Lost and Alone - Now What? - Wilderness North

Celebrating 30 Years of Wilderness North  –          

Lost and Alone – Now What?

When outdoor adventurers go it alone in the wilderness they must prepare for the unthinkable – being lost overnight. While there is no real danger to “being eaten alive” in our part of the world – there is a chance of hypothermia and dehydration. So today we have addressed both of those challenges by sharing information about inexpensive choices that fit into your tackle box.
While we do NOT endorse or are agents for any of these products, they appeal to sense of “what we might love to have with us” if problems arise… and saves you time from searching the internet of sports stores.

How to avoid dehydration:

…with plenty of water all around… as pure as it looks … it could have some health risks.


LifeStraw is ideal for hiking, backpacking, camping, fishing, and emergency preparedness. The straw-style filter design lets you turn up to 1,000 liters of contaminated water into safe drinking water.
With our Follow the Liters program, for every LifeStraw product sold, a child in a developing country receives clean, safe drinking water for an entire school year.
• Filters up to 1,000 liters (264 gallons) of water
• Removes 99.9999% of waterborne bacteria including E-Coli
• Removes 99.9% of waterborne protozoan parasites including Giardia & Cryptosporidium
• Reduces turbidity, filtering down to 0.2 microns
• Ultralight: weighs only 2oz

Photograph courtesy of Stephanie Sicore/Flickr

When you’re cold and lost in the wilderness, being able to make fire may determine if you live or die. Do you have matches? A cigarette lighter? A steel for showering sparks? Good. Now all you need is lee from the wind and tinder. (Technically speaking, tinder is defined as material that will glow from a spark; if the material requires a match to catch flame, it’s fine kindling. But with your blood congealing you’re not going to be overly concerned about definitions.) Look around, chances are that one of the following natural tinders is within sight to save your life.

Found under the bark of living birch trees, this is the only natural tinder that will readily glow from a shower of sparks. The bark that conceals it has a charred, shelf-like appearance. Underneath, the fungus is light brown and corky in texture. It will crumble into a powder. The false tinder fungus found on dead birch will not crumble.
TO IGNITE: Crumble the tinder fungus into a cup fashioned from a curved piece of bark. Shower sparks directly onto it, using a flint and steel. When all you have is a knife (only carbon blades work; stainless is too hard), you may be able to get a spark by striking its back with a sharp stone chip, such as chert or flint. Transfer the glowing tinder to a bundle of fine grasses, cattail fluff, or other very fine kindling.

Shavings or scrapings of inner birch bark will catch fire even when wet, but the bark of cedar, poplar, cottonwood, and many other trees also flames readily. Finely shaved wood from the outer rings of standing dead trees can be a close second.
TO IGNITE: Form the shavings into a loose mass and tuck it into a hollow in a bundle of fine twigs. Ignite the tinder mass by holding a match flame, cupped from the wind, underneath it. When it has started to burn, transfer it to a dry surface and build a teepee over the flame using kindling sticks and larger pine splits.

Dry grass that’s been shaped into a loose ball ignites easily with a match.
TO IGNITE: A ball of grass can be set on fire in the same manner as a mass of shredded bark. It also excels in catching flame from a glowing ember of tinder fungus.

This hanging lichen is most often found in tamarack and spruce thickets but can adhere to the limbs of deciduous trees in deeply shaded areas. Old Man’s Beard absorbs moisture from the air and won’t light on damp days (you can dry it by putting it inside your shirt against the heat of your body).
TO IGNITE: Old Man’s Beard must be used in its natural fluffy state. When it has been compacted, it simply won’t burn. Use it in place of or together with dried grass or bark shavings tucked into a twig bundle. Light a match and poof!

The dead branch tips that quill the undersides of spruce and pine trees remain dry even during rainstorms. Use them with or without the dry red needles adhering to them. Dry twigs from deciduous trees also provide good kindling. Twigs require a flame of some duration, such as that from a kitchen match or butane lighter, to catch fire.
TO IGNITE: Snap off several twig-like branches as long as your arm and bend the tips back on them-selves, then bind together with twine. Or snap them into even lengths of 8 inches or so and hold them in a fist, with the finest tips projecting out the farthest. Hold a match underneath these protruding ends and move it back and forth. The bundles catch flame most readily when the tips are loosely spaced for air circulation.

You can find hardened resin on the bark of conifers where branches have broken off or in spots where the tree has otherwise been injured. Along with birch bark, it is the best tinder you will find in the northern woods.
TO IGNITE: Tuck a chunk or two of resin into a pocket formed in a twig bundle and ignite it with a match. It requires a prolonged flame to catch fire but burns for a long time once lit.

Bottle-cap fire starters provide the strong, long-lasting flame that ensures ignition of fine kindling. Small and convenient, they are great for stuffing into pants or jacket pockets for emergency use. To make a batch, shave wax from a candle into a pan and melt it on a burner. Cut the wick into inch-long lengths. Pour the wax into plastic bottle caps. When it begins to congeal, insert two or three wicks.

