Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A Quick Tip on Cleaning Up

This weekend I picked up a tip on cleaning pots which have burnt on or stuck food after cooking. To clean them, put some water in the dirty pot and place it back on the fire. Bring the water to a boil. It will lift up most of the stuck on food. Then you can clean it along with the other dishes.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Weekend Trip

This weekend my girlfriend and I met up with two friends of ours and decided to go a bit further North than our usual camping areas. It turned out to be quite a climb to the top of the mountain. Here I am at the 3500 ft. mark.

There we bumped into some of the local wildlife. Ever since I was bitten by a snake I could not identify about two years ago, I keep my distance.

Unfortunately, after we had climber several more hundred feet in elevation, we realized that staying overnight in the forest at elevation above 3500 ft was prohibited. We had to summit the mountain, and gown down the other side to just below 3500 ft, before we could start looking for a suitable camp site. Seeing how by this point we were utterly exhausted, we bushwhacked until we found a somewhat level spot free from undergrowth, and settled down for the night. I decided to not bother putting up a tarp. You can see my campsite in the picture. You are looking at two sleeping bags, each with a bivi, the two backpacks, and the little puppy sleeping by a tree (see if you can find her). We had a fire pit a bit out of the shot.

In the morning a call rose up for coffee. The emergency was large enough to necessitate the pulling out of the stove. It made quick work of the gallon of water.

Even though the night temperature dropped to about 40 F, I think this was one of the best nights I’ve spend in the woods in a while.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Kookalight Pillow

I know, I know, real men don’t use camping pillows. They find a nice rock, or a tree root on which to lay their head after a long day in the woods. For the rest of us however, a pillow can make the difference between a good night and a bad one.

There are many different designs out there, from goose down, to inflatable, to just a stuff sack in which you put some clothing for loft. There is nothing wrong with any of these approaches, and you should pick the design that best suits your interests.

Here I just want to point out a fairly new manufacturer of camping pillows, who has developed a rather innovative way to use thin nylon for his designs.

The result is the Kookalight Pillow. It is very light, coming in at 1.3 oz. It is also fairly small, measuring 12 in length, 7.5 in width and 3.5 in height.

Since it is an inflatable pillow, made from a very thin material, it can be compacted to a very small size, alleviating some of the feelings of regret at the thought of carrying a pillow into the woods.

The pillow retails for about $30.00, and if you are in the market, it is worth a look. The manufacturer is very responsive, and I even hear he is willing to take custom orders.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Sharpening a Convex Edge in the Field

One of the best edge grinds for a knife is the convex edge. With a convex edge, instead of the blade being ground to form an edge using intersecting straight lines, the two sides of the blade curve and intersect, forming the edge. This can create a very sharp edge, while leaving a good amount of metal behind it, providing robustness.

Unfortunately, many people stay away from such grinds because they can be difficult to sharpen. Unlike a single, or double bevel grind, you can’t just lay down the edge on a sharpening stone, and move it back and forth, because the side of the blade is curved.

There are different methods of sharpening a convex edge, including using a pad with fine sand paper, but I have found all such methods to be too impractical for field sharpening. In the end, no such equipment is necessary. A convex edge can be sharpened using a regular sharpening stone in the exact same way that you would use it to sharpen an axe (many axes having a convex edge).

I use a small sharpening stone, the Fallkniven DC4, which I carry in my possibles pouch.

To use it, simply take the blade and hold it in front of you. Now take the stone and place it so it touches the edge of the blade. By holding the edge of the blade up, you can see if the stone is touching the edge. Now begin to move the stone in a circular motion along the blade.

Then reverse the blade, so you can still see the edge, but are now sharpening the other side. If you wish, you can count the number of circles you make with the stone to insure that the grinding is even.

