Best Practices for Your Third Most Critical Survival Priority

by Todd Walker

Using the “B” word will automatically rain hell and brimstone on any online discussion. What’s the Best knife, sidearm, rifle, or water filter? Try it for kicks and giggles. Type that four-letter word in front of any piece of gear and watch the internet explode.

Best Practices for Your Third Most Critical Survival Priority -

Photo courtesy of Iris Canterbury

When it comes to survival priorities, the same spirited debate rages.

In the Pathfinder System, Dave Canterbury ranks water as the third wilderness survival priority. Self-Aid and Shelter take the top two spots respectively.

Here’s Dave’s full list…

  1. Self-aid
  2. Shelter
  3. Water
  4. Fire/heat
  5. Signaling
  6. Food
  7. Navigation

The subject of this article is the third priority – the substance which every system in the human body is dependent. A dehydrated body can not help you do all the stuff needed to keep you alive if you’re day hike turns into a week-long survival scenario.

Water is easy to find in the eastern woodlands. But it may not be fit for consumption.

That crystal clear stream you’re about to sip from may hold a rotting carcass 100 yards upstream. Also keep in mind that, yes, bears (and other critters) do crap in the woods along rivers and streams… which eventually washes into the pristine creek and into your cupped hands.

Introducing waterborne pathogens to your gut is a sure way to decrease your survivability in the wilderness. You need to assume that every water source in the backwoods contains the following invisible nasties (and more)…

  1. Giardia – A single-celled, microscopic parasite which causes a diarrheal illness called giardiasis. The parasite is passed through the feces of infected animals and humans. Symptoms include diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, bloating, gas (not your normal campfire baked-bean induced gas), weakness, and stomach cramps. Symptoms show up within 1 to 2 weeks.
  2. Cryptosporidium – Crypto, as it is commonly known, is a parasite responsible for causing the most waterborne illnesses in the U.S. according to the CDC. Symptoms of watery diarrhea, dehydration, stomach pain and cramps, fever, and vomiting begin in 2 to 10 days of infection and may last up to 30 days.
  3. Escherichia coli (E. coli) – Some E. colia bacteria are beneficial to your intestinal tract. Then there’s the pathogenic, diarrhea kind transferred through water and food contaminated from human or animal feces. Remember that bear fact? Unfortunately, s**t happens. And ignorant humans have the bears beat!
  4. Salmonella – Most folks infected by this bacteria develop diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps within 12 to 72 hours. Not good for a 72 hour survival scenario. Oh, and it can spread to other body systems causing more long-term damage.

Bottom line… Don’t drink untreated water! Consider all backwoods water sources contaminated. Period. Even when brushing your teeth at camp, use disinfected water.

We’ve established the fact that the human body needs water to function properly. So what are the best (yeah, I used the B-word) practices to make water safe to drink?

Boiling Water

We took our youth group to a Catholic church in the early 80’s as a cross-cultural field trip. The priest met us at the door and invited us in. One of our really, really country boys asked the priest how holy water was made.

In all seriousness, the priest told us that they pour water in a pot, place it on a hot stove, and…

“boil the hell out of it.”

My Basic Class partner, Dave Williams, boiling 32 ounces of water

My Basic Class partner, Dave Williams, boiling 32 ounces of water in under 5 minutes

Boiling Times

There are lots of confusing, un-scientific info floating in the preparedness pool. So how long should you boil water to make it safe to drink?

a.) 10 minutes, b.) 5 minutes, c.) 1 minute, d.) depends on altitude

Answer: None of the above.

I’m not certain how long priests boil water before it becomes holy, but all you need to do is bring water to a boil to render the parasites, viruses, and bacteria harmless. In fact, 185º F for a few minutes will deliver the damage needed to kill the nasties. We boil in the backwoods because thermometers aren’t convenient to carry. Bubbles tell us when it’s done.

