Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Hi-tech Tinder Showdown! (With bonus Instafire revisit)

Erin and I got to discussing some of the pros and cons of modern, high-tech tinders and fuels vs traditional materials. After a fair bit of conversation, we decided that a showdown was in order, and as I seem to be the resident pyro, who better than me to judge such a grudge match?

Our two new challengers are UST Wetfire Tinder Cubes and FastFire Tinder. Instafire was also revisited for part of this test.

Upon inspection, the Wetfire and FastFire cubes appear to be an identical material. Both are white, formed blocks, light in weight, with a dry texture similar to a bar of soap. They can be cut or shaved very easily with a pocketknife, and can even be crumbled under moderate hand pressure, which allows them to be broken down for easy fire starting. Both come in individually sealed foil packets, allowing them to be dispersed throughout various gear packs.
Clockwise from top: Wetfire, Esbit tabs (for scale), FastFire
The big difference between the two is size. The FastFire blocks are roughly twice the size of the Wetfire blocks. An individual Wetfire block can handily light two fires, while a FastFire block can do four or more. Considering that the Wetfire cost $10 shipped to my door, and the FastFire cost $14, the FastFire is the better value, based on price. The Wetfire can be packed into smaller containers however, so if space is a concern, that may sway a decision.
The basic fire lay.  Larger kindling would be added to this after starting.
Both manufacturers recommend making a small pile of shavings, and building your fire lay over and around that pile. This method works very well; the shavings take flame instantly, even with sparks from a ferro rod. They burn at a height of 6-8 inches, readily igniting any wood and giving a hot fire in short minutes. In fact, both tinders take flame so readily, a match or sparks will ignite it in block form as well. A half-cube of Wetfire (or a quarter cube of FastFire) burns for several minutes; more than enough time to dry damp kindling and start it burning.
Burning hot and tall.

Instafire as Fuel
Instafire packaging also touts it as a useful fuel source (Wetfire and Fastfire both state on their packaging not to use them as cooking fuels, only as fire starters; this likely has to do with them being petroleum-based), so it seemed the perfect time to test this claim while I had my fire testing area already set up,

A full pouch of Instafire will fill an Esbit and then some, as I learned pretty quickly.

Instafire on the Esbit.

I used my Esbit stove as a test bed, mostly because it was available and convenient to do so. It holds a pan of water at an ideal height over flame to cook, no matter the flame source.

Speaking of flame sources: Instafire, sadly, did not start with a fire steel. However, it remains very easy to light with an open flame, and the least expensive of the group. It took flame immediately with a single match, but was a bit smoky under the pan. Make sure that any place you use this setup is well ventilated, like mine:

The fire and fuel test setup.
On the Esbit rig, the fuel needed regular stirring to maintain a good flame, but a good flame did result. 

On a pan filled with 16 ounces of water:
  • Small bubbles started rising at 13 minutes.
  • At 17 minutes there were large bubbles. It wasn't what I'd call truly boiling, and definitely not rolling, but it was close to it. 
  • Unfortunately, the fuel self-extinguished at 20 minutes.
 I'd say that, all told, it's less than ideal for cooking on. However, if used simply to provide heat, you get a good 20 minutes of rather hot flame.

Cooking aftermath.
One other note on the Instafire: the above picture is the bottom of my saucepan after the test. If you look at the pre-cooking picture, you'll see it was shiny copper when I started. The residue was a tough soot, which required a scouring pad and elbow grease to remove. Don't use your wife's good pans to cook with this, and if you do, make sure you have time to clean them before she gets home.

As a TV host from my youth used to say, you don't have to take my word for it. In fact, you shouldn't. Pick up a pack of Wetfire or FastFire, and pull out a couple cubes and practice with them. Know your gear before you need it!


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