When I go camping I always make sure to have multiple options to get a fire going to make the nights a little more comfortable. Cotton balls and Vaseline are an ultra cheap why to help start a fire but throwing a bunch in a baggy is a little messier than I wanted. It also wasn't nearly as waterproof an option since I rarely have gone on a camping trip that rain didn't try to ruin the adventure. This was my solution. Compact, Waterproof, Effective, Cheap and SIMPLE TO MAKE.
Step 1: The Necessary Supplies
For backpacking I wanted a decent lasting yet highly portable and cheap fire starter. I've used vaseline covered cotton balls before but they are incredibly sticky and not nearly as portable as I would like.
For this simple yet effective project you need the following:
- Cotton Balls (any size works, I got a bag of small ones for under a $1)
- Plastic Drinking Straws
- A lighter and/or tealight candle
- A Scissors
- A Pliers (I just used my multi-tool)
Step 2: The Waterproof Container
From each drinking straw you should be able to make 3 waterproof fire starter packets about 3 inches in length each. While you can make them smaller, 3 inches is a nice length and is less of a pain to fill. End weight overall is negligible no matter how many you take since you are dealing with straws and cotton plus these will squeeze anywhere you can fit them in your hiking pack.
Using a tealight candle works very well for assembly lining your "fire starter containers" as it saves having to fiddle with a lighter each time.
Pinch the straw closed but not all the way at the end. Melt the straw down to the pliers head and before it has the chance to cool, clamp it with the pliers. Your end result won't look perfect but it solidly seals the straw end.
Repeat these steps for all the remaining fire starter packets that you want to make.
Step 3: Filling the "Waterproof Container"
Take a few cotton balls and stretch them but don't pull them apart. Generously coat them in Vaseline. Cut the tip off of a Q-tip so that you can use it to push coated cotton ball into the waterproof container/straw.
With the small cotton balls, I was able to cram about 1 1/2 of them into each stick. As you can tell from the 3rd picture where I shined a light against it, you need to leave enough room at the open end to clamp and melt it.
Try not to let air bubbles get stuck underneath your cotton ball as it will try to push it out. Inevitably you will have to mess with at least a few to get rid of the bubble and fit more cotton in.
Once a straw is appropriately filled, repeat Step 1 and seal the end. Your hands will get covered in Vaseline you will want to periodically wipe it off your hands and wipe down the filled and sealed "Waterproof Fire Starter Packets".
Step 4: How to Use
Depending on your speed and if you put together an assembly line by completing one step at a time for all the pieces, you can easily have a dozen Waterproof Fire Starter Packets in about 15 minutes. If you sealed them properly, these little beauts will keep can make it through a pouring rain and still help you start a fire
When camping, most people typically have a knife and a fire sparking/starter device such as flint, fire piston, or cigarette lighter. Using these Waterproof Fire Starters Packets will save you burning precious fuel from your lighter in an emergency/survival situation or make it easier to start a fire when combined with flint and a tinder bundle.
Cut into a Fire Starters Packet and break it in half. Light it with your fire starting tool of choice and presto. Due to the compacted and contained nature of the packet, it will burn slowly and melt away the straw exposing more and more fresh cotton. A 3 inch packet will burn for probably 20 seconds or so. If it happens to blow out, you may still be left with a residual ember that you can use to finish starting your fire.
Good luck and happy camping!