Backpacking Stove Piezo Lighter Failures and Limitations

Piezo Stove Failures

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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21 comments

  1. If you rely on the built-in igniter alone, then you better have an appetite for crunchy ramen. However, I would argue that the built-in igniter saves fuel. You are more willing to turn off the stove between tasks, for example pouring hot water into food pouches and refilling the pot for more hot water for beverages.

  2. In information technology, the brainwashing is to identify single points of failure, identify the risk and have a mitigation plan.

    I used to carry a magnesium stick cheapy from.china, till I found out that it’s a steel rod covered with a thin layer of magnesium paint. When all that painted magnesium was scraped off, nothing would spark.

    Of couple gear fails sometimes. If it’s a day hike, msy be able to get by with eating snacks, but ehen it’s multi-day trip, diversify and redundancy is a good thing.

  3. As long as it doesn’t add significant weight, I will definitely get the peizo. And I think in practice my behavior matches AndyK – with the convenience of the Piezo igniter I’m much more likely to turn the stove off in between tasks.

    However, to Phillips point having pizza on my stove doesn’t affect the way I pack at all… I still carry a Bic lighter and a small Ferro Rod as backup to the Bic lighter.

  4. Still taking both. Piezo igniter is just so handy to use.

  5. My brother once rebuilt the piezo igniter on his JetBoil by scavenging some parts off one of those long nose BBQ igniters that had run out of fuel. I still don’t know exactly what he did.

    I have a JetBoil and I bring an additional means of ignition when I use it… experience is a good teacher! Besides, generating all those fireworks from a Fire Steel is so entertaining!

    One thing I don’t like about the built in piezo is that my hands are so close to the initial ball of flame when the thing ignites, especially if it takes a few attempts to do it. Having the JetBoil pot in place when lighting helps with wind management but it also makes a nice pocket for gas build up to enhance the ensuing fireball.

  6. I’m a fan of stormproof or waterproof matches, those things are basically mini sparklers.

  7. My brother once repaired his JetBoil piezo by scavenging parts off one of those long nose BBQ lighters that had run out of fuel.

    An issue I have with the JetBoil piezo is that my hands are so close to the fireball when it ignites. The pot on top helps with wind management and traps some gas for easier lighting but if it doesn’t catch the first time, I might end up with hairless knuckles.

    Nowadays, I use my Fire Steel more than the piezo. As an added benefit, it generates an entertaining fireworks display in the process. Sometimes, I just let a grandkid or one of their friends light the JetBoil with a match.

  8. I have a cheap remote canister stove from Amazon. On my first trip with it, I used it with a windscreen and the button on the piezo melted into a plastic drip. I did have a lighter along. I now have a stove with the piezo cut off.

  9. The piezo part of my piezo lighting canister stove worked only a few times. I contacted the company, they sent me a replacement piezo which never worked. I only use canister stoves when alcohol stoves are banned during our wonderful northwest fire season, so I always carry a mini bic anyway. Based on my experience and that of fellow backpackers, the piezos are just a decoration and conversation piece.

  10. Funny you wrote this article at the same time my piezo igniter on my stove popped off when I dropped the stove taking it out of my cookpot. I think its the same stove you have pictured, actually. Amazon.com special for $9.99. I bought two.

    Bic lighter as well as a fero rod every hike. Its in my first aid kit.

    My two liter sawyer bag sprung a leak, too. Rough trip.

  11. Sorry about having two similar comments here. I wrote the first one and it hadn’t shown up an hour later so I wrote the second comment and it was the only one that I saw on the site for another couple hours. I think the piezo malfunctioned on the comment posting script of Philip’s website. He did a quick zap with Fire Steel and they both posted!

  12. Besides, using a fire steel is just fun.

  13. I have the same stove pictured above that I purchased a few years ago on Amazon for what I recall was about $7 which included free shipping from China. Can’t be the price for this stove and it, along with the Piezo ignition, just keeps on going. I’ve noticed that this cheapy little stove seems to burn more fuel then the other canister stove that I have. Anyone noticed the same thing?

  14. My piezo now works intermittently and can’t be trusted. I’m thinking of cutting the dam thing off.

  15. I found “Fire Steels” a few years back, well quite lot really and they have been my constant saviour and companion ever since. I have one in my fishing bag which lit the fire after taking an involuntary dunking in mid winter. There is another in my ready to go day pack and a third in my food bag which of course travels with me on longer trips. I have had piezo ignition on canister stoves, some from top manufacturers and not one was any good for more than a month or so. Wires broke or came adrift but the common cause of failure was displacement of the electrode. One I recall had a mini allen key to adjust it which was a necessity then the allen key broke and it was back to basics.
    Fire steel works in all conditions and just about everywhere the back-up is a few waterproof matches in a plastic 35 mm film canister.

  16. I learned somewhere that the best way to use a fire steel is to hold the striker steady while you pull the rod towards yourself.

  17. You did like the Soto Amicus with the piezo ignition running up the inside. I have one and it’s been fine. Still carry a Bic Mini though.

  18. “I have had piezo ignition on canister stoves, some from top manufacturers and not one was any good for more than a month or so”

    Since no one has offered a counter example in over a year, I assume this is the general state of affairs? The Soto Windmaster has by all account one of the more reliable piezo igniter designs. I’ve had it for 6 weeks and three 110g canisters — it no longer sparks reliably. Is there anything I should be doing to prolong its life? I’m not that careful with it, especially with moisture?

    • If it died after 3 canisters it is likely it has a fault. If it is still under warranty or maybe anyway, I would contact Soto US https://sotooutdoors.com/contact-us/ From the contact page 503-314-5119 or [email protected]

      If you search you can just order a new Windmaster igniter if you had rather.

      Personally I have had good luck with piezos and disagree with the conclusion of this article. I much prefer the stove to have built in igniter. They don’t add much weight and need not add much cost and you can still use the stove if they stop working. Piezos do occasionally refuse to work due to damp weather or altitude but my guess is that the number one stove failure is forgetting or losing your lighter. That is very hard to do with a built in piezo igniter but a fire steel is not immune from it. Having experienced a dud fire steel and lent lighters to people who lost or forgot theirs I don’t see a fire steel as a panacea.

      I would recommend always carrying a backup ignition method regardless of your primary stove lighting method. A good fire steel is certainly worth considering for that but I like something a bit more accurate in areas of high fire danger where showering sparks does not seem the wisest thing to do.

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