The other day I went out for a walk to mark some waypoints with my new etrex 10 GPS unit. I didn’t have my pack with me, which I almost always do, so I decided to make the walk a mini-test of my wilderness skills. After setting a couple of waypoints I walked into the woods and headed in the general direction of my house from a road about a mile away.
The test I set for myself was: using only what I had on me could I survive a night or two? Which could be tough because the only thing I carried with me was my EDC Camillus knife, which has a small firesteel taped into it.
I was thirsty and wanted a drink of water and I’d need shelter of some kind. The shelter really wasn’t a problem because the woods I was in are full of both hardwood and softwood with lots of dead stuff laying around to make a quick lean to. The hard part was finding something to purify water in and getting a fire started. I’ve never started a fire with such a small firesteel and I wasn’t sure how effective it would be. That’s why I always test my gear before being forced to rely on it in a real survival situation.
As I traveled through the woods I kept my eyes open for anything I could use to help my survival situation. The first thing I looked for was a good sized birch tree, so that I could harvest bark for a cup and some of the excellent tinder it provides. As luck would have it I found an old glass juice bottle (remember when juice came in a quart sized glass jug?), which I promptly dug out of the frozen ground and carried with me. That’s a real treat in a situation like that because that meant I didn’t have to fashion a cup or container out of birch bark saving me time for other things. A short time later I came across a tin cup buried in the ground. I damaged it getting it out, but it still held water. Score again!
I knew of a stream where I’d be able to fill up my container, but it’s usually buried in snow and frozen solid this time of year. Not this time. There’s very little snow this year here in Midcoast Maine, which is very unusual, but it did allow me to break through the ice and wash the containers and then fill them up. Now I had water and something to boil it in.
Then it was time to start a fire. In a situation like this make sure that you have a good safe location for your fire. After finding a good spot I gathered as much dry tinder as I could and then shredded the birch bark until it was very fine and papery. Next I used a big piece of bark to hold the tinder in place and then I pulled the tape off the knife and hoped that the firesteel was still attached. Happily, it was.
I tried the back of my knife on the mini-steel and had no luck getting a spark, but then I found a wonderful use for that Tanto point that I talked about in another post. That tip is ideal for striking a spark from a small steel like the one I was using. In order to get the spark to land in the right spot I put the knife over the bark and tinder I’d put together and then put the firesteel under and it pulled it towards me creating a spark that way. The first few times the spark went wide and then it hit the tinder just right and whoosh! I had fire. I quickly fed it with the small twigs I had laid nearby (always have your wood ready to go before lighting the fire) and soon had a very nice fire going.
After using the tin cup to heat water I was able to enjoy a nice drink and relax knowing that if I’d been in that situation for real my skills and gear were enough to get me through a night or two in relative comfort.
Gear is wonderful and I love it a lot, but skill and knowledge are more important in a wilderness survival situation. And I’ve got to say it’s a pretty liberating experience when you can enter the woods with a degree of confidence simply because you have an idea of what you’d do to survive if something happened out there.
There are no guarantees for survival of course, but you certainly better your odds if you practice your survival skills before going out in the big woods by yourself and find yourself in a bad situation.
How about it – are you confident in your outdoor skills? Have you tested yourself lately?