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Vaseline-soaked Cotton Balls
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jerry adams
(retiredjerry) - MLife

Locale: Oregon and Washington
Re: Cotton Balls on 02/12/2014 13:00:46 MST Print View

This might seem like lame article, yet stimulates more comments : )

Cotton ball doesn't have enough vaseline to get wet wood burning. Okay for drier wood or if you're good at fire building

Better to take one egg's worth of egg carton, fill with 0.25 ounce parafin, line outside with foil to contain melted parafin, put in oven at lowest temperature until it melts and soaks into egg carton, forms a little pool at bottom, let cool, take off aluminum foil. When you use it, tear off a little of the edge to expose fibers to make it easier to light.

jerry adams
(retiredjerry) - MLife

Locale: Oregon and Washington
Re: Re: Cotton Balls on 02/12/2014 13:04:41 MST Print View

Minutes of burn time isn't as important as number of BTUs (or Joules) of energy. That's what it takes to dry off wet wood and get it burning.

And, like stoves, it's BTUs/ounce that's important. Esbit or wood/cotton/paper or alcohol are half as efficient as vaseline/parafin/white gas/kerosene/...

Bob Bankhead
(wandering_bob) - MLife

Locale: Oregon, USA
Esbit on 02/12/2014 13:10:21 MST Print View

Esbit tablets require a continual flame to be applied for several seconds in order to light them. That means a match (can be hard to do in bad weather and/or high wind) or a BIC-type lighter.

I can not imagine someone being able to ignite one with just a spark. If you are depending on spark ignition in a survival situation, go with the cotton ball system.

Esbits will burn for 13 - 15 minutes each, but the heat output decreases as the tablet is consumed.

Tony Wong
(Valshar) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Good to Cover the Basics...not everyone is experienced backpacker on 02/12/2014 13:10:48 MST Print View

Yes, this is "old" information, but I think that BPL should update older articles that covers the basics like this and to frequently recycle them for the benefit of new BPL members or novice backpackers.

From a business standpoint, it is a good idea to cater to novice backpackers and to traditional backpackers who are looking to transition to lightweight/UL Backpacking.

Having articles that mostly caters to very experienced backpackers might be a bad business model.

Not saying that BPL should ignore the core body of experienced members.

As A Lifetime Member, BPL really cannot make money from me anymore.

New members should be a focus.

Plus, there is a lot of older articles full of wisdom that could benefit from a dusting off and updating to be current with the times.

Off the top of my head, I think that articles should be 40% on the basics, 20% on intermediate skills, 30% on gear, and 10% on advanced skills.

30% on gear because let's face it....only so much new gear hits the market per year. This can easily translate to a 2-3 reviews on gear per month, if you figure 8 articles per month....2 per week.

10% on advanced skills because maybe we are talking SUL type skills?

Plus, recycling older articles does not have to mean less new stuff....we are seeing about two articles per week that are new. Why not simply add more articles each week by whipping out older articles covering the basics that will be immediately valuable to the novice and give them an incentive to join BPL?

Anyway, off topic, but I am glad to see an article like this.

My two cents to vaseline cotton balls: I carry a small square of aluminum foil which I use to create a bowl for the cotton ball to sit in. By narrowing the top of the bowl, I can restrict air flow and slow down the burn to give me a 5-6 minute burn with a 2 inch high flame or more. A very light weight way to increase burn time.


John Vance
(Servingko) - F

Locale: Intermountain West
Fire Starting on 02/12/2014 13:22:52 MST Print View

How many out there typically don't have fires on their trips? I can't remember the last time I had a fire on a backpacking trip...maybe in the mid 1970's.

I carry three forms of firestarting material as an emergency precaution but don't use it. I should take a look at my materials and make sure they are still good.

Dena Kelley

Locale: Eagle River, Alaska
"Vaseline-soaked Cotton Balls" on 02/12/2014 13:26:15 MST Print View

I use vaseline soaked cotton balls. And they can be multiple use- I dip into them for a little bit of the vaseline if I have chapped lips and forgot my lip balm.

They burn a long time, as well, almost like a mini-candle. And unlike a candle, sparks will light them up, so if you have a ferro rod but not a lighter you can still start the fire with ease.

Edited by EagleRiverDee on 02/12/2014 13:27:06 MST.

Daniel Goldenberg
(DanG) - M
These are the absolute bomb. on 02/12/2014 13:58:08 MST Print View

They are cheap and work great. Think they are basically paraffin and sawdust or something. I've seen them at safeway and they are super cheap.

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - M

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: Fire Starting on 02/12/2014 14:02:33 MST Print View

I mostly make fires in winter and don't bother with it in the summer. In the winter it is about utility. It keeps me warm, lets me dry out my clothes, and provides a free source of fuel for cooking.

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: Fire Starting on 02/12/2014 14:42:37 MST Print View

"How many out there typically don't have fires on their trips? I can't remember the last time I had a fire on a backpacking trip...maybe in the mid 1970's."

I'm one of those people too.

The goal is to never get into a survival situation where you must rely on fire for survival. But, never say never!

For some people, in some climates, a fire becomes important, and probably more for morale than necessity. Then there are places where a fire can be pretty important for drying damp clothing and sleeping bags too -- the kind of winter trips Chenault does.

