The Exotac TitanLIGHT: A Lighter For Life
Several years have passed since I purchased an Exotac Titanlight and I couldn't be more pleased with this investment. Being familiar with other quality and well thought out products of the same brand, this lighter is no exception and has more than earned its permanent place in my outdoor adventure kit. It often rides in a small Frost River Accessory Pouch which I adapted with two sewn on leather loops so it can be carried on a belt. This pouch holds some of my basic emergency gear while out on canoeing trips and I ended up choosing this lighter for that exact purpose.
What features to look for in a lighter
Prior to the Titanlight, I worked around some of the limitations I found existed in the then available gas and liquid fuel filled or refillable lighters. I learnt to anticipate or deal with their shortcomings and occasional failures in the field. As a result of using all sorts of lighters over the years I've learned some valuable lessons. Based on my personal experiences, I found that some refillable lighters had their fuel evaporating or escaping and others didn't perform well or not at all in certain circumstances. Although not every lighter I used was specifically designed for the outdoors, I ended up looking for something more. Features which increase the probability of producing a flame when I really need it, without much special care prior to or during less favorable weather and environmental conditions. This was really important to me as I chose a lighter to be my secondary and emergency fire starting tool.
The Exotac has absolutely outperformed my previous lighters in each of the 4 seasons and doing so while using fairly readily available Zippo liquid lighter fuel. One of the first and foremost qualities I ended up looking for in a lighter, and in refillable lighters specifically, is the ability to prevent the fuel from evaporating or escaping over time. I had this happen with both liquid and gas fuel lighters due to accidental compression of operating mechanisms, damage to the fuel compartment, fuel compartment seals that started leaking or just by the nature of their design.
This lighter is quite differently designed and therefore a lot better at preventing the above mentioned issues from happening. The housing of the Exotac is manufactured from aircraft grade aluminum and there is really no comparison in regards to other lighters with plastic housings, especially in cold weather when plastic becomes more brittle. It's a strong and robust unit which is very noticeable when you have it in your hands. The body of this lighter can easily endure some unintended mishandling and still produce a flame. In the unfortunate event it gets crushed by gear or dropped onto a hard surface by accident, it will be fine other than maybe a couple scratches.
The importance and maintenance of O-Ring seals
The lighter has two removable caps giving you access to either the ignition compartment at the top, or the fuel storage and refilling compartment at the bottom. The top cap easily unscrews because of Exotac's One Revolution Quicktread, and you'll find the spark wheel, the wick and a flame guard. The guard assists with burn efficiency and stabilizes the flame during windy conditions. Both these compartments have O-ring seals.
These O-rings also prevent the evaporation or leakage of lighter fluid and therefore maximize the available amount of fuel. This increases efficiency and after filling up, the lighter can be used over a longer period of time. The O-ring seals also make the lighter waterproof. Similar liquid fuel refillable lighters without such O-ring seals are much more susceptible to having both the ignition mechanism and the fuel compartment compromised when water gets in. This would prevent ignition or flame and also result in the dilution of the fuel, which would make the unit fail. To restore function in the field you would have to dry out both the ignition mechanism and the fuel storage stuffing material. After drying and reassembly, fuel is also needed for it to work again. For a lighter to be used mainly outdoors, being waterproof is therefore an important quality which could mean the difference between comfort or suffering should you ever find yourself in a worst-case scenario.
Lighter as Survival Firestarter
Whatever your preferred outdoor activity may be and the circumstances you happen to find yourself in as a result, one day you may very well come to depend on one ignition tool to start a fire. Several scenarios come to mind but in general, if you need a fire and you need it now, your preparation, skill and resources better be on point. Mother nature has a habit to have the unprepared face the test that teaches them the lesson, and not the other way around.
In the event of having to immediately rewarm yourself or others, and maybe dry out wet clothing in a serious effort to deal with heat loss and ward off the possible onset of hypothermia, a reliable lighter producing an instant flame can be of incredible value. This applies even if you have a fire steel or dry bag with spare clothes available. You really don't even need to be that far from help, or from shore if you happened to find yourself in or on water. The ability to produce an instant flame may also give you an advantage in lighting certain tinder, natural or artificial, and kindling, without much preparation. In the event that all other available sources in nature or on your body are wet, for whatever reason that may be the case, an instant flame is a very welcome advantage. When the need for fire is highest, time among other factors, may already be working against you. Take any and all opportunities to gain some extra.