Keep in mind that for most sharpening you will only be using a fine stone. To get a hard steel like VG10 to be razor sharp, you will have to spend a good amount of time sharpening, so do not be discouraged if it is not shaving sharp after a few passes. Because the stone I use is so short it may take 80-100 circular motions on each side of the blade to get it shaving sharp.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Alternative Method for Tying a Bow and Drill

A very common problem with using a bow and drill to start a fire is getting the correct tension on the string. If it is too loose, the drill will not spin, but rather the cord will just slide around it. If on the other hand it is made too tight, and the bow is under pressure, you get the very familiar flying out of the drill. The tension is just so high, that the drill gets spun out and flipped over by the cord. Getting the right balance takes a lot of practice.

There is an alternative method of wrapping the cord around the drill, however, that eliminates this problem. It is sometimes referred to as an Egyptian bow drill.

You start as if you are making a regular bow and brill set. When you have your board and hand hold ready, take the bow, and tie the cord to one end.

While the other end of the cord is untied, place the drill in the middle of the bow, and tie the string around it.

Now wrap the string at least once in each direction.

Tie the other end of the string to the opposite end of the bow.

Even if the string is loose, the drill will spin without a problem.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Making Cordage Part 2: The Three Strand Braid

This post will go over a different method of cordage making. Many of the same principles will remain in effect. If you have not seen Part 1, you can check it out here.

Take three strands of rope. Make sure they are of different lengths for purposes of extending the rope.

Tie the end of all three strands together.

Take two of the strands, and cross them over. The third strand will be left to the side.

Now take the strand that was previously left tot he side, and cross it OVER the nearest strand. Now a different strand will be left to the side.

Take the new strand that was left to the side, and cross it with the nearest strand.

Repeat the process until you end up with the desired length of rope. Of course this is done with all three strands being held in your hands, and can be done fairly quickly. I have placed the cordage on the table so it is easier to see. The cordage can be extended by adding additional fibers as shown in Part 1.

Here is the piece of cordage made in Part 1, compared to the piece made with the new method.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Pics of my Last Bivi Site

This past weekend I found a nice location for my camp, and I thought I would share a few pics. It is unfortunately a good distance away from a water source, but with a 6 liter water bladder and a few canteens, trips to the water source are minimized. Plus, you get the added benefit of fewer insects.

Here’s me setting up the camp.
Here are my girlfriend and two dogs hanging out while I take some pics for the blog.
Maximus makes himself comfortable on my sleeping bag...
Until I put him to work. :)

All in all it was a good trip, until my crook knife ended up stuck in my hand. This one was a bleeder. Good thing I had a well stocked first aid kit. Luckily it was already Sunday and we were heading out anyway.

Monday, August 16, 2010

No Knife Deadfall Trap

Here is a deadfall trap you can make without any precision cutting, in fact you can do it without any cutting tools at all.

It is very simple. Find a large rock that is flat on one side. Then take one large stick, which will keep the stone up, one small trigger stick, and one round rock (in the picture I am using an acorn).

Place the large stick vertically, lift it up a bit, and under it place the small stick, and under that, the rock. Now balance them so when the trigger stick is touched, the whole assembly will be destabilized and fall. The bait should of course be placed on the trigger stick before assembling the trap.

If you can not find a nice round rock for the trigger, take whatever rock you can find, and this time place the large support stick at an angle, constricting the trigger assembly the same way as above. The stick being placed diagonally, makes the trap less stable, and compensates for the rock.

Please keep in mind that these traps, just like all deadfalls are very dangerous. They are as likely to fall on your hand while you are setting them up, as they are to fall on top of some animal. Great care should be taken so a survival situation does not become even worse.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Beyond Survival with Les Stroud-Premieres 8/27/10

Most of us remember Les Stroud as Survivorman; one man, alone in the wilderness, trying to survive for a week with only basic supplies. This time around, in Beyond Survival, it appears that Les Stroud will be trying to explore the way indigenous tribes use their skills to not only survive for short periods of time, but to live in the bush for generations.

I was a big fan of Survivorman, and am very excited about this new show. It premieres 8/27/10 on the Discovery channel.