Barry Cuthbert
(nzbazza) - MLife

Locale: New Zealand
Rubber burns really well on 02/12/2014 14:53:10 MST Print View

10cm (4") lengths of bike inner tube work really well. Waterproof, non-sticky, light easily, burn hot, hard to blow out, cheap (free) no preparation required. Perfect for getting fire started when its cold, wet and raining.

Edited by nzbazza on 02/12/2014 14:54:24 MST.

Dave Prefontaine

Locale: Cascadia
Used them for years, Until... on 02/12/2014 15:10:53 MST Print View

When I first used the cotton ball technique I was surprised how well they took a spark. Great fire system that seems to work every time on the wet coastal hikes I Love. Now my preferred technique is the Babybel candle, you just can't beat the cheese!

. .
(RogerDodger) - F

Locale: (...)
... on 02/12/2014 15:20:21 MST Print View


Edited by RogerDodger on 07/01/2015 14:33:44 MDT.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Re: Fire Starting on 02/12/2014 15:25:44 MST Print View

Nick wrote, "The goal is to never get into a survival situation where you must rely on fire for survival. But, never say never!"

Yup! So I carry redundant fire starting methods, and hope I never need them.

I had a stove conk out on me once, but the real rationale is getting in trouble and needing the heat and the signal potential. It's not heavy stuff.

Survival essentials are antithetical to the UL Commandment that says, "Take nothing that won't be used, " but I draw the line there. You can still apply UL principles and keep those items light, high performance and multipurpose.

Another way to carry PJCB's: stuff them in straws and heat seal the ends shut. Cut it open and spread the cotton out for use and leave the plastic in there to add to the flame.

Michael Gonzales
(dynomo01) - MLife

Locale: Southeast
Thanks on 02/12/2014 16:39:49 MST Print View

I have used Vaseline-soaked cotton balls for years and I appreciate you writing and sharing your experience with the BPL community. Too many times we forget that there are novice, intermediate, and experienced backpackers who benefit immensely from an article like yours.

I utilize a double boiler consisting of a dollar store hot/cold container (usually four containers to a pack - cost $1.00)placed inside a small cook pot to melt the Vaseline. When I am finished there is no pot to clean up.

My years of experience of using Vaseline-soaked cotton balls has proven them to be 100% reliable in all weather conditions.

Again Thanks.

Doug I.
(idester) - MLife

Locale: PNW
Re: Vaseline-soaked Cotton Balls on 02/12/2014 16:47:12 MST Print View

"I'd say it's a lesson well worth teaching to those who may not know it and as a good reminder to those who may be rusty on the subject."

I generally agree with you here Sam. But, in my mind, if BPL really wanted to provide this service instead of just kinda pretending to, they'd create one more main menu item/tab up top, and call it something like "New Here? Start Here!", and when clicking on that you'd have the many articles, like this one, that are great for folks new to the UL concept or new to the site. So one place for such articles, which could be updated as necessary, instead of rehash articles that will soon be lost in the clutter. A month from now a newbie to the site won't see this, or the many articles that would be great for folks new to the site/new to UL. A huge opportunity lost.

Something like that has been asked for for quite some time, but like much else with this site, generally goes unheeded.

Leigh Baker

Locale: Northeast Texas Pineywoods
Re: Vaseline-soaked Cotton Balls on 02/12/2014 17:24:58 MST Print View

^^^Well said Douglas

@Dena, using pjcb in sub of forgotten lip balm. I'm not sure it would have dawned on me to dig mine out for that. Thanks!

Aaron Sorensen
(awsorensen) - MLife

Locale: South of Forester Pass
Re: Re: Vaseline-soaked Cotton Balls on 02/12/2014 17:38:29 MST Print View


What they really need is drop downs for different backpacking items.

You select "Backpack"
It takes you to each type of backpack that has been discussed.
You select that name of backpack.
It takes you to the forums and reviews discussed about that pack as well as a link to the site.

You do the same for Tent, Tarps, Pads, Pots, Cups, and what not and you help answer a lot of question for everyone.

All the info you are looking for anything is also consolidated and you would not have to see the same 10-15 questions that new people ask all the time.

Also a manufacture search that would bring you to each manufactures gear items would be great.
With the above applied it would be easy

Edited by awsorensen on 02/12/2014 17:59:11 MST.

Clyde L Cowan
easier & safer way on 02/12/2014 18:25:42 MST Print View

No need to melt the Vaseline, and when hot it is dangerous stuff to work with on a stove.

Put a bunch of pure cotton balls in a Ziploc, add a table spoon sized goop of Vaseline and knead till all of the cotton balls are impregnated. Add cotton balls or more Vaseline as needed.

A more robust coating: Mix 2 parts paraffin to one part Vaseline (which I melt in a double boiler to mix). It is a little stiffer, less greasy, burns even longer.

Lightly greased fluffy cotton balls ignite with a spark from a flint & steel but don't have enough fuel in them to burn very long. Heavily impregnated cotton must be teased out into fine wisps to ignite with a spark, as someone posted earlier.

Lewis Swindell

Locale: Eastern North Carolina
cotton balls on 02/12/2014 18:57:02 MST Print View

I first used this method while serving with the 82nd ABN DIV. We took them to the field in case we got to go admin (non-tactical and could light a fire) and I agree that it is good to point out these things to novices. Dorito's work well too - even wet. They will burn a long time wet or dry and of course as a backup munchie!

Lewis Swindell

Locale: Eastern North Carolina
cotton balls on 02/12/2014 18:58:58 MST Print View

I meant to mention that we would also coat the cotton balls in melted wax for a longer burn.