It’s That Time of Year…

It has been 66 years since the badly burned bear cub who became the representation of Smokey was rescued from a New Mexico forest fire that burned 17,000 acres of the Lincoln National Forest in the Capitan Mountains, and the USFS just celebrated 75 years of using the “Smokey the Bear” character to publicize the importance of fire safety.

It has been nearly thirty years since the fire in Yellowstone NPS. The scars are still easily seen on a drive-thru tour by car.

Do your part… Be Fire Smart!

Some Smalls…

Pretty self explanatory.

Got some nice little BIC™ sized lighters, but with long necks that make fire or stove starting much, much easier. Way easier to carry along, too.

Bright colors in case I drop ’em. I’ve got an orange one down in my cook kit already.

I have been using the black one for a couple of months now. It rides around in the pocket of my greatcoat for lighting my pipe, and it shows no sign yet of running out of gaz. From the makers of everyone’s favorite muck-about camp shoes… Crocks™.  I’ll probably grab another couple of bright colored ones in case they disappear.

Buck apiece down at the Dollar Tree.

 

You Get What You Pay For…

Another purchase from the strange Hong Kong jobbers 11-11 sale was these three small “neck knives”.

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They are badly executed copies of the fairly classic C.R.K.T/Doug Ritter Mk5. They sacrifice the Ritter’s Kydex sheath for one of a reasonably decent leather, and claim to be 420-C steel, but they really don’t measure up. On one of the units they had failed to even bother feeding the lanyard cord through the eye on the handle. It may not even be fair to call these Mil-Tec knives copies. They make no representation, other than visually, to be a Mk5. And there are certainly omissions. Notably in the lack of the jimping [those little slits for grip] on the spine and finger choil, and the missing blade holes for lashing to a pole.

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Side-by-side with my several year-old original/genuine knife, you can see some of the differences right off. The biggest being that the Mil-Tec ones are severely ground in a “sabre”cut [the blade thickness is reduced toward the edge by grinding the flat down before adding an even steeper angle to be finished for sharpness]. The Ritter is fully flat, tapering smoothly from the spine down to the edge-grind. The Chinese units are abysmally dull. The sabre-cut is not even taken down far enough to overcome the overall thickness of the knife blank. The edge cut ends up being far too steep to give a decent cutting edge without refinishing. You can see the difference in the blank thickness in the first photo below. The Ritter starts out with a thinner blank at the spine, and the finished knife is also longer and much more evenly tapered than the Mil-Tec version. Then, in the second shot, you a can see that the sabre-cut portion of the Chinese blades even retains the rotational curves of the grinding machine. Where on the Ritter you can barely make out the edge-grind at all, on the Chinese version it is quite obvious.

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HOWEVER… [you were expecting a however, weren’t you?]   It is exactly that extra blade thickness that will give these knives their redeeming point.

I have never seen the point to wearing a “neck-knife” that dangles with the handle pointing down… they seem to invite loss in a messy situation. My intention instead is to include these clones in Altoid can sized emergency kits. If you have read the posts previously on here about survival/emergency kits you will understand that I always include a mini-multitool of the Leatherman Micra/Gerber Dime variety in the ones I make up for myself or for friends. These minis already have a good blade for cutting, along with the other tools. I want the “Mk5’s” for their usefulness in batoning [splitting] small-wood for fires. Their edges can easily be sharpened up to that point, and that extreme blade thickness makes them sturdy enough to stand up to the pounding. I was looking for a tool… not any refinement.

I think that getting a fire together can be the single most important part of an emergency situation. Getting some wood larger than twigs is vital to an efficient fire. The wood inside is almost always drier that that outside… hence quicker to get burning. Those little multitools are great. You can easily run up a feather-stick to catch fire, but I like the idea of something small but sturdy to get some bulk on there as well.

The final “however” here is that the sale price of all three Chinese knives was less than a SuperMochaFrappucinnoHalfCafHalfDecaf at your local coffee house… $5.64US. At that price they are just fine. You get what you pay for.

