Posts Tagged ‘wilderness’

You are using a very old web browser. You will need to upgrade if you wish to get the most out of this site. Either download the newest version of Internet Explorer from the Microsoft website, FireFox from the Mozilla website, Chrome from the Google website or Safari from the Apple website. All of these Browsers are free. Safari and Chrome will give you an enhansed user experience with this site. Happy Browsing :)
Print Page

Sourcing Water from Plants

Some plants collect water for their own consumption and can provide the survivor with a really good fresh water supply. Other plants yield drinkable water or sap which can also be extracted and consumed.

As a general rule, DO NOT DRINK Milky or Coloured Sap or plant juices. There are two exceptions to this rule, which are: for the Juice of the American Barrel Cactus and of course, Coconut Milk both of which have been proven to be fine.

Water Collectors

Some plants have leaves which are cup-like in shape; such that they will collect pools of water in their leaves.
Plants which grow leaves directly from the trunk, like most palm varieties, some ferns and bromelaides (from the pineapple family, these are usually small plants which grow on the side of other, larger, trees), often have leaves which are designed to catch rain and channel it down to the base of the leaf, where it meets the trunk. The water pools there so that the tree can slowly absorb it. These kind of trees and plants are often, but definitely not always, found in tropical areas and can provide a useful source of water. One great example of this is the Traveler’s Tree (Ravenala Madagascariensis). This comes from the banana family and can hold up to 1–2 liters (2–4pt) of water which pools between the leaf stalks where they attach to the tree.

Banana plants hold a descent amount of water in their trunk. This can be accessed by either slicing off the trunk at about 30cm (1ft) from the ground or by inserting a tap into the trunk. To tap a banana plant, take a 20cm (8in) length of bamboo, about the diameter if your thumb, ensuring that it is hollow all the way through. Sharpen one end with your knife and insert the bamboo tap firmly into the banana plant at about a 70 deg angle to the trunk of the plant. This will allow the water to start running out of the trunk and down through the tap. Create a water trap underneath the end of the tap, by placing a large leaf or piece of plastic over a depression in the ground, for the water to drip into and leave it for a few hours before returning to have a drink. The water may taste like green bananas but it is drinkable.

Other water bearing trees are the Boabab tree (often known as the tree of life), found in Australia, Africa and Madagascar hold a very large amount of water in its trunk. This tree also provides shade and edible fruits.

Extracting Water from Tree Roots

It is possible to get water from the roots of some trees by removing the bark, cutting shavings into a pile and pulping the root shavings with rocks then squeezing the water out of the pulp and letting the water drip into your mouth.

The roots of some trees will yield more water than others. Some trees with a higher water content are: the blood wood, the water tree and the desert oak; all found in Australia.

This method works if you are desperate but uses a lot of energy for the yield.

Water from Bamboo

Bamboo will usually yield an excellent supply of water in the hollow stems, between the joints. Water can be located by tapping the stem about 7-10 cm (3-4 inches) above a joint. If you hear a dull sound then they will most likely have water inside. You can shake the stems and listen for water inside too. Aim for thick stem bamboo. Water is most likely to collect in older, yellower stems. When you locate water, cut a notch just above the bottom joint and the water will run out freely. This water will be clean and good to drink as-is.

Water from Vines

Some vines can yield a reasonable supply of drinking water. The general characteristics of such vines are rough bark and off-shoots of about 4-6cm (1-2in) thickness.

Always be weary of plants with a sticky, milky sap as this is usually poisonous. Vines are no exception so observe this when trying various vines for water.

To get water from a water-bearing vine, simply cut a deep notch in the vine, as high up as you can, (it is important to cut the top first or else the vine will act as a vacuum and suck the water back up the vine) then cut it completely through at the base. At this point the water should begin to run out. Check that it is not sticky & milky and then collect the water in a container or let it run/drip straight into your mouth. Do not put the vine in your mouth as some vines can irritate your lips.

When the water has stopped flowing, cut a section off the bottom end to release water still inside the main vine. Repeat this until all water has been released.

