How to Start a Fire with Magnesium, Cotton and Petroleum Jelly


A warm fire on a crisp Fall evening - photo by Steve Wall on Flickr

For starting fires in our campsite, I use dryer lint and wax for tender (see How to make your own campfire starters) which is a quick and easy way to get a campfire going. Anytime I venture out from the campsite, however, I carry a number of emergency items in a small daypack, including a fire starter kit.

An emergency fire starting kit needs to be small and lightweight, otherwise you are likely to leave it behind. It also needs to be ultra-reliable, since in the extremely unlikely situation that you would ever need to use it, you will probably be cold, possibly wet, perhaps injured, and probably not in your best state-of-mind.

My emergency fire starting kit consists of cotton balls smeared with a thin coating of petroleum jelly, that I store in a small Nalgene® bottle, and a magnesium sparking tool from Swedish FireSteel®. I have found that this type of setup to be virtually “Murphy proof” and extremely reliable under all kinds of different conditions. Particularly when your hands are cold and numb, the Swedish FireSteel is a lot easier to use than trying to strike a match and the petroleum-smeared cotton balls burn hot enough, and long enough, to ignite even damp kindling.

CampingBlogger.Net on using a Swedish FireSteel and cotton balls to start a fire from Roy Scribner on Vimeo.

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4 thoughts on “How to Start a Fire with Magnesium, Cotton and Petroleum Jelly

  1. John – this is the first time I’ve owned a sparking device, but I think I’m sold, just from ease-of-use with cold fingers. Of course, you have to have good tender – supposedly you can light small twigs directly with these, but I think that would be difficult.

    Karen – I think you’ll have better luck using an egg carton and then cutting-out each individual “egg” if you need to make them smaller. The egg carton burns well and gets everything else going.

    VE – a blowtorch, yes I think I saw the Survivorman using one of those 🙂

  2. I’ve heard cotton balls and petroleum jelly work really well. I’ll be camping next weekend and I think I’ll give it a try. I tried to make my own firestarters with the lint and wax, but I think I used too much wax. They were difficult to get lit. I put the lint in a pie plate and poured wax on it, then cut them into little cubes. Maybe I’ll try it again with much less wax. Of course, if the cotton balls work well, that’s even less work :). Thanks for sharing Ray.

    See you ’round the campfire,