Picture of Better Sterno Alternative

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.

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Step 1:

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The items you will need:

Small tin container (altoids tin)



Disposable container for melting wax

Step 2:

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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:

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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:

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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.

Wow, what an easy idea, and I bet a few of these in your pack could last a good while. I wonder though, how is the best way to put it out, and can it be lit again?
bpaul33 years ago
us hoboes call this a "squat candle"....
jray43 years ago
So... Did anyone try the crayola wax method? I'm curious if they'll work as well.
I suppose the dollar store's candles would be just as good!
amesj3 years ago
i only have one question how would you cook something on it? would you use the hotdog and stick method? and how exactly could you boil water with it? Great idea by the way. In just want to know how i could use it.
tjesse (author)  amesj3 years ago
Think of this more like a gas range in a kitchen and less of a grill. You could grill hotdogs on it if you wanted to, but a campfire would work better for that. This is a sterno alternative so you use a sterno stove or a hobo style stove. Folding sterno stoves are cheap but the fuel is not, so I made my own.
Would melting crayons work as well?
yes crayons work.
awesome thank you.
Lt.Greg3 years ago
Tjesse - Nice ibble - I've seen it before but its always nice to teach things like this to new people. I have a question however - how do you know that this burns hotter than an alcohol stove? Do you have empiracal evidence, or is it hear-say?   Not trying to be smart just wondering if its been fact-checked.
Good job though,
Thank yoiu
gburnaska3 years ago
how much smoke? can I use this as a heater when living in my car during the winters?
tjesse (author)  gburnaska3 years ago
I have not noticed any smoke, but I know that there must be a little. I wouldn't light it in any enclosed area.
Tim Temple3 years ago
This can be pocket unfriendly if you blow it out and stuff it in your pocket! It needs to cool down.
jerry66653 years ago
very cool!!!! i'll try this one- it's easy, quick and perfect for packing safely. thanks!