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Outdoor survival skills:

Cold weather fire making

January 13, 2011
By Matt Heinrichs - Outdoor Columnist

Imagine this: you're out shed hunting, the sky is blue, the sun is shining and the sheds are plentiful. The deep snow is making it a workout to get back to the thick stuff where deer like to hang out during Iowa's blustery winters. So before heading out to your favorite honey hole, you leave a few layers in the truck and take just the essentials.

After a mile-long hike, you finally arrive at a thicket in a deep ravine that holds plenty of wintering deer.

However, with your eyes fixated on the forest floor, you fail to notice clouds slowly rolling in. Pretty soon - as it often occurs in Iowa - snow starts falling, the wind kicks up and you find yourself in the middle of the woods in whiteout conditions.

Article Photos

Fire is essential in survival. Not only does it allow you to stay warm, cook food and boil water, but it is also a great morale booster.
EDN photo by Matt Heinrichs

You attempt to find your way back to your truck, but visibility is so bad that you instead make a large loop, ending back where you started.

Nightfall is coming in fast. Not wanting to risk wandering around in the dark, you decide your only option is to spend the night.

With just an underlayer on, there is no way you will be able to make it through the night without freezing to death.

You need a fire.

This situation may seem extreme, but it's one that hundreds of outdoorsmen and women find themselves in every year all over the north country.

For those that head into the woods unprepared, it is a grave situation, but for those with the skills, tools and a survivalist mindset, it's just another day at the office.

Preparedness

There are certain items that every outdoorsman should take with him or her every time they enter the woods. Two of the most important - at least for the scenario provided - are a fixed blade knife and fire starting capabilities.

Most survival experts agree that it is necessary to have at least three different means of starting fire on your person.

When size and weight are crucial, my favorite is cotton balls soaked in petroleum jelly and a magnesium striker.

The cotton balls easily take a spark and burn for a considerable amount of time, allowing you to build a good base for your fire.

The fixed blade knife allows you to process firewood.

In wet conditions, it is essential to get to dry wood and by using a method called "batoning" in which you use a limb as a club to drive your knife through the wood, you will be able to get to the dry interior.

Burn baby burn

You will need to process your firewood in four separate sizes; toothpick size, pencil size, finger size and arm size.

A rule of thumb is when you think you've gathered enough firewood, double it.

After processing your firewood, you will need to build a base for your fire using logs to lift the fire up off the snow.

Place two cotton balls on top of the base and strike the magnesium striker with your knife, igniting the cotton balls.

This initial stage is the most crucial. Slowly add the toothpick sized pieces onto the flaming cotton balls, being careful not to smother the flame.

As the smaller pieces catch flame, continue to add larger and larger pieces, slowly building your fire until it reaches a comfortable and manageable size.

Once your fire reaches this self-sustaining point, your goal is just to keep feeding it throughout the night.

Fire is essential in survival. Not only does it allow you to stay warm, cook food and boil water, but it is also a great morale booster.

And the most important tool for survival, is the one between your ears.

 
 

 

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