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Alone in the Woods II


Criminal
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We all know how to build a fire if we’re alone in the woods, right? I took AF survival (taught right here in WA) and have read a multitude of books on fire-craft, and decided to put it to the test this weekend. I didn’t have time to get fancy and make a bow/socket/fireboard, I just used matches. Now, in theory, I know how to get a fire going in all kinds of weather. This weekend it was cold and clear, no rain, but everything was covered with snow and/or ice. As always, theory and reality are only parallel concepts.

 

My first attempt pretty much fizzled out. I didn’t take the time to properly prepare everything before I started lighting matches. The second one was much much better. I think I'll have to make it a regular part of my hikes to get a small fire going.

 

Here’s the story and pictures:

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We all know how to build a fire if we’re alone in the woods, right? I took AF survival (taught right here in WA) and have read a multitude of books on fire-craft, and decided to put it to the test this weekend. I didn’t have time to get fancy and make a bow/socket/fireboard, I just used matches. Now, in theory, I know how to get a fire going in all kinds of weather. This weekend it was cold and clear, no rain, but everything was covered with snow and/or ice. As always, theory and reality are only parallel concepts.

 

My first attempt pretty much fizzled out. I didn’t take the time to properly prepare everything before I started lighting matches. The second one was much much better. I think I'll have to make it a regular part of my hikes to get a small fire going.

 

Here’s the story and pictures:

"Service Unavailable"

Edit: It's OK now, move along, there's nothing to see here.

Great post, I sometimes also take along a backpack stove to stop and make some soup or coffee. Homemade fire starters make firebuilding a lot easier (we don't have any of those high oil content trees around here).

Edited by Klatch
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Criminal, did you know there are actually two USAF SERE courses? The other is held in the Rampart Range in CO for USAF Academy students. Was told they're nearly identical, but would have no basis for comparison. Anyway, I went through as a student, and then two summers running as an instructor. You'd think I'd have that preparedness stuff down for life. Not necessarily.

 

On a business trip this past August to NW GA, I thought I'd have a Saturday afternoon & evening free to kayak a large lake in the area. It's my normal practice to load the boat with enough to support me overnight in any new area, which I did. On Friday, my boss surprised me with the whole weekend off, and I didn't waste time getting out on the lake. I had 2 day's food and 1 day's water, and a microfilter (water takes up boku space on a a kayak).

 

Here's the thing I did right. It rained cats & dogs on my way out. I was testing some new ultralight gear, so set up almost a double camp. When I finished, I had a little daylight left, and although I didn't need one, I decided to make a fire in the damp, just to keep in practice. Note that one difference between my experience and Criminal's is that the temp was around 55 degrees, so I was inclined to take my time in foraging and building my tinder pile twice as high as I thought I'd need. My fingers weren't stiff from cold, and I could feel my toes just fine. Still, I was pleased and encouraged by my success with the wet materials (I really don't practice that very often). I had a pleasant evening, and lit off for a more remote area the next day.

 

Here's the thing I did wrong. I did not have my water filter after all. I hadn't inventoried my gear properly, and only found out when I was miles from civilization, after a strenuous day of paddling, hiking, and caching. Oh, and my water supply was spent. Fortunately, I wasn't that far out, and when I recognized my mistake, I headed straight in. I paid for my stupidity with a case of dehydration mild enough that I just felt cruddy and weak and went straight to sleep after getting back to my hotel. Oh, and I had to stop at a gas station and buy water. I hate the idea of having to pay for water! But it was a good object lesson.

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Thanks for sharing, and glad all is OK

 

A few years back I was spending some time in the Smokey's and overnight was hit by a "flash snow storm." Unzipped my tent and nothing but *white.* Dug out, started looking for some fire wood, etc. What a beautiful mess! Anyway, all went well, as did your trek, and one that can't be forgotten.

 

Thanks for bringing back those memories.

 

Z_S

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Thanks for bringing back those memories.

 

Z_S

OK, one more because this thread brought it out of 2 decades of hibernation.