Playing With Fire- “all natural” Flaming Dragon Turds

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My buddy, Ed, and I have been upptacamp a couple times recently to build a deck.  Part of the process was taking down several large pine trees that were going to be in the way of the deck and the view. We took them down three weeks ago on the first visit. When we were up again last week, I realized that one of them had “sweated” a large amount of sap out of the stump.

Pine sap is one of my favorite tinders/kindlings, and, this being the Northwoods of Maine, there was plenty of loose, dry birchbark to be picked up easily. I scraped a bunch of the still liquid sap off and smeared it across the surface of some of the birchbark. I sprinkled it with some of the course sawdust from the chainsaw work, and pressed the two pieces together between a couple of cinderblocks for a few hours. The photo shows the result. I figure to thumbtack it to the railing outside for a few weeks to let it dry and set up completely, and then I should be able to cut it into pieces and add it in to my tinderboxes.

After I took the first photograph, I snipped off a chunk, and touched it off with a single match.IMG_0999

I got a burn time of about a minute and a half, and it left an “ooze” of unburned sap on the slate that would’ve soaked in if there was other tinder. It also burned so hot that it popped a flake of slate off the underside.

I think I have another keeper.

Yard Fire…

IMG_0749 I am really happy with the whole kit I have put together over the last year for fire-making, so, tonight I put aside the ax and hatchet that usually get used out at the firepit in the yard and pulled out the pack stuff to have a go at a “backwoods” sized campfire.

You have seen the Kershaw “Camp Knife” [10″] and the Buck #692 in posts last year >>hit up the tags-list on the right for “Knives”>>>.

I recently picked up a Bahco “Laplander” saw [buy on Amazon] for chunking out lengths for splitting… works a charm. A 2-3″ limb cuts in less than 20 seconds with little effort.

The orange pieces are Chi-clones of an “ExoTac” nanoSTRIKER and their match-safe… and I love the burnt orange anodization for finding them in dim light. At under $10 the pair, instead of the ExoTac site prices of $27 and $24, I think I scored OK on the 90/50 criterion I try to go by [90% utility for 50% >or less< of the price is a GREAT deal]

Playing With Fire- Taking Your Skills Into the Woods

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The Zen masters teach us that “you will never drink from the same stream twice”.  In just that way, you will never build the same fire twice. No two sticks or logs will ever burn the same.

For my own part I have moved away from larger fires when I go out camping. To my way of thinking, the one in this photo certainly qualifies as a full-fledged bonfire.

I have had friends who felt the the fire was not big enough if it was not 10 feet in diameter with 30 foot flames. Once at an established campground in Canada I watched some kids cut up a length of downed, creosote-treated telephone pole and sit around in the choking black smoke all evening long. —To each their own.

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Smokey The Bear says, “Only YOU can prevent wildfires”… This is what he says because he’s nice, polite bear. What he means is don’t be an asshole.

For me, a big enough fire is when the flames reach six or 8 inches in height, and mine are seldom more than a foot in diameter. If there is already a fire circle at an existing campsite, I will go ahead and use it. However I will seldom build one on my own.

Quite possibly the single best piece of advice about fire building is that it is never too early to start thinking about your next fire. As you hike, keep your eyes open for any suitable tinder that you can pick up along the way. If you are planning to camp in an established site, the chances are quite high that you will find previous campers have pretty thoroughly picked it over for both tinder and firewood. Tinder is light enough in weight that it’s no burden to carry and by gathering some along the way you can shorten the time it takes you to get a fire going once you reach camp. All of the same factors apply if you were simply planning on selecting a site on your own for backwoods camping. You can never tell what will be available when you get there. A brief rain shower can compromise the quality of any tinder you might scrounge– having some in hand is always a good idea.

Just a couple of pieces of birchbark, or a couple of nice, resiny pinecones can get your fire off to a good start. Pick up what you see you along the way. Even if you don’t use it, someone else might need it.

