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Vasoline Cottonballs vs. solid fuel (esbit or Weber Lighter cubes)
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Bryce F.
(bster13) - MLife

Locale: Norwalk, CT
Vasoline Cottonballs vs. solid fuel (esbit or Weber Lighter cubes) on 12/20/2011 10:33:57 MST Print View

I am preparing for a winter backpacking trip in VT in January. I'll be rocking a Vargo Ti Hexagon Wood Stove, .9L pot, and Spark-Lite firestarter.

A Weber Lighter cube weighs 6g and can be broken into pieces for multiples fire starts.

I'm curious as to how much does a vasoline coated (not soaked) cotton balls weigh? Or X number of coated cotton balls weigh Xg? (with or without a 6g Ziplock freezer bag).

The Weber cubes are less messy to handle, burn longer (depends on how many pieces you break a cube into. A full cube will boil 1.5 cups of water, and then have enough leftover to warm oatmeal the next morning w/ another 1.5 cups, so lots of burn time there), but still require a ziplock bag or storage container (you want to keep them from the air as much as possible and they are a little greasy).


chris markley
(motorapido) - F
cotton balls vs solid fuel on 12/20/2011 10:53:26 MST Print View

I've used the Weber tabs and like them quite a bit. I think they are far less expensive than Esbit. We'll have to hope somebody has done a BTU and length of burn between Weber and Esbit. With a sparker, I find the Weber tabs easer to light than the vasoline if I scratch a little bit of shavings off the tab for the sparks to catch. I find that the Weber tabs get crubly very easily, and heaven only knows what they're made out of. Not sure how unhealthful they might be. The cotton balls serve dual purpose since you can grease up your feet or any other sore spots before lighting the cotton balls. For non-scientific, just gut-feeling reasons, I use soaked cotton balls when backpacking and the Weber tabs when car camping. Let's hope people weigh in with some precise measurements to augment my gut-feeling opinion.

Bryce F.
(bster13) - MLife

Locale: Norwalk, CT
Weight and ease of lighting... on 12/20/2011 10:57:15 MST Print View

...are both considerations. I want the lightest solution, but also realize having something that is easy to light, and stays lit is a big deal when fuel may be a bit wet in the winter.

spelt with a t
(spelt) - F

Locale: SW/C PA
Re: Weight and ease of lighting... on 12/20/2011 11:20:26 MST Print View

Weight will depend on if you just smear a ball with vaseline prior to lighting, or actually saturate it. I filled a film can half full of liquid vaseline and slowly added cotton and more vaseline until the container was a solid hunk. This weighs more, but conversely I use less material per fire, which lets me take less overall. Theoretically, that is--I haven't been on a trip long enough yet to go through a whole film can. If you take vaseline as part of your med/hygeine kit, the lightest way would be just to include some cotton balls in a baggie and give one a smear before lighting.

Ultra Magnus
(Ultra_Magnus) - F
Re: Vasoline Cottonballs vs. solid fuel (esbit or Weber Lighter cubes) on 12/20/2011 11:34:06 MST Print View

Firestraws- extra points for having multiple uses, super light weight, cheap, light, simple to use...etc...etc...

The two in my pocket weight 3grams for the pair (3.25" long) and each straw holds about one pjcb (petroleum jelly cotton ball).


Tony Wong
(Valshar) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Vasoline Cottonballs vs. solid fuel (esbit or Weber Lighter cubes) on 12/20/2011 12:11:26 MST Print View

Given the relatively light weight of the Weber Cubes, I would recommend going with that over the cotton balls.

I carry cotton balls with vaseline as my emergency fire starter and I have never heard of the Weber cubes....going to have to get me some.

Anyway, the point being, when you are in the wet/snow, you might want to have the long burn time of the cube to guarantee you get your wood stove burning.

Otherwise, you might need to use multiple cottonballs to get your fire going and negate the possible weight advantage of the cotton ball.

