Esbit tabs can't be lit with a firesteel, unless you grind (produce a powder) some of the tab up first (here's a video about how to do that: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gHRmWVitRyE). A firesteel is much safer than matches or a lighter in my opinion, as it can hardly (if ever) fail, so I'd prefer a system that allows a firesteel to be used.

So, I am considering grinding the tabs before leaving home, and to store the Esbit it in a suitable strong and tightly closed bottle.

If this would work, It would also have the advantage of being able to dose the amount of fuel you want to use.

But, I don't know how effective may that be in real use. What I feel is, a ground Esbit could be very problematic in case of wind, if you don't protect it properly, a strong gust of wind could blow the dust away. But assuming that there's no wind or you properly sheltered the fuel from the wind:

Is a ground Esbit as effective in producing heat as the intact, un-ground, tabs? Or, if there is a difference, how significant is that?

  • I just found that hexamine (the main Esbit tabs component) used to be sold grounded already. amazon.co.uk/800g-Hexamine-Powder-Backpacking-Bushcraft/dp/…
    – Dakatine
    Jul 24, 2015 at 9:09
  • I dispute (Quality, recently purchased) matches are unreliable. I would go for the ease and speed of matches and (if you must) a firesteel as an emergency backup. As each person in the group should have a basic emergency kit, with fire lighting capability, there is very little risk of running out of matches or having a bad batch ruin your trip. If you on solo - a reliable backup is essential - the firesteel.
    – user5330
    Jul 24, 2015 at 9:11
  • In my experience, matches - even the stormproof, brand new ones - are subjected to wind and humidity (not to mention rain). Once lit, they burn, but they are not always easy to light, especially if they got wet. A firesteel is much sturdier in this sense.
    – Dakatine
    Jul 24, 2015 at 11:56
  • Hi! I'm just wondering if you tried this out yet. If so, what kind of results did you get? Thanks! Nov 23, 2015 at 21:31

1 Answer 1


A tab ground up to produce a powder will have a higher surface area, therefore the fuel is more readily available for burning, this is why you can light a ground tab using a flint and steel. The flint and steel produces less energy for a shorter period of time than a match or lighter so it needs access to more fuel initially to catch (think of the fire triangle, heat, fuel & oxygen, your not producing much heat so you need more fuel, the ground state allows the fuel to access more oxygen also, your almost starting lost of small fires that require less of all 3 elements...).

The main problem I can see with keeping something in a ground state is that the added surface area also produces more evaporation (the tabs are volatile chemicals that evaporate away over time, that's why when you buy them they're sealed in plastic). So the ground powder is going to become less effective the longer it's in a ground state. How much of an effect this will have will depend; so a bit of trial and error is likely needed.

I'd say your best bet is to grind them at the last minute or use an intermediate material to take the spark off your flint and steel first (tampons are perfect for this, they're compressed cotton wool, unravel them and strike the spark into the cotton, blow carefully into it until the cotton catches then introduce the cotton into your tabs).

Another potential problem with this is the chance of contaminating your food:

Esbit's Material Safety Data Sheet states combustion can create formaldehyde, ammonia, nitrogen oxide, hydrogen cyanide and ingestion may cause nausea, vomiting, gastrointestinal disturbances, and kidney damage.

It's easier to get a fine powder accidentally into your food, water, etc. then a solid block so be careful withhow and where you store them

  • Thank you (and thanks for fixing my English as well :) ). Do you think that ground hexamine would lose its features even if sealed in an airproof container?
    – Dakatine
    Jul 24, 2015 at 11:58
  • that'd likely help, but you'd want it to be quite tight. The evaporation would still happen until the air in the bag reached it's saturation point. that's why the bag it comes in is sealed quite tight to the hexamine.
    – user2766
    Jul 24, 2015 at 12:14
  • what I care the most, though, is it's ability to burn as efficiently as the solid (non-ground) version. I could grind a few tabs just before heading out, so not to have issues with long-term storage. Although the chance to get cheap bulks is nice... first I'd want to know if it's effective or not. I'll try it myself if nobody did yet.
    – Dakatine
    Jul 24, 2015 at 12:54

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