Have you ever tried to start a campfire in the dark at 15-degrees while snow is coming down, using firewood that froze while wet, and kindling that is too green? I was recently doing exactly this, and in that kind of situation, you really need every advantage possible to get the fire going. I found three of SOL’s fire lite products to be incredibly useful.
The Tinder Quik didn’t look exactly like the picture I saw online – the version that I had was about a 1” white fiber cylinder. I was curious about the “waterproof” claim, and ran water through the tinder before trying to use it. I found that as long as I opened up the fibers by twisting or pulling at the briquet after it had gotten wet, the product still worked. I also dropped one in the snow, and after the lighter melted the snow off, the tinder still lit just fine. I like these because they are lightweight (12 are less than half an ounce combined), highly portable, durable, and pretty easy to work with. They have a two-minute advertised burn time, but I got 3 to 7 minutes out of them – which is plenty if you have decent kindling.
I, however, did not have decent kindling – the green wood did not want to light. So, I was delighted to use the fire lite fuel cubes. These small translucent briquettes of denatured ethanol produce considerably more flame than the tinder quick briquets. Roughly the size and shape of a matchbox, the fuel cubes really do light with just a spark when removed from their protective packaging. I found that as they heated up, they tend to run, so it’s useful to have a tray of some kind–like a tuna can–so that the flames don’t run away from the kindling. When contained like this, I got the promised 8-minute burn-time, even on a 0℉ day! On the 15℉ night when I was trying to start the fire, I had underestimated just how green my kindling was, so I was glad to have two cubes with me and used both of them. At only half an ounce each, they aren’t as lite as the fire tinder, but still light enough that they can be a good solution for carry-in camping or backpacking, as long as you pack out the small trash from each packet.
Even with fire cubes and tinder, you still need a way to get the fire going. In December, we told you about SOL’s fuel-free rechargeable lighter. I really like this lighter. It’s lightweight (less than 2 oz) but sturdy. The plasma arcs impressed me with the speed of generating flame in whatever I was lighting: candles, cardboard, quick stick fire starters, and so on. As long as you can get whatever you are lighting past the open cap, it does a great job.
The lighter is also resilient against the wind – the arcs dance around but aren’t susceptible to blowing out like a butane lighter can be. The flashlight at the opposite end of the lighter is really bright and very handy. You can use just the lighter or the flashlight, but it’s a great combination. The flashlight has three different settings, bright, dim, and flash.
The lighter’s lanyard can be cut with a knife or scissors and re-fused with the lighter to keep from unraveling. Once you strip off the protective outside of the lanyard, there is a very useful wax cotton core inside that can be used for kindling in a pinch. I frayed the inner core and got a nice flame from it.
I was a little worried about the lighter’s battery life, but I was pleasantly surprised; it lasts longer than I expected (advertised as 45, 7-second uses). However, it is worth knowing that the extreme cold definitely impacts the battery. Fortunately, there is a bit of smart programming that lets you get a brief moment of arc even as the battery is running low. I found that after the battery deterioration from about 10 minutes outside in 0℉ weather, a short warmup in my pocket did improve the longevity of the spark. One great thing is that with the fuel cubes, you only need the briefest spark to get a good fire going, so even a brief spark can be enough.
You have to open the lid to access the micro-USB charging port. Fortunately, the ignition is deactivated while charging, so the lighter can be charged while on the move. My portable charger power bank (kind of like this one) handled the recharge easily within the two hours expected.
Together, the lighter, the tinder quik, and the fuel cubes provide a handy and thoughtful set of fire starting support gear. And, even in the middle of winter, rest assured you can still enjoy freshly roasted marshmallows over the fire!