Water from Cacti

Whilst most cacti have a fluid content, not all cacti yield fluid which is safe to drink. Some cacti can be very poisonous; like the the giant Saquarro cactus found in the California and Arizona regions of North America and in Mexico. On the other hand, the Barrel cactus is an exception to the “Avoid milky sap ” rule. This life saver can yield around a liter (2 pints or 33oz) of drinkable sticky milky sap. The best way to handle cacti is to cut off a piece to expose the inner flesh, then either cut chunks out pf the center to mash or suck the moisture out, or to cut and mash the flesh, while still in the base, till there is enough liquid to collect or drink then repeat.
illustration of a barrel cactus

Always be very careful when handling cacti as you really don’t want to get the spines stuck in your skin as they can be almost impossible (especially the fine ones) to get out in a survival situation and if left, they can cause weeping sores which can quickly turn septic.

Cactus fruits such as prickly pears can also provide liquid.
The liquid in some cacti can be tasteless and sour in other varieties.

Types of Fire

Most times in a survival situation, you will just build.. a fire. For the most part that will probably be fine, but there are many different types of fire which can be used for different purposes depending on the weather conditions, what you need the fire for, your location and the situation that you are in. Some fires are better suited to cooking, some are for warmth, some for signaling and some are better suited (if a fire is absolutely necessary) during covert activities. The type of fire that you make may also differ depending on the climate and weather conditions.

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

Fire Lane
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.

Heat Reflectors
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.

Cooking Fires

Yukon Stove
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.

Be careful when choosing stones. Wet stones which are cracked, can have a tenancy to explode when exposed to a lot of heat. Sometimes you can’t see a crack but when tapped they can make a sound which indicates that they are not so solid. It always pays to check this when using river stones.

Trench Fire
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.

Hobo Stove
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.

Star Fire
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.

Fire Lighting

Friction Methods

Fire Plow
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.

Fire Drill
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

Magnification Lens
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.

Water Filtration

Often when you find water, it can often be cloudy murky and full of debris like leaves, dirt, insects and many other foreign bodies. This water will not be suitable to drink until it has been filtered to remove impurities.

Filtration should not be confused with sterilization. Whilst filtration will clear the water of debris, make it clearer and often make it taste and smell better, it will not remove bacteria so unless you are highly confident that the water is fresh, it always pays to sterilize it with water sterilization tablets, or by boiling or distilling it.

Fortunately there are many ways of filtering out the yucky bits with things which are readily available in the wild. The basic idea is to remove debris of all sizes by passing the water through different sized filters. Sand, Dried Grass, Pebbles and Charcoal all make excellent filtration material. Combine some of these in layers (smallest to largest) in a sock or your pants leg/shirt sleeve tied at the end and you’ll be good to go. Pass the water through the layers of filter material, catching the clean water as it comes out the bottom. It often pays, to run a couple of cups through the filter just to remove any fine dust or charcoal powder which may initially come through.

The type of filter that you will make will depend on the resources you have available at the time and how you intend to use the filter. There are several variations of the basic filter as mentioned above and then there are also some man made solutions which you may be fortunate enough to have with you. The following techniques listed are just some ideas but with a little ingenuity and resourcefulness, your options are almost limitless.

Charcoal is an extremely good filtration material as the carbon in it attracts impurities and improves the taste and smell of water. Always make sure that, if you light a fire or come across charcoal on your journey, that you take some with you. Aside from filtration, Charcoal has many other uses for the survivor. It will take a spark relatively easily and produce an ember and it is also useful to rub on your face for camouflage or under your eyes in the desert to reduce glare off your cheeks.

Gypsy Filter

A great method for filtering water from a pool if you don’t have the means to boil it is by digging a hole beside a pool of water (1ft/ 30-40cm away and deeper than the water level in the pool) and creating a well.

Let this sit for a while and the water will filter through the dirt and sand, filling the well.

This water will initially be murky so scoop that water out and let it fill up again. This time the water will be clearer and good to drink.

Charcoal Straw Filter

Sometimes the only water available is in a crack or pool which is too shallow to fill a cup. This is when a filter straw comes in handy.
You must find something long and hollow like a straw. This maybe a piece of frame from a backpack or a length of hollow stalk from a dried plant or Reid. Stuff this with a wad of dried grass and push it down with a stick. place crushed charcoal in the straw next followed by sand. Finally place another wad of dried grass in the end and pack it down (not too firm but firm enough to hold the filtration material in place). You should now be able to drink the water directly through the straw.

Commercial Water Filter Straws

These nifty little devices can be purchased from most camping and fishing stores and are a nice edition to your survival pouch. Use them to drink right from the water source. They will filter the water and also kill about 95% of any bacteria. They can be used for about a week before they need to be discarded.

