Chapter 59: How to Make Cheap, Ultralight Fire Starters

Having a reliable source of fire can be life saving.

Most people cook when they backpack, so they have a very reliable fire starter to begin with, either an isobutane/propane stove and fuel or an alcohol stove and fuel.

It’s best to always have some windproof and waterproof matches, too.

One old fire starter standby is dryer lint. Not all dryer lint is equal. Lint from cotton clothes seems to be the best. Dryer lint by itself burns nicely.

Burning dryer lint mixed with some petroleum jelly is much longer-lasting.

Dryer lint with hand sanitizer works well, too. All hand sanitizers are not equal. Be sure to use one with an alcohol base. Many of the hand sanitizers list ethyl alcohol at about 62 or 63%. There is not as much flame as the Vaseline, but it is also long lasting.

A cotton ball and petroleum jelly work well, too. Be sure to use a cotton ball and not a synthetic ball.

A cotton ball and hand sanitizer make a good fire starter. Again, there’s a smaller flame than petroleum jelly, but there’s a good flame and burn time with both.

We tried some wood shavings from an electric pencil sharpener. There was a decent slow burn, but you had to work with the shavings or blow on them a little to get the best result. Wet weather would seem to add a high degree of difficulty.

Adding Vaseline or hand sanitizer to pencil shavings works, but it’s a gooey glob that might not be worth the effort.

We tried burning a small piece of cotton fabric with petroleum jelly, and then a small piece of cotton fabric with hand sanitizer. This worked well with the petroleum jelly burning bigger and lasting longer than the hand sanitizer, so we tried it with something we always carry with us, some toilet paper.

We used a square of toilet paper with Vaseline and a square of toilet paper with hand sanitizer. Both worked well.

Some hikers like wax paper as a fire starter. It works well by itself and even better with some petroleum jelly or hand sanitizer.

Most of these techniques could be used with candle wax, too, if you wanted to invest some time so your starter is dryer to handle than Vaseline or hand sanitizer.

Since petroleum jelly was so good, we tried lip balm. We burned cotton swabs with a no-name lip balm, Vaseline brand, Burt’s Bees, ChapStick with SPF 15, and Carmex. All worked well.

May you always have a warm fire and entertaining stories.