One of our friend teaches survival skills with a not-for-profit group. When we asked him for a few easy and important lessons for our readers, he is what he had to say. These are 10 Essential Survival & Camping Tips: Water and Fire – Part 2 of 2. For part 1, click here.
This little bastard is called Giardia and it lives in pretty much all natural water sources in North America. While some may argue exceptions, assume there is no safe lake, stream, pond, etc. Giardia causes Giardiasis, a.k.a Beaver Fever, which is not nearly as fun as it sounds. There are plenty of other problematic pollutants and microbes living in natural water sources, but this is the most common. It us passed from animals to the water when they defecate in or near it. For most people, Giardia isn’t life-threatening, but in a survival situation, getting sick or injured could easily kill you. Be smart, be safe.
02. Best Water Sources in Emergencies
What if you’re about to die of dehydration? While still not sure to be safe, these natural sources are better than others.
- Swamps act as natural filtration systems, so while the water might look (and taste) foul, it’s less likely to make you sick.
- Rivers are NOT safe, but if you have to choose between a river and a lake, choose a river, since the water isn’t stagnant.
- Natural springs are the safest on the list, unless you’re in an area with contaminated ground water. Try to drink close to the source where it’s been exposed to the fewest pollutants.
03. So, should I drink my pee?
No. Don’t drink your urine. If you’re dehydrated, your urine is dense with contaminants that your body is trying to get OUT. Putting it back in just forces the body to expend more water re-processing it. It could hydrate you if the urine itself is hydrated. If it is, you’re already drinking plenty of water, so…why the hell are you drinking your pee? That’s gross, Bear Grylls, and there are plenty of other good ways to get water.
04. Absurdly easy water sources if you have the supplies
Seal a plastic bag around a leafy tree branch. Leave it overnight and there should be water in morning. No much, but enough. You will be amazed at how well this works. If you have trees around your house, I recommend trying it just for fun. It’s also a great experiment to teach kids about how plants work. Bread bags work really well for this. Make sure the bag doesn’t have holes.
Just around sunrise, take a cotton cloth like a T-shirt to a grassy area. Use it to soak the dew off the grass, then squeeze the water from the shirt into your mouth or a container. Just don’t do this if you’re somewhere that sprays for weeds or bugs!
Eating snow or ice isn’t helpful for hydration. Your body uses much or more water heating it up. Instead chip ice into a small container or waterproof pouch and keep it underneath your clothes. Your body will heat it up as you go. Every time you take drink, chip more ice into the bottle. This is how many Inuit stay hydrated in Arctic conditions. Always use ice rather than snow, since it is much more dense with water.
This diagram is awesome and explains solar stills better than I can in text. This one is particularly useful in desert settings where water and plant life are hard to come by. Not all of these elements are necessary. Change it around depending on what resources you have available. For the moist soil, you can urinate in the solar still. This is the closest you should ever have to come to drinking your pee.
05. Always carry water filtering systems while camping.
There are a lots of great filters on the market, some quite expensive. I always carry one while camping or hiking. ‘ve heard a lot of chatter about the lifestraw, though I haven’t had the chance to try one yet. It sounds like a really solid, smart product from what I’ve heard, and I’d love to hear what you have to say about it if you’ve tried it. Iodine tablets are a solid option, but not as thorough as an actual filter. Be aware that they can freeze under cold conditions, so make sure your filter is dry between uses. In my experiences, this is especially problematic with ceramic filters.
06. Flint is always a wise investment
Because matches get wet and cigarette lighters run out of fluid, you should learn a variety of ways to start a fire in the wilderness. Any fire requires you to scavenge and assemble three things before you start:
- Tinder – dry grass, straw, pine resin, lichen, cotton, wood shavings or other flammable material that immediately combust with a spark or flame.
- Kindling – twigs and tiny branches that light up quickly from the burning embers or other tinder.
- Fuel – split logs, larger branches, charcoal or other long-burning source.
You must now generate sparks to light the tinder. You can use mineral-rich rocks and/or steel, concentrated sunlight, battery leads, electrical wiring or steel wool. If you have none of these, you’ll have to generate an ember with friction, by rubbing a wood stick inside a wooden hole. However, you do it, once you have the spark or heat, and generate an ember or two, you’ll have to blow on it to ignite the flame.