 

I was younger, fitter, and smarter (if not wiser). I was solo climbing Eagle Peak (CO) in early Spring, and had a tumble that banged up an already trick knee. Nothing serious, but as I got wet in the fall, I decided I was spending the night pretty close to where I stopped sliding. Needed a fire PDQ, and I remembered what one of the Fairchild Survival NCOs had told me back at SERE. "If you need it bad, don't worry about fancy techniques. Use a blowtorch if you have one."

I happened to have a thing called a napalm stick that I'd carried since SERE days. I'd been saving it for an emergency, because I had no idea how to acquire another. In no time, I had a toasty fire going with the large pieces of wet wood that were in easy reach.

 

Still no napalm sticks around that I know of, but these days I do carry a couple of signal flares on my boat that can serve either for their intended purpose, or for "gotta have it now" firestarters. Mg rods are good for everyday use, but no rat trusts himself to one hole.

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Still no napalm sticks around that I know of, but these days I do carry a couple of signal flares on my boat that can serve either for their intended purpose, or for "gotta have it now" firestarters. Mg rods are good for everyday use, but no rat trusts himself to one hole.

 

I used to carry around a couple of road flares for starting an emergency fire while hunting.

 

One day (actually I was back at camp and it was nighttime) I decided to see if I could get a fire going. At the time I was in a large alder patch so there was lots of dead branches and small trees, but it was raining cats and dogs that day. All the wood was damp but I thought that would be OK as the flare would burn about 20 minutes and dry enough wood to get a fire going.

 

WRONG!!

 

All it did was burn the wood directly in front of the flare very quickly and didn't give out enough heat to dry any wood! Think about it. Have you seen a flare catch any pavement on fire? Even on a hot day? Pavement is petroleum based and it won't ignite it even though pavement can be made to burn.

 

I tried for 20 minutes to get that fire going all I did was burn a few sticks directly in front of the flare and get very wet in the rain.

Edited by ironman114
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Still no napalm sticks around that I know of, but these days I do carry a couple of signal flares on my boat that can serve either for their intended purpose, or for "gotta have it now" firestarters. Mg rods are good for everyday use, but no rat trusts himself to one hole.

WRONG!!

That makes sense. And honestly, I've never field-tested any signal flares for fire-starting effectiveness. Something to add to my to-do list for this weekend.

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I never tried the bow method, but I do have a flint and steel in my "survival bag" (a small bag with water/windproof strike anywhere matches, a few fire starters and balls of cotton soaked in Vaseline, fish hooks and line, a wire saw, and water purification tablets). The flint and steel I have is a pretty neat little device that also has a strip of magnesium on it and you can use the steel to scrap off magnesium shavings into your tinder pile. I've used this to start fires just for hahas.

 

I've started many a fire on backpacking trips, usually with matches or a lighter and natural tinder. I always have fire starters to make it easier if necessary. I can think of two times I couldn't get anything going. Both were just after extended very heavy rains and all the wood was soaked. In both cases I got the tinder going and small twigs, but never could get the bigger pieces of wood going, so the fire died quickly. I guess in a survival situation I could have spent the night feeding twigs into the fire.

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This is slightly OT, but I do think it relates.

 

My wife and I watch Survivor, pretty much every season.

 

One of the first things the tribes are faced with once they reach their island, is setting up shelter, obtaining water, and building fire to sanitize said water.

And, at least once each season there is a challenge in which the goal is to start a fire before the other team/contestant.

 

In all the years we've watched, it doesn't appear to me that anyone practiced firecraft prior to getting on the airplane.

 

Dumb, dumb, dumb!

 

Not only from a survival standpoint, but in a game where firecraft is a highly-lauded skill, it's just inconceivable to me how much trouble they ALL seem to have.

 

For crimeny's sake, I don't recall ever seeing one of the eyeglass-wearing contestants using their lenses to make fire.

 

And a bow/drill can be made by anyone wearing any man-made clothing.

 

"In this game, fire represents life."

 

How true.

 

Anyone ever read the short story, or seen the movie "To Build a Fire"?

 

Now that's a bad situation!

