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Esbit - what am I doing wrong?
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Piper S.
(sbhikes) - F

Locale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
Esbit - what am I doing wrong? on 08/20/2010 12:32:47 MDT Print View

I decided to use esbit on my latest trip. I used it once long ago and I do not remember having so much trouble with it. I can't seem to light it.

I used a half a box of wooden matches the first night trying to light it. So I hiked over to VVR to buy some lighters. I used one mini-bic lighter per two esbit cubes. That's one lighter for each day if I cook tea for breakfast and make a hot dinner. That's ridiculous.

I set the esbit cube hanging over the edge of the little platform I made (the bottom of a pepsi can). I held the lighter under the corner and waited. And waited. Sometimes the cube would be lit and as soon as I took away the lighter, it would go out. Then I'd have to start over again. It was very frustrating.

What was I doing wrong? Do I need to soak it in alcohol? If so, I think I'm going to stick to alcohol and not use esbit.

tim hower
(jeepcachr) - F

Locale: Great Lakes
bad tabs? on 08/20/2010 12:46:20 MDT Print View

Bad esbit tabs? Old or damp? You shouldn't have that much trouble lighting them.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Esbit - what am I doing wrong? on 08/20/2010 12:59:46 MDT Print View

I had a couple of bad experiences with Esbit cubes a few years ago. As you know, the surfaces of a cube are pretty smooth and solid, and that helps avoid the cube breaking up prematurely. That also makes it harder to light. So, if I think that I will have any difficulty lighting a cube, I use a knife to carve up the edges where I want to light it. That produces tiny surfaces that are easier to light, but it takes only a few seconds to prepare. The extreme case would be using the knife to chop the whole cube up, but I've never had to go that far.

I found a lot of difference between real Esbit cubes and off-brand cubes.

The other thing is the lighter. I admit to using a mini-bic currently. However, if the weather is colder or I suspect that I could have lighting difficulty, I carry an oversized standard butane lighter that has an adjustable flame control. Then, assuming that I store the lighter in my pocket to keep it warm, I can get a good flame out of it, and that helps light the Esbit.


Piper S.
(sbhikes) - F

Locale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
Re: bad tabs? on 08/20/2010 13:10:00 MDT Print View

Brand new tabs. Came in the red box.

Bob Bankhead
(wandering_bob) - MLife

Locale: Oregon, USA
bad tabs? on 08/20/2010 13:43:04 MDT Print View

I've found they're much easier to light if I hold the cube at one end and light the other with my Bic. Once it lights and stays lit, I transfer it to my stove and put the Caldera Cone over it.

A drop of alcohol hand sanitizer on the cube gets them started even faster.

When there's any kind of a breeze blowing, you have to have a windscreen of some sort in order to get them to go.

Hiking Malto
(gg-man) - F
Hard to Light on 08/20/2010 14:14:56 MDT Print View

I also used Esbit for the first time on my last trip, same type as Piper. They were much harder to light than I expected. While I didn't have as much trouble as Piper I questioned how easy these would be to light with matches in anything but ideal conditions.

Ben Crowell
(bcrowell) - F

Locale: Southern California
JMT on 08/20/2010 16:16:42 MDT Print View

Piper, how were your 6 days on the JMT? (BTW, do you want us to call you Piper, or Diane?) How did the equipment choices you asked for advice about turn out? Hope you had a great time.

Thomas Burns
(nerdboy52) - MLife

Locale: "Alas, poor Yogi.I knew him well."
Esbit on 08/20/2010 16:37:53 MDT Print View

Bottom line: They're hard to light.

I also hold the Bic Mini or match under the tab, which I hold in the other hand and transfer to the "stove" after it begins to burn.

The alcohol hand sanitizer idea is brilliant. I'll be trying it this weekend.


George Matthews
(gmatthews) - MLife
Re: Esbit - what am I doing wrong? on 08/20/2010 17:35:34 MDT Print View

I suspect the fuel.

I've used Firelite solid fuel with my BPL Titanium stove with no problems.

There are many youtubes you can watch like

You'll see like I've found in my experience that you should be able to light with a match.

Theron Rohr
(theronr) - F

Locale: Los Angeles, California
esbit on 08/20/2010 20:36:42 MDT Print View

Light a match and then rest it on top of the esbit cube such that it will burn for a couple of seconds before the flame reaches the fuel.

If there is not sufficient room for the match to get burning nicely it might snuff out before the fuel is lit. No need to hold the match in your hand while you are waiting for the fuel to catch. For this reason I think matches are the ideal firelighter for esbit. Works equally well for coughlans fuel. Obviously all this should occur inside the windscreen.