Here is the preview:

Quick Fix for a Loose Axe Head

If you take care of your axe and maintain the quality of the wood by oiling it and protecting it from the elements, you shouldn’t have to deal with this problem with any regularity, if ever. Things however don’t always work out in the best possible way, and sometimes, either through our errors, or because of unavoidable circumstances, our tools get damaged.

One of the most common issues with axes which utilize wood handles is the loosening of the axe head from the handle due to shrinking of the wood. If that happens, the axe becomes a very dangerous tool, as the head can potentially fly off during a swing.

There are two ways to fix this. One is to replace the handle. Another is to replace the wedge at the top end of the handle. Many axes have a wooden wedge in the eye of the head, which stretches out the handle and provides for a secure fit.

In an emergency however, there is a much quicker fix. If you have a nail or two handy, simply hammer them into the center of the handle through the eye. If the nails are thick enough, they will spread out the wood enough to provide for a good grip.

When I was younger, that was the way we typically fixed all of our axes. The method works, but remember, just because you have hammered in a nail means nothing if the head is still loose. You may need a thinker nail, or the addition of another nail. I wouldn’t use more than two or three nails, as it might completely damage the handle. Also, make sure the nails are not longer than the eye of the head. You wouldn’t want them in the part of the handle below the axe head. Short, thick nail are best.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Shelters, Shacks, and Shanties by Daniel C. Beard

Shelters, Shacks, and Shanties is a book written by Daniel Carter Beard in the early 1900s. It covers the subject of wilderness shelters. The types of shelters covered vary from simple debris shelters to much more complex permanent camps.

The instructions are not detailed, and same of the shelters pictured would be very difficult for the average woodsman to construct in a short period of time, following just the instruction in the book. With time and practice however, the ideas that can be obtained from this book, can significantly improve your improvised shelters.

As far as I know, this manual is in the public domain. A copy can be obtained here, here, and many other places online.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Fenix E01-Mini Flashlight on Steroids

For about a year now I have been using the Fenix E01 flashlight both as an EDC, and as a portable flashlight that I keep in my possibles pouch.

In the world of flashlights, I would classify this one as a mini flashlight. Here are its specifications:

Light bulb: GS LED with a life of 100,000 hours
Battery: 1.5V AAA Alkaline or Lithium battery
Brightness: 10 Lumens
Run time: 21 hours
Size: 2.79 in (Length) x 0.55 in (Diameter)
Cost: $14

If you are like me, the above numbers do not say much. Trust me, they are good numbers! The flashlight is small and is a bit more than a AAA battery with a LED lightbulb. Similarly, 10 Lumens is a very good amount of light for such a small flashlight, and 21 hours of run time is impressive. To give more perspective here, look at the specifications for a mini flashlight which has been the standard for a very long time, and is probably hanging on most of our key chains; the MagLite Solitaire:

Light bulb: Krypton LED
Battery: 1.5V AAA Alkaline or Lithium battery
Brightness: 2.3 Lumens
Run time: 3.5 hours
Size: 3.25 in (Length) x 0.50 in (Diameter)
Cost: $8

As you can see, the Fenix E01 is about four (4) times brighter than the familiar MagLite, and lasts about seven (7) times longer for the same size flashlight, and at a very similar price.

How is this possible you ask? The reason for the performance boost is a technological development which in the past year or two has become affordable enough to be used in low cost flashlights; namely, microchip regulated light emission. Unlike the MagLite, the Fenix E01 does not simply continuously feed electricity from the battery to the lightbulb. Instead it uses a microchip to interrupt the electrical signal so in reality the lightbulb is constantly being turned on and off. This is being done so fast that the human eye can not tell that the bulb is being turned off, and instead sees a continuous stream of light. It is these interruptions, that allow for such long running times at such high lumens.

That being said, do not be fulled, this is still just a mini flashlight. A good regular size flashlight may run at 80 or 100 lumens. This is however an excellent flashlight for when something small is needed.

It is not nearly as well polished as the MagLite Solitaire. It does not have a spare bulb like the MagLite, and the finish does not look as good. The performance however is so far ahead, that these are flaws that are easy to forget.

