A collection of survival tips which could help you survive anywhere on earth
By removing the battery and prying off the terminal end, a knife or other metal object can be used to create sparks by holding it across the terminals. In addition to this, if your battery is Lithium (most modern phone batteries), pierce the battery with a knife or other sharp object, the chemical reaction caused when the lithium seeps out and reacts with oxygen will create heat and sparks to which tinder can be applied and a fire started. Be cautious here though as it creates quite a reaction.
Taking a piece of dry Rattan Vine and passing it under a piece of very dry, medium to soft composition, branch; about 2 inches (6cm) thick to form a base. Placing the base on a bed of very dry, fine tinder and pinning each end down with your feet, pull tight on each end of the rattan vine while pulling each end up and down in a sawing motion until a plume of smoke begins to rise. At this point the base is starting to get hot enough to drop an ember into the tinder bundle. Continue with a steady pace until you are sure that an ember has dropped. Once you are at this point, gently remove the base and vine, pick up the tinder bundle, gently encase the ember and blow gently into it until you see flame.
Looks like a chunky plate/disc growing out the side of a tree.
Break this off the tree and hold a red-hot ember against the spongy inner flesh. Once you have a glowing red ember in the tinder fungus, this can be loosely wrapped in moss and placed in a backpack. This ember will smolder for hours, just remove it every hour or so, and gently blow on it to keep the ember alive.
This popular method used by many indigenous tribes, wraps hot coals in a layer of Moss, Green Sticks and Tree Bark (in that order) and then gets firmly bound and tied. You want to make sure that your package is bound tightly enough to carry, without being bound too tightly. The idea is to semi-starve the embers of oxygen without suffocating them.
The same method is as the ember bundle is applied, only the embers are packed in charcoal before being wrapped in Moss and carried in a ventilated tin with a handle. Hardwood embers work best for both the Ember Bundle and Ember Box.
You should have a good understanding of the types of fire that best suit different situations as the right decision will allow you to conserve fuel if in short supply, get maximum warmth if necessary, produce minimal smoke, if you don’t want to attract attention, or produce loads of smoke if you do.
Here are a few to get you started.
Fires for Warmth
Essentially spreading a larger fire out so that it is about as long as your body so that it warms your entire length as you sleep.
If warmth is a priority, a reflector should be constructed to concentrate as much of the fires heat as possible. If Lighting a fire near a large rock, light it far enough away to be able to sit between the rock and the fire. The rock will reflect the heat onto your back.
If there are no large rocks available, reflectors can be constructed by lashing several logs to two cross pieces and then standing them upright. You could also drive two sets of posts into the ground; far enough apart to stack a vertical layer of logs in between, creating a wall. My usual preference is to kill two birds with one stone (so to speak) and build a simple lean-to shelter and build a nice large fire in front of it; then, before going to sleep, spreading the fire out the full width of the lean-to. This is very effective even in very cold snow conditions.
An excellent fire if you are planning on staying put, the Yukon Stove will take some time and effort to build but it will pay off. Great for both cooking and heating, this fire can be adapted to house a metal box oven and grill plate.
The Yukon Stove is constructed of Stones and Mud, generally fashioned in a cylinder shape, tapering in slightly towards the top and stands around 3 – 4 ft high. The top should be left open to act as a chimney and there needs to be an opening at the bottom large enough for fuel to be added to the fire and so oxygen can be drawn in.
Heat can be regulated by partially covering the hole at the bottom. A flat stone or sheet of metal can be placed across the top which can act as a grill for cooking and drying but make sure that you leave some of the chimney hole exposed for the smoke to escape. If you put some thought into the design and build it a bit larger, you can build the stove with a metal box (empty ammunition box or something from a wreckage) in the back which can be used as an oven. You will need to lay a bed of straight green twigs on the bottom of the oven though to keep any food from resting directly on the metal as this will cause the food to burn.
Trench fires are excellent in windy conditions as the fire is below ground level and out of the wind. This type of fire is good when fuel is in short supply. Dig a trench about 1ft x 3ft and about 1.5ft deep. Lining the bottom will make the fire more efficient. light your fire on top of the stones and as the fire burns down it will heat the stones and create a good cooking fire. Forked sticks can be driven into the ground, either side of the trench and a cross piece suspended between them which can hold a billy.
