Friday, August 1, 2014

EDC Series: Fire (Part 4 of 5)

What do you think of when you hear Everyday Carry (EDC)? EDC means different things to different people. (see blog 7/16/2014 EDC What’s In Your Wallet?)
In this series, I’m going to go through ideas for “kit”, loadout, or whatever you may call your basic EDC.
In doing this series, I’ve reevaluated my idea of EDC. This is where I am working from:
Level 1: Clothing and everything on your person.
Level 2: Items in a pack, bag, purse, or case that you have with you all the time.
Level 3: Items in your vehicle (Obviously if you are on foot Levels 1 and 2 apply only)
When I teach survival or preparedness I teach with this foundation and the acronym ASWiFFS. That is: Air, Shelter, Water, Food, Fire, Security. That is what I will base this basic EDC on.

Disclaimer: Can’t believe I have to say this but, fire is dangerous. Do not use combustible things in a careless manner. The ideas here are for informational purposes only. Do not let children use fire without being monitored closely by a responsible adult. Do not be stupid with dangerous things! Fire should be practiced outdoors or in a prescribed fire area. The kitchen table or living room floor is NOT such a place!
I was attending a military survival school where we were being taught a great many things. I kept asking one of the instructors there when we would learn about fire building. After about the 4th inquiry about fire I was asked if I was a firefighter. I said no. He then asked why I had such an interest in making fire. I told him that fire is almost the single most important skill in survival. You can cook with it. Fire will keep you warm and give you light. It can keep wild beasts away. You can boil bad water on it and make it potable. You can signal with fire. How many things can boast so much life saving applications? Not many.
There are also a myriad of ways to make fire. It can literally save lives! I carry something with me to make fire every day. I carry a fire steel in my EDC. I feel that strongly about fire being essential.
Some think that fire is easy. Light a lighter or strike a match. How much more simple can you get? Well I believe it should be that easy every time. Unfortunately it is not that easy all the time. You should be aware of how to start a fire without a lighter or matches. Learn not only the many ways to start a fire, but how to build a good camp fire. There are many ways to do it and each will do different things. What if you have plenty of fuel (wood) but it is wet? Would you know how to start, maintain, and use a camp fire to dry additional fuel or clothing?
It you are interested in camp fire building there are survival and Boy Scout manuals that teach this very well. I will only cover the basics here since we are talking about EDC.
To have fire you must have 3 elements. Heat/Spark, Oxygen, and Fuel. Take one away and fire cannot exist. Oxygen is all around us in the air. Fuel is whatever is combustible. Often we use a petroleum based fuel, kerosene, white gas. Sometimes it is a gas as in propane or butane. Often, especially when camping, it is wood. Fuel is readily available usually. It’s the spark we have to learn how to produce. I would say it is important to learn to start a fire with 3 vary basic principles. Flint and steel. Bow and drill, and a plough. Two of these are friction based. I will tell you my experience with friction based fire making. I was a leader at a Boy Scout Summer camp one year and when the boys go off to their assigned merit badge activities leaders are sometimes left to their own devices. I had a bow and drill and had used and practiced a little of fire making with this instrument. I decided I would not stop until I had a fire. 2 and ½ hours later I had success. The problem is, I changed so many things in that time, I don’t really know what I did right to finally get fire. The point is, if you don’t use these skills, even if you’ve had success in the past, you will more than likely lose the skill. Once in a while, when I have a little extra time, (whenever THAT is!) I go out to the barbecue with a flint and steel or bow and drill and give it a try. I try not to spend too much time on it, as an incentive I keep track of my times and try to break my own record. That way it keeps me current a little. I do this once a month. So far it hasn’t used more than 25 minutes. I have more experience with flint and steel so I try to us a friction method of practice.
It does take a little experience to know how to make a “bird’s nest” to catch a spark. But once you learn how to build particular camp fires, you need only do it a few times a year or so. We heat our home with wood so we have ample opportunity to start fires.
Fire building has 3 basic elements. Tinder, kindling, and fuel. Tinder can be a cotton, paper,wood, anything that will take your spark from ember to fire. Don’t make your tinder too thick. Matchstick to 1/8th inch will work well. Kindling should be about 1/8th to 1 inch. Fuel is over 1 inch and larger.
There are many firestarters on the market and equal number of ideas for making your own. Just Google firestarters and you will have more than you need. I’ve made them from toilet paper rolls and dryer lint dipped in paraffin, to cardboard egg cartons filled with candle wax and sawdust. My favorite firestarter is a simple cotton ball soaked in petroleum jelly.
There are certain insect repellents that contain a lot of alcohol. Hand sanitizer is basically a gelled alcohol, it works well. There are many commercially produced starters out there that work well. Some work a little better than others but I’ve never seen a commercial firestarter that did not work. I don’t have access to C4 explosive anymore but a small bit of C4 works really well although it is not advised. Don’t use explosive or highly combustible items. Alcohol can be used, but usually with something else like a cotton ball. Gasoline and other fuels should not be used to start a fire.
Being a Boy Scout leader has lead me to maintaining a fire starting kit. In this kit I have many things for starting a fire. I have flint and steel, a bow and drill, and water/wind proof matches. I also have a magnifying glass and a lighter. I have various kinds of tinder from hurricane lamp wicks, to steel wool, to cedar chips and newspaper. I’ve added hand sanitizer and even a vile of “Magic Indian Water” (lighter fluid). I’ve always maintained that a lighter and a good firestarter are the best way to start a fire. I can use more difficult ways but why should I? Can I start a one match fire? Sure! But why not use 2 matches or better yet, a lighter. Learn the difficult ways but use the easiest way you have access to.
Skills are important to learn and maintain. But I make it practice to have redundancy in my EDC and kits.
As I’ve said before, every vehicle I have has a lighter in the glove compartment. Lighters are pretty cheap for the peace of mind they bring me. By the way, the best lighters to store are Bic. I’ve had issues with other makes as far as storing for long periods of time. Many of them slowly leak until they are dry.
Fire is something that anyone can learn and tame. Just remember, these things have the potential to be dangerous. Always practice safety.
Semper Paratus