 

-K

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Oh, I also wanted to mention that in the absence of tinder or kindling, there are many other things that can be used to coax a small flame into a self-sustaining fire.

 

Carmex smeared on a stick, some chapsticks burn too, or dump out some perfume on a stick or pile of dry leaves, nachos burn really well (don't ask).

 

With a bit of one-the-spot planning (before you use up all your matches) and keeping a level head (don't panic) can make a huge difference in whether you get the fire started, or die trying.

 

-K

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Another Fairchild alumnus here.

 

I had a somewhat similar experience, though not in the field. One day, on a whim, I took the magnesium/flint firestarter bar from my Bad Day pack and tried to use it to start the barbeque grill. The flint made great dramatic sparks, but directing them accurately onto the tinder (spiked with magnesium shavings) was a lot more difficult than I anticipated. It was a windy day, which contributed to the fun, since you want pretty lightweight tinder when you're trying to start it with sparks.

 

I eventually succeeded using the magnesium shavings and a vaseline-soaked cotton ball, but it was a tremendous pain the butt. I always carried a fresh disposable lighter as my primary firestarter; now I carry three--pocket, Bad Day pack, and backpack.

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When I was a young teenager I read "To Build A Fire". It taught me that location of that fire was just as important as materials to build it with.

 

Yes there was just one Survivor episode where they tried to use glasses to make fire with.

 

I must've missed that season, there's a couple in the middle we haven't seen.

But seriously, if you knew you were gonna be on an island and would need to boil water, wouldn't you try it at home, at least once??? <_<

 

Anyway, mostly I just wanted to say I LOVE your avatar pic.

 

Marvin freeeken rules!

Click Me

178440_1000.jpg

B):P:huh:

-K

Edited by krisandmel
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I found this book very usefull. Its designed for the average day hiker who has never had a survival class. It deals with inly the basic simple things that will keep you alive and dry. The basic surival kit the author talks about in the book is worth the price of the book alone.

 

When it comes to lighting a fire the author advocates having multiple ways to start one. I tried the cotton balls coated in vaseline to start a camp fire and thy work really good and burn hot for sveral minutes.

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I pack dryer lint (Double packed in ziplock bags), and a Bic lighter in my survival kits. Very light, and very easy to catch a flame.

I agree that dryer lint makes excellent fire starter, but with this caveat: the synthetic fibers in dryer lint make it very tacky/sticky after it ignites. If you get it on your clothes or skin it can be difficult to remove quickly before some damage is done. I'm not saying don't use it, just be very careful when you do.

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I pack dryer lint (Double packed in ziplock bags), and a Bic lighter in my survival kits. Very light, and very easy to catch a flame.

Dryer lint or cotton balls are not going to keep you warm. Yes, they'll help you get a fire going, but can you, when it's raining or snowing, build a large warming fire?

 

More importantly, have you tried, in the rain or snow, while your hands are cold? A BIC lighter is tough to work with numb fingers.

 

That was my point with this thread, practial vs theory.

Edited by Criminal
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I pack dryer lint (Double packed in ziplock bags), and a Bic lighter in my survival kits. Very light, and very easy to catch a flame.

Dryer lint or cotton balls are not going to keep you warm. Yes, they'll help you get a fire going, but can you, when it's raining or snowing, build a large warming fire?

 

More importantly, have you tried, in the rain or snow, while your hands are cold? A BIC lighter is tough to work with numb fingers.

 

That was my point with this thread, practial vs theory.

Good waterproof matches make it much easier to get the flame exactly where you want it in your fire lay. Tilt that BIC too far and your fingers become fire starters. For fun, I teach Scouts how to start a fire with flint, steel and char cloth made from 100% cotton. That's how it was done by Jedediah Smith, Jim Bridger, et al.

Edited by Klatch
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More importantly, have you tried, in the rain or snow, while your hands are cold? A BIC lighter is tough to work with numb fingers.

 

That was my point with this thread, practial vs theory.

 

Not super cold here, right now about 20 F. Read this thread, then took my dog outside for a walk. I usually wear the whole nine yards, but for this trip I left the gloves in the house.