Bamboo Filter

Cutting a section of thick bamboo so that it is hollow at both ends then packing one end with a wad of grass and then filling it to 3/4 with sand will make an excellent filter.

Water Sterilization Tablets

These can be purchases from most camping and fishing stores and are a handy addition to your survival tin. The manufacturers instructions on the packet should be followed.

UV Water Sterilization Pen

The handy devices are relatively new on the market, and are a really handy piece of kit to carry on your adventures. Retailing at around $260USD, they work by you shining the UV light into the water. UV light scrambles the DNA of nasty disease-causing bacteria, viruses and parasitic protozoa causing it to become inactive. At a relative lightweight 110g (3.8oz) incl. batteries they will disinfect 500ml (1pt) of clear water with just under a 50 second burst. These can also double as a torch and can be purchased from high-end outdoor adventure stores.

Disinfecting Water Using the Sun

The SODIS (Solar Disinfection) Method has been developed for developing countries as a low cost method for disinfecting water and eliminating diarrhea causing bacteria making it fit to drink. This method uses the sun’s UV rays to break down the bacteria and is endorsed by the World Health Organization. This technique involves filling clear PET plastic bottles with the suspect water and placing the cap firmly before laying the bottles out in the open, exposed to the sun, for the period of time specified below, depending on the weather conditions.

Suggested Treatment Schedule
Weather Conditions                        Minimum Treatment Duration
Sunny………………………………. 6 hours
50% cloudy………………………… 6 hours
50-100% cloudy…………………… 2 days
Continuous rainfall………………… Use rainwater!

This process can be hastened by laying a piece of corrugated iron against something so that is on a 45deg angle, facing the sun, and leaning the bottles against it so that they get maximum exposure to the suns rays.

If the water is very cloudy to begin with, it will need to be filtered prior to bottling. Once treated, the water can be stored in the bottle and consumed straight from the bottle.

SODIS Diagram
Image Courtesy of Wikipedia

Adapting the SODIS method for Survival

This very effective technique could easily be adapted to both wilderness and urban survival situations and could be used by soldiers, troopers, scouts etc who are in an open top observation post (OP) and low on supplies. The advantage of using this method in a tactical/combat situation is that the is no need to alter the natural surroundings and no need for a fire; both of which would likely compromise your position and potentially your life. If used in this situation though, it is important that the containers are placed in a position low out of sight, perhaps even below ground level, so as not to produce shine or glare which could also give your position away.

When adapting this technique to a survival situation, the general method stays the same but the materials that you use may differ depending on what is available to you at the time. Plastic PET bottles may be substituted for glass or clear plastic bag, tied closed, and they may be laid against a rock or simply flat on the ground. Unfortunately for the planet, in this day and age, there are not too many places left on earth where you will not find some form of litter laying around. Fortunately, as a survivor, you can often find useful things amongst litter such as plastic PET bottles or even glass this will be even more prevalent along coastal areas. Of course you may need to improvise a cap/lid and you could make a plug this with a wad of fabric or leaves and then seal it over with mud or wild bees wax.
Clear bottles with a minimal amount of scratches work best.

This technique is very effective as:

  • The yield is only limited by the size/amount of bottles that you have.
  • The process doesn’t take too long
  • The method can be carried out in a discreet, clandestine manner
  • The method is effective in all weather conditions
  • Requires low/no physical exertion
Water which comes from pools where there is no green vegetation growing, has bones or carcasses in or around it or has chalky rings around it should still be avoided as it is likely to have chemical contaminants.

Fire Basics

The ability to create fire in any situation in any part of the world is an important skill for the survivor and may be the difference between life and death.

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.

Always observe local laws and/or restrictions before practicing any fire making/lighting techniques and use common sense to ensure control and safety is maintained.

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.

Fire Sticks
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.

Larger Fuel

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:

- Ash
- Beach
- Ironwood
- Elm
- Gum Trees
- Hickory
- Oak

- Maple
- Jarrah
- Wenge
- Bloodwood
- Rosewood
- 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:

- Cedar
- Pine
- Hemlock
- Spruce
- Chestnut

- Redwood
- Fir
- Willow
- Cypress
- Yew

Green foliage can be applied to the fire to create smoke as a defense against flying insects.

