Better Sterno Alternative





Introduction: Better Sterno Alternative

Runner Up in the
Pocket-Sized Contest

Runner Up in the
Survival Skills Challenge

How you pack for the outdoors depends on how you intend to spend your time exploring nature. Packing light seems to be a common goal of campers, hikers and survivalists. Most also agree that it’s wise to have a compact way to cook a meal, boil water, keep warm, and create light that will keep away animals like wolves. For all of these things you need a reliable source of long-lasting fire, but most of us don’t want to carry flammable liquids or gels in our packs. I will show you a safe alternative: a pocket-sized piece of survival gear that you will quickly start to regard as an essential item to pack for your next adventure — no matter what it is.

Step 1:

The items you will need:

Small tin container (altoids tin)



Disposable container for melting wax

Step 2:

First you will need to cut the cardboard to the depth of the container. Next, pack the tin so the exposed side of the cardboard is facing up. I use a spiraling shape but it makes no difference on how it’s formed to fit. It does, however, matter how tightly it is placed in the tin. If it is so tight that the cardboard’s zig zag pattern within its side walls is flattened then the wax won’t fill the inside and the burn time will be shortened. Having the best ratio of wax and cardboard is the goal.

Step 3:

Next, melt the wax and pour it slowly into the cracks of the cardboard ensuring that it has as little air as possible. The goal is to allow the cardboard to burn slowly. In short, you are creating a candle with a large surface area. The round one is what I am going to use to light a pumpkin!

Step 4:

This burns fast and hot! It will last a few hours and can be hotter then sterno and more “pocket friendly”. Making a few of these at a time will quickly show its value.



  • Remote Control Contest 2017

    Remote Control Contest 2017
  • Design For Kids Challenge

    Design For Kids Challenge
  • Arduino Contest 2017

    Arduino Contest 2017

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Questions & Answers


The formaldehyde in cardboard makes it a nonstarter (!) for burning.

I made these as a Girl Scout in the 1960s. We used a tuna can instead of an altoids tin. They were called Buddy Burners. We made a "stove" from a #10 can and used the burners to cook hamburgers. I recently made one from a small can that I had used the side-cutting can opener to remove the lid. Now I can use the lid to put out the flame, as well as for transporting the burner.

steel wool works great for tinder, it will catch a spark readily. A candle can be lit by throwing a spark into a small piece of char laying on the candle and blowing into a flame, takes practice. Most anything can be used as a wick in your tin of wax.

Can this be lit with a firesteel or do you need matches/ligher?

Stick some cotton in it on top.
The cotton will light easily enough from a firesteel. Those flat cotton swabs women use for removing makeup seems to be just made for the purpose...

Take dryer lint, break it into little pieces, and roll it into little balls with Vaseline on your fingers.

I prefer to dry my clothes on a line outside, so I don't have all that much lint.

But Vaseline is good. Both for starting fires, and... well...

Why little balls?

Wouldn't a larger, flat piece be better for catching a spark?

My apologies for the delayed response; I didn't realize you had replied until just now. Balls are more compact and, therefore, are easier to pack.

It is basically a candle with a very large wick. You need a flame (matches/lighter) to get it going.

Ello! I have a question. I am wanting to make these little guys as food warmers for my steam pans i use. I dont care about soot at all, just need them to keep food warm. I am either going to use this option or sterno but i dont want to have to keep buying sterno at 5$ a can. Hence why i either want to make ethanol gel or these guys. But i need to know how many hours will they last? im looking for something that lasts at least 4-5 hours