Research from the Wilderness Medical Society states that keeping water temps above 160º F for 30 minutes kills all pathogens through pasteurization. Bet you don’t carry a cooking thermometer in your pack. Even at high altitudes, once your water reaches the boiling point of 212º F,  you’re done. Boiling past zero minutes is a waste of fuel and life-giving water via evaporation.

In a perfect world, you whip out your metal container. Fill it with water and bring it to a boil. Take it off the heat immediately and allow the water to cool. Now you have potable water.

Water boiling challenge

Water boiling

What I carry is the Pathfinder Stainless Steel Cook set. The 32 ounce bottle nests inside the 25 oz. cup for easy storage in my haversack or backpack.

If you’re ever in a situation without a metal container, ask yourself this question…

What would MacGyver do?

Creative Containers

There may be resources in your pack which you’ve never considered could hold water for boiling. These items will help channel your inner MacGyver.

Dave Williams' duct tape water bottle at the Pathfinder School

Dave Williams’ duct tape water bottle at the Pathfinder School

  • Duct tape
  • Emergency space blanket
  • Trash bag
  • Backpack cover
  • Tarp
  • Rain suit or poncho
  • Dry bag
  • Hat

These pieces of kit will melt over a fire quicker than the Wicked Witch of the West from the Wizard of Oz. But the important thing is that they hold water and you can make fire… and rocks litter the ground. Now you’re ready to boil water.

Stone Boil Method

Hot rocks from your campfire will boil water. Be sure to not use river rocks in the fire. The trapped moisture inside these stones are prone to explode when heated sending hot, sharp shrapnel flying. Use dry rocks.

Below are a few fellow YouTubers I respect demonstrating the stone boil method with improvised containers.

Hats off to IHatchetJack for this one…

Master Woodsman using a trash bag to boil water with stones…

Larry Roberts using a burn and scrape wooden container…

No-Boil Methods for Clean Water

You can’t boil water without a heat source. This fact places urgency on the need to carry at least 3 different methods to start a fire. We covered my favorite methods here.

However, even without fire, potable water is available in nature.

Water from Trees

Here are 4 trees found in the eastern woodlands that can be tapped in the same manner as our northern neighbors harvest sap for maple syrup. This hydration source is available when the sap is running in early spring.


A young Sycamore (Right) and River Birch (Left) growing near the roadside

Sap from the trees contains sugars and clean water that can be consumed without filtering or boiling. Collect the sap by boring a hole or notch about a 1/2 inch into the tree. Insert a 4 inch spigot made from a hollow stick or river cane as a conduit for the sap. Use a container underneath the spigot/spile to catch the runoff.

Use your Possum Mentality and collect any plastic water/soda bottles you come across. They can be used to collect sap without ever tapping the tree with a spigot. Darin from East Woodland Survival has an interesting technique I really like…

Water from Plants

Another great seasonal (spring, summer, and fall) source of clean water is found in wild grape vines. Sever the end of a large diameter vine near the ground over a container. It’ll start slowly dripping water into the container. Speed up the process by reaching as high as possible up the vine and cut a notch in the vine. The notch breaks the vacuum in the vine to increase the water output.

Don’t forget that your mouth is a container. Lay under the vine and drink directly from the plant. Be sure you can accurately identify grape vine from poison ivy and oak!

Rain Water

Rainy weather is a two-edged sword. It makes fire craft difficult but can provide needed emergency hydration.

With access to a tarp or rain gear, configure a “V” shape to collect rain and funnel it to a container.

John McCann of Survival Resources shows you how to do this in a homesteading situation easy enough. The same can be done in a survival scenario with sticks and ingenuity. His contraption collects and amazing amount of rain water!

A more primitive rain catchment technique is to harvest tree bark in half-pipe sections set up like a bicycle rim configuration with a collection device positioned at the axle. Tulip poplar, willow, and other non-resinous tree bark can be used.

