These New LED Matches Are Half As Useful As, Well, Matches

That whole fire thing? It’s kind of important for people who use matches.

led matches
MBI MatchbookMBI Matchlights

We need to have a talk about innovation. There’s good innovation--adding a camera to the front of a smartphone or voice commands on devices to shave off a few steps--and there’s the kind of innovation that makes life harder.

The latest culprit? Fireless matches.

Matchbox Instruments recently announced a disposable package of LED matches for emergencies, with an 8-hour battery life that can be turned on and off to conserve power--for about $29 a pack. But while a miniature light source may be a benefit, it's less beneficial to have these around in an emergency than the real, sulfur-and-strike-pad matches of the past and present.

MBI has done a lot to simulate the match experience with this product. They “strike” by applying pressure to the tip of the light source: It pushes in and makes contact with the battery, and then there is light.

Take a look:

Light--not a flame, not a fire, not a spark--just light. And there it is. The moment when the cardinal rule of innovation was broken: to never leave the product with fewer uses than it started with.

Matches are important, and not just for that scene where an action star casually torches a room covered in gasoline and destroys some mutant monster. They’re as much a survival tool as a symbol of cool and resourcefulness.

They saved the world at the end of The Fifth Element for goodness sake—a movie set so far in the future that it's cool to be a taxi driver again.

One of my colleagues put a finer point on it when I brought this up: "Fire gave us civilization. If you're lost in the wilderness with these bullshit LED non-matches, you'll spend your limited survival time wishing that civilization never happened."

Some (Actual) Potential Applications

MBI Matchbox
MBI MatchboxMBI Matchlights

Okay, in the interest of fairness I really tried to think of some instances where a tiny LED matchstick is exactly what I’ve always needed. I haven’t tried them yet myself, but based on what the company says they can do, here’s what I think:

1. A Flashlight In a Pinch

If I am struggling to find my keys in a darkened doorway, and somehow manage to come across these in my bag first, I might use one to get a better look. Then I could use it to get the key into the lock and open the door. After that I’d have seven and a half hours of life left in it, so I’d probably just carry it around all night, waving it like a tiny lightsaber until I went to bed. It’d be dead the next morning.

2. Not Scaring A Trapped Kitten

There are specialized, industry specific uses for these things. If you’re a rescue worker and you’ve got, say, a kitten, stuck in a vent and want to light the area without blinding the little guy or knocking him unconscious, you’re going to want to throw one of these down there, not a flashlight.

It’s actually an upgrade for the glow stick.

3. For Kids (safety first)

Of course if you’re a child detective, this is your new favorite tool on your utility belt--and your mom’s reason to not worry about you burning the house down. Exploring that Scotchgarded “cave” (couch) in the living room during the sleepover? Reading comic books at an age where you’re not concerned about ruining your eyesight but are totally paranoid about getting grounded for staying up late? This is perfect.

The problem is that’s about it.

While this product purports to upgrade the match, it’s actually an upgrade for the glow stick.

You may remember glow sticks from the crappy parties you attended in college or that one Halloween when your mom put one in your candy bucket. But they’ve also been a staple for long-term, single-use lighting solutions in emergency and outdoor gear bags for a long time.

The only problem is that, when you’re not hanging with Miley Cyrus and the Flaming Lips, or in a planetarium, colorful neon glow is not the most helpful lighting. You’re not going to get a shelter built if you’re alone in the forest and suddenly it feels like a Pink Floyd light show--those people love camping, right?

We don’t need a better glow stick: They’re a novelty. We don’t need a weaker, single-use flashlight either. Even torches can be reused. And though these “matches” can be turned off by gently pulling the tip back away from the “wood,” they’re meant to be disposable.

So with respect to MBI, put this one back in the vault, until LEDs can spark kindling, or do this: