Subscribe Contribute Advertise Facebook Twitter Instagram Forums Newsletter
Your firestarter of choice?
Display Avatars Sort By:
Cesar Valdez
(PrimeZombie) - F

Locale: Scandinavia
Your firestarter of choice? on 03/23/2012 10:48:52 MDT Print View

I recently posted on my blog ( my last chapter breaking down my 3 season gear list, this time the focus on the little things and kits. One thing I elaborated on a bit was my firestarters, which I call wax rolls, and I make myself. They are my favorite method to start fires, and I often have campfires while I am out. Only weigh about 5g each and one of the most effective and practical firestarters I have used.

What firestarters do you bring with you/use? Or do you not take any? Either way, why or why not?

Bailey Gin
(pugslie) - F

Locale: SLO County
Re: Your firestarter of choice? on 03/23/2012 11:39:47 MDT Print View

Plain cotton balls for a basic firestarter. If needs require more burn time, I add either petroleum jelly, alcohol (denatured, HEET, or even rubbing), white gas, or even cooking oils.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Your firestarter of choice? on 03/23/2012 11:50:51 MDT Print View

My favorite quick and dirty is a chunk of Esbit with a dab of alcohol gel head cleaner. One spark and it's going.

My CYA combo is a spy capsule jammed full of Tinder Quick tabs and a firesteel.

I always carry a mini Bic, a firesteel with the spy capsule, and REI/UCO storm matches in a K&D match safe.

Jonathan Rozes

Locale: Pacific Wonderland
Re: Your firestarter of choice? on 03/23/2012 11:50:57 MDT Print View

I usually just carry a small lighter and some cottonballs impregnated with petroleum jelly. Cheap, lightweight and functional. In addition to that, my emergency kit has a Spark-Lite and some Tinder Quick.

When weight isn't as much of a concern, I love using my GobSpark ferro rod. It throws a torrent of long-burning sparks and is easy to use with frozen hands.

Kendall Clement
(socalpacker) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
RE: "Your firestarter of choice?" on 03/23/2012 12:00:49 MDT Print View

Disposable lighter and cotton balls soaked in petroleum jelly.

Tony Wong
(Valshar) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Your firestarter of choice? on 03/23/2012 12:11:56 MDT Print View

Like everyone else here, cottonball with petroleum jelly, mini bic, and fire steel.

However, one thing that I find that can dramatically increase the burn time of my cottonball is to have a small square of aluminum foil, which I use to create a small fire bowl with a small opening at the top that I shape around the cottonball.

Few years back I tested this in my garage and I recalled getting something like either 4 or 6 minutes of burn time with a good 2" flame.

Very light weight and adds alot to the performance to help you in those "oh crap!" moments when you need a fire to save your butt from the cold.


David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
Re: Your firestarter of choice? on 03/23/2012 12:16:53 MDT Print View

A folded sheet of wax paper. Then I use a little or a lot, loosy or tightly wrapped depending on the situation.

Or little squares (3 cm x 3 cm) squares of corrugated cardboard, dipped in wax. Leave a little corner undipped, and it will light a little quicker.

If you have kids around the house, repurpose the discarded crayon drawings - homemade waxpaper!

Or if you have trail instructions, permits, section maps, etc, that you won't need for the whole trip - multipurpose them by dipping them in wax or using crayons on the backside. It will be more waterproof AND make a good firestarter.

Cesar Valdez
(PrimeZombie) - F

Locale: Scandinavia
re: cotton ball and p.jelly on 03/23/2012 12:22:35 MDT Print View

Yeah, I used to use cotton ball soaked in p.jelly, but too gooey and messy. I should test how long my wax rolls burn for. I am pretty sure they are the cheapest firestarter. Esbit is perhaps the most effective, but at much higher price. I guess it depends how many campfires you make a year.

Oh, and I should have added that I always take both a pack of matches and a mini Bic. I used to take my LMF spark stick all the time, but got lazy and like matches best for being quick and easy, though spark sticks are the most reliable for starting a fire.

Tampons work well, though they burn up too fast, so you have to use a few of them. I guess if you are female, it makes them multi-use. I have heard that you can use them for first aid too, but seems like gauze would be more effective.

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
Re: re: cotton ball and p.jelly on 03/23/2012 13:03:59 MDT Print View

Have you tried writing in crayon on the shafts of a book of paper matches? They put out a little more heat that way and because they last longer, they don't singe your fingers quite so soon.

For first aid, tampons can be used in either nostril for nosebleeds or if there is bleeding from either of two, lower orifices. The pull strings are handy for gently removing them later, but make for some odd looks from passerbys.

They don't work as well as firestarters afterwards.

Daniel Cox
(COHiker) - F

Locale: San Isabel NF
Long-burn on 03/23/2012 13:55:54 MDT Print View

A small-ish square of dryer lint impregnated with a melted tea light. (melted in the oven and poured on the lint)

This produces a long burn, but not a big flame. petroleum jelly I think has a higher BTU value, and makes a bigger (hotter?) flame, but is messy.

Willie Evenstop
(redmonk) - F

Locale: Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem
Your firestarter of choice? on 03/23/2012 14:05:50 MDT Print View

I carry dry cotton and smear a little chapstick on it when i need to start a fire.

. .
(RogerDodger) - F

Locale: (...)
... on 03/23/2012 15:05:20 MDT Print View


Edited by RogerDodger on 06/18/2015 23:11:10 MDT.

Robert Kelly
(QiWiz) - MLife

Locale: UL gear @
Fine points of vaseline and cotton balls on 03/23/2012 15:13:00 MDT Print View

Unroll a cotton ball and cut in half. Put a pea-sized bit of petroleum jelly on one end of each half and roll back up into a half-sized cotton ball with PJ inside. Two fire starters from each cotton ball, not messy (since the vaseline is contained inside), and quite light. If your twigs are thicker than they should be, or damper than they should be, (and you are too lazy to find better twigs) just use two.

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

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Fine points of vaseline and cotton balls on 03/23/2012 15:16:36 MDT Print View

I do the same as Robert, but I use candle wax inside the cotton.


Eric G
(burtonridr) - F
Re: on 03/23/2012 16:36:57 MDT Print View

I usually just pack a water proof container full of dryer lint. Then I pull out a wad about the size of a cotton ball, fluff it, and pile on small twigs, grass, pine needles, sage brush, or whatever I have available.

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
pj on 03/23/2012 22:08:05 MDT Print View

nuked pj cotton ballz ... put the pj in the microwave till it liquifies, and then dip 2/3s the ball in there ... itll burn for 5+ min

Cesar Valdez
(PrimeZombie) - F

Locale: Scandinavia
burn times on 03/24/2012 07:21:47 MDT Print View

I went out into my backyard to test out one of my wax rolls, and it burned for 4:40, not bad for 5g. I am skeptical that cotton ball plus p. jelly burns for over 5 minutes. Anyone actually time it? And what is the weight of your average cotton ball w/p. jelly?

Nick Larsen
(stingray4540) - F

Locale: South Bay
Re: Your firestarter of choice? on 03/24/2012 10:56:53 MDT Print View

I'm assuming this is for starting wood fires? Do none of you have resinous trees where you hike?

Maybe I'm spoiled in California, but all I take is a mini bic. Pine needles and cones make great "fire starters", and if all else fails, a chunck of sap will get any fire going.

Gary Dunckel
(Zia-Grill-Guy) - MLife

Locale: Boulder
Your firestarter of choice? on 03/24/2012 11:41:15 MDT Print View

The Diamond match company makes a fire starter called Strike-a-Fire. I break off 1" pieces from the long stick and wrap the pieces together in Glad Cling Wrap. Each piece weighs 5 grams. They light easily with a Bic, and they burn dependably for 5 minutes with a fairly robust flame.

Christopher Heine

Locale: Colorado
Re on 03/24/2012 12:12:20 MDT Print View

I like the tinder quick tabs a lot.

Stephen Barber
(grampa) - MLife

Locale: SoCal
Pine needles, with a fire straw for back-up on 03/24/2012 12:18:46 MDT Print View

Here in the southern Sierras and transverse ranges, in areas where fires are allowed, there are almost always dried pine or fir needles available to start a fire, even if there's been a bit of rain. I carry a couple of firestraws (cotton with petroleum jelly sealed in a piece of plastic straw) for back-up or emergency use. The sealed straw keeps the cotton dry even if submerged. I open it with a knife, or even teeth! Pull out a bit of cotton, fluff it, and it will light with a mini-Bic or spark. Burn time depends on how much petroleum jelly you've put in the straw.

Kat ....
(Kat_P) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Coast
pitch on 03/24/2012 12:29:26 MDT Print View

A small piece of pitch ( resin) works great to start a fire. The drawback is how sticky it is and it can be hard to get off your hands or your knife. Trees affected with pitch canker have a large supply of it. Should you accidentally lean against one of these pines and get it on your hair (!!!), the best way to get it off, which works well on your hands too, is with mayonnaise.

Cesar Valdez
(PrimeZombie) - F

Locale: Scandinavia
Re: Re: Your firestarter of choice? on 03/24/2012 12:30:01 MDT Print View

"I'm assuming this is for starting wood fires? Do none of you have resinous trees where you hike?"

Yes this is for starting wood fires, sorry, should have noted in the OP. Yes, I have plenty of resinous trees where I hike. But, I also have lots of rain, dew, mist, and water in general where I hike too. When it is dry out, and I have the time/energy, I won't use any brought firestarter, and just stick to birch bark and/or dried pine needles and such. On other occasions of either damp conditions or lack of time/energy, then having a firestarter is a nice alternative. I would say it's about a 50/50 ratio of using my wax rolls vs. just natural stuff.

I am into bushcraft too, so just to challenge myself, I have actually started a fire under difficult conditions. Once without any matches or lighter using a bow drill, which was fairly difficult, and took like 2 hours from start to finish--gathering and prepping all the materials, making the components, trial and error, etc. Last year in early April, after it has been raining for several days, including on the morning I set out, I started a fire using only my knife and a fire striker. Took over an hour, but I got the dang thing going. Feather sticks are big help.

Oh, and I looked on youtube for cotton ball with p. jelly burn times, and got mixed results. Mostly around 2 or 3 minutes, but I was surprised to find one that lasted for a little over 6 minutes. This has to mean that some people soak the cotton balls with more fuel. Makes me wonder how much fuel a cotton ball can absorb.

For cost, over all efficiency, and less mess I will stick to wax rolls.

Link .
(annapurna) - MLife
Re: Re: Re: Your firestarter of choice? on 03/24/2012 13:50:00 MDT Print View

Stephen Barber
(grampa) - MLife

Locale: SoCal
Mayo and mustard on 03/24/2012 14:01:05 MDT Print View

@ Kat: "Should you accidentally lean against one of these pines and get it on your hair (!!!), the best way to get it off, which works well on your hands too, is with mayonnaise."

I like a little mustard in my mayo - it gives me blonde highlights! ;)

Actually, anyliquid or semi-liquid with a good bit of oil in it will get the pitch out. You can use Noxzema (seriously!), olive oil, gasoline (yikes!), etc. Something like gas or kerosene works very well, but introduces other problems, like flammability and stink. Noxzema actually works well, and leaves your skin soft and smooth!

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
Would you like fries with that? on 03/24/2012 16:09:49 MDT Print View

>"lean against one of these pines and get it on your hair"

It was always amazing as a teen working on a beater car, how dirty, greasy hands would be magically cleansed by eating a pack of McDonald's fries.

You didn't want to think about where all that dirt, motor oil, tranny fluid, etc, ended up, but it wasn't on my hands anymore.

How would a dessicated McD's fry work as a fire starter? Fuel on a stick, sort of.

Kat ....
(Kat_P) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Coast
Re: Mayo and mustard on 03/24/2012 17:49:26 MDT Print View

Mayo works better than olive oil for me, probably because the lemon/vinagre makes it slightly acidic. Since I am all about Olive oil : ) that was what I tried first. Mayo finished the job. Same with my hands. I will have to try the Noxzema!

Daniel Benthal

Locale: Mid-Coast Maine
Firestarter on 03/24/2012 19:49:32 MDT Print View

My favorite firestarter is Jute Twine. I carry a short 2' section with my fire steel. Cut off a 2-3" section and separate the twine into a loose ball of fibers. It starts easily with spark or flame and really takes off.


Edited by DBthal on 03/24/2012 19:51:29 MDT.

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: Your firestarter of choice? on 03/24/2012 20:07:24 MDT Print View


Edited by justin_baker on 10/06/2012 11:06:09 MDT.

jason quick

Locale: A tent in my backyard - Melbourne
PJ Lollies on 10/06/2012 03:22:16 MDT Print View

...refreshing an old thread...

I soak half a cotton ball in melted PJ. All of this is done inside a snaplock bag that is dunked in & wafted over hot water... so no mess. After pulling them out with a pair of long tweezers, I place them on a pre-cut square of wax paper, and wrap it up like a lollie.

Your hands stay clean when handling them prior to lighting!...and no need for a canister/container to store them.

