Vaseline-soaked Cotton Balls
Feb 12, 2014 at 1:42 pm #2072722Nick GatelBPL Member
@ngatelLocale: Southern California
"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.Feb 12, 2014 at 1:53 pm #2072725Barry CuthbertBPL Member
@nzbazzaLocale: New Zealand
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.Feb 12, 2014 at 2:10 pm #2072740Dave PrefontaineMember
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!Feb 12, 2014 at 2:20 pm #2072746Mobile CalculatorSpectator
…Feb 12, 2014 at 2:25 pm #2072750
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.Feb 12, 2014 at 3:39 pm #2072779Michael GonzalesBPL Member
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.Feb 12, 2014 at 4:24 pm #2072791Leigh BakerMember
@leighbLocale: Northeast Texas Pineywoods
^^^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!Feb 12, 2014 at 4:38 pm #2072797Aaron SorensenBPL Member
@awsorensenLocale: South of Forester Pass
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 easyFeb 12, 2014 at 5:25 pm #2072811Clyde L CowanMember
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.Feb 12, 2014 at 5:57 pm #2072818Lewis SwindellMember
@lswindell4Locale: Eastern North Carolina
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!Feb 12, 2014 at 5:58 pm #2072819Lewis SwindellMember
@lswindell4Locale: Eastern North Carolina
I meant to mention that we would also coat the cotton balls in melted wax for a longer burn.Feb 12, 2014 at 6:26 pm #2072822Jerry GetzBPL Member
@jerzyshoreLocale: Southeastern, PA
I use dryer lint instead of cotton balls.
It is free, light, and quite flammable on its own, even without the vaseline/wax or whatever you use to saturate it.Feb 12, 2014 at 9:26 pm #2072897Gerald LSpectator
I carry PJCB stored in a sealed straw and use it for starting my Esbit tabs. I've tried scraping the Esbit but still find that I have to hold the Bic to it for longer than I desire. It is easy to pull just a small strand out of the end of the straw and place it on the side of the tab where it sits in the stove. I wipe the residual jelly on my hands for some much needed balm. The added benefit is always having a small supply of emergency firestarter on hand.
Using straws for light weight waterproof containers is another great idea I believe was a link followed here on BPL.Feb 12, 2014 at 9:45 pm #2072903
Put a dab of alcohol gel hand cleaner on your Esbit tab and just threaten it with a Bic. It will almost light itself :)Feb 12, 2014 at 11:26 pm #2072920Håvard SkarpingBPL Member
How do the cotton balls perform when soaked in water?Feb 13, 2014 at 4:44 am #2072940James MarcoBPL Member
@jamesdmarcoLocale: Finger Lakes
I almost never need a fire starter. I like to have a fire, but it isn't really necessary most of the time. In cold weather, rain and for drying out stuff, I agree. A fire is really needed. It depends on where you are going to hike. Nothing like laying down to sleep next to dying campfire as an owl hoots in the distance, though. I gott'a get out more…
Olive oil was already mentioned, but most oils or fats will work. Cooking oil, fritoes, potatoe chips, bacon fat, parified butter, etc. All are things I often have in my pack. Worst case, I have a small piece of candle that can be shaved for some parifin bits into a cocoa envelope or wrapped into other food wrappers. Insure there is some dry paper, cotton, small pieces of twisted wood or something to make a wick. A piece of bark works as a continer for any melted wax, or oils. I usually have an envelope from hot cocoa or from a supper that works pretty well. Any aluminum foil can be picked out of the fire in the morning, if I use one that has foil in it. Soo, I never carry a specific fire starter. It weighs too much. Like so many things related to UL camping, it is how you use what you have. A 14gm container of firestartes is not something I would carry for only starting fires.
