo ignition at altitude. Haven't used one myself - I always use a mini-bic or equivalent. I have never had one fail, but I always carry two, one in the bag with the stove and one in my personal kit bag. I find that in fact I use almost no gas(the spark of the lighter lights the gas from the stove most of the time) so I've been carrying the same two lighters for many years. I always take off the little childproofing device.

John Vance
(Servingko) - F

Locale: Intermountain West
Piezo on 05/11/2014 22:02:05 MDT Print View

I don't know what constitutes "altitude" but I routinely use a piezo igniter above 11,000 feet with few problems. It takes a couple of tries when the canister is nearing the end of its life and the remaining mixer isn't as volatile, but it lights.

My backup is both a mini bic and some strike anywhere matches. I also carry a small magnesium striker that I am fairly proficient with but it has been decades since I last had a traditional fire backpacking, but I am confident I can get a fire started if I need to.

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
Spark energy on 05/11/2014 23:45:04 MDT Print View

Stuart's very helpful graph (at least it is to me) suggests that as air-fuel ratios get richer at elevation, that could be the failing of piezo sparkers. If at first you don't succeed, try with a lower burner setting. And maybe rotate the stove in the wind to shift the fuel/air ratio a bit, perhaps enough to get ignition at higher elevations.

If someone wanted a science experiment (Hikin' Jim?) they could mark their needle-valve positions and note what range of stove settings allow for piezo ignition at elevation. Everything gets harder when the oxygen molecules are further apart i.e. everything else needs to be optimal.

Tony Cyphers
(PacRat) - MLife

Locale: PNW
Trust-Nope! on 05/12/2014 01:14:33 MDT Print View

I've had two Kovea piezo igniters and neither worked reliably! Mini Bic for me, w/ paper matches in the first aid/repair kit as a back up.

Philip Tschersich
(Philip.AK) - MLife

Locale: Kodiak Alaska
Fail on 05/12/2014 01:34:01 MDT Print View

This weekend I did a ski overnighter with my wife. I was culling my crap pile at home prior to the trip and left my emergency fire starter kit (mini Bic and Weber fire Bloks) at home since there was no burnable fuel along the route (snow-covered Alaskan high-country). Potential big mistake. Since we were deep in snow country, the only means of making water was melting snow via my Jetboil. At the end of the first day the piezo sparker started giving me fits after years of reliable service. It was a mechanical thing, having to do with the return spring in the push button igniter. Something so simple, and yet it put in jeopardy the only means to get water on a long and strenuous ski trip. Yeesh! I got the stove going finally, melted a lot of snow, and filled all our containers for the trip home. That was enough to remind me to bring a second ignition source even if there is no fuel along the route to build an emergency 'fire'.

Edited by Philip.AK on 05/12/2014 01:35:26 MDT.

Greg Mihalik
(greg23) - M

Locale: Colorado
Re: Stuart R - Piezo Trust Fading. on 05/12/2014 07:30:46 MDT Print View

Piezo Spark

Where did you find this graph?

I'd like to know what the typical F/A ratio is for generic camp stove, at sea level.

Then extrapolate to, say 3,500 meters, and annotate the horizontal axis.

The spark energy of a typical piezo is pretty low, and as the oxygen content goes down it seems like the likely hood of ignition would go down as well (as suggested by the ascending portion of the curve beyond 0.10 F/A).


Edited by greg23 on 05/12/2014 07:45:55 MDT.

peter vacco

Locale: no. california
Re: Do You Trust a Handheld Piezo Igniter? on 05/12/2014 09:06:13 MDT Print View

it is interesting to note that many of those who know what they are doing carry two mini bics, and backup matches. hmmm ..

not saying that's right or wrong ... but, if listening to the voice of experience ..

so ; on the subject of mini bics, i find that my first try ratio goes up if i pre-prime it upside-down for a moment prior to striking. i think this floods the area with liquid fuel, but at any rate, it works Great.

piezo ? had a StormProof turbo lighter for almost an hour one time. what a pos, though it had a remarkably tough case, with a bit of effort, it crushed sweetly in my vise.
it was a good investment too, beause for only $32 i still have reliable fire starting.