If you have a can large enough to light a fire in, you almost have yourself a hobo stove. Turn the can upside down and punch some air holes around the base. Cut a square piece out of the side, large enough to be able to apply fuel through, but leave one side of the square in tact so that you can bend it like a hinge. Place this over a fire and congratulations, you now have a hobo stove which you can cook on the top of.
The star fire is especially good for conserving fuel as you can regulate the the rate at which the fuel is consumed, simply by either pulling the fuel apart or pushing it together. This type of fire is also good for cooking as the beat can be regulated in the same way.
Fires for Signaling
Signal fires should always be prepared and ready to light at a moments notice, whenever you are staying in one location for a period of time. You don’t want to pass up any opportunities to be rescued because you cant get a signal up in time.
Signal fires should be designed so that you get maximum acceleration once the fire is lit; therefore the fire will need to be able to consume loads of oxygen. Tripod based fires are very effective as signal fires. A good signal fire should consist of a base of very dry material and have a smoke producing material over that. Green vegetation or Rubber are both effective for producing smoke.
Signal fires should also be prepared in a well thought out position where they are going to be most visible to potential rescue parties. Remember to always keep your signal fire protected from excessive wind and rain and ensure that you have a way of lighting the fire close at hand. Don’t stray too far from your signal fire. If you happen to spot an opportunity for rescue, it may slip away before you have a chance to get back to the fire and light it. You really should prepare as many signal fires as you can to give yourself the best opportunity of being seen. Often what seems to be very visible up close can be almost impossible to see from afar.
Prepare a tinder bundle, then take a piece of softwood for a base and use tour knife to carve a shallow channel down its length. Take a piece of hardwood thinner than the base but thicker than your thumb. Hold the base with your foot and place a pinch of sand in the channel, then place one end of the hardwood plow into the base of the channel and rub it backwards and forwards along the channel while applying lite downward pressure. As the friction creates enough heat to cause a constant plume of smoke, increase the speed and intensity of the plowing until you have a glowing ember.
Very carefully tip the ember into your tinder bundle and gently blow on it until the tinder bundle is alight.
This method uses the tip of a straight, dry, hardwood stick spun, backwards and forwards,like a drill in a notch in a dry, softwood base until the friction creates an ember which can be uses to ignite the tinder.
Take a dry hardwood stick, as straight as you can find. This will be the drill. The drill should be about 40cm (16inch) long and about the thickness of your little finger. Use your knife to remove any bumps or branches (it is really important to get the drill as smooth as possible or you will end up with a lot of blisters). Once you have the drill really smooth, take a handful of sand in your shirt, place the drill on top, wrap your hand around the stick and run the stick back and forth through the sand to sand the drill and make it even smoother.
Now for the base. Take a larger, flatter piece of dry, softwood and use your knife to etch a small crater in the base; next to the edge, about half way along the length of the base. A ‘V’ shape is often carved in the side of the base with the tip of the V sitting in the center of the crater. This is called an ember well and is optional. The base should be secured with one foot while one end of the drill is placed in the crater and spun back and forth between the palms of the hands, starting at the top and working down as you apply downward pressure till you get to the bottom, then starting again from the top. A pinch of sand in the crater will help to create more friction. This will be hard tiresome work which may take an hour or more but it has been used for centuries and does work. The trick is to start slow but steady and pace yourself so that you don’t get tired. Once you start to see a constant plume of smoke, increase the speed and intensity of the drilling until you have a glowing ember.
Very carefully tip the ember into your tinder bundle and gently blow on it until the tinder bundle is alight.
Congratulations, you have now mastered the elements and should be feeling confident in your ability to make it home alive.
Bow and Drill
This method is essentially the same as the Fire Drill except a bow is used to spin the drill instead of your palms. By using a bow, a higher rate of spin can be applied to the drill for a longer period; therefore creating more friction to produce an ember with less effort.
To create a bow you will need a springy, green, stick (about 100cm long) and some cordage (about 90cm long). Use your knife to make a groove about 5mm deep around each end of the bow stick, about 3cm (1 inch) from the end. Tie one end of the cordage to one end of the bow stick, making sure that it is sitting in the groove. Bend the bow stick and then tie the other end of the cordage to the other end of the bow stick. The bow is now complete. Take the drill stick and lay it across the bow string wrapping the bow string around it once.
Now follow the drilling method but hold a piece of wood or stone on the top of the drill stick with one hand whilst spinning the drill stick by moving the bow back and forth with the other hand.
