The Down and Dirty Guide to Camping with Kids (Roost Books, 2012) by Helen Olsson offers a fully rounded and comprehensive guide to having a fun and safe family vacation in the woods. Olsson offers families tips, checklists, recipes, and more to make any trip into the wild a success. In the following excerpt, she offers a fun project for kids to create fire-starting egg carton kindling.
You can’t just flick a Bic to a log and start a blaze. You have to start small and grow the fire. Tinder is your starting point, but sometimes, especially on rainy days, the tinder you collect around the campsite is damp and defies flame.
A good backup plan is to bring along commercially made emergency tinder. Coghlan’s has one that looks like a cotton plug soaked in wax. Lightning Nuggets makes balls of compressed, pulverized pitch wood that will burn for up to fifteen minutes, plenty long enough to get the kindling going. And Ultimate Survival has a fire-starting tinder cube that will light even when floating in water.
You can also make your own fire-starting tinder at home. The easiest way to create homemade emergency tinder is to slather cotton balls in petroleum jelly. Store them in a zip-top baggie or an old pill container.
A more involved but fun project to do with the kids is to make fire starters in cardboard egg cartons. (This is where Martha Stewart and Bear Grylls meet back on the other side.) Because you are using recycled materials like dryer lint, sawdust, and candle stubs, this is truly a green craft. Taking care when melting the wax is critical—unless you’re looking to burn down the kitchen and collect the insurance money. Wax vapor is extremely flammable, which is why these fire starters are so effective. One fire-starting egg will burn for upwards of five minutes. Melt the wax over an electric heat source rather than the open flame of a gas stove. Use a double-boiler setup so the wax isn’t in direct contact with the heat source.
Materials• Cardboard egg carton
• Sawdust or dryer lint
• Unscented candle stubs (or paraffin)
• Large aluminum can
• Pot for boiling water
• Electric heat source
• Pot lifters or pliers
• Metal cookie cutters (optional)
1. Stuff the twelve sections of a cardboard egg carton with sawdust or dryer lint, or a combination of the two.
2. Clean out an old fifteen-ounce can (from stewed tomatoes, refried beans, or the like). Squeeze the can and crimp one side so you can pour the wax easily.
3. Put a handful of candle stubs in the can.
4. Fill a big pot with two inches of water. Create a double boiler by placing the can of wax into the water. If you have so much wax that it sinks to the bottom of the pot, set metal cookie cutters underneath the can to keep it elevated.
5. Boil the water and watch the wax carefully. As soon as it melts (about twenty minutes), use your camping pot lifters or pliers to pick up the can. Slowly pour a layer of the melted wax on top of each of the tinder-filled egg carton reservoirs.
6. Once the wax cools, use a serrated knife to saw the egg carton into twelve fire-starting balls.
7. In camp, set a fire-starting egg into the middle of your kindling teepee and light the cardboard edge.
More from: The Down and Dirty Guide to Camping with Kids• How to Properly Extinguish Campfires
• Mind Your Manners with Campsite Etiquette
• Camp-Ready Bananas Foster Recipe
From The Down and Dirty Guide to Camping with Kids by Helen Olsson © 2012 by Helen Olsson. Illustrations by Scotty Reifsnyder © 2012 by Scotty Reifsnyder. Reprinted in arrangement with Roost Books, an imprint of Shambhala Publications, Inc. Boulder, CO.