To me, that's what truly makes this a very valuable and suitable outdoor lighter. The importance of its previously mentioned features shouldn't be underestimated. Neither should the fact that, it being my secondary means of making fire and therefore functions as my survival fire starter, it can easily be unscrewed and ignited with one hand, knowing it will actually light after it got submerged or even totally frozen.
The importance of keeping fuel warm
Generally speaking, any gas or liquid fuel lighter needs to be warmish for it to function properly. If the lighter is really cold, it will not work until some heat is applied and the fuel produces vapours that can be ignited, giving you a flame. Take Bic lighters for instance. They have a pressurized reservoir that contains a liquefied petroleum gas we know as butane fuel. A small amount of that fuel vaporizes into a gas above the liquid but this process is slowed down or even halted by cold temperatures. So, when the Bic lighter is cold, it won't work properly because the fuel evaporation process is affected. This results in a low fuel reservoir pressure which in turn produces a small, weak flame or the lighter doesn't ignite at all. The fuel is essentially too cold and the vapour pressure inside is at a minimum. Heating the fuel back up by putting the lighter into your warm hands or a warm pocket will reverse this process and produce a sustainable and strong flame that also easily overcomes the atmospheric pressure.
The same applies to camping gas canisters for outdoor cooking. They too don't work properly in the cold unless they have a specifically combined mixture of fuels. If the added fuel can vaporize at a lower temperature than the butane, the canister will perform better in cold weather. The key is to keep it warm or to warm it up before use.
The longest my lighter has gone without usage is about 4 months following its first canoeing trip. After the initial filling up, it was used several times during a 10 day journey and then left indoors for that time until winter was in full swing. With the Orings preventing fuel evaporation, it lit up no problem. The only issue that I've witnessed happening over the years using the lighter in and outdoors is that a little fuel can sometimes accumulate in the top part. The first time I had this happen was pure user error on my part. If you overfill the fuel reservoir on the bottom, the excess fuel will work its way up and accumulate in the ignition compartment and top cap. Following the manufactures recommendations regarding refill amounts is a must.
I've also noticed fuel accumulating in the same way when the lighter experiences a big change in ambient temperature. Sometimes my lighter rides in an outside pocket, in a belt pouch or is stored outside my sleeping bag at night. When the tent warms up or the lighter is put into a warm pocket for instance, that's when this seems to happen. Knowing that even though the wick is sealed, the fuel has to travel up into wick for ignition to occur. It does that by capillary action. According to the research I've done thus far, there is a relationship between temperature increase, internal pressure build up and increasing capillary rise. It seems to occur when the lighter isn't kept warm by body heat and you transition from a cold to a warm space. Same thing happens when the lighter is cool or cold and then put into a trouser pocket, subjecting it to a temperature increase. I noticed it also happened after freezing it for 6 hours and defrosting it until I could free the lighter enough to ignite it for the above test and picture, which it did with the first try. A little amount of fuel accumulated at the top after the lighter warmed back up completely.
By design, the fuel compartment of the Titanlight is integrated into the housing and sealed with an O-ring on the bottom. This creates a waterproof fuel compartment but it also makes it pretty much airtight. That in itself creates an opportunity for an air pressure imbalance. Warm temperatures causes the air pressure to rise and cold temperatures or altitude, cause the air pressure to drop. Subjecting the lighter to a substantial temperature increase when cold, probably influences the pressure in the fuel compartment enough to rise slightly and force some of the fuel up and out through the wick.
The classic Zippo lighters, which are also refillable liquid fuel lighters, don't have the same issue because they feature a fuel compartment that slides in and out of the lighter's housing without the use of O-rings to create a sealed compartment. As a result of these being two separate parts, it allows for the air pressure to equalize within the chamber, preventing fuel from getting ‘pushed' out. However, should you overfill a Zippo lighter, the excess will also accumulate in the top compartment but will evaporate more easily since it's not made airtight through the use of O-ring seals. The Titanlight is waterproof and prevents fuel evaporation while the Zippo lighter does neither. I've seen people improvise with so called ranger bands to somewhat prevent these 2 things from happening to their Zippo lighters but I have no experience with that.
