Set Some Stuff On Fire And Save Some Lives!
I have to admit something. I don’t even like hiking or backpacking or camping. I’ve been building this solid base of knowledge over the last few years for one real reason: to feed my pyromania habit. Alas, I have mastered fire. Man’s greatest discovery. Maybe. Häagen-Dazs is up there too.
Anyway. Last month I went over what I carry in my pack for winter hikes. Two of the most important pieces in my pack were the fire kit and first aid kit. As a rookie hiker, I knew these were things I should have in my bag, but I also knew my bag was always too heavy and these two things were part of the problem. If you find yourself in this boat too, I got you. I’ll show you below what I pack and what I pack them in. And then, I’ll take the guesswork out of it for you by giving you some helpful links at the end of the blog to help get you started. Of course, this is all just what I do. Feel free to tweak any of this for whatever works for you.
Welcome back to the Joe Wilderness blog. I hope you’re here on purpose.
I can’t even lie, there’s not a whole lot of entertaining I can do while talking about this stuff. Pyro jokes run out quick. And joking about injuries and potential accidents on trail isn’t awesome, so let’s just get right in to it. Like I said up top, I can’t even begin to tell you how absolutely absurd my first aid and fire kits have been over the last few years. Actually, for my first year hiking, I wasn’t even sure I could use the fire kit properly if the situation ever came up. Or if all the stuff in my first aid kit was even useful, since I rarely ever even opened it. Just tossed em both in my pack, “in case”. Check out this evolution of my first aid kit:
It's A Little More Under Control Now:
It was my buddy, the Bushman Zack, who first pointed out my ridiculous first aid kit. I knew I had to downgrade, but just hadn’t gotten around to it. My biggest concern was always making sure everyone I hiked with was safe – so I tended to overpack. To make sure I had enough for everybody. As if everyone on the hike was going to get some different injury, somehow requiring every medical item I was carrying. Obviously not an awesome plan. Here’s what I did. I ordered one of them fully stocked Amazon first aid kits, which are fairly cheap. (Something like this one – btw, that is an affiliate link. I might get paid fat stacks if you click there to shop.) Once I had the bigger kit, I just started tearing it apart, keeping what I thought was actually handy. Then it was still too much, so I did that again. Eventually, I came to what I thought was an appropriately sized kit to carry. And I threw all the extra stuff in that purse-sized bag. I’ll go back to it every now and again, depending on where I’m going and if I need anything extra. But what I came up with is a lot more manageable. Let’s get in to it.
So, right here I’ve got a few things every kit should have. Multiple different kinds of wipes – alcohol, sting relief, cleaning and soapy – a few different sizes of bandaids and a pack of electrolyte powder in case of dehydration. This summer my plan is to add a BioSteel water to my water bladder with each hike so I’m drinking electrolytes slowly all day. But I will likely still carry the electrolyte powder as a backup or in case anyone else needs it. I carry Polysporin for obvious reasons, some Blistex mostly for sunny summits and a pack of Advil for pain management. Knowing my own history of bad knees, if I’m doing a big mountain, I will generally take two Advil on the summit of the mountain so that it kicks in when I start my descent. It’s like proactively taking care of knee pain before you starting heading down.
The emergency blanket is something you can get at dollar store if there isn’t one in the kit you order. Here is a sweet link showing you many ways this emergency blanket can come in handy: Click Here! This is one of those items you may never use, but if you get stuck in the woods overnight, you’ll be happy to have it. If they aren’t too expensive, I suggest buying two – one for your pack and one that you can open right away to test it out on a cold night in your backyard. Just so you know what to expect if you ever have to use it. Lastly in those photos above is a tick remover, again for obvious reasons. This will also work for thorns or pricks you may encounter on the trail. Tho, while it may work for pricks, I can’t comment on how it will work on jerks, meanies or assholes. Be aware.
Beside my tick remover is my backup whistle. I tend to have a whistle attached to my backpack strap for quick access in case we spot a bear or other dangerous wildlife. But a whistle weighs next to nothing and having a backup in my med kit keeps my mind at ease. I might be hiking with someone who doesn’t have one and if we have to split up for any reason, it’s a nice backup item.
I’ve only been using athletic tape a little less than a year now. But it’s been great at saving my feet from blisters. Combined with a good sock combo (I do one thin silk sock underneath with a merino wool on top), once you hike a bit and have found your own blister spots, this tape can be a lifesaver and can make those last stretch of miles a little easier if your feet are pretty beat up. I tend to go around the back of my heel, as well to the sides of big and little toes. And once in a while on the underside of my foot where the meat of the padding is. I haven’t gotten a blister since I started using this stuff.
Lastly, I’ve got a larger dressing for some bigger wounds. These are so thin and light, I may pack two or three in there if I’m going out for more than a day. I will also usually have a small roll of medical tape. Combined with the Polysporin and the tape, you’ve got yourself a good way to treat a big ole wound quickly, in hopes that if you do get injured you can control the bleeding and get back to safety.
As a bonus, I threw in a photo of my Emergency Bivvy. This is just a bigger, more expensive version of those emergency blankets. With it’s own stuff sack, it makes this guy reusable. And tho I haven’t been stranded in the woods (yet?) to test this thing out, I’m confident enough that it will keep me warm if the situation ever does occur.
So, my best advice: get yourself a handy little waterproof case and make your own first aid kit, don’t just buy one of those huge ones and carry it around like you’re a first responder. The goal in an injury or survival situation is to get back to safety ASAP. Only carry the things you think will be handy.
