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Little White Balls


Solid fuel tabs, such as Esbit Tabs, are a great UL choice for bike travel cooking if all you are doing is boiling water. They don’t require a stove, just a safe place to build a fire and some way to support your pot. I always build my fires on a piece of aluminum foil to reflect more heat, avoid scorching the ground and to collect any residue from my fire (leave no trace). Esbit tabs cost about fifty cents apiece. A lighter and much cheaper alternative is to make your own fuel tabs and supplement them with twigs.

Here’s what you’ll need.

1. Cotton Balls. You have these already. Your wife keeps them with her finger nail polish stuff. Wait till she is out of the house and snag a few. She will never miss them. You could also use dryer lint as well. You may need her help with this one. Apparently one of the machines in your house is a clothes dryer and it “makes” lint? Don’t tell her what you intend to do with it or you’ll get a lecture about burning the house down.
2. Wax. Paraffin is the wax of choice here, but don’t be choosy. Try to avoid scented candle wax so as to avoid attracting bears, but if that is all you have, use it. Use tea light candles, birthday candles, whatever you have.

I’m sure you know where I’m going with this; just soak the balls of cotton (or dryer lint) in wax, and let them dry and you’re done. You’ll have to pluck loose a few fibers of cotton to use as a wick to light your fuel tab and you will also need to add a few twigs to bring a small pot of water to boil. Costing nothing, or only a few pennies each, and weighing next to nothing, this is a great way to go.

My stove preference has devolved from fancy and expensive canister stoves to homemade alcohol burners to twig fires with no real stove at all. I imagine this is a journey of discovery everyone who spends time outdoors can relate to.

We fall prey to the glossy-paged ads in magazines of gadgets invented by teams of engineers and field tested by seasoned outdoors experts and then bestowed with magazine “editor’s choice awards”. Gadgets built to do something as simple as make a frick’n fire. Something a caveman could do. Eventually, we realize the reason we left the comforts and conveniences of home was a yearning for simplicity and we begin examining the things we drag along with us.


Keep it simple,

  1. RHM
    August 21, 2009 at 8:16 pm

    Great idea on the cotton balls. A hot cup of tea doesn’t care that it got made on a fancy high tech stove that you can use on the moon.

  2. velohobo
    August 25, 2009 at 8:37 am

    Thanks for the comment. Yeah, for me it’s more peaceful and meditative to nurse a fire than to turn a valve.


  3. August 26, 2009 at 12:11 pm

    I make the firestarter balls out of cotton balls dipped in Vaseline. Costs also next to nothing, and is easy to light with a firesteel. Nice article and blog!

  4. velohobo
    August 26, 2009 at 6:41 pm

    Thanks, I’ll try that. I’ve also used hand sanitizer (I usually carry a small bottle) to light fires.

    Thanks for the comment, Jack

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