07. How to start a fire
Here are several specific methods for starting a fire:
- Flint Striker – Most survivalists carry a flint striker which they use with a knife or piece of steel to make sparks. If you don’t have these, jasper, quartz, iron pyrite (fool’s gold), agate, native jade and other mineral-rich rocks will generate high-heat sparks when struck together. Or strike the rock against the BACK of your knife. (If the knife is high-carbon, strike it against the rock.)
- Concentrating Sunlight Method – Use a magnifying glass, camera or binocular lens, broken glass, bottom of an aluminum can or clear ice. Focus a sharp beam of light on your tinder to get it to ignite after a few minutes. This works a little better on a hot, dry day. Make sure your tinder is bone dry as well.
- Bow and Drill Method – This is a traditional fire-starter, and the most labor-intensive. Friction against wood is created by rubbing a thin pole back and forth, with its spear-shaped tip scraping inside a wooden cavity of another piece of wood. Alternatively, a long length of twine, vine or plant root can also be pulled back and forth through a stretch of wood. The process takes time, since you need to heat the wood to about 800 degrees Fahrenheit to get it to burn.
- Yucca Wood Method: Yucca wood is found in arid climates (like Mexico) and has a low ignition point. Cut two sturdy 6-8 inch strips and tie them together with a pebble on each end to allow air space between them. Make a longer 12-16 inch strip and rub it inside that space to generate an ember.
08. Other Fire Hints
There are many different types of tinder available in the wilderness. As you hike, be on the lookout for Old Man’s Beard (a yellowish, fuzzy material on pine branches), dry moss, lichen, grass, evergreen needles, nests, pussy willow fuzz, dry-rot wood, dry fungi, bark fungus, pith from elderberry shoots, down from milkweed or birds, goldenrod heads, dry veggie fibers, bat dung, resinous dead twigs. Liquid resin is stored in the knots and blisters of pine trees; it flows out when you cut into it. Birch bark will also work; cut a length of it and roll it up for extended use. Note: never cut bark from a tree more than halfway around its circumference or you may kill it.
More Kindling and Fuel Sources- Softwood (needles, scales, conifers) makes best kindling. Hardwood (maples, hickory, oak, elm, beech, chestnut, poplar, spruce, tamarack, white pine) makes hot long-lasting fire.
09. Fire Use and Tips
Long Fire – Better for cooking multiple dishes and providing warmth when sleeping. Use the base of a rock cliff or pile a stack of logs to reflect heat back from the far side of the fire.
Sleeping Warm – Heat up ground for sleeping by burning a fire on it. Build a fire on either side of your outdoor bedding, but also dig trench to prevent yourself from rolling into a fire. Fill it with evergreen boughs and border them with rocks to prevent catching fire. Use heated stones like a hot water bottle.
No-Wood Fire – Drip melted animal fat down onto a rack of bones hanging over a small kindling fire.
Wood Pile – To build a log storage device next to a fire, use two stakes, two vertical support poles at back and two diagonal poles running from front to back that will hold cut logs.
10. If caught in a forest fire
- Remain calm, never try to outrun a fire.
- Individuals must be encouraged not to break away from a group. Don’t run, but walk briskly if there is a clearly indicated way of escape.
- Use any hills or elevated sites to determine where the fire is and the direction it is taking.
- Seek bare or previously burnt ground, eg gravel pits, clearings, roads, beaches.
- Move across slopes and out of the path of the fire. Do not run uphill or away from the fire unless you are certain a safe refuge is nearby.
- Select the path that is least obstructed by logs, dense growth or uneven ground.
- Avoid being caught near the top of a hill where the fire will move quickly and intensely up the slope.
- Run through flames only when they are less than about one meter high, and only if you can see clearly what is on the other side of them.
- Beware of the danger from burning branches and trees in forest country.
- Avoid dense vegetation in gullies as these areas are often impenetrable and can be subject to intense fire. If conditions become severe, use every possible means to protect yourself from radiant heat. Use clothing to best advantage as a shield.