The best fire-starting system can also be the cheapest and the materials are the easiest to find at any drug or grocery store. This Boy Scout Hot-Spark and a prescription bottle filled with cotton balls and petroleum jelly make a reliable fire starting method that is cheap enough to be placed in all survival kits.
After extensive testing, my nomination for the best overall survival fire starting method is cotton balls, slathered with petroleum jelly, combined with a magnesium or flint stick. I ran across this method several years ago at a Peter Kummerfeldt seminar at the Deschutes Fairground Sportsmen show. Kummerfeldt demonstrated the method at his booth, and it looked so easy, I figured there had to be a catch. So, I got the materials and tested it myself, then had some of the scouts from Boy Scout Troop 18 in Bend, Oregon, wring out the system. Everybody likes this system because of its’ reliability. There is nothing to break, it requires no fuel, and the temperature has no effect. But an additional benefit is how cheap it is to produce!
Here’s how you can make one of these fire-making kits.
- Get a locking cap, waterproof prescription bottle. These days, everybody has a prescription for something, and the meds usually come in a small, plastic pill bottle. The bottles with the snap-and-bayonet, waterproof top work very well for storing the cotton balls, and probably won’t cost anything. You can also use an empty 35mm film plastic container or a standard waterproof matchbox. I use all of these containers since I carry the cotton balls/petroleum jelly firestarter in all my survival kits. Just be careful with any snap-off or non-locking cap. If they’re easy to get off, they may come apart in your pack!
- Cotton balls: Get extra-large, 100 percent cotton. They generally cost less than a penny each.
- Petroleum jelly: I paid $1.99 for a 13-ounce jar at the local department store. Many of the lip balm sticks will also work with this system, so experiment at home. Slather the vaseline over a cotton ball, and work it in until the ball is infused with the vaseline.
- Magnesium or flint stick: One of my favorites, the Boy Scout Hot-Spark, costs about $2.50 at the Scout store. You can buy bigger, more expensive models, but the scout version does the trick. I have the smaller sticks on zipper fobs, key chains, and in every survival kit I own. Your Swiss Army knife can become a better survival knife if you attach a Hot-Spark to the split ring on the handle.
Put a label on each container with what is inside and how to use it. You may not need the reminder, but then again, you might be injured, disabled or unconscious, and someone else might have to build that life-saving fire. Make their job easier by including simple instructions.
I use a standard Avery 5160 1″x2-5/8″ labels, with Wordperfect software in the “labels” dropdown. Use 11 point, Aerial type, and this spacing, and all the information fits nicely. On the labels, type:
Firestarter: Cotton balls and petroleum jelly. To use: Remove pinch of firestarter, fluff and light. More info: SurvivalCommonSense.com (Thought I’d sneak that in! I could use the publicity! For Boy Scout or Girl Scout troops, here’s where you put your name out! You could put compliments of your particular organization, or whatever will fit on the bottom line.)
These containers, filled with cotton balls and petroleum jelly, are fantastic promotional give-aways and cost pennies. Scouts can make up a bunch, and give them out at their next camp-out or public gathering. I give the containers out when I go cross-country skiing or snowshoeing as a public service. It’s scary how often this firestarter is the only survival gear some people have!
Total cost of the complete firestarter kit, with Hot-Spark, is about $2.75 to $3! If you opt to buy a waterproof match container for the cotton balls, that will set you back another $2-$3. You’re still looking at a complete firemaking system for about five bucks!
Carry this combination in all your survival kits. When you need to make a fire, pull out a pinch, fluff it out and strike a spark onto the cotton ball with the flint stick. If the wood is damp, and the tinder in short supply, use a whole cotton ball. My experiments show that a cotton ball gobbed with petroleum jelly will burn for several minutes.
The cotton balls and petroleum jelly have another use. On a Boy Scout 50-miler hike a few years back, I started to get a blister on my heel. I took out my cotton ball firestarter and rubbed the hot spot with the petroleum jelly. No blister formed!
When it comes to your survival kit, you decide how much you want to invest. Personally, I want the best equipment available for me and my family, and the price is not a consideration. Our lives are worth that to me.
But prepping or making multiple survival kits can be expensive. Find the areas – like this one – where you can cut costs without reducing quality, durability, or safety. Then, invest the money you saved on items you can’t compromise on, such as boots, a survival knife, sleeping bags, tents, navigation gear, etc. Use common sense in all of this. Find the best, most reliable systems for your survival kits, then practice, research, and decide how they can best serve you.
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