But a new camper may not know these tricks. So, I agree that these type of articles need to be restated rather regularly. Kind of booooring? Yes. Do I read every article in any magaine? I agree, they have their place.Feb 13, 2014 at 7:31 am #2072985Gerald LSpectator
'Put a dab of alcohol gel hand cleaner on your Esbit tab and just threaten it with a Bic. It will almost light itself :)'
Good tip Dale, I'll give that a try. Hmmm, sounds like that could function as a good hand warmer as well : oFeb 13, 2014 at 7:41 am #2072988Tony RoncoBPL Member
For improvements tips on the Vaseline-soaked Cotton Balls :
+1 on the microwave use(much quicker and easier)
and coat the cotton balls in WetFire Tender (makes them a lot less messy, starts even easier, if that's possible)
FWIW, there is another alternative that I carry as a part of my emergency fire starting kit: all-in-one firestarter. Here's one of the youtube videos that show how to make it … the instruction part starts 34 seconds in: Self-Igniting Fire StarterFeb 13, 2014 at 7:51 am #2072990Gary DunckelBPL Member
Be sure that your hand sanitizer has ethyl alcohol as the cootie-killing ingredient (some don't), and that it has the highest alcohol percentage available (70%). Then mix it 50-50 with Everclear. It still is a gel, although less viscous, but you beef up the alcohol percentage to maybe 80-85%. Now you have the good firestarter to get your Esbit tab burning.
But I prefer those Strike-a-Fire sticks, cut into 1" pieces, for starting a campfire. One piece does it.Feb 13, 2014 at 7:53 am #2072991IanBPL Member
"Put a dab of alcohol gel hand cleaner on your Esbit tab and just threaten it with a Bic. It will almost light itself :)"
This definitely works with Purell but I've found some of the generic brands won't light all that well. If you're using something other than Purell, best to do a test run at home.Feb 13, 2014 at 9:37 am #2073024
"Good tip Dale, I'll give that a try. Hmmm, sounds like that could function as a good hand warmer as well : o"
The alcohol gel and backyard BBQ dinners seem to make sense for clean hands, but you don't want anyone near the fire using it!
We do use Purell (wife=nurse) and it lights fine— needs no Everclear :)
The point is that if you have the stuff and you are about to go into hypothermia, it is a great resource. Visions of some cold wet hiker scraping away at a firesteel with a jug of hand cleaner at hand. Alcohol wipes from your first aid kit will do the same.
And of course, everyone needs to practice fuel gathering and fire building when it is not an emergency. A little practice really tells you what kind of tinder to look for.Feb 13, 2014 at 9:47 am #2073030James holdenBPL Member
And of course, everyone needs to practice fuel gathering and fire building when it is not an emergency. A little practice really tells you what kind of tinder to look for.
everyone knows the theory … but many dont practice under realistic conditions …
next time its raining hard, try starting a small fire backyard (safely of course) with no cover, and damp tinder and wood … youd be surprised at how hard it is
;)Feb 13, 2014 at 10:24 am #2073048Jerry AdamsBPL Member
@retiredjerryLocale: Oregon and Washington
In survival situation, get in sleeping bag in tent, don't waste time with fire.
Worst is when it's raining. Difficult to get fire going and keep it going. You'll get more wet from rain falling on you than dry out from heat from fire.
Although I acknowledge there are times fire could help survival, especially if you get a sheltered location or it's not raining, or if you had no tent/sleeping bag.
Mostly fire is just entertainment or keeping warm before going to bed. Especially in winter, day is short so nice to have a couple hours around fire.
I make fire about half the time. Not appropriate for some locations, but if there's lots of wood around it's pretty harmless.Feb 13, 2014 at 10:40 am #2073058David ThomasBPL Member
@davidinkenaiLocale: North Woods. Far North.
I concur that in almost all true survival situations, getting out of the weather and into all possible clothes, sleeping gear, and shelter trumps dealing with a fire. Radiant warmth on one side rarely balances out wind and rain on the other three side. When it does, the wind and rain weren't all that bad in the first place.
Early in my UL days (early 1980's) I did a 10-day Sierra trip ranging from 7,000 to 11,000 feet elevation. At lower elevations around 40F, I was fine, wearing all my clothes (I brought no sleeping bag). Higher up, with cooler air and more radiant losses on clear nights, I didn't sleep so well unless I was near a small campfire (which is problematic because there's less wood up high). But it wasn't a survival situation – the fire just let me continue the trip in greater comfort.
Most commonly, I see campfires being used to let people sit around and chat for another hour before getting into their tents and sleeping bags. Similarly, in the morning, people build a fire and everyone gets 1) smokey, 2) warm on one side and 3) cold on the other side. Why not just reach out of your sleeping bag and cook breakfast from there? Socializing is great, but we can be left with the impression that the fire kept us warm. Well, yeah, somewhat, but not nearly as warm as our sleeping bags can.Feb 13, 2014 at 11:18 am #2073084James holdenBPL Member
In a survival situation you may not have a sleeping bag and a tent
For simple day hikes or climbs, how many of us carry a tent and sleeping bag?
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