12 Mins of burn time is a long time vs. maybe 2-3 minutes with a cotton ball.

One trick you can use to extend the burn time of your cotton ball is to have a small square of foil and wrap it around the cotton ball...making a fire bowl with a small opening at the top.

This will give you a much longer burn time on the cotton ball.

Hope this helps.


Bryce F.
(bster13) - MLife

Locale: Norwalk, CT
Alcohol Pads (pics & test) on 12/21/2011 15:00:08 MST Print View

Came across some pads in my Box-o-Gear today and decided to do a burn test in my kitchen.

The pad on top in the pic burned for 1:55, the pad on bottom burned for 2:45.


I also took the pad out of the foil wrapper and it burned for 45 seconds.

I might go with the pad with the bigger slits as it was a nice balance of burn time and flame intensity plus I don't have to do any prep time with these and they are sealed up.

They weigh ~1g (don't register on my digital scale that's lowest reading is 2g)

I just need to test them with my Spark-Lite Firestarter when it arrives in the mail to see if it will ignite (vs. the matches I was using today).

Edited by bster13 on 12/21/2011 15:03:33 MST.

todd h
(funnymoney) - MLife

Locale: SE
Re: Alcohol Pads (pics & test) on 12/21/2011 16:08:56 MST Print View

Cool Bryce!

As for the Sparklite, I'll stop just shy of guaranteeing it will ignite the pad, but it definitely should. It ignites alcohol readily.


a b
Vasoline and Cotton Ball VS Esbit Solid Fuel Tablet on 12/21/2011 16:24:33 MST Print View

I had today off from work and Y'all inspired me to do a test.
I have been wondering how a vaseline soaked cotton ball would compare to an Esbit tab for heating and/or boiling water.
Here is a picture essay of my testing:Vaseline VS Esbit.
.Vaseline VS Esbit.
.Esbit in tin foil cup inside Trangia windscreen.
.16 ounces of water at 50 degrees Farenheit.
.Esbit Tablet boiled 16 ounces of water at 8 minutes, flame out at 13 minutes.
.Vaseline soaked cotton ball, same volume of vaseline as fills anEsbit wrapper.
.Vaseline soaked Cotton Ball in foil and Trangia windscreen.
.Vaseline soaked cotton never boiled water. Reached 120 degrees in 7 minutes.
.Vaseline soaked cotton flamed out at 9 minutes.
The esbit tablet brought 16 ounces of 50 degree water to boil (400 feet elevation) in 8 minutes. The esbit tablet burned for 13 minutes total time.
the vaseline soaked cotton ball brought 16 ounces of 50 degree water to 120 degrees in 7 minutes. The cotton ball burned for 9 minutes total time.
The amount of vaseline i used was equal in volume to the esbit container. I don't have a scale accurate enough to measure weights that small so i used volume instead.
I heated the vaseline until it soaked the cotton ball.
This was obviously a pretty crude test.
Some observations: While the esbit tab left some residue on the pot, the vaseline soaked cotton ball produced a lot of soot in the air.
The crude nature of my Cotton ball "wick" probably contributed to much of the soot.
At least this demonstrated that a simple cotton ball and amount of vaseline equivalent to the volume of an esbit tablet cannot boil 16 ounces of water using the crude method I used.
The vaseline soaked cotton ball never managed to boil 16 ounces of 50 degree water at 400 feet elevation.
The best it could muster was 120 degrees.
I love playing with fire.
Now.. why don't i ever get my apartment rental deposits back?

Edited by Ice-axe on 12/21/2011 16:30:56 MST.