 

I was probably outside for a total of 20 minutes. One hand on the leash, the other on the flash light, so I could not put my hands in my pockets. Before I came inside, i did try to light a BIC lighter. And after just 20 minutes, I found it very hard to do. Took about 10 tries to light it. Now if i'd been outside for a full day and tried it, I might still be out there trying.

 

I guess a better outdoorsman lighter would remedy this (or a BIC with no child proof saftey), but I was into the practical vs theory thing.

 

No snow here in Jersey yet, but after the first few inches I guess i'm going to have to go practice :huh:

 

I like this tread, brought some things to mind I thought I had checked off on my list already.

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I guess a better outdoorsman lighter would remedy this (or a BIC with no child proof saftey), but I was into the practical vs theory thing.

 

Try this:

lighter_home.jpg

 

Also, many good points were made that lint or cottonballs/vaseline will burn, but quickly and not really anything more than firestarters.

 

Planning and calm thinking are good ideas most times, but especially so in an emergency.

 

Before lighting any match or lighter or striking a flint, make sure you have fine tinder, coarser tinder, fine kindling, then sticks, then medium branches.

Make sure these items are dry, or as close to as the situation allows.

 

Often overlooked completely, make sure you have a windbreak for your activities.

An infant fire is easily poofed out by the smallest gusts.

 

Oh, and a more secure way to keep lint or whatever fire-making materials dry than double ziplocks are FoodSaver vacubags.

If you get a bend in the zip of a ziplock bag, they no longer are air or watertight. Try it.

 

I swear by the FoodSaver bags: Double those up and unless pierced, they will stay dry for eons.

 

And along the lines of News of the Wierd, didja know that there is enough synthetics and threads and buckles and underwires in the average bra to make a bow and drill, as well as having some highly flammable synthetic tinder?

Don't ask how I know. <_<

 

~K

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I guess a better outdoorsman lighter would remedy this (or a BIC with no child proof saftey), but I was into the practical vs theory thing.

 

Try this:

lighter_home.jpg

 

 

You bet. Why is there always talk about running out of matches? I wouldn't even consider carrying matches common sense says to carry a lighter, you'll get hundreds of more trys with a lighter than with matches. Zippos are great, but for me a regular Bic lighter can't be beat.

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You bet. Why is there always talk about running out of matches? I wouldn't even consider carrying matches common sense says to carry a lighter, you'll get hundreds of more trys with a lighter than with matches. Zippos are great, but for me a regular Bic lighter can't be beat.

 

Yep, Bic's are pretty handy, I wouldn't be caught without one.

 

However, the nice thing about the Zippo's are the increased wind-resistance and even more important in my opinion, is that you can take apart the lighter and access the fuel-soaked cotton, which you can squeeze to drip raw fuel on subpar tinder.

 

Put the lighter back together and spark it, or just use the Bic that is also always along.

 

A little Ronsinol (sp?) goes a long way in getting a fire going.

 

I've also thought about keeping a highway flare in my cachepack.

Obviously a source of flame, can be cut up to get to the fuel inside (for more frustrating firemaking attempts) and of course, the flare is a good signaling device to searchers afoot or airborne.

 

No matter what you end up doing, you'll be much better off just by doing a bit of forethought.

~K

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I’ve always enjoyed testing my “primitive abilities”. I have even gone through the trouble of making and using a tinderbox. The boy and I were able to get a couple of good fires going with the old flint & steel.

 

A good Christmas present would be any decent survival book, there are many times when the ingenuity and information these books can provide will help you get out of a sticky situation.

 

Anyone remember the Foxfire books (darn hippey parents) – another good source of self reliance & survival is Backwoods Home Magazine

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Again, have you ever actually tried to light a fire in poor conditions? Yes, there are hundreds of effective types of tinder out there, but they won’t keep you warm. You still need to find kindling and fuel wood. Have you ever actually tried to build a fire that can keep you and your companions (friends, kids, dogs) warm? We’ve all started fires, fireplace or BBQ or whatever, so I think we can all start a fire reasonably well. My point was (and is) have you ever done it for real, in the type of place you frequent, in the type of weather conditions that would make a fire necessary?

