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11/11/2015 8:49 am  #1

"Firestarter" Alternatives

Discussions about starting campfires in winter conditions brought up a suggestion of bringing along 'kindling'. Given the regs against transporting firewood from contaminated areas (destructive insect larvae/eggs), I'd like to explore  alternative "firestarters". Quick ignition and sustained BTU outputs would be desirable. Any proven suggestions to share?


11/11/2015 8:56 am  #2

Re: "Firestarter" Alternatives

I make and carry cotton pads that have been swiped through candle wax. Summertime with dry kindling a half pad is all that's needed. For winter and/or wet kindling a whole pad or better, use 2 or more of them in different areas of the kindling pile. Burn time for a 1/2 pad is at least 5 minutes.

To make: melt any candle wax on hand (I buy old candles at yard sales, colour and fragrance don't matter) in a double boiler style assembly - I use a meat pie sized foil pan in a small saucepan. Take each cotton pad and using a pair of tongs, swipe it through the molten wax. Do NOT soak in wax, you want them lightly imbedded with the wax. Too much wax and you'll have no cotton pad left to fluff and light. Lay each pad on a cookie sheet lined with either parchment paper or tin foil. When dry, cut in half with scissors and pack. I use an old Altoids tin that holds 9 or 10 half cuts of the pads.


11/11/2015 9:11 am  #3

Re: "Firestarter" Alternatives

Cotton balls dredged in vaseline . . . 60-120 seconds of burn time depending how much vaseline you work in,  and if you hit Dollarama, I'm sure you could make 1000 for under $10 and 30 minutes of time invested (great child labour idea too!)

Speaking of the kids coming in handy, those yellow Kinder-egg treat containers hold a pair of these perfectly, or the tubes of mini M&M's hold about 6.  (the mini M&M's are great in pancakes too, so its a win win)



11/11/2015 9:20 am  #4

Re: "Firestarter" Alternatives

Agree with cotton balls - my go-to for several reasons: 

1) Cheap
2) Compact
3) Waterproof
4) Excellent for use with firesteel

DIY video on making these things:

The only issue in the winter is that having a fire starter alone will not have sufficient heat output to warm the hands (in order to process more wood). So I like to carry kindling from the previous night. Obviously this does not work for the first night. 

If planning to arrive late, I would gather kindling at the start of the trek, keep in in the bag so it's ready for the 


11/11/2015 9:53 am  #5

Re: "Firestarter" Alternatives

Lots of natural tinders should be available out there... thin birchbark, fuzzed-up cedar bark, dry grass and leaves, dry wood shavings. These should be made into a tinder bundle to catch a spark or match. If the flame is slow to grow, turn the bundle upside down so that the flame rises up through the bundle. Then add dry twigs to build the fire.

In snow there should be a platform of  dry sticks or a flat piece of dead bark underneath the prevent the melting snow from getting at the fire.

Joe Robinet's vid on how to get tinder going... not winter but the general idea is there.

Last edited by frozentripper (11/11/2015 9:54 am)


11/11/2015 10:21 am  #6

Re: "Firestarter" Alternatives

I collect dryer lint and bring a small ziploc baggy with me. It's probably not as efficient or effective as cotton balls and wax but it's perfect when you're too lazy to actually melt the wax or apply the vaseline. I just keep a container on the top of my dryer and instead of throwing out the lint, I save it. 


11/11/2015 10:22 am  #7

Re: "Firestarter" Alternatives

I second frozentripper's suggrestion to make a platform of dry sticks or bark as a base for the fire. We do this when we're building any fire regardless of conditions but it's very important when it's wet out or there is snow. 


11/11/2015 10:32 am  #8

Re: "Firestarter" Alternatives

We make these up using egg cartons, old candles and dryer lint or wood shavings.


Last edited by RobW (11/11/2015 10:33 am)


11/11/2015 2:15 pm  #9

Re: "Firestarter" Alternatives

+1 for vaseline covered cotton balls

That isn't going to give you more than 30 seconds of burn time though. Throwing a Light My Fire Tinder Stick on when only wet tinder material is available gives you another couple of minutes. You can get them at Canadian Tire and elsewhere, around 7 bucks for 8 sticks. Expensive but convenient and worth it when you need fire most.


11/11/2015 2:53 pm  #10

Re: "Firestarter" Alternatives

Increase the vaseline content for a longer burn time. 

If you work vaseline in with your fingers at a room temperature, you will get fluffy balls with a short burn time (yes, I know this statement wins the internet). These are easier to ignite with firesteel. 

If you melt the vaseline over a stove, then add the cotton balls, they will be very saturated and will result in a longer burn time. On the other hand, the cotton fibers will be harder to fluff up, and it may be a bit harder to ignite with firesteel (although with proper technique it's a breeze - press the firesteel down onto the cotton ball, scrape slowly and with pressure). 



11/11/2015 5:00 pm  #11

Re: "Firestarter" Alternatives

Just remember that if you're using dryer lint to make sure that it's coming from a load of cottons not a load of synthetics.

I have to use the Laundromat so I have no chance to capture dryer lint hence the use of cotton pads and candle wax.

We've had fire lighting contests before and the Vaseline soaked cotton balls came in second to the waxed pads for length of burning time.


11/11/2015 5:51 pm  #12

Re: "Firestarter" Alternatives

I haven't seen many mentions of Esbit fuel tabs, which I've been using for emergency cooking.  They need a flame to ignite, but they burn hot and long to help get a fire going.


11/11/2015 7:34 pm  #13

Re: "Firestarter" Alternatives

I find it usually just takes a focused glare.

But if others are around, these seem to work well too.



11/12/2015 8:18 am  #14

Re: "Firestarter" Alternatives

I drive past a lumber shop that dresses the rough lumber in house. Out front they pile the "edges" that have been sawn off. Its pieces of kiln dried hard woods like maple, oak, etc... that are about 1 inch square and eight feet long. I chop them down into 1 foot lengths. And bring along a dozen or so for wet and cold weather trips. They have been the best thing I have found so far....but you still need something like paper, bark, etc... to light it, but not much.

Its kiln dried cut offs of dressed lumber so there are no bugs.

I also second the egg carton thing!



11/12/2015 8:53 am  #15

Re: "Firestarter" Alternatives

Also balsam fir resin blisters will make a tinder bundle burn longer if BB can't be found. Fir resin can be messy and BB preferable... personally I have never been unable to find some BB, still, there are those deciduous forests Joe was going on about.


11/12/2015 9:42 am  #16

Re: "Firestarter" Alternatives

Birch bark is my go-to material...the stuff is amazing!  I too am a fan of Balsam Fir blisters.  I love the smell it gives off as well.  This may sound strange but I usually bring a road flare if conditions are soaking wet.  They burn long and VERY hot and will give you a good head start on your fire.


11/12/2015 1:43 pm  #17

Re: "Firestarter" Alternatives

John Connelly wrote:

A method passed on through the generations of simian sized brained bi-pedals , with opposing thumbs .
Winter , Spring , Summer and Fall ............ and well within the pages of regulations and Leave No Trace standards .

Big Smile

That's funny John.  I do chuckle at all of the alternative fire starters on the market, most of which are no more traditional or reliable than a lighter and matches.  If my plane goes down in the middle of nowhere, I'm more likely to have and need those than a ferro rod and a pocket full of Vaseline. If I'm not found before they run out, I'm probably screwed anyway. That being said, a bow drill and bark shavings will likely save me in that case.


Board footera

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