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:

Flammable Liquids and Gas
- Motor Oil (in cold areas this may freeze so it should be drained from the engine as soon as possible)
- Antifreeze
- Petrol
- Diesel
- Hydraulic or Break Fluid
- Insect Repellent
- Cooking Oil
- Turpentine
- Paint
- Kerosene
- Liquid Hydrocarbons (found in most aerosol sprays)

- Rubber from Tyres or door seals (excellent for Signal Fires)
- Materials from Vehicle Seats or Furniture
- Coal/Briquettes

Peat Moss
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 Hemisphere
- Ireland
- Russia
- Belarus
- Ukraine
- Finland
- Lithuania
- Latvia
- Estonia
- Scotland
- Poland
- Northern Germany
- The Netherlands
- Scandinavia
- North America (Canada, Michigan, Minnesota, the Florida Everglades, and California’s Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta).

Southern Hemisphere
- New Zealand
- Kerguelen
- Southern Patagonia/Tierra del Fuego and the Falkland Islands
- Asia
- Indonesia

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.

Oil Shales
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.

Water from Condensation

Moisture can be extracted from the most unlikely of places because of Evaporation and Condensation.
This process is happening around us all the time. For example, nature uses evaporation to make clouds and condensation to make rain.

For the survivor, this can be a double edged sword. Humans experience fluid loss through breathing, talking, sweating, digestion and excrement but guess what; we are not alone. Most living things, experience fluid loss in this way and the survivor can harness this to increase their chances of survival. Heating anything which holds water will cause the water to evaporate.

In fact, for the most part, water just keeps on cycling around being consumed by all sorts living things, serving it’s purpose and then being released back into the ground or air as evaporation.

This trick is in catching it so that it condenses and provides you with a decent amount to drink.
Thankfully, with some knowledge the number of ways to collect this are limited only to your imagination.

Evaporating water and collecting the condensation will remove any impurities so therefore this process makes it possible to extract fresh, drinkable water from urine, seawater, contaminated water, poisonous liquid and sap, mud, clay etc.

The survivor will often be presented with the situation where the only liquid they have access to is unfit for drinking such as Sea Water, Urine, Contaminated or Poisonous Water and Suspect Plant Sap. Thankfully, by distilling these liquids, in a Still, the survivor can extract water which is fit to drink. The same method can be used to extract drinkable liquid from substance such as Earth, Foliage, Blood, Feces etc.

Although all stills work on the same basic principle of using heat to evaporate the water content from a substance, catching the water vapor and cooling it to condense the water droplets before channeling this into some form of container for drinking, there are many different ways of approaching stills depending on where you are and what materials & heating/cooling options you have available.

Some of the methods for creating a still are listed, in detail, below. There are also inflatable solar survival stills on the market which would be an ideal piece of kit to keep on a boat.

If you have fire as a heat source, the still can be a very efficient method of desalination of seawater and or decontaminating of water; or extracting water from poisonous liquid such as milky sap.

The tricky bit, when using fire as a heat source, is catching the water droplets as they evaporate. This can be done with a large plastic bag, tarpaulin or hoochie (folded into a cone shape) provided that the fire is low intensity (so as not to melt the bag or tarp).

The method for this is to make a tripod by lashing three 5-6ft sticks together and positioning it over the top of the fire. The plastic bag is then placed over the top of the tripod creating a cap.

Before placing the bag, or tarp, over the tripod, the opening edge of the bag/tarp must be folded back up, inside the bag so that it creates a catchment for the condensed water to pool.

Put the pot or improvised container of liquid on the fire and wait for the water to pool.

An alternative could be to use a
large piece of fabric instead of a plastic bag. Once the fabric is saturated, replace if with a dry piece. Let the saturated piece cool for a minute or two before wringing the water out into a container to drink.

You could also use a large flat leaf (e.g. A banana leaf) fashioned into a cone shape and pinned with a stick to catch the water vapor as it evaporates. A smaller tripod (20-30 cm) could be placed in the water container which would suspend the leaf cone above. Bamboo split in half lengthwise could be laid around the fire to catch the condensed water as it drips off the edges if the leaf cone.

The solar still method involves using heat from the sun to extract drinkable water from the ground, mud, foliage or feces via condensation.

Dig a hole in the ground about knee to thigh deep.
Place a container in the center of the hole and place cut vegetation around the container (you can leave out the vegetation if you don’t have any. So long as the ground is damp in the hole moisture will be drawn from the ground).