Bryce F.
(bster13) - MLife

Locale: Norwalk, CT
Re: Vasoline and Cotton Ball VS Esbit Solid Fuel Tablet on 12/21/2011 16:35:36 MST Print View

Hey Matt, I was more looking for firestarters for a wood stove, but it's good to know your two options would be more than enough and sometimes good enough to boil/cook :p

What kind of pot is that? Weight?

a b
Vaseline.. etc on 12/21/2011 17:01:46 MST Print View

Yea, i kinda drifted away from the original thread.
I am good for that.
The Pot in the picture is from a Trangia 28 alcohol stove kit.
It is aluminum and the lid is non-stick coated on one side.
REI lists the exact weight at 3.3 ounces for the pot and 2.43 ounces for the fry pan/lid.
It is heavy as a bastid' compared to other options.
That windscreen/pot stand is also part of the trangia 28 kit.
The whole kit including: burner, pot lifter, pot, lid, and windscreen/pot support is just about 12 ounces.
As for firestarters; Birchbark, if you can get it, makes a superb firestarter even when damp.
I soaked a piece of birchbark under the faucet.
Then i lit it in under one second with a standard mini Bic lighter.
.Wetting Birch Bark.
.Wet BirchBark on fire

Edited by Ice-axe on 12/21/2011 17:12:11 MST.

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
burn time on 12/21/2011 18:25:59 MST Print View

you can get a PJ cotton ball to burn for quite a while if you liquify the vaseline in the microwave first and dip the ball inside

make sure you dont dip the entire things, leave a bit of fluff to catch the spark

a b
Microwave fire starter on 12/21/2011 18:51:16 MST Print View

Why Eric!
You own a microwave?!
A microwave powered by nasty nuclear energy 20% of the time in this country.
A microwave made by a brand name manufacturer?
OMG... I sure hope thats not a Patagonia or Arcteryx Microwave.
Hey maybe thats how the bird got dead in the first place... it wandered into the microwave.
Just funning ya Bro!
Merry Christmas.

Bryce F.
(bster13) - MLife

Locale: Norwalk, CT
how long on 12/21/2011 19:12:53 MST Print View

How long does that cottonball weigh and how long does it burn? If the alcohol pad burns near 2min and is no mess and weighs less than a saturated (I'd think?), is there a benefit?

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
long n strong on 12/21/2011 19:31:53 MST Print View

5-10 min depending on the saturation ...

go here to watch why i use em ... guy demonstrates lighting with firesteel in the pouring rain ...

Tony Wong
(Valshar) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: how long on 12/22/2011 11:52:09 MST Print View


Great thread and I did not even think of using an alcohol pad as a fire starter.

Plus, I am very intrigued with the Weber Lighter Cubes as an alternative to Esbit.

Slightly off topic, but can you give your thoughts on the Weber Cubes?

Do you like them and see them as an alternative to Esbit.

I currently carry cotton balls with PJ with a foil fire bowl as my "OH CRAP" sure fire method of getting a fire going and cook with esbit.

Any info would be greatly appreciated.


Bryce F.
(bster13) - MLife

Locale: Norwalk, CT
Re: Re: how long on 12/22/2011 12:07:07 MST Print View

Hey Tony, here is the thread on my 3-season stove:

Ignore the boil times for the Weber cubes, in the field w/ wind it takes a bit longer.

I am comfortable getting a full boil out of 1.5 cups of water in my Heiny pot at night for dinner, then in the morning using the remainder of the cube for a very warm breakfast (granola or oatmeal). So possibly they would boil two cups out in the field, but untested. They work very well for me, very cheap compared to alternative solid fuel, and keep well for my weekend warrior trips. I always keep them sealed while in the field. A week of exposing one to air reduced it to stryofoam and would not light...they key is to keep them sealed up once you break the foil in the package. GlL!

Tony Wong
(Valshar) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Re: Re: how long on 12/22/2011 12:53:47 MST Print View


Thank you for indulging me and sharing the info....great write up with photos.

Extremely helpful to know that they need to stay sealed.

I don't mind esbit, but the smell makes me gag.

The Weber Cubes might solve that problem and it appears that they are cheaper too with similar capability.

I use the Caldera Cone and Gram Cracker Stove.

I found that my friend, Jeremy, was getting 2-3 boils per esbit with the Gram Cracker while I had to use 1.5 esbits for 2 boils.

