You can purchase a variety of products designed to assist you in starting a fire (Esbit, Fatwood, EZ Fire, and so forth) while camping or backpacking. However, being something of a Do-It-Yourself kinda girl, I like to make my own.
The credit for this idea goes to the lovely crew of backpackers we met during our adventure to Lake Luellen in August, although I am sure that they learned it from someone else, as is the way that these things are passed along.
Things You Will Need:
Cardboard egg cartons (NOT the styrofoam type)
Dryer lint or wood shavings/sawdust
Wax (unscented, dye-free paraffin is best)
We used to have a gerbil, and when it completed its life cycle, it left me with several large bags of pine and aspen wood shavings. I decided that re-purposing those shavings for firestarter would be an excellent way to avoid wasting them, as I have no plans to own any more small rodents. I’d also heard that dryer lint makes for great backpacking tinder (since it weighs nothing) but that it burns very quickly. Sawdust is another alternative filler for this project, although if you live in the city like we do, and don’t have access to sawdust, you’re probably just as well off to pick up a bag of hamster bedding at your local big-box store.
When it comes to wax, there are a couple of ways to go about it. The most obvious choice is candles, which can be obtained very reasonably at most dollar stores. I would stay away from scented or colored varieties, which contain additives that are not particularly environmentally friendly. All of the candles sold at IKEA are 100% paraffin wax, and pretty cheap at that, which is where I purchase most of mine for around the house. There’s nothing like candlelight to add ambiance to your firestarter making. Simply burn down a bit, and pour.
The second way is to buy a block of paraffin wax from a craft store like Michael’s. This can be found in the candle making section of the store, and can be melted down over low heat in a pot you don’t really like.
First, add a pinch of lint or shavings to each egg cup. You don’t need to fill the cups very much, just a grape-sized amount in the bottom of each will be sufficient.
Once you have your “fillings” together, pour wax over them (about one or two tablespoons per cup). Make sure you use enough wax to coat most of the shavings/lint, and anchor it to the bottom and inside of the cup.
After the wax has hardened, simply cut the cups into individual pieces and you’re done! Store in a dry place until you need them.
As these never expire, you can make as many as you like in one go, and then you always have a few on hand to toss in your pack or camping gear. They are extremely light weight, and burn very well, even in damp and windy conditions.
In the name of a proper tutorial, I tested one of each kind in breezy conditions to check burn time. The shavings and the lint both burned for around seven minutes, putting off about the same amount of heat. Plenty of time to allow you to arrange twigs and other kindling to get your fire going.
Even if you backpack in areas were having a fire is prohibited, you never know when you may need to build an emergency or signal fire, so I encourage you to carry at least one firestarter and the means to light it, even on day trips.