Cover the hole with a piece of plastic, weight it down with rocks and seal around the edges with sand, dirt, stones or mud. Place a small stone in the center of the plastic, above the container. Leave for a few hours.

If possible, you can place a piece of hose in the water container before sealing the hole so that you can drink the liquid without disrupting the still.
illustration of a solar still



Inflatable Emergency Solar Still

There are a number of inflatable solar survival stills on the market which are an ideal piece of kit for boats and life rafts and are highly recommended for any voyage out to sea. Essentially they are an inflatable pyramid which uses evaporation and condensation caused by the sun to convert seawater into fresh drinkable water. These pack up nice and small for easy stowage and are available from most fishing and boating stores.

This method of collecting water uses evaporation and condensation to draw drinking water from a branch of a tree.

Place a plastic bag over the end of a branch (pick a branch with as much foliage as possible) and tie the opening of the bag tightly around the branch of the tree to seal it off.

Ensure that the branch is not pushed too far into the bag so that it is jammed up against the bottom of the bag as this may inhibit the condensation running down to the bottom of the bag.

Leave this for several hours. The sun will heat up the air inside the bag and this will cause the moisture in the tree branch to evaporate. The water droplets will condense on the inside of the bag and run down to the lowest point in the bag creating a small reservoir of water which is good to drink.

Set up as many of these as you can so that you get a good supply.

illustration of a branch still

Like the solar still, the sweat bag still method can be used to draw drinkable water from foliage or contaminated water but without the effort of digging a hole.

Place a plastic bag (on it’s side) on the ground and brush the dirt off some stones and place them into the bag to form a small platform.

Place leaves, vegetation offcuts or foliage on top of the platform (this will keep the foliage up out of any water which pools at the bottom) and prop the top of the bag up with a stick to form a large hollow space filled with air. Ensure that you pad the top of the stick with fabric or a rock to stop it tearing a hole in the bag.

Seal the opening of the bag by tying and then just leave it to sit in the sun for a few hours.

The sun will heat the air inside causing the moisture in the foliage to evaporate and condense on the inside of the bag. The condensation will trickle down the inside of the bag and pool at the bottom.
This water will be good to drink.

You can also try substituting the foliage with a container of mud or urine.

Finding and Collecting Water

Water will always follow the path of least resistance so common sense should tell you that a good place to look for water would be low points in the landscape such as valley floors and gullies. When in any type of hilly terrain, these places are ideal places to look.

It is nearly always best to head down hill, when in the mountains, as you are likely to come to a stream which will run into a river which will, in turn, lead you to a road and/or civilization.

If there is no river, stream or pool of water on the valley or gully floor, look for places where clumps of green vegetation or trees are growing and dig there. You are likely to find water, or at least moisture, below the surface. Once you dig into the moist ground, leave the hole to rest for a few minutes which will allow the water to pool in the bottom for collection and drinking.

Water can also be found in dried riverbeds by digging on the outside bend. Chances of finding water in this situation are increased if there outside edge of the bend is protected by overhanging rock or log, or the area in which you dig is sandy; or has some form of green vegetation growing along the sides.

You should only need to dig about 50 – 70 cm (2ft) max. Any deeper and you run the risk of wasting precious body fluid through exertion. Survival is also about knowing when to cut your losses and continue you search elsewhere.

illustration of a dry riverbed

In coastal areas, digging about 100 mt (330ft) back from the high tide line will produce drinkable water. It will still be a bit salty but drinkable. The best results will come from sandy areas such as dunes.

Water seeping from rock walls (a seep) can easily be collected and can provide a reasonable amount of drinking water; ferns or vegetation growing out of a rock-face will often indicate a seep. The survivor can be almost certain to find a seep inside a cave or lava tunnel.

Collecting Water from a Seep

It is possible to sip the water straight from the rock, depending on how fast water is being released. Often there will only be a light seeping of water so you can also lay a piece if fabric or clothing over the seep until it is saturated and then wring the water out of it, either into a container or straight into your mouth.

Another method is to use a wick to divert the water into a container. To do this, place a container (cup, old discarded plastic bottle or even a broad soft leaf folded at the edges and pinned with twigs to form a container) securely near the seep (a man made container such as a discarded bottle could be hung from a string) lay a piece of string, cord, strip of fabric or shoelace across the rock where the water is seeping in such a way that it gets wet (this is the WICK). If the rock is vertical, secure the wick so that it does not fall off then put the hanging end in the bottle/container and leave it for a few hours. Before long, the wick will absorb the water to the point of saturation and the water will start to trickle nicely into the container. This method can be very effective and having a few of these set up can yield quite a good amount of water.

