I am planning a canoe trip, and will be bringing a kerosene lamp for light. As a backup fire lighting option I am planning on bringing flint & steel and possible a magnifying glass.

Can either of these be used to light the wick on a kerosene lamp?

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    Best backup lighting option is backup lighters in separate waterproof (e.g. ziplock) bags. If you use ziplocks and you want to be paranoid, ducktape it all round afterward. It won't get wet until you cut it open. Of course, it's not as impressive as flint and steel. I would kick someone out of the boat for bothering with a magnifying glass tho ("I can hardly wait until the sun comes up to light this lamp!"). ;) – goldilocks Nov 17 '14 at 17:10
  • @goldilocks, presumably I would be lighting the lantern before the sun went down. – James Jenkins Nov 17 '14 at 23:07
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    Sundown tomorrow is after sunrise tomorrow, so presuming clear weather you will have lots of time. My (quite serious) point is that while it may seem cool, being stuck with a flint in lieu of an extra lighter probably is not. You're already bringing a kerosene lamp. You might as well include multiples of the inexpensive, flint wheel + butune devices known as lighters, and keep them dry. It will cost you < $10, 15 minutes to wrap, and a few oz. weight to carry a half dozen of them, and when push comes to shove you will be happier with that than anything else. – goldilocks Nov 17 '14 at 23:26
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    @goldilocks I have used a magnifying glass to start fires even when the sun is just above the horizon, less than an hour before it sets. Lighting the lamp by the sun just means you have initial 15-30 minutes of unnecessary burn time. Still, the quote you end with is great. And agree about the lighters. After I got really good at starting fires I thought I didn't need a lighter anymore, but I later realized there is no reason not to bring one. I buy the mini lighters for $1, probably weighs a tiny fraction of an ounce, and I think it's about 0.25in. by 0.5in. by 1.5in. approximately. – Loduwijk Aug 14 at 22:21

If you think about it, lighting a kerosene lamp with a flint and steel is essentially the same as lighting a Zippo Lighter. The classic of classic lighters has a flammable-fluid soaked wick that is ignited by a small flint and steel. The only significant difference is that Kerosene has a slightly higher flashpoint than Lighter Fluid (Naphtha).

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Lighter Fluid's flashpoint is at about 5°C, which means at ~5°C Lighter fluid will let off enough vapour for it to react to a nearby flame and ignite. Kerosene's flashpoint is higher, at ~38°C (just about body temperature) so it'll only put off enough vapours to ignite when it's warm. So you could do it, you could light a Kerosene lamp with a flint and steel, but ONLY if it was a really hot day (~40°C) or if your lamp had been left in the sun long enough for your canister to heat up. Considering that Kerosene's flash point is pretty much at par with body temperature, theoretically, in a desperate situation, you could conceivably warm the Kerosene canister up enough with your body for it to reach it's minimum flashpoint. But lighting a small fire and using that flame to light your lamp would be a much easier solution.

The only time you could light anything with a magnifying glass is during the day when there is enough intense sunlight to focus a beam. So even if you could get it started with this method, it wouldn't be practical unless you plan on burning your lamp until it gets dark, or taking it from the light into somewhere dark like a cave.

  • Kerosene and Butane aren't the same chemical and they have different ignition points. Zippos use Butane, not Kerosene, so a zippo lighting on a spark is not indication that Kerosene will. – Russell Steen Nov 17 '14 at 23:05
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    @RussellSteen Zippos don't use butane. Butane is a compressed gas and wouldn't stay inside the case of a zippo for more than a few seconds. They also don't use kerosene. Lighter fluid is somewhere between kerosene and gasoline, which makes it easier to ignite. Of course, you could use lighter fluid in your kerosene lamp... – Perkins Nov 17 '14 at 23:55
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    @RussellSteen - I took the time to look into it, Kerosene will light like a zippo, but only when it's hot out. I've edited my answer to explain. – ShemSeger Nov 18 '14 at 2:33
  • @Perkins -- Yeah, it looks like I was mis-reading the Zippo page. They have two kinds of lighters. One uses butane, and the other uses lighter fluid. – Russell Steen Nov 18 '14 at 17:19
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    Plus, a lighter "flint" isn't really flint. Flint and steel create sparks because the flint is harder than the steel and strikes particles off it, which ignite because iron is pyrophoric. In a lighter, the wheel is hard steel and acts as the flint, and the "flint" is a soft pyrophoric alloy that produces more and hotter sparks than iron or soft steel. – Kevin Krumwiede Nov 18 '14 at 20:46

