Cosmetic Combustion: Improvised Fire Starters


Cosmetic Combustion: Improvised Fire Starters

You’re about to leave for a camping trip, and you realize you haven’t packed any tinder. There’s no time to head to the store, and the recycling folks just picked up all of your waste paper. What’s a guy to do?

Quick! Run upstairs and check your wife’s cosmetics stash. If she has cotton balls and some kind of petroleum jelly, you’ve got all you need for a top-flight fire starter.

The Two Ingredients


The process is simple. First, take a cotton ball and gently pull it apart. Not all the way, just enough that it’s flattened out. Then take a generous dab of petroleum jelly (I used Vaseline) and work it into the fibers. Roll it back into a ball, and that’s it! You’ve got a little nugget of flame just waiting for a spark.


There are a couple additional advantages to this particular method. First is the longevity of the accelerant. Unlike lighter fluid, petroleum jelly won’t evaporate out of the cotton. It may dry, but there’ll still be plenty of potential for flame. Cotton balls are also incredibly easy to pack. I keep about eight of them crammed into a small plastic Q-Tip case which I then seal inside a sandwich bag. Not the most elegant solution, but certainly an effective one.

Lighting Up


Now, I know this seems a little silly, but it’s actually one of the best improvised fuels I’ve come across. The cotton and jelly take a minimum of effort to ignite, popping into flame with a single shower from a ferro rod. Once lit, these little guys will burn for minutes at a time, depending on how well you’ve saturated them with jelly. They’ve saved my butt on at least two wet camping trips, when finding dry tinder was impossible.

So, next time you’re hitting the trail, seal a couple of these in a plastic bag and toss ’em in your pack. When it comes to getting that fire going, it’s always good to have options.

Avatar Author ID 185 - 933164195

Josh Wussow is an outdoor and EDC gear enthusiast, currently splitting time between New Mexico, Colorado, and Wisconsin. He reviews knives, watches, and other gear on his website,

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