A fire is a critical element in any backcountry survival situation. Should you find yourself in any such circumstance where your safety and survival is dependant on getting a fire going, are you ready and prepared to get the job done? Before heading out for adventures this question has to be addressed. It is always best to be prepared and trained before you find yourself in the bad situation. Take the time to spark up a few practice fires and pack the needed fire supplies before entering the wilderness.
What to Pack, and Where to Pack It
Any wilderness travel should include:
- a knife or multi-tool,
- extra food
- extra layers – including a hat and gloves,
- navigation device such as map and compass or GPS – ideally both,
- space bag,
- signally device
- fire starter with a lighter or waterproofed matches.
One thing many wilderness travelers fail to think of is where they pack all this gear. It is too easy to pack it, but then keep it in a dry bag or off the body. It is critical that many of these essentials be kept on the body in the case that if separated from a raft/canoe or method of transport you have the needed supplies. Obviously, any fire starter like Vaseline soaked cotton balls, or magnesium blocks and shavings should be kept in a baggy, then in a pocket.
Start the Fire
Your fire should adhere to the age-old adage of location, location, location. Anticipate any condition that could occur that would impede the fire’s burn. Examples include:
- wind tunnel areas in caves,
- under snow-covered trees, or
- in exposed areas where heavy rain fall may occur.
Next, dig a small pit and begin collecting small dry twigs, spruce or pinecones and leaves. Spruce and pinecones are some of the best natural fire starter you can use. If no cones are on the ground, find conifers and scrape off any pitch or gum seeping from the bark. Smear the pitch over small twigs. If you can only find green branches, strip off the bark and cut them in half to expose the inner tissues of the wood.
Stack the twigs into a teepee shape and place the spruce cones or fire starter material into the center. Light the starter and let the flames push upward, lighting the teepee. Be prepared with slightly larger twigs and branches, and place them in the conical teepee shape over the flames. It is important not to add too much to the fire as the flames could get smothered out.
As the fire gains strength, begin adding larger pieces of wood. Let the large pieces burn down so the dug out pit has a consistent pile of glowing coals. These coals emit the maximum amount of heat, necessary for survival.
Keep It Going
The coals provide the heat, and the flames provide the needed signal for any potential aircraft searching for you in a lost/survival situation. During prime search times, gather green conifer boughs and place them onto the fire. These create tremendous amounts of smoke that billows up, providing a good visual indicator of your location.
When you find yourself in any situation like this, keep calm, maintain a positive mental outlook and use your practiced fire starting skills to keep you warm, safe and alive.