Electric Lighter vs Butane Lighter: Which Is Better For Survival?

I am an old-school type of guy so sometimes I am a little set in my ways. That is not to say that I am not open to new things and change but I do like to take my time with them.

Butane lighters have been around for decades whereas electric lighters are somewhat new. I had seen electric lighters being used in passing and only tried one out a few times. I thought they were cool but also a bit gimmicky. 

On several occasions, I was asked if I was going to switch over to using an electric lighter, to which my answer was, “I’ll stick with my BiC.”

A BiC lighter was something that I had used for my entire life. They are dependable, well made, and best of all they are incredibly affordable. At the time, it did not make sense to spend thirty times more money on an electric lighter when a butane lighter did the same thing. 

Up until last year, I held the same mindset concerning electric lighters as I always have, that is until I was asked to try one out for a review here on Survival Cache. If you are interested in the details of that review it can be viewed here. 

I have now spent eight months using that electric light and I thought it was time to do a head-to-head comparison between an electric and butane lighter. Specifically, I will be comparing the Tesla Lighter by Survival Frog and a butane BiC lighter. 

Tesla Survival Lighter (Electric)

This lighter uses a rechargeable battery bank to create an arc of electricity across 4 points. There is a small button on the top face of the lighter and when it is depressed and held, it creates these arcs. Any flammable material is then placed just above or between the arc points to ignite it. 

Charging 

The Tesla Lighter is charged via a small USB cable that can be connected to most charging blocks or any charging source that accepts a USB connection.

I often carry a SunJack Solar charging pack, which I can use to charge the lighter. It does this rather quickly and if both the solar panels and lighter remain intact, the lighter can be used for a long time. 

The lighter is rated for up to 300 uses in between charges and my experience so far is pretty darn close to that. At one point I was keeping track of my usage and I recorded 250 uses before I lost track and decided not to start over. A few days after that point was when I had to recharge the lighter. 

Generally, I do not wait until the lighter is dead to recharge it but knowing that it is capable of that many uses in between charges is comforting. 

Another interesting observation is that I had left the Tesla in my garage and forgotten about it for about one month. Normally, this would not be a big deal, but this was during winter and the temperatures where I live tend to get very cold. 

After one month of not charging, and enduring freezing cold temperatures I picked the lighter up, pressed the button, and the arcs instantly lit up. Extreme temperatures may affect the Tesla, but I have not noticed any problems thus far.

Windproof 

Additionally, as far as I can tell the Tesla is completely windproof. I have used it in very windy conditions and have even tried blowing it out myself. While the streams are certainly affected by wind they do not go out.

Usability

As mentioned above, using the Tesla Lighter is as easy as pushing a button. Some individuals might have difficulty using a regular lighter or conditions make its operation harder to use. I do not see any of those applying to the operation of this electric lighter which makes it more user-friendly. 

Alternative Uses 

The Tesla lighter does come with a few additional features. There is a built-in flashlight, a signal whistle, a lanyard, and a fire tinder cord within the lanyard. 

These extra features are nice to have, and I wanted you to be aware of them, but I think including them in this comparison would be a bit like comparing apples to oranges. For this review, I am sticking to the tool’s ability to make fire. 

Downfalls

There are two main downfalls I see with an electric lighter. The first is that it is dependent on a power source. We can view this dependency like the fuel in a butane lighter. 

However, the fuel in a butane lighter can be gauged either through sight or through feel. Unless you are keeping track of the number of uses, there is no way of knowing how much charge the lighter has left. 

The other issue is water. The Tesla Lighter is an electronic device and like all electronic devices, water is not its friend. The lighter does come in a waterproof case to help prevent moisture from damaging it. I have yet to use the lighter in the rain or to subject it to a water test so I am unsure how it would react.  

Pros and Cons of Electric Lighters

Pros 

  • Lightweight and compact 
  • Easy to use
  • Up to 300 uses per charge
  • Instantly ignites most materials 
  • Arcs instantly light even in cold temperatures 

Cons 

  • Dependent on a power source
  • Expensive, when compared to a butane lighter
  • May be susceptible to water

BIC Butane Lighter

Since butane lighters have been around for so long, I am sure you are aware of how they work, but I will briefly explain. 

They have a plastic body that primarily houses the fuel. On top of the lighter is a striker wheel and a fuel release valve. When the wheel is spun it strikes a small piece of flint which produces a spark.