Oh, and did I mention it is waterproof?!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Clothing Selection for the Wilderness

Don't ever underestimate the importance of your clothing. As much as we may spend on tents, tarps and sleeping bags, your first line of defense against the elements is the clothing on your back.

How do I select clothing?

There are two important things to keep in mind when selecting clothing. The first is that it should be fast drying and be able to retain heat even when wet. Clothing that loses its insulative powers when wet can get you in trouble. Keep in mind, you not only get wet from rain or the occasional clumsy dip in a river, but also from perspiration.

The second thing to keep in mind is that your clothing should be versatile. That is why the standard for outdoorsmen for centuries has been a layering system. It is nearly impossible that one piece of clothing, no matter how good, will get the job done. You can easily find that you can be drenched in sweat while hiking in a t-shirt in the middle of winter. When you get to camp however, the freezing temperature catches up to you. That is why wearing numerous layers of clothing is such an advantage; it allows you to remove items until you get just the right level of heat retention.

So how many layers do I need?

I would say, for the upper body four or five will do the trick. For the lower body two or three. There is no exact science here because a lot of your choices will be determined by comfort as well as heat retention. For example, I hate long thermal underpants and undershirts. I just can’t stand the way they feel, so I don’t use them. Most times that leaves me with just one layer on my lower body. If it is cold enough, I might add a pair of fleece pants under my trousers.

What materials should I chose?

There is a lot of fighting over what materials are good for wilderness clothing. On one hand, you have people who would not wear any fabric that has not been to space; on the other hand, you have people who wear nothing but wool because it is what Jedediah Smith used to wear in the 18th century. Both options tend to lighten your wallet quite a bit. I don’t see any need for it. These days you should have no problem getting good quality clothing at a low price. Here is a look at some of the available materials:


Wool has many advantages; it insulates very well, it retains its insulative value even when wet, and it will not get damages easily by fire. The downside is that it is very slow to dry, and it is very, very heavy. A full layered system of wool clothing can add 25 lb-30 lb on your back. If you get it wet, that weight can exceed the weight of a fully loaded backpack. Wool has been the choice of many outdoorsmen over the years, mostly because it was the high tech option of the time.


Cotton is largely considered to be a bad choice for wilderness clothing. The reason is that it loses almost all insulative properties when wet. It can be used in warmer environment, but great care should be taken.


There is a very wide range of clothing to consider here. There are many miracle fibers that will keep you warm, dry fast, and cook your dinner. The average person can afford few of them. These days however, there are many fairly cheap synthetic fibers that make for great wilderness clothing, namely fleece. Fleece clothing provides great insulation, dries fast, and is very light. The only disadvantage it has when compared to wool is that it will melt if it contacts flames. Keep that in mind when messing around with your fire. I have been wearing fleece clothing for many years, and am yet to damage any of it, but don’t throw it in the fire. Buying such clothing items in regular department stores will keep your costs down, as you will avoid the ridiculous “outdoor clothing” markups in the specialty stores.

For non isulative materials, nylon or any of its cousins will do just fine. Army surplus stored carry many items which are nylon cotton mixes. They all work great, as the nylon will compensate for the cotton’s lack of heat retention. Aim for a mix that is at least 50% nylon, and preferably 65%.

As an example, I will show you what I tend to wear.

For pants, I most often use a pair of army surplus camo pants that are 65% nylon, 35% cotton mix. They are tough and durable. Like I said before, in extreme cold, I will put on a pair of fleece pants under them.

For the upper body, I start with a t-shirt that is 50% nylon, 50% cotton mix. It dries very fast and is comfortable.

My next layer is a long sleeve thin fleece shirt. I got it from an army surplus store, and is probably my most expensive piece on clothing at $40.

On top of that I have a thick fleece jacket, that I got from a department store for about $10.

On top of that (often called a shell) I have a nylon jacket that agin I got at an army surplus store for $30. A Gore Tex jacket would be a better choice because it allows your sweat to evaporate, keeping you drier, but the cost is much higher. This is a very important layer of clothing. Even though it does not retain much heat on its own, it stops the wind from penetrating the insulative layers, keeping you much, much warmer.