Will be interesting to see the size of the Weber Cubes and how they might work in the Gram Cracker Stove.

Will run a test and post the finds here.

Again thanks and sorry for high jacking your thread.

P.S. For myself, I have only using my fingers to rub PJ on the cotton balls. Have not dunked/soaked them in heated PJ. Sounds like you would get a longer burn time by soaking them, but maybe at the expense of added weight.


Joel Hanger
(jhanger) - F
Improved Cotton ball - 12-15m burn time on 07/16/2012 11:22:11 MDT Print View

I came up with a better solution than what i've ever seen.
The concept is simple, combine longer burn times with hotter burning temperatures.
I haven't done a FULL analysis of the solution, however before I am done completing it,
I think it's worth mentioning, that with 1 cotton ball and my solution I can burn for up to 15 minutes.

The solution is a 3 part mixture of wax,petroleum jelly, and alcohol (isopropyl or straight alcohol (160+proof)...

Right now i've tested with equal ratios 1:1:1 of the 3 fuel sources.

The creation is easy:
1- Melt wax + Petroleum Jelly
2- Add alcohol (or other liquid fuel here)
3- Dip cotton balls and saturate
4- Place on chilled (option) drying pan lined with wax or parchment paper

That's it... the wax and PJ seal the alcohol in the mixture....

I have still yet to do full analysis:
- water boil times
- weight (I suspect <= 1oz)
- etc...

I also am going to be messing with the ratios, some of thoughts are to increase the wax content for longer burn times....

Comparing this to the esbit or the weber fuel tabs it seems to blow them away.

I will be posting some pictures and a full video soon of the whole process....

They're small enough that you can use a tuna can - cut a couple air vents, and you have a stove...
bring along X number of tuna cans for food on your trip and you also then have additional fuel stoves in a simple manner :-D

You can be as creative as you wish with the can stove design....

Another note is that there seems to be at least 2 stages of burn, if not 3, with this:
- stage 1: first 5 minutes - strong boiling point flame
- stage 2: second 5 minutes - solid flame - not as large
- stage 3: last 2-5 minutes - simmer point flame

Cost breakdown (I used walgreens to get the products - not cheapest by far)

All in all I spent $15
In all I can produce 250 cotton balls for $15 using this technique...
That equates to roughly 62.5 hours of burn time for $15 ...

Compared to esbit:
- cheapest I could find on google + shipping = $7.31 for 12 tabs = 144 minutes = 2.4 hours x 2 packs = 4.8 hours = $14.62 .... that's 7% as cost effective as my method

Compared to weber fuel (24 pack):
- cheapest I found on google was $3.29 + free shipping = 24 tabs x 7 minutes = 168 minutes x 4.5 packs = 12.6 hours of burn time = 20% as cost effective..

These numbers will change as I find more efficient ratios ....
You would have to buy 4x the amount of weber fuel to get equal burn time as the improved cotton fuel balls
You would have to buy 13x the amount of esbit fuel to get equal burn time....

Breakdown of 62.5 Hours of burn time:
- cotton balls: $15
- Weber: $72.48
- Esbit: $190.36

Anyway, I hope this helps some of y'all out...
btw, i used simple tea candles for melting the wax - easy to measure and do ratios in proper proportion...

Will keep posted about videos, pics, etc, but there's enough here to test your own :-D

Chad Webster
(blaktee) - F

Locale: Targhee National Forest
Re: Improved Cotton ball - 12-15m burn time on 07/17/2012 21:22:51 MDT Print View

Hey Joel this worked super good. Great idea. I burned 3 and all of them went over 15 min. One went for 20 min.

The first batch I did I had a bit of trouble getting them started with my flint. so the second batch I did, I pulled a little bit of the cotton ball out and dipped the rest in the mix. This left like a wick if you will. One spark and the ball was lit. worked like a charm.

really good idea!!!