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Campfire starting for survival

July 28, 2012

The ability to start a fire in the wilderness is one of the most basic survival skills, and probably the least practiced. After all, how often does your life depend on making a fire? Not very often today, but what about in a bug out situation? Lost in the boonies? A fire provides heat for cooking, allows water to be boiled prior to drinking which is STILL the best method of making safe drinking water, and can be utilized as a signal or for protection. But most importantly a fire provides warmth, and staying warm is what will save your life in a survival situation. Knowledge of fire making is easily available but as with many skills, ‘knowing’ it is way different than ‘doing it’.

Practice your fire craft when it’s cold, wet, windy, with damp or wet wood. When it’s sunny and warm. ANY conditions. Practice in the rain and in the snow. It may be uncomfortable, but the know how may save your life. One of the top things you may learn is to have more than one way to light a fire.

One major thing you’ll need is patience, take the time to ‘plan’ your campfire. Look for some shelter against the wind and rain. If you’re out in deep snow, make a grid for your fire to rest on using green wood. Don’t build your fire under tree limbs full of snow, the fire will melt that and the collapsing snow will dump right into your fire. Look for the driest fuel you can find, most of which will be dead limbs still in the trees within your reach from the ground. That hiking stick with the hook would be very useful for this job. Get yourself and your fire fuel and tinder into the driest part of your shelter. If you’re not in snow, clear the ground of all flammables, dry grass and leaves. Maybe use them as tinder, if nice and dry. You want a bare spot for the fire, about a couple feet across for keeping your fire under control. Finding your fire has snuck under your boots while you were nodding off wouldn’t be pleasant!

Gather way more wood and fuel than you think you could possibly need. Even then, you may run out and have to get more, but at least you’ll have planned ahead a bit. Then the ‘surprise, we’re out of firewood’ may be avoided.

Tinder will be the ‘trigger’ for starting the fire. That’s any light or fluffy material that will catch a spark and take off burning, with good heat and should last at least a few minutes to get your smaller bits of firewood going nicely. That would be ‘squaw wood’, small, dry twigs and little branches and split small limbs, known as your kindling, laid around and over your tinder material. Then over that, finger sized wood, working up to limbs about as big as your wrist. Never mind cutting this stuff, just put the ends into the fire after its going well, and push them in as they’re consumed. You can configure this pile as a ‘teepee’ or a square layered pile, or a ‘lean to’ beside a large log or rock, built as described.

To avoid the likelihood that you will NOT find nice, dry tinder out in the survival situation, you should take your own, keeping a stash of the stuff in your BOB. You can make your own, there are several ‘recipes’ out there. Some favor cotton balls that have had Vaseline worked into them, kept in a spare pill bottle. I’ve heard of one made of a mix of charcoal dust, dryer lint and a dab of cooking oil. Dryer lint by itself, if perfectly dry, will catch a spark very well, but won’t last long at all, it needs something like the oil to make it last longer. Fine steel wool and a battery, like a nine volt or the battery from your cell phone, use the contacts, touched into a ball of steel wool will ignite the stuff, burn fairly intensely for a while. There are of course, many fine manufactured tinder products you can buy that ‘might’ be superior to home brewed stuff. But knowing how to make your own is useful.

Lighting the tinder is the next step and of course matches are the most common thing to accomplish that trick. Decent water /  weatherproof matches are the best for most folks. Many make their own water resistant matches by dipping the strike anywhere kitchen type matches into melted paraffin. You’ll have to scratch the wax off the colored tip of the match before you can strike it. Don’t even waste your time with paper book matches. If you have matches, your well fueled Zippo lighter or even one of those cheap Chinese disposable butane lighters, it makes life a lot easier. With these choices, you can upgrade your fire starter by using old candle stubs or used birthday candles to get things going with the fire. Be aware if the butane lighter gets into the right situation, the sucker will blow up like a small stick of dynamite. A toss up for popularity in fire starting is the spark making products against the matches or lighter choices. I sort of lean towards the spark makers, they work when wet and they don’t ever run out of fuel. My personal choice in fire sparkers is the Firesteel Tube Ranger.

In any case, this is something you must be capable of, in almost any condition of weather. Better get out there and practice.

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