While there are a lot of things to love about bike camping in the Chicago region, accessibility to dry firewood is not one of them. It’s definitely more of an exception to encounter firewood that is dry enough to light with just kindling than a rule. It’s also hard to find kindling at campsites at that! With this in mind, I never travel without fire starter.
I’ve been a Duraflame user for years, but a recent lack of planning and laziness combination led to me having to branch out. I spent an hour looking into various at home fire starter how to guides and eventually decided to give two of them a go. While both of the fire starters were effective, I definitely had a favorite that I’ll be coming back to.
Fire Starter 1: The Vaseline Wad
This one was definitely my least favorite method; I’d do Duraflame first. The instructions for making this are definitely easy. Grab a sandwich baggie, get a few teaspoons of vaseline into the bag, throw some 100% cotton balls in there (yes it needs to be 100% cotton, synthetic doesn’t catch as well), close it up and squeeze to mush the vaseline into the cotton balls. It’s most effective if you bring a couple extra cotton balls along outside of the sandwich bag or put a few on top and don’t get vaseline on them. You’ll need some dry cotton to get the chunk lit. There are probably better ways to deploy this fire starter, but I didn’t want to get my hands all gross so I just turned the bag inside out and left the mix in a mass up against the base of my log. This fire starter certainly went up in a hurry, but it didn’t have a super long staying power. I’m sure it would work fine if you were reasonably certain the wood you’re trying to light is actually dry, but Duraflame and my second DIY option had longer burn times and worked better with the dampish wood. All in all, this vaseline wad is a cheap and easy method, but I don’t think it’s the best choice unless there is also ample kindling available.
Fire Starter 2: Make Up Removal Pads and Candle Wax
This was the fire starter that stole my loyalty from #TeamDuraflame. I started out trying to drip candle wax onto the 100% cotton make up removal pads, this was stupid and inefficient. Having not planned any part of this adventure, I ended up dipping them in scented candles that I had hanging around. I shouldn’t need to say this, but make sure that you blow out the candle before dipping the pad in wax if you go this route. The next time I make these, I will definitely just melt a pot of candle wax and dip all the pads in it in a large batch. You’ll want to dip the pad 2/3 to 3/4 of the way in. You need to leave a space bare for the fire to ignite. You also don’t need to apply wax very heavily, just a quick second dip in and out should be fine. After you’ve sufficiently coated your cotton pads, you should place them to dry on a sheet. Anything will work, I went with aluminum foil, but you could just as easily use a cookie sheet. After letting them dry for 30-45 minutes, I stacked them up and placed them inside a plastic bag for transportation. I ended up only needing about a third of what I had brought and even what I had packed only took up about the size of an iPhone and weighed a couple ounces. This was a substantial improvement over the weight and size of a small Duraflame packet. I also noticed that the cotton pads caught fire significantly faster than the Duraflame wrapper. While the staying power of the cotton pads was definitely not as long as Duraflame fire starter, they were far less prone to going out, and much easier to get going again if you needed to. I found myself putting 3-4 pads up against a log and adding another pad every 3-5 minutes until I was sure my log had fully caught. I ended up going through about 10 pads to get the slightly damp, and fairly large, logs lit.
While the order of convenience of the discussed fire starter methods is definitely Duraflame, Vaseline Wad, Make Up Removal Pads & Candle Wax, the most effective option is clearly make up removal pads. While it does take about an hour to get the finished product, the actual work time is minimal and the result is highly transportable and adaptable to a variety of situations. There is also the comfort of actually knowing what you’re burning. Sorry, Duraflame, but I’ve got a new favorite now.