On my feet, I have a pair of wool socks which I believe cost $2 a pair.

Of course, I do not wear or carry all of the above items year round. What you should aim for is the coldest temperature you think you might encounter, and bring clothing that will keep you warm. You can always take some off, but if you didn’t bring it with you, you can’t put any on.

The clothing you chose will depend on the environment in your area. You may want to add more layers, use thicker layers, and of course the hat and gloves of your choosing. The above is just an example on one possible layering system that will not require you to take a mortgage to pay off.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Wilderness Navigation: Magnetic Declination

Magnetic declination; the thing which we never want to talk about because it gives us headaches! It is unfortunately, a very important part of wilderness navigation, as it can considerably alter our course of travel over a significant distance. I will try to offer a very simple way to look at it.

What is magnetic declination:

Magnetic declination is the difference between the place where the needle on your compass points (magnetic North), and the actual or true North direction in a particular area. That’s right, the compass does not always point directly North. Depending on the area of the globe where you are located, the difference can be quite significant. Failing to compensate for that difference can have important implications to navigation.

How do I find out the magnetic declination in my area:

Fortunately, the nice people at the National Geophysical Data Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrations (NOAA) have been kind enough to create a magnetic declination calculator for us. You can go to the website here: http://www.ngdc.noaa.gov/geomagmodels/Declination.jsp, punch in either your longitude and latitude, or just your zip code, and you will get the magnetic declination in your area.

What do I do with this number:

Here is the part that throws most people off, just because of the terminology used. Before we start, remember this:

Positive declination is the same as Easterly declination. (10 degrees is the same as 10 E)
Negative declination is the same as Westerly declination. (-10 degrees is the same as 10 W)

Positive or Easterly declination means that the needle of the compass will point to the East (or clockwise) of true North by however many degrees you got from the above calculation. The first diagram shows 10 E or 10 degrees on a compass. Wherever the needle of the compass points, it is 10 degrees East (or clockwise) of true North.

Negative or Westerly declination means that the needle of the compass will point West (or counterclockwise) of true North by however many degrees you got from the above calculation. The second diagram shows 10 W or -10 degrees on a compass. Wherever the needle of the compass points, it is 10 degrees West (or counterclockwise) of true North.

Now that you know this, you can put a mark on your compass, so you know where true North is depending on where the needle of the compass points. Some compasses have a wheel that you can turn, so all the markings are readjusted.

Friday, August 6, 2010

The US Army Survival Manual

The US Army Survival Manual is put together by the Department of Defense. It aims to provide soldiers with basic knowledge about the wilderness and survival techniques.

The publication is rather comprehensive in the scope of material covered. The dept of the discussion of each topic however is not ideal. The techniques demonstrated can give you a good idea of how to do something but they do not go into details or realistic evaluation of the time and effort that would be required to complete the project. Given sufficient time and energy, a creative person can certainly duplicate the survival tasks outlined in the manual, but keep in mind that the instructions provided are bare bones, and in most cases the projects will not go as smoothly as the pictures might indicate.

As far as I know, this manual is in the public domain. A copy can be obtained here, here, and many other places online.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

If It’s Broken, You Weren’t Using it the Right Way!!!

We tend to hear this a lot from people when it comes to backpacking, camping and bushcraft gear. "Did your tent fail? You shouldn’t have had it out in such strong winds!" "Did your knife brake? You should have used an axe for that task!"

Those statements are technically true, but they have to be considered when evaluating a product. If I am buying a knife for $10, it is hard for me to complain when it brakes while I am hammering it through a piece of wood. It is perfectly fair to say "You get what you pay for" or "This is a good knife, but it has its limitations".

What annoys me is when people try to use such arguments to defend the position that their tool of choice is the best one. "Did the knife I recommended for you to take into the woods brake? You must have been using it in the wrong way!" Again, if it had been made clear from the beginning that this knife should only be used for x,y, and z tasks, then that is fine. Don’t however tell someone that it is the best knife around. Don’t blame the user of the tool for a failure to specify the product's limitations. Don’t make assumptions about how it will be used in the woods. If it is the "best" carving knife, then that is fine. Don’t however advertise it as the best bush knife, because for many people, using a knife in the bush may constitute a lot more than carving spoons.