A magnifying glass will not light it, and I don't think a flint and steel will directly - you need a flame rather than a spark - but that is easily solved through using a piece of newspaper with kindling, or taper. Just use your magnifying glass or flint to light the paper, then use that to light the lamp.

Slightly messy, and you need to be careful where you put your taper, but pretty simple.

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    Flint and steel won't light it, trust me I've spent plenty of time trying! :) You'll struggle lighting newspaper with a flint also. Best thing I've found is cotton wool (tampon's are perfect compressed cotton wool BTW). This will kindle the sparks and you can then light what you want from that. If you don't have cotton wool to hand look for bog cotton! – user2766 Nov 17 '14 at 15:51
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    Glossary for North Americans: Taper = a long, skinny candle. – ShemSeger Nov 17 '14 at 19:26
  • It depends a bit on the construction of the wick and the ambient temperature. Also on the spark volume and composition of what you mean by "flint and steel" (Almost nobody uses actual flint and steel these days.) 100F day? You're close to the flash point, and have a chance. Otherwise, you'll need a cotton wick that you can fuzz up nicely (expect it to take some effort as oil makes the strands slightly sticky.) Magnifying glass? Kerosene evaporates before it ignites, which will cool the focus point. So you may need a fairly large one for it to work. – Perkins Nov 17 '14 at 23:51
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    Spark will work if the temperature of the Kerosene is at least 38°C. – ShemSeger Nov 18 '14 at 2:35

I wasn't able to light an Aladdin kerosene lamp with the sparks of a zippo. (Kerosene needs much more energy to ignite than lighter fluid)

As an ironic side question - do you really need a lamp when there is enough sunlight to ignite it with a magnifying glass? ;-)

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    I don't think that's an ironic side question at all. It's highly pertinent. – David Richerby Nov 19 '14 at 11:01

It's a good idea to carry along some snacks, Fritos, potato chips, doritoes. You can light these with a magnifying glass, if the sun is out. I've had to resort to this to get the wood stove lit when my lighter was out of fluid while snowed in. There is a high fat/grease content in those snacks. They burn like a candle. Try it!


fire steel can be used but you would be wise to find a tinder i.e. birch bark, Vaseline soaked cotton in a pill bottle.. I would not recommend a kerosine lamp where a candle in a safe enclosure would work just as nice. also practice a bit before your trip as it does take some skill.


If you are desperate, a flint and steel or other sparker can be used to light a kerosene lamp but, and it is a pretty big but, you must first warm the wick (and the kerosene in it) to body temp or slightly above. Holding it in your hands and blowing on it will get you close, but it is almost always easier to ignite some kindling and use that to light your lamp. And as someone mentioned above, a generous supply of disposable lighters is by far the easiest approach.


Cigarette lighters are very cheap and very small. Leave the magnifying glass with grandma, leave the flint with wilma, take some spare lighters, its the 21st Century after all.

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    a bit of a 'smart' answer. Perhaps flesh it out a bit? – studiohack Nov 18 '14 at 2:41
  • While your comment is funny, there are good reasons to use flint or magnifiers in certain situations. I went for a few years without including any lighters in my gear. It's one of the most annoying things to be out camping and realize that the lighters you left in your camping gear last year have dried up and you didn't bring new ones. On the other hand, flint and magnifiers can last for many, many, many years and light hundreds or thousands of fires with each one. It's also very fun and satisfying to light fires with more primitive tools. – Loduwijk Aug 14 at 22:32

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