Time out for me to just going to drop this link for my Gift Shop right here and tell you, the blog reader, that right now the whole store is 10% off. If people aren’t reading, they’re missing out. So let’s keep it between us.
Now, Let's Talk Fire!!
So you’re gotten injured or lost and now find yourself in a survival situation? Or maybe you’re just on a backwoods hike and looking to test some of your most basic skills. Like starting a fire. I’ve spent time over the past year learning a few different techniques and my fire kit will reflect that. But I try to keep it simple. I haven’t yet tried primitive things like a bow-drill or smashing rocks together to make sparks. I tend to stick with methods I’ve practiced and know I can use to get a fire going.
The video above is a little long, but if you’re truly interested in doing the research and building your fire skills, it will get you started down the right path. And, having the tools is one thing, knowing how to actually build a fire to keep you safe and warm is another. I suggest giving the video a once-over when you have some time to spare. As for me, here is my kit and what’s in it:
I do carry a striker and some firesteel to create sparks. But these are last-ditch efforts. Don’t complicate things and don’t worry about “cheating” by using a lighter and matches. Every hiker carries them. This ain’t a challenge you need to win, staying alive is more important than pride. For that reason, a lighter and waterproof matches are more important to me than a striker and some steel. These are great tools to learn to use, no doubt, and I do carry them. They just aren’t my primary form of ignition.
So, lighter and matches are obvious. Now, for the little extras that will help you start that fire out in the wild:
These are some things I carry in my kit, but sometimes not all at once. I’ll generally decide depending on how long I plan to be gone for. But since my case is big enough to carry em all and none of these things weigh my pack down much, it’s no biggie if you choose to carry everything and give yourself some options. First up, the toilet paper tube full of dryer lint. It’s not just made for hiding weed smoke from your roomies, the dryer lint lights up like Christmas.
The jute rope and cotton balls are another option. The jute can frayed up so that it catches a spark and lights easier. But the cotton balls might be my favorite. The same trick can be applied to the dryer lint. Pack a little tube of Vaseline, break apart your cotton balls so they’re stretched out, wipe a bunch of Vaseline on them and then light them on fire. The Vaseline will slow the burn, allowing you to build your fire around them quickly and efficiently.
Alternatively, I carry some of the wooden looking cube things you can see pictured above. Each of those cubes will burn for about 15 minutes. Because they’re so thin and light, I’ll generally have 4 in my kit. It may seem like overkill, but sometimes starting a fire – especially in bad weather – sounds easier than it is. I’d rather carry extra than not enough.
Lastly, I generally throw a knife in my kit. For the fire purposes, I can use this to split little branches or twigs (I will carry a saw or a little axe IF I’m going out for multiple days) and for fraying my jute rope. Annnnd, due to a lesson I learned the hard way, I’ve recently started throwing in a little note pad and a pen. Long story short, we were on a very long day hike, our group split in to multiple groups and we needed to leave a note to let some team members know we’d gone back to the car. Nobody had pen and paper. I literally – LITERALLY – tried to melt M&Ms down and use the chocolate to write on a leaf. How ridiculous, right? Toss a pen and paper in there if you have room to spare. The notepad can also be used as fire starter, obviously.
It may seem redundant, but I tend to pack everything in smaller packs before putting all the smaller packs in my backpack. This is my “emergency pack” – a 5L stuff sack from MEC that generally carries my first aid kit, fire kit and the emergency bivvy sack I mentioned earlier. This just organizes my backpack a little so I know exactly where everything is and which stuff sack I need to grab depending on what I’m doing. I usually have one with food and cooking supplies, one for emergencies and one for my spare socks/clothes. Try that out, the stuff sacks come in a bunch of different sizes, are affordable and keep your pack super organized.
If you are here reading just to humor me, thank you, this is the end. If this is stuff you were actually wanting to know and are planning your own first aid kits and fire kits, here is a list of affiliate links to some of the products listed in this post to get you started:
Pelican 1020 Waterproof Case – I would get two of these. One for fire, one for first aid. They aren’t cheap, but they are one of the standard bearers in waterproof cases.
Pelican 1060 Waterproof Case – This is the one I use for my fire kit. It’s a little bigger to give me more options.
First Aid Kit – This is one I started with, but feel free to browse to find something smaller, cheaper, etc. This stuff will all be moving in to your secondary, waterproof case anyway.
Emergency Bivvy – Don’t be fooled in to the $50 or $60 bivvy sacks. You don’t need that right now.
Waterproof Matches – This set comes with it’s own little waterproof container.
Flint & Striker – If you’re going to buy one, make sure you teach yourself to use it!
Fire Starter Cubes – Try to buy a pack of 10 or 12 if you can find em. This Amazon pack of 24 will last you a long time. Tho, you could use em just to get your summer campfires started too.
MEC.ca – Go here and do a quick search for STUFF SACKS to see the choices of color and sizes. My first aid and fire kits both fit inside a 5L sack, but you could PROBABLY get away with a 3L.
That’s all I have for now. Come on back soon. I will have another edition of Channel Surfing coming up soon, giving you all the best of February from the YouTube hiking community. And in March, I’ve enlisted the help from ten friends to get you ten outdoorsy book recommendations – including one from master explorer Adam Shoalts! In the meantime, check out my most recent blog posts. And don’t set stuff on fire just for fun.