The one I hear most often is "You shouldn’t have been batoning with the knife. That is what axes are for". That statement is as true as it is useless. It is the same as saying that cars are made for driving, not crashing, so why would you need seat belts and air bags. Telling someone who has had to use a tool in a certain way that that is not the intended use of that tool, does not do anyone any good. If the tool is not supposed to be used in certain ways, then make that clear from the beginning, don’t just assume that everyone’s activities in the woods mirror yours.

Just my two cents.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Lighting a Fire With a Ferrocerium Rod

I want to follow my last post on tinder with a short one discussing how I like to use a ferrocerium (ferro) rod for fire lighting.

A ferro rod is a metal compound. When small metal shavings are removed from it’s surface by a sharp object, the heat from the friction ignites the shavings, creating the sparks. The ferro rod is most commonly scraped with a metal blade (back of the knife), but any sharp surface that is harder than the ferro material will do the trick.

When the sparks fall on a piece of tinder that is fine enough, the heat is transferred, and ignition occurs. It is easier to light the tinder if there is a larger amount of it. That way sparks have more area of contact through which to tumble and hopefully find the right spot. If using a natural tinder like grass, a good tinder bundle will go a long way with this method.

Sometimes ferro rods are incorrectly called flint. While the fire lighting process resembles the flint and steel method, they are not the same thing. With flint and steel, the flint is used to remove pieces of metal from a carbon steel striker. Those pieces of metal oxidize, creating the sparks. The flint and steel method requires much finer tinder to be effective.

There are different methods to use a ferro rod. Some people hold it stationary a short distance from the tinder, and then scrape with the blade towards the tinder. Others hold the blade stationary, and scrape the rod by pulling it towards their body.

I don’t like either method. Both of them have a way of disturbing the tinder because neither the ferro rod not the blade are anchored. More importantly, the longer the distance that the sparks have to travel, the more heat they lose. If they are produced away from the tinder their effectiveness will decrease.

The way I like to use it is to place the tinder on a solid surface. Then prop the ferro rod on that same surface. If I have a large tinder bundle, I will place the rod right in it.

Then take the blade, place it on the ferro rod, and slowly, while applying pressure, push it down the rod with your thumb.

The sparks should end up right in the tinder, igniting it.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Good Tinder: Cotton and Vaseline

When it comes to tinder, people take a wide range of approaches. There are some who do not carry any tinder, preferring to use natural materials they find in the woods, while others carry every tinder known to man in their backpack.

I think the best approach is somewhere in the middle. I have been cold and wet before, and I have to tell you, I was very happy that I had ready tinder with which to start my fire. On the other hand, I carry one type of tinder which I find adequate, and it serves me well.

There are different types of tinder, and each is best suited for a particular method of fire lighting. For example, char cloth catches a spark very easily, making it ideal for flint and steel fire lighting. The down side it that char cloth does not actually combust in flames, but only glows, and you need additional tinder to start the fire. On the other hand there are fire starter such as wax covered lint, which burn like a candle once lit, but require a match to start.

The tinder I chose to carry is cotton soaked in Vaseline. The cotton is very good at catching a spark. It will not work readily with flint and steel, but it will catch the spark from a ferro rod. Combined with the Vaseline, a small amount will burn for an extended period of time and put out a good amount of heat.

If the cotton is completely covered in the Vaseline, it is also waterproof. Keep in mind however, that if completely covered in Vaseline, the cotton will be harder to light because all of the fibers tend to stick together. Before lighting with a ferro rod, pull the fibers apart to create a larger surface area.

I carry the tinder in a film canister.

I have been using it for years, under many conditions, and in my mind it has proven itself to be the right tinder for the job. It works when I don’t want to mess around, but just need a fire started in less than ideal conditions.