In an effort to feel more comfortable outside, I decided to take REI’s 3 Season Wilderness Surival course based out of China Camp State Beach (just north of San Francisco). This particular class was women-only and led by an amazing female instructor – highly recommended if you’re noob like me and not as comfortable in some of the other classes!
One of the areas we focused on was the art of staying warm and surviving through the night – aka creating fire. While there are (literally) thousands of ways to start a fire efficiently, one of the simplest ways is with the help of charcloth. I had a few holey Everlane cotton t-shirts sitting sadly in my closet, so I decided to turn them into charcloth in the comfort of my apartment.
Materials Needed to Make Char Cloth at Home
- 1 clean, empty Altoids tin (or something similar)
- 1 nail and hammer
- Kitchen stove (preferably gas) with ventilation fan
- Old clothing or fabric for cookin’ made out of natural fibers, such as cotton
- Optional: matches
Step 1: Prep your Cookin’ Tin
The very cheap (and infinitely handy) Altoids tin works perfectly as a cooking tin for charcloth. When creating charcloth, you’re essentially cooking fabric until it converts into easily ignited fuel that burns slowly. During this process, the fumes need an escape chute – so the first step is to create a small hole at the top of your tin. This allows the gasses to escape, while still containing them within a small area that hopefully gets sucked into your ventilation fan quickly.
Step 2: Cut up Your Charcloth Fodder
I varied mine a bit by cutting them up into small 1.5″ x 1.5″ squares and 1″ x 3″ strips. Generally, you’d want them to be small enough to lay flat in your container. Smaller charcloth pieces make it easier to ration out and conserve fuel, should you ever be in a situation that requires it.
Step 3: Get Cookin’
Turn on your stove to medium heat and… wait. You’ll know the conversion process is starting once you see smoke coming out of the hole at the top.
Optional Step 4: Lighting the Fumes
Alas, this didn’t quite work for me – but if you see smoke coming out of the hole, you can try lighting a match to light the fumes. The fumes will light and burn off over time – you’ll know your charcloth has finished cooking when there’s no longer a flame. If you examine your charcloth, you’ll see that it’s black with a much different texture than before – perfect for catching sparks and acting as tinder for your fire, especially in damp climates.
And that’s it! Super simple, mess-free, and the perfect solution for your old, worn-out cotton clothes.