The great thing about this is, they light really easily due to the lollie-like edging of wax paper. They are also packaged tightly so they tend to burn for a good 4-5 minutes. You can also 'unwrap' it like a lollie and open out the cotton ball (exposing the PJ) if you need to spark it, or for getting a bigger flame.

5g each.

PJ Lollies

todd h
(funnymoney) - MLife

Locale: SE
Re: PJ Lollies on 10/06/2012 04:42:21 MDT Print View

Very nice Jason!

John Donewar
(Newton) - MLife

Locale: Southeastern Louisiana
Re: PJ Lollies on 10/06/2012 05:23:03 MDT Print View


I like your idea and love the fact that you can keep your hands clean and PJ free while using them.

I do have one question...

Wrapped Sweets do carry your fire starters separate from your walking food and snacks, right?


Great idea and technique!

Party On,


jason quick

Locale: A tent in my backyard - Melbourne
PJ lollies on 10/06/2012 05:40:36 MDT Print View

" do carry your fire starters separate from your walking food and snacks, right?"


The thought crossed my mind to mark them, but yes, they're in my ditty bag, in a ziplock with other fire-start equipment (wp matches and minibic)....

jerry adams
(retiredjerry) - MLife

Locale: Oregon and Washington
Re: Your firestarter of choice? on 10/06/2012 08:58:41 MDT Print View

Take one egg's worth of egg carton - 0.1 ounce. wrap aluminum foil on the outside

For summer dry wood put in 0.25 ounce of parafin, 0.5 ounce for winter wet wood.

Put on tray in lowest temp possible oven or out in the sun. Let parafin melt so egg carton totally absorbs and some is pooled inside egg carton at bottom - the parafin doesn't have to melt completely, just enough to stick together so it doesn't fall out. Remove aluminum foil when it solidifies a little.

Then, when you use it, tear off a corner to expose fibers so it lights easier. Light it. Set it down in the middle. When it starts burning a little put small stuff on making sure not to put out the flame...

Parafin has about as high BTUs/ounce as any material. You need about that much parafin to provide enough BTUs to get wet wood burning. In summer you don't hardly need anything to get dry wood going, but wet wood is trickier.

John Donewar
(Newton) - MLife

Locale: Southeastern Louisiana
Re: Your firestarter of choice? on 10/06/2012 10:40:28 MDT Print View

Here is some dual use food for thought!

I know it was a terrible pun but you can either eat Fritos on the trail or use them to help get your campfires started.

This second video is just kind of funny and informative in its own right.

These two seem to have "appropriated" someone's lighter and the speaker seems to make sure that the "bored" participant "shares" equally in the "demonstration". ;-)

Here's a hint on how to carry them so that they don't take up too much space. Use a clean sterilized sewing needle or straight pin to pierce the bag. Make only one hole so that air can escape the bag. Use a rolling pin to crush all of the chips until the bag is flat. Go slow enough to allow the air to escape the bag. Use the tape of your choice to seal the hole that you made in the bag with the needle.

Now your bag of Fritos is flatter than a pancake and will take up hardly any space.

FWIW I understand Doritos and Cheetos work in this manner also.

Party On,


Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: Your firestarter of choice? on 10/06/2012 11:04:04 MDT Print View

I use a firesteel and PJ cotton balls. Well, I usually use a bic but the firesteel is there if I need it.

A lighter or matches require much less prep to get a fire going. You can use a bundle of teeny tiny twigs or light up some curls/feathersticks really easily. It's also really hard to get pine resin lit with a firesteel.

With a firesteel, you need to make wood scrapings or very, very thin curls and fluffy tinders require some fluffing up. But the firesteel is always there for backup (usually around my neck) and to practice with.

Kenneth Jacobs
(f8less) - F

Locale: Midwest
Coghlan's Emergency Tinder on 10/06/2012 13:48:28 MDT Print View

I use good 'ole Coghlan's Emergency Tinder. Smoosh'em flat and tear them apart. They fuzz at the tear. Stand the piece up with the fuzz on top, one strike from a fire steel and done.

I'm liking the idea of Jute twine though! Dunk pieces in some paraffin and they'll probably work as good as birch bark (strips). Another great fire starter if people done know about it. If you find a downed birch tree, steal the bark off of it and make some strips.

Occasionally I'll use some home made char-cloth .


Eric Blumensaadt
(Danepacker) - MLife

Locale: Mojave Desert
My kit on 10/06/2012 21:04:08 MDT Print View

FireSteel and Vaseline coated cotton balls (INSTANT flame!)