The freezing test I did may have very little in common with a realistic scenario one can be subjected to in the field. In addition, this may not exactly be something the manufacturer would recommend either, but it sure is proof the lighter can handle it. As with gas fuel lighters, cold temperatures also influence liquid fuel lighters. Interesting to know is the so called flashpoint of the fuel you use to refill the lighter. The flashpoint of a substance is the lowest temperature at which its vapours ignite when exposed to an ignition source. This means that your lighter would still work in cold temperatures above and close to that temperature reference point. If the ambient temperature falls below the flashpoint temperature of the liquid fuel, warmth is needed to produce ignitable vapours in order for the lighter to work. This fact applies to my Zippo lighter as well as my Titanlight. The only difference is that the fuel in my Zippo lighter will evaporate over time by the nature of its design. Body heat also plays a part in fuel evaporation when trying to keep a Zippo lighter operational in cold weather. As mentioned before, a ranger band may slow down or prevent this from happening but I have no testing experience to share in this regard.
If excess fuel happens to be present in the top compartment and ignition mechanism of my lighter, I always let it evaporate before lighting. This process really doesn't take up that much time and can be sped up by exposure to moving air, encouraging faster evaporation. This way there is no excessive heat production when excess fuel, which could also be present in the treads and around the O-ring seal, ignites. In case you need the flame then and there, the lighter will function absolutely fine, it will just burn more vigorously until the excess is consumed.
Inspect Your Equipment
Like other similar lighters, the Titanlight has parts that can fail or deteriorate over time. That's why you inspect your equipment. You take care of it and you perform any needed maintenance before you go. This is very easily accomplished because the Titanlight can be taken apart, and as with other tools of the Exotac brand, any parts subjected to wear and tear are available for replacement. They can be changed out when the need arrives. This contributes to its longevity and essentially makes this a lighter that can pass the test of time and I like that, a lot. Buy quality once, take care off it, and it will in turn take care of you, for many more adventures to come. Arguably, one can purchase a lot of cheap lighters for the price tag that's attached to one of these.
Why a refillable lighter?
I think it's a matter of perspective and personal preference. How much time do you spend outdoors and what are your priorities? Are you mostly on land or on water? How serious are your trips? Which environment do you visit most often? What time of the year are you out there? Do you just go to visit or live there year round? Is your lighter a backup or your primary means of making fire? All factors to consider for sure, especially with cheaper options out there that will function well, given some extra and additional care. Besides when teaching, I try to limit the use of plastic disposable lighters as much as practically possible because they eventually end up in the garbage bin when the fuel runs out. According to the net, an estimated 6 million Bic lighters are sold annually. To me personally, its important to work with refillable lighters and I very much like the Titanlight for its capabilities in the field which require very minimum additional care from my part.
In addition, the lighter is produced in 4 different colours; green, gray, black and orange. I ended up purchasing the orange version. For a tool of such importance with relatively small size, it'll be easier to recover should I ever have the misfortune of having to go look for it. The orange-coloured lanyard I've attached to it has 3 functions. It's a dummy cord, allowing me to secure the lighter to a D-ring in a jacket pocket for instance. Secondly, it's a very noticeable marker should I ever accidentally drop it on the ground. This increases visibility and aides in its recovery, especially in deep snow conditions. Thirdly, this particular para cord is FIRE CORD and features an extra, red colored inner strand. The 8th strand is actually a waterproof and easy to ignite artificial tinder, providing me with an easily accessible, instant additional fire-starting resource if needed.
In conclusion, I think it's very realistic to expect this lighter to be functioning successfully over an extended period of time. It will do what it's designed to do with repeated consistency and in circumstances that may present challenges for other lighters which aren't subjected to some form of special care and attention. Based on my personal experiences at the moment, I think this is the most functional and reliable outdoor purpose lighter available. As mentioned, Exotac provides its customers with a variety of replacement parts for this product, giving them the opportunity to keep the lighter functioning optimally. The Titanlight is designed to withstand the test of time, it's a lighter for life.