 

Bics and Zippos work great in warm dry conditions, they don’t work so well when your hands are cold or the wind is blowing. It’s been my experience that they don’t work at all once the striker wheel or flint gets wet. That’s when you’ll need them to work, and anything that won’t work under normal conditions is just deadweight in your pack. If you’re going to promote them, please post your experiences using them.

 

Brian, have ever actually tried that wire-saw? So far, all of the people I know that tried to use it ended up breaking it. None of them carries one anymore.

 

RANT: If you hunt the web looking for tips on firecraft, you will continually find the same tired information that’s based on the Army Field Manual FM 21-76 Chapter 7. If you become separated from your hiking party, are you planning to build one of these:

fig7-1.gif

fig7-2.gif

 

I really didn’t want to get into a discussion of how we think we’d start a fire, I wanted to hear about actual experiences doing it using the stuff we actually carry when we’re out.

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OK, I’ll give it a shot. Yep, during many backpacking trips, mostly on the Appalachian Trail here in PA. As I said earlier, I would carry waterproof matches, because Bic lighters will not spark if the friction wheel gets wet. I suspect much the same from Zippo types, but I never carry them due to the odor and the chance of fuel leakage. My normal fire starting aid is made from sawdust/wood chips mixed with melted paraffin and poured into the sections of paper egg cartons. We would each carry a couple of sections. Fairly dry tinder and kindling can usually be found on the inner branches of pine/hemlock trees. We always referred to this as “squaw wood”, although that is probably no longer politically correct. You may even be lucky enough to find some pieces large enough to be considered fuel wood. Sassafras is a wood that seems to burn fairly well when damp due to its oil content and makes good tinder/kindling. A second source of fuel wood is standing dead saplings that can be pushed down and broken to size, either by hand or in the “y” of a healthy tree. We never carried an axe or saw, so we confined our fuel wood to pieces that can be broken to length. A really big help for starting the fire in adverse conditions is to shelter you fire lay. This can be a natural formation such as a rock outcropping, cave entrance, or a rain fly. We always carried a rain fly, so that was set up before trying to start the fire. I don’t carry a rain fly when caching, but I do have a rain poncho and a rain jacket. I suspect the poncho could accomplish the same thing as the fly, although I have to admit I never was lost or needed to start a fire in the rain while caching. After the fire was started and burning fairly well, the extra fuel wood was laid near the fire to help it to dry before it is added to the fire.

All that said, our fires are mostly for warmth and companionship. We never had an emergency situation. But I do know I can do it, if need be. (We carry backpacking stoves for cooking.)

Normally we would have tents when backpacking. However, we have used the reflector wall, like in the diagram, behind the fire to warm the inside of our handmade shelter during winter camping trips and temperatures in the teens. It DOES reflect an amazing amount of radiant energy into the shelter. We would lay flat rocks against the wood to help with the reflection.

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Criminal, I really appreciate this topic.

Now that you mention it, I have never actually tried to start a fire in bad conditions. I have read all the theories, but this post has made me actually want to try this winter.

I always carry in my survival pouch some waterproof matches in a waterproof container and a lighter. I need to learn the bow method.

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One thing I can say for sure is that anyone that can start a fire under adverse conditions has achieved a major accomplishment and deserves a good pat on the back.

 

When I go into the woods in the late season I take a lighter, matches and some other extras in a watertight container.

 

I've only had to start 1 fire under adverse conditions (winter – light blowing snow about 20-25) and that was several years ago. I fell into water waist deep taking a shortcut about 2 miles from the car. Ever fall into freezing water up to you know where – very enlightening.

 

I was fortunate enough to be in an area with many pine trees. I used pine needles, potato chips, gum wrapper and some small twigs all my matches & the lighter to get things going (lit the fire under a low branch) after that I just broke dead branches off the trees. PITA to keep it running with the small stuff, I was able to get a nice fire going but I still had to get out.

