Lost While Hiking – Part 7 – Odds and ends

I want to tie up a few loose ends here. The first one is the subject of fatwood. As I mentioned in an earlier post, fatwood is pine wood, usually from a stump, that is saturated with pine resin. I bought a box from a local ranch supply store (Murdoch’s) for about $4. It is marketed as a firestarter for fireplaces, wood stoves, and similar applications. The one I bought is marketed by fatwood.com. Walmart sells the Duraflame equivalent, although the box they sell is quite a bit larger – more than I wanted.

You can purchase small pieces of fatwood in a metal tin that are specifically for camping and emergency fires, but it’s easy to buy the $4 box and split the pieces to make enough emergency tinder for you and all your friends, and probably all their friends.

Probably the best way to light a fatwood tinder stick with a ferrorcerium rod is to make a “feather stick”, as shown below. I broke one of the sticks from the box in half and then carefully shaved “feathers” of wood so that they curled up and made a kind of “fuzzy” stick.


You can do the same thing with any wood that you want to light, but it works really well with fatwood because the resin lets the sticks catch fire easier. If you try this with a sliver from a 2×4 or some random stick you pick up off the ground, the feathers will tend to smolder rather than catch fire. You can light a feather stick from about any piece of dry wood, but it’s a lot easier if the wood is fatwood.

You can also shave the feathers off and make a little pile of them. But leaving them attached to the fatwood will keep them in place if it’s windy. If you are carrying really small pieces of fatwood (or if you carve them out of a tree in an emergency) it may not be practical to make the feather stick; just shave tiny pieces off, make a small pile, and light them.

I’ve also lit fatwood by just breaking a piece in half and lighting the exposed, ragged end. It takes a little work, but it’s possible to do. Of course, you can also light fatwood with a match or a lighter.

You can also use larger feather sticks to light with a match or lighter. But unless you’ve got a pile of large logs and no smaller tinder (very unlikely) it’s probably more work than it’s worth most of the time. In most cases, if you have a knife to make the feather stick, it would be easier to just split some kindling-sized pieces off the larger pieces.

In the post on emergency tinder, I mentioned using lip balm as a fuel to extend the burn time of a piece of cloth or tissue. Here is a picture of a little Carmex squeezed from a tube onto a piece of a tissue. I worked the Carmex into the tissue and then lit one edge with a ferrocerium rod. This amount of Carmex burned about a minute and a half.


A blob of Purell Advanced hand sanitizer about the size of a quarter also burned for about a minute and a half. Of course, one advantage of hand sanitizer is that you can smear it on the wood you are trying to light.

A single alcohol hand sanitizer sterile wipe burned for less than 30 seconds. You would want to use this with some other tinder like dry grass, dry leaves, or dry pine needles. You could also use it to light a tiny pile of very small wood slivers, which could then light a more reasonable-sized kindling pile.

That’s it, I don’t have any more to say about lighting fires.  Post comments if you have suggestions.






Lost While Hiking – Part 6 – My Fire Kits

When I hike in the mountains, I carry a small pack with a kit of fire-making items, and a smaller, pocket-sized kit. The photo below shows the pocket case I mentioned in an earlier post, with the contents. There is a ferrocerium rod with scissors blade as a striker, jute twine tinder, a balloon tied shut with five waterproof matches inside, and a brass tube of lighter fluid. The matches in the balloon are waterproof, but the striker is not, so it’s all in the balloon to make it waterproof. I chose the bright orange balloon for visibility. The case is made of canvas so I could burn it in a real emergency.


Here is a smaller pocket kit. The case is a length of tubular nylon webbing, sewn at the bottom and with the top cut and folded to make a foldover snap closure. You are limited by the capacity of the webbing, so it holds less. No matches in this case, but it has the ferrocerium rod, some short pieces of wax-dipped jute, wrapped in waxed paper (the waxed paper can be used as tinder), two of the larger jute-and-tissue tinders, and a tube of lighter fluid. Another piece of folded waxed paper is tucked in behind the smaller jute tinders, just because it folds flat and doesn’t take much space. You won’t be using the case as tinder since it’s nylon, but it is a visible red color



Finally, here is the larger kit that is in my pack. The orange waterproof match case contains matches and has an Exotac striker strip on the inside of the lid. The yellow case has some Zippo waxed tinder sticks. The Ziploc bag has two Coghlan’s firesticks and some wax-dipped jute-and-cardboard tinder. The pill bottle contains four Coglan’s hexamine tablets. There is a canning jar lid to provide a flat, dry surface to light tinder, and some alcohol wipes. A Bic lighter and a Swedish Firesteel ferrocerium rod complete the kit. There is a mini utility knife for the Firesteel, as well as the original striker that came with it. This all goes in a zippered cloth bag.


You could make this smaller by discarding the Zippo tinders or the plastic bag with the Coghlan’s firesticks and the jute tinders. It’s really unlikely that in a lost hiker situation you would need both. You could shrink it more by discarding the waterproof match case, which holds something like 20 matches, and replacing it with some matches in a balloon, like in the first pocket kit I described. It’s all a matter of trading off what you are willing to carry against what you might need if you get lost. I’m still tinkering with what I carry, and I may replace some of these items with fatwood tinder or pack less of something. I don’t like the pill bottle for the hexamine tablets since it is larger than the waterproof cases for the matches and Zippo sticks. But unless I crush the hexamine to powder, the tablets won’t fit in anything much smaller. I don’t want to discard the hexamine entirely as I can use it to boil water or melt snow using my stove.

If you don’t want to take a pack when you go on short hikes, or you just think all the stuff in the larger kit is overkill, the first pocket kit I described would be adequate for most situations. As long as you can find dry wood, you can start a fire, multiple times, with what is in that kit.