Whether or not its an actual debate, there remains a choice that cigar smokers face when selecting a lighter: soft flame or torch jets. The former is often seen as a throwback that suggests class and elegance, while adding a bit of patience to the process of lighting a cigar. The latter is seen as modern, efficient, and a nod to just how much firepower can be put in a person’s pocket.
In November 2016, XIKAR announced that it was giving its popular single-torch Forte a soft flame makeover, with the body size and shape remaining the same but a new houndstooth insert replacing the hot rod-inspired grill. The Forte measures about 2 1/2 inches long by just over 1 1/4 inches wide and half an inch thick, making it friendly to both pockets and travel humidors.
The XIKAR Forte Soft Flame is available in four finishes: black, G2 (gunmetal), and Silver, as well as a Burl finish that lacks the houndstooth. Each have an MSRP of $69.99.
The soft flame version retained many of the same features as the torch version, including a push down, single action ignition that lifts the protective lid; a fold-out, 7mm cigar punch; large fuel adjustment window; and XIKAR’s red-tinted EZ-View fuel window on its side.
It also includes something that I think makes XIKAR the leader in soft flame lighters, a small coil of wire that helps keep the flame going even when there’s a breeze, the natural enemy of such lighters. As soon as you open the lid, the coil begins glowing a bright shade of orange as it readies itself to keep the flame burning strong.
There’s no secret as to how to get the Forte Soft Flame going, though I do think there is a certain technique that helps. As with any single-action ignition, simply push down on the good-sized ignition to lift the lid, start the fuel flowing, and spark the ignition. The one piece of advice I would give here is to do it slowly, at least a bit slower than you might otherwise be inclined. Slowing it down just a bit allows the coil to heat up, the butane to flow, and thus the ignition to catch a more established stream of fuel. It’s something I’ve tried to do with all my lighters, which has resulted in many more successful lights.
The XIKAR Forte Soft Flame feels substantial in the hand, thanks in part to weighing 3.6-ounces (102g).1 It’s well balanced, not feeling particularly heavy or weighted in one direction or another, making it an easy lighter to handle while lighting a cigar.
As noted above, the Forte Soft Flame features an oversized flame adjustment wheel on its base, allowing you to customize the height of the flame to your liking. At its lowest, the Forte will still light, something I found to be notable since many lighters won’t when turned all the way down. At its most open, the Forte produces a flame that reaches two inches in length and extends well beyond the lid, complementing it with a very audible flow of fuel.
My sweet spot was found about a third of a turn down from fully open, a setting which allowed the flame to extend just past the lid but wasn’t so big as to risk being unwieldy, though it is a bit noisier than I would prefer. The oversized adjuster wheel is about as easy as can be when it comes to finding your own sweet spot.
When it comes to lighting a cigar, the XIKAR Forte Soft Flame performs quite well, subject to your environment, of course. It does a good job producing heat; cup your hand around a cigar and the flame and you’ll find this out fairly quickly. In a space where there is little or no breeze, it’s easy to get an even toasting of the foot, regardless of size, though bigger ring gauges do provide for a bit more margin of error for a flame that is subject to the whims of air flow.
While the XIKAR Forte Soft Flame is billed as being a high altitude, wind-proof flame, that doesn’t mean that the lighter is a joy to use in breezy environs. While it’s not terribly windy in Phoenix on the whole, the area finds some of its strongest gusts by way of air conditioners and fans used to cool the scorching summer temperatures and as such became the main challenge for this lighter in the several weeks of testing I gave it.
In breezy, windy and downright blustery conditions, the XIKAR Forte Soft Flame manages to stay lit, yet in the case of soft flames, lit doesn’t always equal usable. Before I get into that, I have to give the Forte Soft Flame credit for just how well it does in challenging conditions; unless you give the flame a direct, strong blow of air, it will stay lit in even the most challenging of conditions. However, lit and usable are two different things. There’s no getting around the fact that the Forte Soft Flame becomes a challenge to use in breezy conditions; while it’s wind resistance is a plus, the reality that a knocked down flame is hard to light a cigar with, something that’s only slightly better than no flame at all.
As far as features, I’m agnostic as to the punch cutter as it’s not something I use, preferring a straight cut from my XIKAR MTX over every other style of cut. The fuel window is quite nice, though I find it reveals that the Forte Soft Lighter is burning through fuel faster than i had hoped. While we don’t record burn times, the Forte seems to check in with a bit less burn time than some torch lighters. While it has no problems making it through an evening of cigars, much beyond lighting three or four will have you thinking about refilling. It’s not a fuel hog, per se, but be mindful to keep an eye on the tank.
In terms of design, I’ll readily admit that I like both the overall look as well as the houndstooth insert that the Forte Soft Flame sports, though I’ll concede the latter faster than the former. Nothing less, there is plenty of texture to be found in the houndstooth design, which makes it that much easier to hold on to the accessory and something that I like from a design aesthetic. In terms of soft flame lighters, I think you could do a lot worse than the XIKAR Forte Soft Flame.
I don’t know the specific percentage of the marketplace that soft flame lighters consume, though it’s obvious that there is demand for the traditional candle flame and few companies in my experience have gotten it as right as XIKAR, and the Forte Soft Flame is no exception. If you are a fan of the soft flame, you have to consider the Forte Soft Flame; while I used to think the EXII was the benchmark, I’m now inclined to give that nod to the Forte Soft Flame.
However, for as much as I like this lighter, using a soft flame in this day and age feels like being purposely retro, much like preferring a record player to a digital device. In a calm environment with no wind or strong breeze, the lighter works about better than any soft flame could be expected to; the real question is why even have to worry about that with quality torches so readily available? That, however, is a question best left up to each individual consumer.