Using the Sun
This technique works best when the sun is shining brightly. Take a magnifying glass (some compasses have these), piece of curved clear glass from a bottle, watch face, binocular/camera lens or spectacles; or even a smoothed chunk of ice and hold it about 10cm away from your tinder bundle. Adjust its angle/direction so that the sun shining through it, forms a circular shape on your tinder. You now need to move the glass or ice nearer or farther from the tinder, whilst maintaining the circular shape of light, so that the suns rays concentrate into one fine circular point about the size of a pin head. Held in this position, the concentrated sun rays will generate enough heat to start the tinder smoldering; eventually igniting it.
Note: if using ice, be sure not to let any drips fall onto the tinder bundle.
In the absence of glass or ice, it is possible to improvise using some spit or water droplet suspended across a pin hole.
Place a pin-hole through a piece of card , bark, green leaf or paper ( a business card is ideal) and cover the hole with a drop of water or spit so that it is suspended across the hole and use it like a magnifying glass to concentrate the sun light. Starting a fire using this method is very difficult but may be a life saver when noting else is available.
Purpose Made Fire-lighting Devices
Flint and Striker
Flint and Striker sets are available at most camping and outdoors stores. They consist of a metal striker and flint rod which creates a shower of sparks when struck.
The flint and striker is a very effective and reliable piece of kit as it is lite, compact and works well in any environment, even when wet. This is an essential item for your survival tin.
Matches are often effective for lighting fire; however in a survival situation they will often get wet and become less effective. Running wet matches through your hair will often dry them. When striking wet matches, it is best to stab them against the packet that about a 30deg angle. Before going out, it pays to waterproof your matches by coating the heads on wax. The wax should be pealed off before use. When using matches, your aim should be one fire per match.
Fire can be useful for:
- Boiling/Sterilizing Water
- Cooking and Preserving Food
- Sterilization of Utensils and Medical Instruments
- Providing Warmth
(which will have the added bonus of slowing the rate at which
your body burns calories, saving food supplies)
- Repelling Flying Insects
- Warding off Wild Animals
- Signaling for Help
- Drying Wet Clothes
- Seeing in the Dark
- Comfort and Morale
- Creating Tools and Weapons
The ability to make fire can also be paramount to the survivors state of mind as it can make the most inhospitable of environments feel livable by introducing some of the creature comforts we have come to expect from life at home. It is also a huge morale booster as it reaffirms the survivors ability to conquer the elements.
Lighting a fire is not always as easy as you think. It is one thing to be able to light a fire and another thing to be able to light a fire anywhere, in any condition with little or no kit. It is important that you know how to though, so practice using different techniques as much as you can while under controlled conditions and your life is not depending on it. It is not enough just to know the steps on theory.
Essential Elements of Fire
Fire consists of three (3) key elements: Air, Heat & Fuel. Once the fire has ignited, each of these three (3) elements work off each other in a chain reaction. If any of these elements are missing, fire cannot exist.
Make sure that you have good ventilation as fire breathes oxygen. A consistently maintained heat will ensure that the oxygen and fuel keep reacting to keep the fire going. The more oxygen that your fire has access to, the more intensely it will burn. When initially getting the fire to ignite it often pays to force oxygen onto embers by blowing or fanning them to increase their intensity until they ignite.
NOTE: the more air which is introduced to the fire, the faster it will consume fuel. So if fuel is scarce, reduce the ventilation whenever intensity is not required.
There are three (3) main fuels required for lighting and maintaining most fires and they are called Tinder, Kindling and Larger Fuel. The idea is to start small and build the fire by applying larger fuels as the intensity of the fire builds until you can apply larger, longer burning fuels.
In the initial stages of fire lighting, the heat source is usually only small like a spark, ember or match and does not produce much heat so you will require an ignition fuel which is fine enough to react with the the low intensity heat and ignite. This kind of fine fuel is called Tinder.
Tinder can be any substance which will easily take a spark. All solid forms of tinder must be fine and dry and should be laid in a loose pile with plenty of oxygen in between the tinder fibers. A loose pile of tinder is often referred to as a tinder bundle. It is important that you have prepared a ready supply of Kindling and Larger Fuel as the tinder bundle will burn very quickly once it ignites and you will need to start applying the Kindling fairly quickly to keep the fire going.
