While the concentration of the Countdown to Preparedness is more about things like sheltering in place and bugging out, wilderness survival skills are a necessary component of an overall disaster readiness plan. First, learning and becoming adept at such skills are great for increasing your self-confidence. Knowing that you are able to make fire, build an expedient shelter, and navigate your way back to safety from the middle of the forest are all basic, yet necessary, skills.
Being able to get a fire going is crucial to survival. Fire will keep you warm, cook your food, light up the night, and just generally provide comfort in a stressful situation. If you ask me, there is little else that can give peace and serenity like spending an evening watching a campfire.
Of course, there are many ways to start a fire. Matches, lighters, flint and steel, magnesium strikers, the list goes on and on. But all of those tools boil down to the same thing — providing the spark to get the tinder lit. Really, that’s the easy part. Keeping the fire from dying out is the harder aspect.
Tinder consists of very dry, easy to light, material. Cotton balls, dryer lint, and paper all qualify. There are many natural sources as well, such as dried grass. The tinder should be material that will easily catch and hold a spark and burn long enough to start your kindling going.
Kindling are small sticks, at most about as big around as your pinky finger. They should be dry and brittle. The drier they are, the easier they will be to get burning.
The idea here is to start small and work your way up. Tinder gets the kindling going. Kindling gets the larger twigs going. The larger twigs get the thicker logs burning, and so on. You can’t rush this process. Doing so will only result in you having to start over from the beginning. By adding too much fuel too quickly, you’ll smother the flames.
Clear a spot in your backyard to practice making campfires. Use your common sense here and don’t make this next to your wood privacy fence. Scrape the spot down to the bare dirt. If you have one of those patio fireplaces, go ahead and use that if you’d like. Gather a couple armfuls of sticks as well as a couple handfuls of tinder. Make a small teepee with the sticks and place the tinder inside. What you’re hoping to do is get the tinder lit and have it burn up through the teepee, getting the sticks burning. When the teepee collapses, you can slowly add more fuel.
There are, of course, many ways to build a campfire, this is only one of them. But I’ve found most people are successful with this method even without practice.
Once you have a small fire going, add larger sticks a little at a time to build it up as needed. You may be surprised at how small the fire needs to be to warm you up on a chilly night.
This is a very basic skill and many of you probably mastered it long ago. But I’m sure you’ll all agree it is an essential one and should be practiced until you’re proficient with it.
Your assignments this week:
1) Practice making campfires. Use a variety of methods to light the fire as well as different materials for tinder. See what works best for you and what doesn’t work so well.
2) If you don’t have these items already, add them to your shopping list for the week: strike anywhere matches, magnesium strikers, butane lighters, steel wool, 9v batteries (we’ll cover those last two items in a couple weeks).
3) Stay on top of your food and water rotation. This week would be a good time to review your inventory and see where you have holes to be filled.