Any survival kit should have the tools to start an emergency fire. A firestarter (waterproof matches, flint, etc.) is the crucial item, but a close second is quick-to-light emergency tinder to get the fire going, especially in wet conditions where dry natural tinder is hard (or impossible) to find.
You can buy a range of pre-packaged products at outdoor gear shops (here’s the current online round-up from REI), but it’s hard for them to compete with a much better, less expensive option: Vaseline-coated cotton balls.
To make them, purchase a bag of extra large cotton balls and a small container of Vaseline or its equivalent. Make sure they are cotton, not polyester, which does not perform nearly as well. Back at home, put down some newspaper or other protective layer—you definitely don’t want Vaseline on your furniture—and take out the number you want to treat. Keep in mind that these things essentially keep forever, so making extras for the gear closet is a good option.
Tear each one open to expose as much surface area as possible. Do this before you start coating them with Vaseline and your fingers get sticky. Next comes the ooey gooey part where you need to smear each of the cotton balls and then gently work it in to the fibers. Doing this with your fingers is by far the most effective technique, but definitely isn’t my favorite tactile experience. You want to apply a decent amount, but still keep some of the fibers uncoated for quick lighting.
Another nice thing about these is that they compress nicely and are very lightweight. I carry about ten of them in a small pill bottle. The whole package probably weighs 1 to 2 ounces.
I’ve never had to use them (knock on wood) but I’ve always got them for the day I might.
“Equipped” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Matt Heid.