Substances Commonly used as Tinder:
- Dried animal droppings
- Old mans beard (Usnea Lichen) resembling Grey or Greenish hair this lichen hangs from trees
like small beards
- Dried bird or bat droppings
- Cotton wool or clothes dryer Lint from your survival tin. Tampons ignite very well.
- Sedge or Arctic cotton grass
- Dried, powdered or decaying wood (often found by peeling back bark of a fallen dead tree)
- Fine wood shavings
- Honeysuckle bark
- Pulverized outer bark from oily softwood trees such as Birch, Cypress or Cedar
- Birch Bark Scales (Loose, papery, Bark on the outside of the birch trunk)
- Cotton Down from Cats Tail reed (aka Bull Rush)
- Termites nest
- Dried Fungi (powdered)
- Fabric (charred works well)
- Lint from your pocket or scraped into a loose pile from a piece of fabric
- Roughed coconut husk
- Roughed, dried grass
- Shredded paper (especially waxed)
- Birds nests
- Bird Down
- Smashed needles and cones from conifer trees such as pine or fir trees
- Gun powder from ammunition
- Hemp Rope Fiber
- Oily Corn Chips
A flammable liquid, such as Oil, Insect repellent, petrol or anti freeze can also be used to get the fire going but you’ve got to be careful that there is none on your clothes or skin or else you may become the fire.
Oil, Petrol and Insect repellent work well when mixed together with sand.
It always pays to keep an eye out for good tinder materials as you travel and collect them as you see them. Just make sure that you keep them dry.
Kindling is fuel which gets added to the burning tinder and gives your fire something of substance to take a hold of. Your kindling should consist of fuels ranging in size, starting from smaller twigs and sticks to slightly larger sticks, about the width of your ring finger, building up progressively larger to sticks about the size of your wrist. These should be sorted into piles based on their size and applied to the fire from smallest to largest, allowing the fire to take hold of each fuel before adding the next. The kindling will take the fire from the initial ignition of the tinder, to a fire which is burning hot enough to take small logs. Making Fire Sticks from your kindling will help the fire take hold a lot quicker and is very effective if your kindling is wet on the outside.
Take a stick and your knife and starting at one end, cut into the stick at about 25deg as though you are going to shave a piece off but don’t go all the way through. This piece will feather out and form a curl. Continue this all the way around and up the stick. If the stick is wet on the outside, make sure that you cut deep enough to expose the dry wood in the middle.
All kindling should be dead & dry. Softwoods are best as they will catch-on faster than hardwood but they will produce more sparks and as they burn faster, you will need more of them. Resinous timbers (often softwoods such as fir, pine, cedar & birch) are also a bonus as the resin will act as an accelerant. When gathering kindling it is best to take it from dead trees rather than straight off the ground as it is more likely to be damp if it is on the ground.
In the Wilderness, larger fuel will usually be logs which can be added once the fire is well established. When first applying the larger fuel, you should start with dry logs from dead trees but as the fire is well established, you can use damp or green logs because the fire will be hot enough to dry the timber out before it burns. You can make a long lasting fire by adding a mixture of both green and dry fuels. This will help your fire burn all through the night. Green timber will give off more smoke though so if you are being pursued, it is best to use dry wood and don’t add larger pieces before your fire is ready for them as this will cause incomplete combustion of the larger logs which in-turn will cause excess smoke.
When choosing larger fuel, there are some additional considerations around the density of the fuel which need to be factored in. Hardwood is more dense and will burn slower and hotter. Hardwood is excellent for creating embers for cooking or carrying to make fire at another location. Hardwood fires also require less fuel and therefore less energy to gather.
Some hard, dense wood varieties:
- Gum Trees
- Australian Cypress
A simple indication as to whether your fuel is hard and dense, or soft, is how heavy it is. Hardwood, dense wood will be heavier.
Softer woods are less dense and therefore burn faster. They are also often oily and more combustible. Softwood will also give off lots of sparks and is ideal for when you want to be seen and is therefore good for signal fires.
Some softer wood varieties:
When collecting your fuel, the basic rule of thumb in to collect about twice as much as you think you will need. If the timber is softwood, collect even more. Once you have collected your fuels, you should grade and stack them according to size. If it is raining, ensure that the fuel is covered to keep it dry. In a longer term camp, it may pay to build a small wood shed. Ensure that it is stacked up off the ground and have a place (shelf) for drying wood and a place for the dried wood.
