Fire

Not an absolute essential for some climates, however, I suggest carrying fire-making tools for reasons other than keeping warm and cooking. Fire-making gear takes up so little space and weighs so little that I believe it to be wise for any BOB.

In cold climates, obviously a fire can save your life or at least prevent hypothermia, frostbite and their consequences like confusion, disorientation and lost fingers and toes.

Even in a warm climate, you may want to boil or sterilize tools and bandages, cauterize a wound, melt the end of a cut synthetic rope, make a torch or a fire to scare wild animals away. You might find or have food that needs to be cooked. You may need a hot foot bath (clay-lined pit of hot water). Here are six small items you can carry and not feel it.

1. Matches, obviously (waterproof by dipping heads in melted wax; scratch off wax to strike)

2. Disposable lighter (1000 lights); carry two or three, they're tiny and useful

3. Cotton balls soaked in petroleum jelly (fire starter for damp or wet wood) in film container or zip lock bag or medicine/pill bottle.

4. Candle, same as for cotton balls - speedy fire starter, even with damp wood

5. Magnifying glass (also good while pulling splinters and thorns, studying a map)

6. Magnesium block and striker fire starter (shave off thin pieces, light with spark or other, burns furiously)

If you haven't see the movie Castaway with Tom Hanks, check it out for inspiration on making a fire from scratch. He finally succeeds, but what an ordeal. Another source of even better techniques can be found on the Discovery Channel DVDs Man Woman Wild, about Michael Hawke and wife in survival situations and Dual Survival, with Dave Canterbury and Cody Lundin in similar challenges. You have to see Cody Lundin on one episode - this guy has fire-making down.

He has no knife or other blade, so first he searches and finds a boulder, maybe 15 pounds, and smashes it on another to chip off a very sharp piece of glasslike rock for a knife blade. With this, he cuts and shapes his fireboard - the bottom piece - and the spindle - which he will spin between his hands. This spindle is long, and for a reason. He rubs it between his hands to make it spin one way then another, while his hands slip downwards. This guy gets the fireboard smoking on the first round! I am impressed.

Michael Hawke goes one better on this technique, by making a simple improvement: a thumb string. It's just a short piece of cord with loops at both ends. He cuts a groove on the top of the spindle for the cord to lock into, pokes each thumb through a loop and downward pressure on the string with his thumbs keeps it locked on the spindle. Now he spins it back and forth, and his hands don't slide down the spindle, because they are held up by the string on the spindle. So he need not pause to move his hands from the bottom of the spindle back to the top - they remain at the top. Hence, the spindle can be much shorter than the way Cody does it. No pause means it heats up faster.

Lots of other good survival stuff on both DVDs (each comes with two DVDs) - got them on Amazon, worth it.

Michael shows off two other clever fire-starting tricks. One is with a 9V battery touched to fine steel wool - it shorts the current and heats up the wool, bursting into flame. The other is by mixing two chemicals: potassium permangenate and glycerin - they react violently and burst into flame. He also used his wife's glasses (reading?) as magnifying glass to start a fire. Other ways, shown by Canterbury are using the reflector from a flashlight/headlight to concentrate sunlight on something combustible. Oh, and Michael used a snowmobile's spark plug and a bit of gas to fire up a rag, by turning the ignition to spark the plug, which had been removed but remained wired - just needed grounding on the engine.

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