Some Cold Weather Smoking Tips

Pipe smoking snowman

The only pipe smoker I know who prefers to light up outdoors during the winter.

For those of you who live in Florida, the deep Southwest, southern California and Hawaii, ignore this information. For those of you who live elsewhere in the United States, these tips are for you, after you get done mumbling curses under your breath directed toward the people who live in those warmer regions.

Obviously, if you live alone or have a very understanding spouse, you might have a very warm and comfortable place to sit, relax and enjoy a smoke, in which case you get to join the folks from the more moderate climates in being despised by the rest of us who are shivering. For everyone else, I have some ideas that may make it easier to enjoy a cigar or pipe where things aren’t quite so comfy.

Cigar smokers- One of the most important tips I can give a cigar smoker who has to smoke where it’s cold is- When smoking where the temperature is less than 50 degrees, keep the cigar warm until you’re ready to cut and light the cigar. If you’re standing around before you’re ready to light up, keep the cigar in an inside pocket, or hold it in your hand. If you allow the cigar to get down to the temperature of the outside air, the disparity in the temperatures may cause the cigar to crack and bloom like an orchid. It’s also far better to cut the cigar indoors where it’s warm to reduce the chance of shattering the cap.

If you’re using a butane lighter to light up, especially if it’s a torch-type, keep the lighter warm (in an inside or pants pocket, or held in the hand). The problem is that, for a butane torch to ignite, the gas must be warm enough to convert from a liquid to a gaseous form when the valve is open. Keeping the lighter as close as possible to body temperature will help assure that your torch will work.

To take the idea a step further, consider the possibility of using a liquid-fuel (Zippo-type) lighter. Of course, the big knock on these lighters is the taste and smell of the fuel. This used to be an undeniable fact, because the fuel was made of naphthalene (also used as a spot remover for clothing) which has a noticeable chemical odor. But in the past few years, this is no longer a big issue, as Zippo has developed a new fuel based on an extract of paraffin, and is virtually odorless and tasteless. I still detect a bit of an odor and an almost imperceptible flavor from it, but it doesn’t last much beyond the first puff or two. They will light easily when it’s cooler, and they’re as close to windproof as a lighter can get.

Also, if you have a garage man-cave that’s heated with a kerosene heater or something similar, don’t store the cigars in the area. The lingering odor of the fuel or from any other source (stored paint, etc.) can easily contaminate the tobacco.

Pipe smokers- All right, if you’ve smoked a pipe for any length of time, I shouldn’t really need to bring this up, but for the newer pipe guy, here it is- If the temperature is anywhere near or below freezing, don’t smoke your meerschaum pipe where the cold air can get at it. Meerschaum is a porous mineral deposit, and expands and contracts much more rapidly than wood. It’s also a relatively fragile material and can crack when a hot chamber on the inside meets freezing temperatures on the outside.

As with cigars, lighting a pipe in cold weather can be problematic. In the first case, butane pipe lighters don’t function well with any kind of wind, but, as mentioned above, butane fuel needs to gasify to burn, and when the lighter itself gets cold, the fuel wants to remain liquid, so it’s important to keep the lighter where body heat will warm the butane. If using a butane pipe lighter, having one with a built-in tamper is a great idea so that you don’t have to fumble around with another tool, especially if you’re wearing gloves.

Zippo also makes liquid fuel pipe lighters with a hole in the side of the chimney to allow for easy lighting. They’re very effective and reasonably priced, so acquiring one just to use during winter months isn’t a bad idea.  Other than the fuel odor/taste issue mentioned above, the only drawback is that the Zippo models don’t have a tamper, so you’ll need to keep a pipe nail or tool handy.

A windcap is also a good idea to keep your pipe from getting too fired up, as there always seems to be a breeze blowing during the winter. It will also keep snowflakes from landing in your bowl, and I don’t know about you, but snow doesn’t burn very well in any of my pipes.

I’m sure that I don’t really need to mention that it makes a lot more sense to pack your pipe(s) indoors before going out for a smoke, but I’m going to do it anyway. Interestingly, I find that it also helps a bit to pack a pipe a little looser during the cold months. I’m not sure why, but I seem to get a better smoke that way.

I hope that these thoughts help you and assist in getting you through the dark, chilly months. Until then, just dream about that first smoke after the snow melts.

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About Russ

Russ Ouellette is the blender/creator of the Hearth & Home series of tobaccos for www.pipesandcigars.com in Bethlehem, PA. He has been a pipe smoker and blender for over 30 years, and enjoys feedback from the pipe smoking public. You can reach Russ at russo@pipesandcigars.com or by calling 1-800-494-9144.