Friday, July 27, 2012

The Weakest Link in Your Gear System

In this post I want to discuss looking at gear as a system based on particular tasks. Too often we only look at specific items, and forget that in order for them to work, other tools are also required. In such a system, the reliability of the whole is dependant on the weakest link.

Here I will use fire lighting as an example.


Over and over again, we hear from everyone from the expert to the novice, that a ferro rod is the way to go when it comes to fire lighting. The benefits? Well, they say, it will work even when wet, and it can start thousands of fires. I remember an episode where Ray Mears crossed a river, got completely wet, then took the ferro rod from his neck, struck some sparks, and told us that he now has a way to start fire.

Indeed, all of that is true, although the devil is always in the details. The ferro rod works in combination with a tinder. The two work as a system. By itself, the ferro rod produces sparks, but to translate that into flame, you need adequate tinder. So, the ferro rod can make sparks when wet, but can your tinder ignite into flame when wet? The ferro rod can make sparks thousands of times, but for how many fires do you have tinder? If you plan on using natural tinder, how good are you at finding it when it is raining, or snowing, or when you have just pulled yourself out of a freezing river?

If the task is fire lighting, and we are using a ferro rod, then this one tool is part of a system. How easily you can start a fire, and under what conditions depends not only on the one tool, but on all of the components. I would venture to say that in this system the tinder is the weakest link.

That is something that I think should be considered when we discuss how good a particular fire lighting method is, especially when compared to available alternatives. For example, lets say you fall into a river, pull yourself out, and try to make a fire. In your pocket you have a lighter and a ferro rod. They are both wet. The lighter is not working because it’s wet, the ferro rod can still make sparks. Option one is to wait two or three minutes for the water to drain out of the lighter. Option two is to start looking for tinder for the ferro rod. Which one will take you longer? What if it was raining, or snowing?

Maybe you were carrying some tinder in your pocket in a waterproof container. Together with the ferro rod, you now have fire. However, what if you had the lighter, or some matches in that waterproof container? Same result. How many fires can you start with the tinder you have in that pouch as opposed to the lighter?

Anyway, all I’m trying to say is that we should look at whether particular gear items work only as a part of a larger gear system, and if so, whether there are any weak links in the chain, and how they can be addressed.

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