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Gear talk: Liquid fuel lighters- do they have a place on trail?

Three Points of the Compass has covered his quest for a decent lighter before. I mentioned then that I prefer a mini Bic or Torjet lighter for use with my stove set-up, be that meths or gas. However these lighters can struggle in colder and/or windier conditions. Usually this can be circumvented by keeping the gas lighter in a pocket until required if cold or sheltering if windy but there are occasions where one of the well-built, tried and tested liquid fuel lighters would be appreciated. If you have one at home anyway and are heading out for a day hike at altitude, or on a cold winters day, why not throw a liquid- fuelled lighter in to your pack? Two makes of lighter have proven especially useful in harsher conditions over the years.

IMCO lighters

The lightweight IMCO lighters make a good alternative to the more familiar Zippo lighters even if they lack that satisfying sound while being opened. The company began making buttons in Austria in 1907 but diversified following World War I. The 1918 design of their first lighters was based on used cartridge cases and that can be seen in their design. The most popular of IMCO designs was their Triplex Super, first developed in 1936, improved in the fifties and still made until the business closed in June 2012 (I won’t mention the copies produced subsequently). Many hikers would argue that the original IMCO lighters are a better option than rival Zippo for winter hiking; preserving their fuel more efficiently than Zippos though they are not quite as wind-resistant. Around seventy different designs were produced. It is a shame that original production has ceased but second hand examples can easily be found as they have a long life.

Nickel plated steel IMCO Triplex Junior 6600

Nickel plated steel IMCO Triplex Junior 6600

The IMCO 4700 Triplex lighter was first developed in 1937 and underwent a revamp of its internal workings in the 1960s, following which it was renamed the 6700 Triplex Super. One of the great features about many of the IMCO models is the ability to remove the fuel reservoir and use it as a candle. A handy little wheeze I picked up somewhere was to stuff a bit of cotton wool into the base of the fuel reservoir, this can then be extracted and used as a fire starter if required, lighting it with the sparker even if run out of fuel by putting it where the wick is exposed and opening and closing the lighter a few times. Operation of an IMCO lighter differs from the Zippo, It has a one move operation- opening the lid also strikes the wick. Flints can wear quite quickly but there is a built in well for a spare in the side of the lighter.

IMCO Triplex Junior 6600 in 'candle' mode

IMCO Triplex Junior 6600 in ‘candle’ mode

IMCO lighters have a lighter construction than Zippos, the latter are frequently solid brass whereas an IMCO can dent and ding with ease. There are more moving parts to an IMCO too, so a greater chance of something breaking or wearing. Certainly they will rust more easily if not cared for. As said, all of the originals are pretty old now but can still be picked up pretty easily as there is a ready collector market for them.

Base of Austrian made IMCO Triplex Junior 6600

Base of Austrian made IMCO Triplex Junior 6600

Probably the three best lighters made by IMCO for use backpacking and camping are the Junior 6600, 6700 and 6800 lighters. I have the Triplex Junior 6600 which is a tad smaller and lighter than the other two, but the 6700 does have some flame control. Beware of fakes!



Clink, clunk- Zippo lighters

Serving in the British Army, Three Points of the Compass purchased this Zippo in 1981. The squadron crest now worn, it is, nevertheless, a much loved memento of those years

Serving in the British Army, Three Points of the Compass purchased this Zippo in 1981. The squadron crest is now worn, it is, nevertheless, a treasured memento of those years

Inspired by the Austrian cigarette lighter made by IMCO, the Zippo manufacturing company was founded in 1932 by American George G Blaisdell and the first Zippo lighter produced the following year. Since those modest beginnings, over 500 million Zippos have been sold. Especially popular with servicemen, it is an icon of design, characterised by the clink sound it makes when opened, lit and closed- clunk. While the company has gone on to make butane lighters and inserts, the original metal cased lighter, where lighter fluid is fed by wick to a metal chimney and lit by sparking an enclosed flint, is a handy thing to have when struggling to light a fire in blustery conditions as the flame is highly resistant to being extinguished. While I have experimented a little with the pipe lighter variety of Zippo, I am not a great fan of these for backpacking as the flame drifts around too much. Also, if alight for any extended period, the metal case of a Zippo can get pretty hot.

Zippo released a slim version of its lighter in 1956. Originally aimed at the female market it proved just as popular with men and is still made today. Lighting a Zippo is a two-part operation, flip the lid and thumb the knurled wheel against the flint. Simple- but an operation that has led to probably thousands of tricks. Though if you want to avoid damaging the hinge it is probably best to stay clear of these.