At the same time, the fuel release valve is opened by depressing and holding the button below the striker wheel. This process ignites the fuel, and a flame is produced. 

Lifespan 

A large BiC lighter is rated for up to 3,000 strikes. It is more likely that the fuel will run out before using up the flint rod. Although they are disposable, with a little bit of practice, a BiC lighter can be refilled through the small port that is located on the bottom of the lighter. 

Usability

I have used a butane lighter so much in my life that at this point its operation is like second nature. However, I have seen some individuals that have difficulty using one. For instance, children or a person with dexterity issues may find a lighter hard to use.

The only time that I have had difficulty using a butane lighter is during extremely cold conditions when I was not wearing gloves. During normal times this should not be much of an issue but in a survival situation, it could be.

Other Uses

Unlike the electric lighter, there are a few different ways in which a butane lighter can be used. 

Since it produces a flame it gives off heat. That heat can be used for warming or even melting other materials. The flame can also be used as a source of light.

When lighters stop producing sparks or it no longer has any fuel, most people will discard them. A lighter that still produces a spark but has no fuel can still ignite tinder for a fire. And if it still has fuel but no spark, another source of ignition can be used to light it. 

Downfalls

As much as I like butane lighters, they are not without their problems. They are not windproof in the least and this can make them exceedingly difficult to use in unfavorable conditions.

They are also susceptible to water and will not work until they have dried out. 

Lastly, they should be kept within a moderate temperature range. If they are left in direct sunlight or allowed to become too warm, there is a potential for them to burst open. Conversely, they do not like to operate in cold conditions. When subjected to cold temperatures there is not enough butane vapor to maintain a flame.  

Pros and Cons of Butane Lighters

Pros 

  • Lightweight and compact 
  • Produces an instant flame 
  • Can be used in other ways
  • Gives off heat and light 
  • Incredibly affordable 

Cons 

  • Susceptible to hot and cold temperatures 
  • It will not work when wet
  • Not windproof 

Quick Comparison 

Below is a chart that quickly compares some of the points discussed in the above article between the Tesla Lighter and a BiC butane lighter. 

QualitiesTesla LightBiC Lighter
FuelRequires a power sourceRequires butane
LifespanUp to 300 uses per chargeUp to 3,000 strikes
WindproofYesNo
WaterproofYes, in the caseNo
Affected by TemperatureNot in my experience Yes
Ease of UseExtremely easyEasy
Alternative UsesNone, aside from the extra featuresSome
AffordabilityMidrange Cheap

Is There a Clear Winner?

Take the information presented in the above article as you will, but for me, I would choose the BiC lighter. My decision only comes down to two reasons and not because I think the BiC is far superior.

My two reasons for choosing the Bic have to do with fuel and price. With the BiC Lighter, fuel can be estimated through sight or by shaking it. The Tesla offers no way of knowing how many uses are left without fully charging it first. 

The Tesla is also dependent on a power source. So, if I do not use it for a while the lighter could lose its charge and not operate. Whereas if I leave a BiC Lighter unused for six months it will light right up and continue to work.

In terms of the outdoors or a survival situation, the fuel source is an important issue to think about. The Tesla would require the purchase of an additional piece of gear that could charge it, such as a solar charger, which increases the cost of using the tool. 

Speaking of cost, while the Tesla is not what I would consider expensive, it does cost far more than a large BiC Lighter. As I mentioned earlier in the article, thirty or more BiC Lighters could be purchased for the price of one Tesla Lighter. 

Ultimately, I do like the Tesla Lighter and in my experience, it has been very useful and fun to use. It offers some things that the BiC does not and vice versa. If you can afford an electric lighter, then you can also afford several butane lighters. Ideally, in that situation, I think both should be carried. 

I hope you enjoyed this head-to-head comparison, thanks for reading, and stay prepared!

If you have used these two pieces of gear, sound off in the comment section below and let us know about it!




Written by Bryan Lynch

Bryan grew up in the Midwest and spent every waking moment outdoors. Learning how to hunt, fish, read the land, and be self-reliant was part of everyday life. Eventually, he combined his passions for the outdoors, emergency preparedness, and writing. His goal was to spread positive information about this field. In 2019, Bryan authored the book Swiss Army Knife Camping and Outdoor Survival Guide. His second book, Paracord Projects For Camping and Outdoor Survival, is scheduled to be released on March 2, 2021. Read more of Bryan's articles.