 

Once I had the fire established I dried my socks and boots the best I could with what I had. I made it back to the car - clothing was frozen solid (along with my feet which felt like clubs).

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This is probably very un-pc (puts flame suit on), but a smoker can get that bic to work under any conditions!

 

I find that soaking dryer lint in wax and tightly compressing it greatly increases the burn time for fire starting. Okay, it takes a little time and effort. Maybe a lot of time and effort, but it's something to do on a rainy day. As an added bonus, you can mistakenly use scented candle wax for a soothing aroma during stressful times. Yes, I actually made the mistake of using vanilla scented wax last time I made my firestarters. Not sure why I didn't notice when I was melting it, but it sure was strong when I started the fire. Added a touch of humor to the morning campfire experience.

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This is probably very un-pc (puts flame suit on), but a smoker can get that bic to work under any conditions!

 

 

This is true the Bic will ALWAYS work, just don't try this trick with an off brand .59 cent lighter. I would NEVER trade my bic for matches. That said, I never had to build a fire to survive, but I have built fires while cold weather camping in the snow using a bic lighter, hundreds of twigs, and leaves and gradually adding larger and larger twigs. If I thought there may be chance of actually needing it then I'd consider carrying one of the minuture Dura Flame chemical logs. The small ones are the size of cigar and if you can't build a fire using one of those you may want to consider wheather or not it's a good idea to walk that far into the woods.

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An earlier post mentioned the TV show Survivor. The final episode for this season was on this past sunday. Did anyone see it? There was a "fire" challenge to determine who moved on to the final three for a million dollars. Under perfect conditions, two contestants were given everything needed to build a fire. After one hour there was NO fire. They were then given matches. One contestant ran out of matches without having built a fire. The other contestant finally got a fire going to win the challenge. Learn this......just having the tools for fire isn't enough. Get out there and get some hands on experience. Go build a fire! It may not earn you a million dollars but it could save your life.

Edited by johninvandergrift
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great thread. criminal, i agree completely. once, on a winter backpack along the AT, i arrived at a shelter tired, cold, and alone. the wood in the area was damp and try as i might, i couldn't get a fire going the usual way. i finally resorted to using a bit of white gas from my stove to liven things up. the resultant fireball succeeded in starting the wood and nicely woke me up as well. seems while my cold fingers were attempting to light a match the gasoline vaporized in the confined space of the fireplace! i can assure you it was an attention getter. commercial fire starters and matches work well together. starting a fire under emergency conditions geometrically increases the difficulty compared to doing it in less severe times. i think the moral is to try not to let yourself (if possible) get to the point where it is desperately necessary to perform. and truly, experiment with the technology you plan to use to save your life. -harry

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Great thread Criminal! I'm going to save up dryer lint in a 20 oz. dry soda bottle. I'll add some type of flammable liquid (not sure what or what amount) . For lighting pillar candles, Quill, my wife has been using a Scripto Windresistant lighter which is 12 inches long including the 6 inch barrel which fits neatly into the neck of the bottle. I found a pack of 6 - .5X.5X4inch fire starter sticks in a cache. I haven't tried them out yet.

If you can find a Pine/Spruce/Cedar with low dead branches that can be broken off use them for your small kindling.

I have been known to go snowshoe caching but never too far to make it back to the cachemobile in 45 minutes.

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My firestarter of choice is composed of items I carry normally...alcohol-based hand sanitizer and TP. I have never failed to start a fire with this stuff, and I've built some in seriously wet conditions. My lighter is a nickel plated stormproof mini-torch.

 

Mythbusters did an episode not long ago where they attempted to create fire from a lens made from ice and from polishing the bottom of a soda can with chocolate. Both methods work, but take more effort than other, more traditional methods.

 

In reading a number of survival books, the most commonly cited vital survival equipment would be lighters, a good knife, and a plastic garbage bag.