Natural Springs

Springs occur where a flow of underground water breaks (or springs) through the grounds surface.
A spring can yield several hundred liters of water per day, even during a heavy drought, and can be a lifesaving find for the survivor.

Areas where granite rock bands or shelves break through the surface of the ground, and rocky cliffs should be searched for the presence of a spring. Look for the direction that the bands of rock are layered. Any spring water will actively move underground along the lines determined by the rock bands. This will give you some idea of where to look. A spring could look like a flow of water coming from a point in the rock or ground, or it could just look like a boggy patch of ground. In cliffs, it is worth investigating any areas where there is an excess of green vegetation growing.

Collecting Dew

At night or early morning, dew drops usually cover smooth surfaces such as leaves, grass, tree bark & and man made waste such as glass, tin/ iron and plastic. This can be an excellent supplementary source when collected. You can either soak this up with fabric or clothing or, if you are confident that it is safe, lick it directly from the source. Be careful though not to cut your tongue and some leaves are irritants and can cause your mouth to swell.

collecting dew by wrapping clothing around the legs and walking through dew soaked grassA reasonable amount of water can easily be collected by tying clean clothes around your legs and walking through long, dew soaked, grass at night or in the early morning. The liquid can then be wrung out into the mouth or a container.

dew trapDew traps can be created by digging a hole in the ground about shin deep and placing a sheet of plastic, tarpaulin, leather or vinyl from a car seat or large leaf over the hole so that it sits in the hole and makes a depression. you will probably need to weigh down the edges with logs or stones. Leave it overnight and you will often find a pool of water in the morning.

Collecting Rain Water

When water is in short supply it is important not to overlook the small sources. Lots of little bits add up to a lot and these small water sources can greatly improve your chances of survival. Look for:

  • Hollows in the fork of a tree, rock or ground where rainwater or dew may have pooled
  • Trees, ferns and palms where broad leaves join the trunk as rain water or dew will often collect there
  • Leaves which are shaped such that they hold small reservoirs of water

Rain traps are essentially the same as the dew trap however and can be used to catch and pool rain rather than dew, however when it is raining, any large smooth surface should be exploited (Tarpaulins, Plastic, Bamboo roofing, Large leaves etc) should all be fashioned in a way that they catch and channel rain from a wide area into the rain trap. Large sea shells, bamboo halves, sliced lengthwise also make good rain traps.

All rain water, no matter where you are in the world, is good to drink, as is.

If you are injured and cannot move, wrap a piece of fabric, like a strip torn from the bottom of a t-shirt, around the base of a tree and insert the loose end into the opening of a bottle or cup. The fabric will draw in moisture released by the tree and, once saturated, start dripping into the bottle/cup.

Watching for signs of water

There is a lot to be learned from watching animals as they go about their daily business I’m their environment. If you know what to look out for, you can pick up on tell-tail signs which will lead you to water, give you early warning if wild fire is near, help you to find salt and many more useful things.

  • Birds flying low and fast are usually heading toward a water source.
  • Birds flying from water are usually full and will often fly from branch to branch; fluttering and zig-zaging.

Honeybees nesting in the wild choose nest sites close to water supplies. Honeybees cannot survive without water as they use water to cool the hive, maintaining a temperature of around 35dec (C) or 95(F) preventing the wax from melting, water is mixed with pollen and honey to feed the young and to dilute their own food supply when the sugar levels are in excess of 50%. In hot climates, bees will require up to 2lt (2.1qts) per day. Bees will build their hive within 500mtrs of a sustainable watersource which could prove to be valuable to the thirsty survivor.

Honey is also a valuable survivor food which is rich in vitamins and a great energy source. Honey can be smeared over cuts providing protection from dirt and germs and properties which will hasten the healing process.

Tracks and Trails
  • When you find converging game trails, following them, in the direction of the arrow that they make where they meet, will lead to water.
Man Made Objects

In the desert you should always look underneath any man made objects you may come across such as a sheet of iron or the like, it may have been placed there on purpose to cover the entrance of a well or bore. This is common practice amongst locals in arid places.

Print Page