If there’s one survival tool that is chronically underrated by preppers, it has to be the humble, disposable Bic. You can buy these things literally anywhere for pennies, and they are still one of the very best ways to get a fire going under nearly any conditions.
As a mainstay of your fire starting and general preparedness kit, they are valuable out of all proportion with their cost. But, longevity makes a difference because you don’t know how long you’ll be stuck in a situation. So, how long does a Bic lighter typically last?
You can expect about 1,000 normal lights out of your Bic lighter before it runs out of fuel. Similarly, if unused, it will last a couple of years in storage under normal household conditions before it loses all of its fuel to evaporation.
Practically speaking, this is more than enough time to get you through nearly any problem assuming you aren’t using the lighter as your primary source of light.
But, knowing that the fuel will evaporate even when you’re not using it, you’ve got to be prepared to rotate it just like your other consumable goods. I’ll tell you more about the longevity of Bic lighters in the rest of this article.
How Many Lights Can You Get Out of a Bic?
It actually depends. A standard-size Bic lighter carries enough fuel for approximately 1 hour’s worth of flame. That breaks down to 3,600 seconds. This means that a full tank of fuel will give you about 1,000 lights as mentioned above if each “burn” lasts about 3 ½ seconds, or about 1,800 lights that last just 2 seconds. If you’re going for long burns for whatever reason, you’ll get 120 lights lasting half a minute.
I consider a “standard” light to be about 3 ½ seconds because this is a useful amount of time to ignite stubborn tinder, wicks, cigarettes, and other things.
How Long Can a Bic Stay Lit?
As a good rule of thumb, you don’t want to leave your big lit any longer than 30 seconds. You could probably go as long as a minute, but this is pushing it and is going to dangerously overheat some components. Considering the fact that Bics cut off the fuel supply as soon as you release the fuel button, you’re not going to be using one as a candle anyway.
That said, if you were forced to use one to light your way in very dark conditions, the lighter will overheat and, potentially, explode if it melts through its own casing!
How Long Will the Sparker Last in a Bic?
Another issue that governs the longevity of a Bic, although it is really only a factor for folks who habitually play with their lighters, is how long the sparker and flint assembly will last.
There is some considerable variation in the lifespan of these components in Bic lighters, but it’s expected that you can get anywhere from 3,000 to 4,000 sparks before the flint is consumed or the sparker breaks. That means that you’ll almost certainly be out of fuel before that happens, no matter how miserly you are with the burn time.
How Long Will a Bic Last in Storage?
About 2 years if kept in ideal conditions around room temperature, and darkness and protected from temperature extremes. Contrary to popular belief, your Bic lighter will not last until the fuel runs out. Even though the fuel is in a tightly sealed compartment, some fuel is very slowly and incrementally lost over time to evaporation.
This means that that big box of Bics you buy to put in your survival stash won’t last forever, and if you don’t rotate them along with your other goods you might be in for some dark and cold nights. Or at least you won’t be able to flick your Bic to get that fire going!
I don’t keep a giant stash of Bics in storage for exactly this reason, because most of them are going to go to waste. I keep a pack of 12 handy and rotate them every 12 to 18 months, drawing from them as I need them.
Can Bics be Refueled?
Strictly speaking yes, but practically no. Bic lighters are fueled at the factory and are designed to be discarded once that fuel load is spent. There is no provision for refueling a Bic as you would a Zippo or other reusable butane lighters.
However, it is possible to refuel a Bic yourself if you’re willing to tinker with it and modify it so that it can accept fuel from a typical butane canister. Doing so entails some risks, however, and is more of a technical exercise than a practical advantage with these lighters because they are so cheap.
What Can You Do to Make Bics Last Longer in Storage?
If you want to keep fuel in your Bics longer while they’re in storage, seal them up tightly in a plastic bag or other airtight container.
Anything you can do to stop the expansion and contraction of the materials in the lighter is also advantageous, so keeping them at room temperature and, most importantly, a stable environment during storage is worthwhile, too.
Mind you, they’re going to lose fuel no matter what, but with proper storage techniques, you might be able to get an extra 6 months, even a year out of them, though obviously the fuel will still be significantly reduced by then.
Tom Marlowe practically grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, Tom has the experience to help civilian shooters figure out what will work best for them.