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An earlier post mentioned the TV show Survivor. The final episode for this season was on this past sunday. Did anyone see it? There was a "fire" challenge to determine who moved on to the final three for a million dollars. Under perfect conditions, two contestants were given everything needed to build a fire. After one hour there was NO fire. They were then given matches. One contestant ran out of matches without having built a fire. The other contestant finally got a fire going to win the challenge. Learn this......just having the tools for fire isn't enough. Get out there and get some hands on experience. Go build a fire! It may not earn you a million dollars but it could save your life.

 

To say that they failed fire starting 101 would be a huge understatement! Especially after how many days on the Island!! 1st thing they did wrong was not shaving off any magnesium and 2nd they were sparking it while holding in in the air, thus sending sparks everywhere but the intended target

 

As a Scout I tried the bow method and surprise myself when it worked! I also tried it once as a leader but failed, not because of my technique but because I kept kicking snow on it! I have also tried the magnesium bar, lint and sadly the can of naphtha method :) I always carry some 2' strips of rolled newspaper dipped in paraffin wax, its never failed in 30 years :P

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I took my son out to teach him some of what I’d learned last week. The forest was wet, snow covered, and we had a hard time finding anything dry enough to burn.

 

I looked at the fire starting pastes, but they are heavy and not really designed for lightweight day hiking. I wouldn’t carry it so there was no point in trying it. I bought several commercial tinder products and had mixed success with them. The best matches were some REI branded ones, they light fast and burned long and hot. The worst one was the Coghlan's fire starting bricks, even when I shaved pieces off it was very hard to light with a match and impossible with my sparking tool. Like most of their products, it’s crap. We kicked apart a couple of stumps looking for pitchwood but it was all old and had very little pitch in it.

 

We did get a fire started but it went out as soon as the brought-along tinder ran out. It was a good little blaze but wasn’t self sustaining. That, for me, is the part I want to practice. I always carry one or two types of tinder, either home made or commercial, but getting a good roaring blaze going is where my learning curve curves into the dirt. On that day in the place we were, it was very hard to find anything that would burn.

 

I know it can be done! I just need to practice more. That’s really where I’m trying to steer this thread; actual experiences¹ building a self sustaining fire² large enough to keep you warm³. Theory and conjecture are great, but of little use if you have never tried. BTW, I really don’t want to discuss those idiotic ‘reality’ shows.

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In reading a number of survival books, the most commonly cited vital survival equipment would be lighters, a good knife, and a plastic garbage bag.

 

A plastic garbage bag? How interesting.

Is this used just to keep things dry? Catch water?

I'm very curious, please elaborate.

 

You can make a shelter with it by cutting it open on one side, wear it as a rain poncho if you cut holes for your arms and head, if you wear it it will trap some body heat, use it to transport water. Its very versatile and if you get a high grade bag, like the bags with the Flex lining that allows it to stretch, very durable.

 

I've used one as an emergency rain poncho in cold weather, worked really good.

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Hairspray from the pack of the "newbie without a clue" is a great firestarter. We are not sure who he thought was going to be impressed by his hairdo in a group of guys, but we were all pleased by the roaring fire created when the sticky crap was liberally applied to our fuel stack. Also, the aerosol can made a rousing explosion later when tied to an M-80 and jammed into a dead log. :ph34r: To be young and stupid(er) again !

 

One thing I've found to be beneficial, is fan the flames with whatevers available while they are blazing. It seems to help dry your wet wood better. Set your yet-to-be-used pile on the downwind side of the fire so it can begin drying.

 

Also saw in "Mother Earth News" magazine. Take an empty, clean tuna can. Cut strips of cardboard as wide as the can is deep. Wind the cardboard in a spiral around the inside of the can till its full, and melt in paraffin. I haven't tried it yet, but after reading this thread I will. The article claims it will burn long enough to heat a can of soup, or dry wood and set it to a self-sustaining blaze. NOTE: Article says you still must build fire properly -

small twigs building in increasingly larger fuel on top layers.

Edited by Captain Chaoss
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Fire starting under adverse conditions is indeed a challenge compared to the conditions most of us experience while camping or hiking when the weather is a bit more favorable. How do you start a fire when it's been raining for a week and everything is totally soaked? What about if it's extremely cold and most of the normal Boy Scout 'fuzz stick' techniques won't work because you're shivering and your fingers are numb?

