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Backpacking Stove Piezo Lighter Failures and Limitations

Many canister-style backpacking stoves, including Jetboils, have a built-in sparker to light the gas so you don’t have to carry matches or a disposable butane lighter with you to ignite them. It’s usually an orange button along the base of the burner connected to a wire over the burner head. Soto, MSR, and Primus also include them on their more expensive canister stoves, but they all wear out and have to be replaced eventually if you’re a frequent user. Replacement units cost about $10, if you can find them, but you have to question why they’d fail in the first place.

But what if you run out of canister gas? How can you light a fire with a different fuel source if all you have is the piezo igniter built into your stove? This is an instance where having a multi-purpose ignition source instead of a built-in piezo is important.

For example, I was backpacking recently with an experienced friend who’d brought a canister stove with him. He’d misjudged the amount of gas in the canister he’d brought and didn’t have enough fuel to cook his dinner. While the piezo igniter built into his stove still worked, it couldn’t ignite a small wood fire, or the Esbit solid-fuel cube that I offered him to heat up his dinner with. He didn’t have a backup ignition source and wouldn’t have had any dinner if I hadn’t boiled his water for him.

While one option is to carry a disposable butane lighter as a backup for a stove piezo, I’ve had those fail on me if they leak butane or the sparking wheel jams and won’t budge. Some people carry two disposable lighters with them because the chance of them both failing at the same time or running out of fuel is so small. While that’s a feasible backup strategy, it flies in the face of minimalism and simplicity.

Light My Fire - Fire Steel
Light My Fire – Fire Steel

My preference is to carry one ignition method that I can count on working all the time. I’m out frequently enough that I can’t be bothered checking or resupplying my ignition source between trips to make sure I can light a stove or fire.

I carry a Light My Fire Fire Steel with me on all my trips. It can reliably light a canister stove, an alcohol stove, white gas stove, wood shavings and bits of leaves, cattails, cotton balls, drier lint, you name it. It’ll basically last forever if you keep it dry so it doesn’t rust.

So if you’ve been tempted to buy a canister stove with a built-in piezo igniter, get the less expensive version without one. If you backpack a lot or carry different types of stoves during the year, I’d also encourage you to experiment with using a fire steel to light them. Once you experience its benefits, you’ll never go hiking or backpacking without one.

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