Anyone who has been banished to an unprotected outdoor smoking area – or has had to start a fire in inclement weather – knows how difficult the task can be.
Matches, of course, are no match for strong winds and heavy rain. Disposable lighters aren’t much better, and even the most trustworthy Zippo isn’t going to stand up to a downpour or a heavy wind gust. The reason is obvious: they all generate small flames, which will always lose the battle to water and wind.
In order to reliably light a cigarette or start a fire in bad weather, or even when hit by an unexpected blast of wind, the solution is going flameless. Years ago, that could require spending a lot of money. But modern flameless lighters are readily available and surprisingly inexpensive.
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How Do Flameless Lighters Work?
Before we discuss the mechanics of flameless lighters, it’s instructive to consider how they don’t work. They don’t use fuels like gas or lighter fluid. They don’t have the flint or similar material required to create a spark. And, as you could tell by their name, they don’t generate a flame at all.
How does a flameless lighter work if there’s no spark, no fuel and no flame? It generates electricity, through a method first discovered more than a century ago.
Nikola Tesla is best known for inventing the alternating current (AC) form of electricity we still use today to power everything in our homes. Those who still remember high school science class, though, may recall his name from demonstrations of another of his major inventions. We’re talking about the Tesla coil – that spooky-looking, circular device that shot out huge bolts of electricity, and caused fluorescent bulbs to light up when held anywhere near it.
A Tesla coil takes relatively low-voltage power and generates high-voltage, low-current electricity that can “jump through the air” by creating a powerful electromagnetic field. The technology isn’t just useful for cool science class demonstrations; it was the basis for the development of radio transmissions and wireless communication.
The same concept is what allows a flameless lighter to light cigarettes or ignite candles, and that’s why flameless lighters are sometimes called Tesla lighters. Power comes from a small battery, an electromagnetic field is created, and tiny plasma arcs of electricity jump between contacts. That’s why they’re also called electric or arc lighters.
There’s very low current in the plasma arcs so you won’t be shocked by them. You simply touch them to the tip of your cigarette and – presto! – you have a lighter that functions even in heavy wind or rain. You also have a lighter that weighs a lot less than a Zippo or expensive designer lighter, since there’s no fuel stored inside.
Some flameless lighters produce a single arc of electricity, while others (which usually cost a bit more) produce arcs that cross in the form of a glowing “X”. The double arcs look extremely cool, but more importantly, they’re even more dependable in the midst of a storm.
Pros and Cons of Flameless Lighters
We’ve already touched on the most important advantage of flameless lighters: they’ll work flawlessly in just about any weather you can imagine. We’ve also mentioned that they’re extremely light. But wait, there’s more.
Since flameless lighters don’t require fuel, you don’t have to fuss with messy lighter fluid or repeatedly fill them with smelly butane gas, and there’s no chance the lighter will run out of fuel when you’re far from home. All you have to do is recharge your lighter for a couple of hours via a USB cable and the average charge lasts for 100-300 uses, the equivalent of 5-15 packs of cigarettes. Flameless lighters also give you a clean light-up without the butane or sulfur sensation common with fueled lighters or matches, there’s no time spent on maintenance or replacing flints, and they’ll easily fit into a small pocket or clutch purse.
Some might see the price of a flameless lighter as a disadvantage, but the slightly-higher price of an arc lighter can be misleading. First, they’re not really that expensive; you’ll pay a lot more for a designer lighter or nice Zippo. Second, they’ll last much longer than that pack of disposables you pick up at the drugstore. If you regularly depend on throwaway lighters, you’ll end up spending much more on them than you will on a single flameless lighter. Finally, there’s no “extra” cost associated with an electric lighter, since you never have to buy fuel or flints. In truth, flameless lighters are a bargain.
Other perceived disadvantages truly are negatives, but small ones. The arcs usually aren’t wide enough to properly light a large cigar and the electric arc creates a slight hiss or whine when you flick the lighter. Finally, when the battery will no longer take a charge, the lighter has to be thrown away. You’ll certainly have gotten your money’s worth, though.
What to Consider When Buying a Flameless Lighter
The most important question to ask about flameless lighters is “one arc or two?” Dual-arc lighters, as we’ve mentioned, are the most reliable option in extreme conditions and will almost always be a conversation piece because of the very cool appearance of crossing beams. You may only need a single-arc model, though, if you’ll only be using it indoors or in relatively calm weather. You might also want to consider how many uses the lighter requires before it needs to be recharged.
Quite honestly, it’s difficult to make a bad choice when purchasing a flameless lighter. As long as a model is reliable – and almost all of them are – you can focus mostly on issues like price and appearance.