 

Here's a couple of tips I learned from reading a Professional Guides manual published by Herter's Inc... Don't gather wood found on the wet ground but rather use dead wood still attached to a "sheltered tree' where water has not had the chance to soak in as well. You can also use a hatchet or axe to access the dry 'heart wood' of a log. Use the dry interior of the log to make dry kindling and 'starter logs' for your fire.

 

In a hurry when conditions are wet and cold? Make a "Canadian Lantern". I've used this trick a bunch of times when my fire was the only one going in a campground under wet conditions... Prepare your campfire pit with a hole in the dirt that a tin can can be inserted into. Fill the tin can with sand or dry dirt then fill with gasoline. Insert the can in the hole flush with the ground then build your soon to be fire with the driest kindling available. (note: gasoline like gunpowder will only burn slowly if not confined and must be used cautiously only in an open fire-pit) The Canadian lantern will produce a steady flame that will last for quite a while and dry out your kindling and start your fire under wet conditions. Once your fire is going stand your extra logs on end around the fire at a distance so they will be pre-dried before putting them on the fire.

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then fill with gasoline.

 

I can understand the OP's frustration. Nobody seems to get his point.

Umm, I do get his point about 'practical vs theory' and will pit my fire starting skills against any woodsman. I just added some easier and more practical methods of starting a fire quickly under wet conditions to contribute to this thread. If that's a problem we can just talk about rubbing sticks, using steel wool and a 9v battery or the multitude of other obscure methods of starting a fire that most people will never use under adverse conditions when they need to be practical and make a fire quickly.

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then fill with gasoline.

 

I can understand the OP's frustration. Nobody seems to get his point.

Umm, I do get his point about 'practical vs theory' and will pit my fire starting skills against any woodsman. I just added some easier and more practical methods of starting a fire quickly under wet conditions to contribute to this thread. If that's a problem we can just talk about rubbing sticks, using steel wool and a 9v battery or the multitude of other obscure methods of starting a fire that most people will never use under adverse conditions when they need to be practical and make a fire quickly.

 

I have cached with and talked with the op about this subject.

 

His point is what is practical = what have "YOU TRIED".

 

As opposed to theory "what should work".

 

He wants to hear from people that have tried and been either successful or filed to make fire.

 

We both hike in areas that get 30 inches or more of rain a month for 3-4 months in a row, with a total rainfall of 120-200 inches a year. Things can be very soggy except for late August or Sept.

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The garbage bag is a good multiple-use item. You can use it as a poncho, a pack liner to keep your stuff dry, as a vapor barrier to keep yourself warm in your sleeping bag (when/if temps really plummet), to cover wood and keep it from getting wet in a downpour, to wrap around leaves on a tree/shrub to catch water that is transpired through the leaves, and pretty much anything else you can think of.

 

For fires, pinecones usually stay dry longer than other duff. If there are pinecones in the area, they are useful. Leaves generate a lot of smoke, but b/c of their large surface area, they dry VERY fast. What I have done is stack my small, wet kindling into a tower with small stuff on the bottom and larger stuff on top. I put my tp/hand sanitizer firestarter in the bottom center of the tower, and put ANY dry kindling I find in there with it. I light the firestarter, and then place small amounts of leaves on top of the tower. If they're especially wet, maybe only one leaf at a time. As they dry, they catch fire. With all the wet kindling BENEATH the burning leaves, this accelerates the drying time of the kindling. If you keep this adequately fed, the ashes from the leaves will fall to the bottom, which will produce a good amount of radiant heat which also helps to dry the wet kindling. Once the kindling starts to catch, you're in business.

 

The key is finding at least some dry kindling to add to all the wet stuff you have. Anything that's above ground is a good option. If you can peel the bark off of downed logs, you can increase their surface area and drying time. Sometimes, there's a layer of dry, fibrous material underneath the bark that works GREAT. If the wood is especially rotten, you can shred it up into small pieces that will dry quickly.

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