Basic wilderness survival — Fire

photo courtesy

It’s all very well posting new and never before tried walks or hikes, but if you happen to be caught out in a storm or inclement weather, and are wet, cold and hungry, the first thing you will need to have is a fire.

A fire has always been the main prerequisite for campers and hikers. There’s nothing else in this world that boosts your moral more than a fire you’ve made yourself.

In this series of posts, we’re going to be talking about some of these very important points, and today we’ll choose fire.

I always like writing from a worst case scenario, so let’s assume the weather is very cold, possibly in icy or snowy conditions, or raining. And yes, you’ve located your matches…but they’re soaking wet and useless.

So, how do you make a fire in this circumstance? Well…with difficulty, is the short answer! But it’s not impossible, so here we go.

Of all the methods that I know of, the very best one that uses just pieces of wood you’ve found, is what I call the Groovy-Slide method (call me a groovy dude!). There are other methods as well, such a using a long stick and turning it like a drill with both hands onto another piece of wood…very ahrd work!

Then there is the lens method, whereby you use a small magnifying lens to start the first spark, but what if you’re caught out in complete darkness….? Another method is to use a carbon steel rod on a piece of flint, a very easy method, but I’m assuming you didn’t pack this!

Ok, so we’re assuming you’ve been lucky in being able to locate some dry wood to use; if you haven’t got any dry wood, then you are in deep trouble really, as dry wood is an absolute essential here, unless you can somehow dry it out. The method I’ve been successful with is what I’m going to describe here, but I warn you now — it’s not easy, no siree!

Right, so you have found some dry wood; one big piece and one long slim piece. Firstly, try and chop the big piece in half lengthways; this will be the bottom half of the firemaker. Then try and trim the end of the longer piece with your knife, and end up with a slightly tapered end, but this is not essential.

Next, with your knife, cut a shallow groove in the bottom piece; this groove is where you will slide the long piece, which hopefully will create some embers relatively quickly and allow you to start the fire.

With the 2nd half of that big piece of wood, scrape some shavings off it with the knife again and put to one side in a dry place; these shavings will be your tinder.

Now holding the long piece of wood at a slight angle, begin sliding it up and down the groove. You will find that after a few strokes, some powderish shavings will begin to build up at the far end of the bottom piece with the groove in it; once enough friction has built up, these scrapings will start glowing as embers and it is these embers you will use to add to the shavings that you saved earlier, to start the fire.

Continue sliding the stick up and down until you can see little puffs of smouldering embers in the bottom wood. Next, very carefully add the shavings to the smouldering embers and very gently at first, blow on them, and soon the shavings will burst into flame.

Once the flame has caught, quickly pile on small, dry pieces of wood or shavings that you saved up earlier, and then gradually put bigger pieces of timber on.

There you are! You’ve started the fire with nothing but 2 pieces of wood, and you now feel really safe, your dark mood has lifted, you are warm, any animal nearby will not dare come near the fire and you can prepare some food. I’ve dredged up a little drawing explaining all this below; hope you can understand it!

But remember, before setting out on your hike, always, always have a back-up plan in case you are drenched and all your fire-making equipment is soaking wet. I always carry a flint and steel set, with which you can start a fire very, very quickly. My suppliers, MEC of Canada, sell a very cheap and thoroughly reliable set here.