Piper S.
(sbhikes) - F

Locale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
Re: esbit on 08/21/2010 08:27:53 MDT Print View

Thanks everyone. I will try the sanitizer. I usually will lay the burning match on the cube but there was a breeze. I think the matches were duds, too. Many would not light. I prefer matches to lighters because they're less environmentally toxic. All those poor birds in the Pacific ocean eating lighters bothers me.

My equipment choices worked well. I really liked wearing Chaco sandals. My feet were never happier. I liked my mosquito tent and tarp combo. I could sleep under the stars or use the tarp for privacy (no rain). I liked the skirt, too. Just like shorts only better. If I was cold I could slip on long underwear bottoms and when warmed up take them off without undressing!

I was quite flabbergasted by the enormous packs on the JMT. Some people were really suffering under their loads. One guy had a pack that was so huge but he still added a huge garbage bag and a day pack crammed full on top of it. He admitted to never being able to get into the backcountry far enough.

I passed almost every person I saw because they were all laboring and struggling under their huge loads. Many people made excuses like "I just want to take it slow and take in all the sights." But they walked with their heads down and didn't look very happy. I know that I intimidated one macho man who didn't like a girl in a skirt and sandals blowing by on the way up to Dusy Basin. He wanted to convince me my attire and gear were inappropriate. He also said not to be surprised if I had to step aside later when he needed to pass him. Ha! That never happened!

Call me Piper or Diane. Don't matter.

Mike M
(mtwarden) - MLife

Locale: Montana
scrape on 08/27/2010 18:39:10 MDT Print View

take your knife and scrape a portion of the cube- enough that it leaves a small pile of "crumbs"- light the "crumbs" w/ either a lighter or a match

I've had very good luck w/ that method- not scraping the cube will definitely take more of an effort

Ankar Sheng
(Whiskyjack) - MLife

Locale: The Canadian Shield
Re: scrape on 08/28/2010 13:20:45 MDT Print View

I basically do the same thing, but drill with the tip of my knife. The powder lights pretty easily.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Lighting Esbit on 08/28/2010 15:24:41 MDT Print View

Putting the match on top won't do much-- gotta get under an edge. The alcohol gel works great and you can light it off with a firesteel or a spark wheel.

cary bertoncini
(cbert) - F

Locale: N. California
how i light esbit on 08/28/2010 15:43:59 MDT Print View

when i use them, i bring a minidropper of alcohol--one or two drops on top and i can get it going right away with a firesteel, match or lighter

Jason Elsworth
(jephoto) - M

Locale: New Zealand
Esbit - what am I doing wrong? on 08/28/2010 17:30:08 MDT Print View something like this works well apparently. I haven't used esbit stoves in 30 years after having to use them to cook meals requiring 30 minute simmers, without a wind shield using a tent with no vestibule on Dartmoor in February.

Ron Bell
(mountainlaureldesigns) - F - M

Locale: USA
Re: Esbit - what am I doing wrong? on 08/28/2010 18:18:09 MDT Print View

I had the same problem last year- I had bought a Big Stash of a couple of brands and did not use them for about 2-3 yrs. They were stored sealed as shipped and placed inside a tight ziplock the whole time in the basement.

Very hard to light...

I got rid of them all after that trip.

I always did notice a strong fuel odor from them and now assume much of the fuel evaporated out of the solid base and through the packaging over time.

My advice is to buy small qtys, date them, and plan on testing one from each batch before every trip.

David Noll
(dpnoll) - MLife

Locale: Maroon Bells
esbit on 08/28/2010 20:05:22 MDT Print View

My wife and I just got back from the Wind River Range and used esbit for all of our cooking. I use the REI light under water matches or their equivalent. At 10,000' bic lighters don't don't work for s---.

George Matthews
(gmatthews) - MLife
Re: Re: Esbit - what am I doing wrong? on 08/29/2010 12:08:35 MDT Print View

Have some aging tabs so I did a test. Have been stored in ziplock. The one I tested had the foil off, but was still in the plastic container.


I put on stove and held a match by corner. Was surprised that it lit with one match (the match burned half way through when it lit) - a matter of seconds.

Convinces me that the fuel tabs are the culprit. If you get a bad batch or they get too old then your chances of failure increase. But, like my test showed - sometimes they work well when you don't expect them to do so.

ti wing

Frank Deland

Locale: On the AT in VA
esbit on 08/31/2010 14:39:03 MDT Print View

I have used esbit a lot using the match-under-a-hanging-edge method. Good to know of the other "tricks' listed above. I have had problems with old matches not lighting, too.