I know my last post on winter camping might have lead you to believe that our trip was mostly ‘being too cold and then fixing it’, but that was only really our nighttime routine. We did tons of other things. Like roast marshmallows… and pee in the woods.
Our instructor for the weekend has tons of experience teaching wilderness survival skills.
After breakfast we started off with a hike in the woods. When asked what we needed to bring with us, he smiled and said, “oh, nothing.”
It’s lucky one of the other women ignored that and grabbed her hiking bag, since, once we were far from our tents and cars, he told us to make a fire. With what we had on hand. Lesson 1 – even if you’re just going for a short hike in the woods, bring your first aid and basic survival gear. Matches come to mind.
We got a decent fire started in about 20 minutes of work, including brief periods of shooing flammable dogs away from the fire area. About half of that time was gathering, and half was getting the fire going steady.
Our fearless leader then gave us instructions to gather a variety of different sizes of kindling and wood divided into piles. Once we had the appropriate piles of wood, had a fire twice as hot going in under five minutes, using a fire steel and the back of his wicked looking knife. We then got to use a fire steel and a striker to start our own fire. Lesson 2 – weirdly, the back of a good quality knife works WAY better as a striker for the fire steel. Also, the super cheap Canadian Tire fire steel is, well, super cheap, and less effective.
He showed us how to determine if branches were already dead, what types of trees had excellent sap for burning without harming the tree, and how to collect tinder from birch trees without killing them. I’m not going to lecture you or anything, but don’t peel the bark off a birch tree! How would you like to have your skin peeled off? The little dried scrunchy bits are easy to crumble off the tree without exposing any of its under-layers to the elements, and highly effective in fire starting.
We learned about a few different types of shelter, some of which are good for a short-term survival situation, and others of which would be better suited to a situation in which you might be stuck for a while. We also learned how to tell what direction is north using the sun, and a few ways to ensure that, while walking without a trail, you continue to head in a straight line.
We had a lesson in making emergency fire-starters as well. Apparently the key is to take Starbucks straws. They are, according to our skilled survival guide, the ideal diameter. The firestarters, though – you cut about an inch long piece of straw. You grip near the end with a pair of needlenose pliers, and melt the end to seal it. You then take a small piece of cotton ball and mix it lightly with some Vaseline, stuffing it into the open end of the straw. Seal the other end of the straw, and you officially have an easy-start fire-starter that you can pack in any coat or pocket. All you need to do to start it is slit the side and pull a small piece of wick out – the entire thing will take over a minute to burn, enough time to light a proper fire.
We made a tiny Quinzee hut – large enough for one person, somewhat uncomfortably tucked in. The snow that we had was all quite solid and packed down, so it was hard to get a very big pile of snow created.