Once you’ve found your campsite, just because it’s not dark yet doesn’t mean you shouldn’t start gathering wood if you want to sustain a fire all evening. It’s always easier to find decent wood while it’s still light out. It’s always safer to cut up your wood before it gets dark.

Next, you can probably never practice your fire building skills too often. I learned my basic skills in Boy Scouts over 50 years ago. No Brag, Just Fact: in those 50 years, I have never failed to successfully build a fire, no matter the conditions, and even when others efforts had failed. In no particular order, here are a few suggestions:

  • AlwaysAlwaysALWAYS clear a fire pit three times the diameter of your desired fire. This should be scraped down to bare earth [dirt] at least twice the diameter of your fire. [the absolute necessity of this cautionary is one of the reasons why it is suggested that you Do Not make a fire pit at an undeveloped, or backcountry site] If it’s necessary to build a fire in snowy conditions, you will need to dig right down to ground level or the melting snow will simply quench the coals from underneath. The best thing to do in these conditions is to make a “raft” of green or wet logs laid down adjoining and parallel to each other about twice the diameter of your fire, and then build your fire on top of them.
  • If you do feel the need to make a fire pit where one has not previously existed, try to line it with a circle of rocks at least 4 to 6 inches high
  • You can use a large or flat rock on the opposite side of the fire to reflect the heat back in your direction or into your tent area.
  • Cutting up fallen timber is always safer than trying to drop a standing tree. In many areas, it is illegal to cut “standing wood”… Don’t!
  • Instead of relying on newspaper, use native tinder that you find– your process should be about practice, not taking the shortest path.
  • Carry some char-cloth to catch a spark
  • Keep your eyes open for, and pick up useful tinder as you hike
  • Save your matches as a fallback– at the very least try to start your fire with sparks from a used-up lighter– the satisfaction, and sense of independence that you gain is immeasurable.
  • “Making a fire is a very simple, incremental matter of coaxing your heat source from a glowing ember to an ever larger flame. The secret to this process is in staggering your tinder in a similarly incremental way”–  have a complete selection of your materials, from the tinder all the way up to sustainable “burning wood”, readied before you start trying to light your fire. There is nothing worse than having your fire die back out while you have to leave to scrounge up more material.
  • The higher, the drier“… kindling/dead-wood harvested from higher up on a tree trunk will probably have died back more recently and as such, will be drier. Kindling selected from a dead fall or as dead branches off a tree trunk will be far drier than wood that has already rotten enough to have fallen onto the ground.
  • There is dry wood inside wet wood“– you will frequently find that by splitting even small branches lengthwise to expose inner surfaces you will discover the interior wood much drier. Even stripping the bark off can be beneficial at the early stages of fire building. This is especially true if it has been raining.
  • Damp/wet wood can be stacked around a fire to start drying out before being added.
  • Several wet, or even semi-rotten logs can be used as backdrops to reflect the fire’s heat back on yourself if there are no stones or rocks available for that purpose.
  • Always bank your fire down overnight, never leave it unattended, and always quench it thoroughly before you leave the site.
  • And finally, always be a good guest in Mother Nature’s home– don’t toss in your beer caps, empty tin cans, old tin foil, and other non-burnable items… That’s just plain nasty. Carry a trash bag, don’t be lazy and carry out your trash.

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Most of the time, my personal choice for fire and cooking is my little FireAnt stove from Merkware/Emberlit.  Made out of titanium, it weighs under 3 ounces, packs flat in a pocket for easy accessibility, and can boil 2 cups of water in less than six minutes on only a few small sticks the size of your finger. While this is not the raging bonfire that many people think of as necessary for their camping experience, it is an ecologically sound choice, provides a surprising amount of warming for its size, and gives you quite a few of the comforting qualities of an open fire, while being much easier to maintain and requiring far less fuel.

I can cook my dinner on it before daylight fully fades, let it die out, but rekindle it in just a couple of minutes once it is full dark to enjoy the comfort of a “campfire”– and between times, if it’s rainy, foggy or dewy, I can keep the whole thing dry… kindling, fuel and all… under a grocery bag.