It is important that when adding fuel to your fire that you do not add too much too quickly as this will starve the fire of oxygen and the fire is likely to die out. Adding larger fuels before the fire is burning hot enough to take it will cause incomplete combustion of the larger fuel and produce smoke.
Non Timber Fuels
In some places you may find that there are no readily available sources of wood to use as fuel. In this situation, you will need to look for alternative fuel sources.
Dried Animal Droppings
Make an excellent fuel source when dry. I remember hearing a story once about how families lived for generations farming cattle on an island which had no trees, and they would use the dried cow pats as their primary source of fuel for cooking and heating.
Animal Fat and Blubber
Animal fat can be used where fuel is scarce. Often in polar regions, animal fat is the only fuel available. Beware though, if food is also scarce as animal fat is a great source of calories, which you will need a lot of in cold climates. Seal blubber does not store well and makes an excellent fuel so is often ideal to use as fuel. Animal Fat or blubber can be augmented with other fuels such as sticks or bones when used as a fire. It can also be used to make a candle in a container, using a piece of fabric, cord or shoelace wick.
Man Made Fuels
Sometimes in survival situations you may have a Wreckage to scavenge or be lucky enough to come across Abandoned Vehicles, Mines, Logging Camps or Dwellings which may provide you with the opportunity to scavenge for items which people have left behind. Often in these situations, you are are likely to find one or more of the following:
- Motor Oil (in cold areas this may freeze so it should be drained from the engine as soon as possible)
- Hydraulic or Break Fluid
- Insect Repellent
- Cooking Oil
- Liquid Hydrocarbons (found in most aerosol sprays)
- Rubber from Tyres or door seals (excellent for Signal Fires)
- Materials from Vehicle Seats or Furniture
Peat, or turf, is an accumulation of partially decayed vegetation matter or histosol. Peat forms in wetland bogs, moors, muskegs, pocosins, mires, and peat swamp forests.
Often growing on the edge of rocky outcrops, peat is soft under foot, dark in color and easy to cut. You will need to ensure that your Peat fire gets lots of oxygen.
Peat is harvested as an important source of fuel in certain parts of the world and as it dries very quickly when cut into blocks and loosely stacked, it makes an excellent survival fuel.
Peat deposits are found in many places around the world:
- Northern Germany
- The Netherlands
- North America (Canada, Michigan, Minnesota, the Florida Everglades, and California’s Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta).
- New Zealand
- Southern Patagonia/Tierra del Fuego and the Falkland Islands
Approximately 60% of the world’s wetlands are peat.
Coal is a readily combustible black or brownish-black sedimentary rock. It begins as layers of plant matter accumulate at the bottom of a body of water protected from biodegradation and oxidization, usually by mud or acidic water, which causes its metamorphosis over time.
Coal can sometimes be found on open ground on the northern tundra and has been used as a fuel for centuries.
An organic-rich fine-grained sedimentary rock, contains significant amounts of kerogen (a solid mixture of organic chemical compounds) from which liquid hydrocarbons can be extracted. Shales are an excellent fuel source. Deposits of oil shale occur around the world, including major deposits in the United States of America, Australia, Sweden, Estonia, Jordan, France, Germany, Brazil, China, southern Mongolia and Russia.
Preparing your Fire Place
It is important to choose the right location of your fire. In making the decision on a suitable location, you will need to factor in the weather conditions and purpose of your fire. If it is windy you should dig a trench to light it in, use stones, a natural feature or build a wind break (from logs) to shield the fire. If it is wet or you are in the snow, you will need to build your fire up on a platform. If your fire is predominantly for warmth or protection from animals or insects, you will probably build it close to your shelter but make sure that where you place it won’t cause your shelter to fill with smoke. In any case you should always prepare the fire place by removing any sticks, exposed roots, leaves or dry grass in about a 2 meter (6ft) diameter and don’t build the fire beside a log or tree stump. This will reduce the risk of the fire getting out of hand. Tree roots which have been exposed to fire have been known to smolder underground for several months before reaching and igniting the tree and causing devastating forest fires.
Simple platforms can be made from laying a bed of stones or green logs and then placing a thick layer of moss or earth on top, then lighting the fire on top of that. Sometimes, especially in deeper snow and swampland, you will need to construct a raised frame on which to put your log or stone platform so that it is up and clear of the snow , mud or water.