Just about any good quality lighter fluid can be used in liquid fuel lighters

Just about any good quality lighter fluid can be used in liquid fuel lighters

Lighter fluid  (naphtha) is used as fuel, other fuels can be used but invariably either struggle to light or will emit foul smell or smoke. Even naphtha itself is a broad term for a range of petroleum distillates and it is best to simply use dedicated lighter fuel. There is no need to keep to the Zippo brand. The main problem with these lighters is that over time the fuel evaporates. So unlike a Bic which will retain its fuel for years, within a couple of weeks an originally full Zippo will not light, even if hasn’t been opened and used in that time. They need to be refilled about once a week.

Genuine Zippo spares are easily available

Zippos enjoy a great repair warranty and all the genuine spares you would want are easily available- flints and wicks are cheap enough to keep a couple in a drawer around the house

There are different hacks to slow evaporation, such as sliding a section of cycle inner tube over the body of the lighter. This will also stop water ingress to a degree. A rubber gasket such as this also has the benefit of doubling up as an emergency fire starter. Or you could just encapsulate the entire lighter. Flints do wear, but it is a simple task to tuck a spare or two under the felt flap in the base. Be aware that the flint from an expired Bic is perfectly suitable for use in a Zippo.

Solid brass slim Zippo and the full size well tarnished version that Three Points of the Compass inherited from his father

Solid brass slim Zippo and the full size well tarnished version that Three Points of the Compass inherited from his father

Both Zippo and IMCO are old school lighters from an age when lighters sat in most pockets, were used daily in all weathers and had to work, every time. Because of this reliability they remain a viable option for outdoors folks to consider. These are by no means lightweight options. Bone dry, my old Zippo from army days weighs 59g, both my brass and stainless slim Zippo’s 41g each and the lighter construction IMCO 6600 32g. Charging them with fuel adds considerably. So not lightweight by any means, and the faff of having to ensure they are fuelled up can be a pain to those used to hassle free Bics.

Three Points of the Compass used to be a smoker. I gave that up following the birth of my daughter over twenty years ago. However a number of Zippos still sit around my house, if infrequently pulled out to do duty these days. Next time I am out hiking in below zero conditions on a short day or weekend hike and am expecting to have to battle wind while lighting a stove, I may very well be slipping one of my old liquid fuel lighters into my pack.

most zippos can be dated by deciphering the code stamped on the case

most zippos can be dated by deciphering the code stamped on the case

Dating your Zippo

The year, and often the month, of manufacture of a Zippo lighter can frequently be determined from a code stamped on the base. I have included a guide to these below.

Zippo lighter identification codes- found on the bottom of lighter

Dot and slash method replaced in 1986 with year and month code (A=January to– L=December)


Left Right Year Left



Patent Pending

1990 A to L



Patent 2032695

1991 A to L



Black Crackle, Patent 203695

1992 A to L



Patent 2517191 with patent pending

1993 A to L



Patent 2517191

1994 A to L



Patent Pending

1995 A to L XI



1996 A to L



…. 1997 A to L XIII


1998 A to L



.. 1999 A to L



.. .. 2000 A to L



.. . 2001 A to L



. . 2002 A to L



.   2003 A to L



IIII IIII 2004 A to L



IIII III 2005 A to L



III III 2006 A to L



III II 2007 A to L



II II 2008 A to L



II I 2009 A to L



I I 2010 A to L



I   2011 A to L



//// //// 2012 A to L



//// /// 2013 A to L



/// /// 2014 A to L



/// // 2015 A to L



// // 2016 A to L



/ // 2017 A to L



// / 2018 A to L



/ / 2019 A to L



/   2020 A to L





Slim lighters


\\\\ \\\ 1957 …. ….


\\\ \\\ 1958 ….



\\\ \\ ….


\\ \\ 1959


G to L II 1960



A to L III 1961 ..



A to L IV 1962 .. .
1989 A to L V 1963 .


  1964 .




4 replies »

  1. Reading this article, I’m interested to buy both of them. But as the production of IMCO is closed, where could I get original IMCO? And how much will they cost? Or is it even a good idea to buy original one rather than copied?


    • Thanks for commenting. As both us have mentioned, production of ‘original’ IMCO lighters is no more. However millions were made and they turn up all the time on various auction sites. I would suggest look at the market a little, gauge what is a fair current market price for a good example, and take the plunge- caveat emptor


    • Thanks for your comment Greg. I did have a look at the 49g Titanlight. Looks a well made product, just trying to justify the expense in my head before taking the plunge!


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