Firesteel and 1/2 ESBIT tab surrounded by Vaseline coated cotton ball

John Donewar
(Newton) - MLife

Locale: Southeastern Louisiana
Re: Firestarter on 10/07/2012 06:15:26 MDT Print View

Last year, the night before the last leg of our section hike, we slept here...

Old Orchard Shelter

...and found one of these sitting in the corner of the shelter in its original unopened packaging!

Duraflame "Log"

The nearest road access is about one and three quarters of a mile away. It was probably left there by some "locally experienced" overnight camper. If memory serves me correctly, the front of that shelter faces North. ;-?

Look closely on the bottom right of the packaging and you'll notice that these things weigh 6 pounds! Definitely not part of an UL campfire starter "kit". ;-)

Party On,


jerry adams
(retiredjerry) - MLife

Locale: Oregon and Washington
Re: Re: Firestarter on 10/07/2012 07:58:37 MDT Print View

I saw one of those Duraflames on top of East Zigzag Mt near Mt Hood. Someone hauled it up there but couldn't get it lit. Over a couple years it gradually disintegrated into sawdust.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Sounds complicated on 10/08/2012 03:40:01 MDT Print View

All these sound terribly complicated to me. How about small chips of Esbit or, for greater elegance, a small birthday candle? Dual use with the latter of course, and available at the supermarket.


John Donewar
(Newton) - MLife

Locale: Southeastern Louisiana
Re: birthday candle? on 10/08/2012 06:18:11 MDT Print View

You could use the trick candles that keep re-igniting until they have burned themselves completely out.

Just have that cup of water ready. ;-)

Party On,


Stephen M
(stephenm) - MLife

Locale: Mind your own business
Re: Re: birthday candle? on 10/08/2012 07:31:42 MDT Print View

The lint from a tumble dryer goes up fairly sharpest, I learned that one from a work buddy who's house went up in smoke due a build up of it in the back of his dryer.

Anytime I use the dryer (just use it for towels and bedding) I put the lint to one side..

John Donewar
(Newton) - MLife

Locale: Southeastern Louisiana
Re: Lint from a tumble dryer on 10/08/2012 07:38:31 MDT Print View



I've got 2 ZipLocs full of dryer lint in my laundry room as a write this post.

Party On,


jerry adams
(retiredjerry) - MLife

Locale: Oregon and Washington
Re: Birthday candle on 10/08/2012 09:39:29 MDT Print View

I like the simplicity of a birthday candle, but there's not a big enough wick, so not enough flame

And if you're trying to get wet wood to burn, it helps to have a little more wax so it burns long enough to get the wood burning

Thus, an egg carton with maybe 0.25 or 0.5 ounces of wax

Stephen M
(stephenm) - MLife

Locale: Mind your own business
Re: Re: Lint from a tumble dryer on 10/08/2012 09:58:55 MDT Print View

It sure does the trick

Roy Staggs
(onepaddlejunkie) - F

Locale: SEC
WetFire on 10/08/2012 17:47:56 MDT Print View

Ultimate Survival WetFire™ Tinder. Weight per cube = 0.2 oz. No mess, no fuss, no problem. Pick them up in the store and put them in your pack. I used to make all kinds of fire starters and it was fun – but – this is too easy and it works better than anything I ever made. I always have a fire steel, matches and a lighter.

Nico .
(NickB) - MLife

Locale: Los Padres National Forest
Firestarter of choice on 10/11/2012 10:30:36 MDT Print View

In the past I've used both the PJ soaked cotton balls and dryer lint but honestly I've found that I didn't really need either of these methods for most of my hikes and would often forget to bring it along or refill it.

9.5 times out of 10, I can just gather dry leaves, twigs, pine needles, etc and get them going with a match or two. If it has been raining or snowing, I spend a little more time scouting dry fuel from under fallen logs, rock overhangs, etc. Not a big deal imo.

If I really can't get a fire going with just natural materials, I'll use whatever is handy: a few drops of hand sanitizer works great. As does a few drops of denatured alcohol or some esbit flakes. Burn some of your (non-plastic) trash. Or a gauze pad out of the first aid kit or...

If I'm expecting wet conditions, I usually have some denatured alcohol or esbit along for a stove, so I can just skimp some of this for use as a firestarter. If conditions are dry, there's no shortage of fuel where I hike so no extra firestarters are needed.