Field Test: 6 Best Fire Starters

By Tim MacWelch – Chief of Testing Outdoor Life

Fire is your best friend in the wild. It can make water and food safe to consume, let you signal for help, and provide warmth. But the cold, wet, windy conditions that can cause hypothermia can also hamper fire building. That’s why you need a quality ferrocerium fire starter, or spark rod, to back up a lighter or matches. We tested six very different spark rods–and tinder–to determine the benefits and drawbacks of each.

1. Ultimate Survival Technologies Sparkie + WetFire
$10 / ultimatesurvivaltech.com
The Sparkie is a mini version of UST’s popular BlastMatch. This plunge-style starter contains a spring-loaded spark rod and an internal tungsten carbide scraper. Just press the thumb button to engage the scraper and slide it down the rod and into your tinder. This one-handed operation makes it a great option in case of injury, and the plunge activation puts your sparks right where you need them–in the tinder. Although the Sparkie has a slender rod and will start fewer total fires than larger products, it can be rotated to extend its lifespan.
UST’s WetFire tinder is included in some packagings of the Sparkie, and it’s also available separately ($8 for 8 cubes). This waterproof cube was the best tinder in our trial, burning up to 10 minutes and producing foot-tall flames. One plunge into a pile of crumbled WetFire was all it took to send it into flame.

2. Light My Fire Swedish FireKnife + Tinder-on-a-Rope
$40 / lightmyfire.com
An excellent grade of ferro rod and one of my favorite knife styles (a Mora wood carver) could make the Swedish FireKnife the best bushcraft blade for your buck. This combo tool has a removable spark rod in the handle, and a shaving-sharp 3.9-inch Scandi grind blade of hardened Sandvik 12C27 stainless steel. The crisp square edge on the blade’s spine offers plenty of scraping area, and the shower of sparks is impressive. I wish the rod was bigger, so that it handled better and would last longer, but it’s still an outstanding product.
A great pairing for this knife is Light My Fire’s Tinder-on-a-Rope ($5), a 6-inch stick of waterproof fatwood on a lanyard. Use the FireKnife to shave off curly bits of the wood, and strike your sparks into the pile. On average, it took five strikes with the FireKnife to get these shavings to light.

3. Gerber Bear Grylls Compact Fire Starter + PJCB
$25 / gerbergear.com
Gerber’s new Compact Fire Starter, from their Bear Grylls line of survival equipment, is a pendant-style ferrocerium rod that can be worn around the neck so that it’s always with you. The ferro rod’s handle is small, but it has textured rubber inlays for a secure grip, plus a lanyard. The checkered and faceted aluminum sleeve that stores the rod also acts as the scraper handle, and it has a fair amount of grip as well. The ferrocerium is easy to spark and generated long-burning sparks.
Since Gerber isn’t marketing its own tinder at this time, I paired this tool with a time-proven classic from my personal survival kit–petroleum jelly-soaked cotton balls. The big shower of sparks from the Compact Fire Starter easily lit a shredded PJCB in one strike.

4. Exotac NanoStriker XL + Tindertin
$33 / exotac.com
The NanoStriker XL produced some of the largest individual sparks I have ever seen from a spark rod. The quarter-inch ferrocerium¬-and-magnesium rod is housed in a checkered-grip, anodized aluminum case that also holds an I-beam-shaped tungsten carbide striking tool. This pendant-style tool would be an excellent addition to a keychain for everyday carry. At the very least, tie a lanyard to it–the striker is very small and could be easily lost.
I paired this starter with Exotac’s tinderTIN ($6). The included fatwood is available as either splinters or shavings, but you’ll need fibrous material to really catch sparks. I recommend opting for the shavings and blending in a little cotton fluff for more dependable results. I lit the dust from the bottom of the tin of splinters with one strike, but couldn’t light the larger pieces with any amount of sparks.

5. Coghlan’s Flint Striker + Tinder
$6 / coghlans.com
Big enough to hold onto easily and affordably priced, the Coghlan’s Flint Striker offers good value and is commonly available. The stamp-cut steel scraper is very reminiscent of the scraper used by Light My Fire with their Swedish FireSteel, and it works well enough on the spark-rod material. The 3-inch-long, 5/16-inch diameter ferrocerium rod should last for generations. There are better grades of ferrocerium available, and I don’t care for the teeth on the scraper (a flat edge with a stamp-cut burr would work better), but this is still a perfectly functional fire-starting tool.
It can be used effectively with Coghlan’s Tinder ($4), which is a fuel-¬impregnated fiber pellet with a five-minute burn time. Just make sure you tear the tinder apart to expose some of the fibrous material to catch your sparks. I was able to light this combo in two strikes.

6. Zippo Emergency Fire Starter Kit
$10 / zippo.com
Zippo’s Emergency Fire Starter Kit resembles a regular Zippo lighter. But flip open the iconic lid and you’ll find a spark wheel and four sticks of cotton-and-wax tinder. The removable flint wheel igniter produces a small shower of sparks that will light most fluffy tinder materials. The orange plastic case is easy to spot if you drop it, but it is not waterproof. (Zippo also offers a metal-cased version in a black matte finish with a rubber gasket, which could help keep the tinder dry, but it is twice the price.) I found the orange case very slippery to hold and the spark wheel a little awkward to use. Replacement tinder does not seem to be readily available, but a few cotton balls crammed into the case’s storage compartment will work almost as well. I was able to light the wax stick tinder in as little as three strikes.

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