Vaseline-soaked Cotton Balls

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Home Forums Campfire Editor’s Roundtable Vaseline-soaked Cotton Balls

Viewing 25 posts - 1 through 25 (of 65 total)
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    Ryan Jordan


    Locale: Central Rockies

    Companion forum thread to:

    Vaseline-soaked Cotton Balls

    Jerry Adams
    BPL Member


    Locale: Oregon and Washington

    Nice detail

    You could use wax, like parafin, and do the same thing, less messy when cold.

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    Daniel Smart
    BPL Member


    On a Survivorman forum, Les suggested using duck tape as a fire starter. Double use. Great idea.


    Paul Mountford
    BPL Member


    Locale: Atlantic Canada

    I find cotton pads work even better (the kind used to remove makeup). If you grab the edge, you can put them apart. You then apply the Vaseline to exposed inside and then push them back together. Fluff the surface before lighting and the take a spark very easily. The advantage of the cotton pad / Vaseline “Wagon Wheel” is that they make much less of a mess as compared with normal cotton balls soaked in Vaseline.

    W I S N E R !
    BPL Member



    Douglas Frick
    BPL Member


    Locale: Wyoming

    Nice, thanks. And good video. Most of the boy scouts use dryer lint, but I'll show them your video and suggest they try this as well. (I keep Coghlan's Tinder in my kit; it's a cotton/wax product.)

    Justin Baker
    BPL Member


    Locale: Santa Rosa, CA

    The best container I've found for vaseline cotton balls is a pill bottle or an old film canister. You can really shove them down into a hard sided container and fit a bunch of them.

    Zane Dargaty
    BPL Member


    I take the vaseline-soaked balls and roll them in sawdust. I makes them less sticky to handle and gives them a little longer burn time.

    Dale Wambaugh
    BPL Member


    Locale: Pacific Northwest

    I pack Tinder Quick tabs into an aluminum "spy capsule" and that goes on a lanyard with my firesteel.

    +1 on a pill bottle or film can for PJCB's.

    Other fire starting aids: Esbit fuel tabs and alcohol jel hand cleaner. A dab of hand cleaner takes the barest spark to light. The ultimate is a road flare or the shorter Orion fire starting flare— best for emergencies rather than regular use.

    BPL Member


    Any experience on how these compare to Esbit tabs? Half an Esbit tab burns for several minutes and is what I have always used.

    James holden
    BPL Member


    Two points

    – you can heat up the vaseline in the microwave … Its easier and safer

    – dont soak the entire ball … Youll need to leave some fluff for it to catch a spark if yr using a firesteel

    As to the "BPLness" of the article … a test of various fire starters under conditions with different ignition methods would be ideal

    And reflect the scientific approach of BPL


    Pat Comer
    BPL Member


    Locale: Aborokas

    does anyone but me roll theirs in magnesium filings ?

    BPL Member


    "Any experience on how these compare to Esbit tabs? Half an Esbit tab burns for several minutes and is what I have always used."

    I think they're fairly comparable. It's been over a year but the burn time for a p-ball for me was about nine minutes.

    I once made the mistake of heating some water with a p-ball. Huge mistake and won't be doing that again. Took a lot of elbow grease to get the residue off of my ti pot.

    Bob Gross
    BPL Member


    Locale: Silicon Valley

    I make some small cotton balls, smaller than a dime, and soak them with candle wax. Then I wind a bit of dry cotton around the outside to make it easier to catch a spark.


    Mole J
    BPL Member


    Locale: UK

    I have used vaseline/cotton balls many times. Even if well soaked in vaseline they can easily light with a spark if teased out. A moderately soaked ball will burn for 3-4 minutes.

    Does esbit light with a spark?? (I have enough trouble getting it going with a lighter!)

    Justin Baker
    BPL Member


    Locale: Santa Rosa, CA

    Esbit works very good. I use PJ cotton balls as my everyday fire starter and use an esbit if I really need to get the fire going quickly in wet weather.

    Jerry Adams
    BPL Member


    Locale: Oregon and Washington

    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
    BPL Member


    Locale: Oregon and Washington

    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
    BPL Member


    Locale: Oregon, USA

    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
    BPL Member


    Locale: San Francisco Bay Area

    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
    BPL Member


    Locale: Intermountain West

    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
    BPL Member


    Locale: Eagle River, Alaska

    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.

    D G


    Locale: Pacific Northwet

    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
    BPL Member


    Locale: Santa Rosa, CA

    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.

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