Best Flameless Lighters
Here are four you should consider.
Untivo Premium Dual Electric Arc Lighter
Stylish, well-designed and very reasonably-priced, the Untivo flameless lighter is a terrific choice for the smoker who wants to make a statement when lighting up. There are two colors to choose from, bright gold with a subtle scalloped pattern or black with a subdued checkerboard pattern.
The top of this lighter flips up (like it would on a Zippo) to reveal the lighting mechanism, and the crossing plasma beams are activated when the button on the lighter’s face is pressed. Unlike some other low-priced competitors, the Untivo is designed to prevent the arcs from being turned on unless the cover is open; that safety feature prevents accidental discharge of the battery when the lighter is in a pocket or purse. Fitting it into a pocket or purse is easy, too, since it’s just 3 x 1½ x ½ inches in size and weighs only about four ounces.
You’ll get 100-200 lights from this flameless lighter before it needs to be recharged, and the process takes only an hour using the six-inch USB cable included with the product. As with all arc lighters, the space between the contacts isn’t big enough to light a big cigar, and your kindling will have to be very small if your goal is to start a campfire. But the Untivo is extremely reliable in harsh winds or heavy rain, and it’s a beautiful electronic lighter at a price lower than any other product on our list.
Tesla Coil USB Rechargeable Dual Arc Lighter
Nikola Tesla has been dead for more than 70 years, so he certainly didn’t invent this flameless lighter. It’s also not related in any way to the car company with the same name. But the fact that many refer to these products as “Tesla lighters” apparently inspired the company that makes this product to trademark the name “Tesla Coil Lighters.” That doesn’t mean the technology used for this dual arc model is any different than what’s used in other flameless lighters – nevertheless, this is a very good lighter that will work every time, in any weather conditions.
We described the Untivo as stylish; we’d call the Tesla Coil lighter elegant. It has a beautiful black-and-gold design, and even the look of the cover is striking when flipped open. This dual arc lighter is the same size of the Untivo, lights with a click of the gold oval on the front of the case, and includes the “must be open to light” safety feature that we think should be used by every manufacturer.
This flameless lighter is similar in most other respects to the Untivo. The dimensions and weight are the same, you get 100-300 uses per charge, and recharging is done with a small USB cable (a charge takes two hours instead of one, though). One small difference: the Tesla Coil has a small charging light, which changes from red to green when your lighter is ready for use.
The Tesla Coil lighter is priced higher than the Untivo but still not expensive, and many will feel that its elegant look is worth the few extra bucks it will cost.
Kivors USB Rechargeable Double Arc Lighter
Not sure whether “stylish” or “elegant” is the right choice? Kivors gives you a choice of seven different cases with their dual-arc flameless lighter, ranging from basic black and contoured gold, to funkier checkerboard and shatter patterns. Underneath, though, you’ll get a very reliable plasma lighter that’s slightly smaller than either of the first two options on our list.
While we’re on the subject of design, the Kivors lighter has its activation button on the side of the case rather than the front. We prefer it that way, since it seems to be a more natural location for those accustomed to using disposable lighters. That’s a matter of personal preference, of course.
This flameless lighter looks somewhat like an elongated Zippo, narrower and taller but with a top that flips all the way back to expose the “X” of the double plasma arcs. It also has the safety feature we’ve mentioned previously, with the beams deactivated until the top is actually opened. Charging is by USB cable and a recharge takes about two hours, with a blue LED charging light on the bottom of the lighter. The one downside of the Kivors is that you’ll only get about 60-80 lights per charge, for a price about the same as the Tesla Coil lighter.
>>> Read more: Arc Lighter – Amaze Your Family And Friends in 2017
Windvape Electric Plasma Lighter
We love the look of the Tesla Coil, but the Windvape may be the most elegant flameless lighter in our rankings. It’s also black and gold, but the gold beautifully accents the primarily black body of the lighter. Other features unique to the Windvape include a usage counter on the face, a four-bar battery indicator and even a white backlight that could be helpful in the dark. It’s also a bit slimmer and smaller than the first three lighters we’ve reviewed.
Before you say “that one sounds the best,” there’s one big caveat. This is the highest-priced model in our rankings, but it’s only a single arc lighter. It will still work extremely well in wind and rain, but may not withstand the heavy gusts or drenching downpours that a double-arc lighter would simply laugh at. A two-hour USB charge will load up the Windvape for 80-100 uses.
This is a plasma beam lighter that will definitely raise eyebrows when you pull it out, and if you’re not planning to venture out in a gale or a blizzard, the Windvape is more enough to do the job.
>>> Read more: Electric Lighter – Tired Of Gas? Make a Switch in 2017