Water Filters

Modern water filters are convenient and effective for removing parasites and bacteria but not viruses or chemical contaminants. I personally carried the Sawyer Mini on our recent backpacking trip on Eagle Rock Loop. It’s lightweight, easy to use, and effectively removes 99.9% of pathogens and is rated to clean 100,000 gallons of water.

sawyer squeeze water filter

DRG’s new squeeze! This is the larger Sawyer filter pictured.

Filters can be constructed from natural materials in the backcountry. My friend, Joshua Shuttlesworth, has a tutorial on building a Tripod Water Filter you should check out.

Remember to always assume wilderness water sources are contaminated. Drink without disinfecting water in the woods and you could pay a hefty price. Don’t trust what you read here or watch on YouTube videos. Get out and develop the skills needed to quench your thirst!

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,


P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestGoogle +, YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook… and over at the Doing the Stuff Network.

P.P.S – If you find value in our blog, Dirt Road Girl and I would appreciate your vote on Top Prepper Sites! You can vote daily by clicking here or on the image below. Check out all the other value-adding sites while you’re there… 

Thanks for Sharing the Stuff!

Copyright: Content on this site (unless the work of a third-party) may be shared freely in digital form, in part or whole, for non-commercial use with a link back to this site crediting the author. All links in articles must remain intact as originally posted in order to be republished. If you are interested a third-party article, please contact the author directly for republishing information.


Categories: Bushcraft, Camping, Doing the Stuff, Potable Water, Preparedness, Self-reliance, Survival, Survival Skills, Water | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

The Beginner’s Step by Step Guide to Bow Drill Fire Craft

by Todd Walker

[Part IV of our Bombproof Fire Craft series]

The Beginner's Step by Step Guide to Bow Drill Fire Craft |

A primal scream erupts from deep inside your body the first time you successfully coax fire from two pieces of dead wood.

Welcome to the Primal (first) Fire Club!

Experienced first fire practitioners make it look easy. It’s like they have secret pyro powers.

Not really. The secret to success with friction fire depends upon detailed attention to three things:

  • Materials for the bow drill set
  • Crafting details on the bow drill set
  • Technique and practice

There are no magic formulas for friction fire. The key is to find wood in your area that swallowed fire and practice the fundamentals persistently. I’ll offer suggestions on wood characteristics that work in our Georgia woodlands.

Gathering Materials

Not every tree will give up fire. Of course, as soon as I make that statement, some determined soul will demonstrate a bow drill fire with Osage Orange. For those new to friction fire, look for fast growing trees with dead but not rotten limbs. If your thumb nail leaves a slight depression in the wood, you’ve found a good candidate.

However, the easiest “cheat” is to stop by a lumber store and buy a kiln dried 1 x 4 cedar board. Also pick up a 5/8 inch poplar dowel rod while you’re there… or carve a spindle from the cedar board. Take them home, craft your set, and practice on your back porch or yard.


Our son’s first friction fire on the back patio with store-bought wood

Soft wood is more porous and is often found in lowland areas near water. Seems like a contradiction that water-loving trees have swallowed fire. Porous soft wood actually acts as an insulator to retain heat to help the charred dust reach ignition temperature during the friction process. Ignition temperature is 800ºF, give or take, depending on the fineness of the dust particles.

Here are a dozen trees and plants you can coax fire from:

  1. Tulip Poplar
  2. Cottonwood (roots work as well)
  3. Cedar
  4. Sassafras
  5. Basswood
  6. Pine – you may have been told that resins in pine prevent friction and cause a polish to form instead of dust. I’ve made friction fire with pine wood. It can be done. White pine may be the best pine wood for friction fire.
  7. Sycamore
  8. Yucca
  9. Mullein
  10. Mimosa
  11. Buckeye
  12. Willow (roots too)

In my woodlands, my favorite bow drill wood comes from the Tulip PoplarThis species drops lower limbs as it reaches for the top of the forest canopy. Fallen limbs often are hanging off the ground dry on undergrowth. You can also toss a line over dead, bark-less limbs and yank them down. If at all possible, I avoid limbs in contact with our humid Georgia ground.

Crafting Your Bow Drill Set

To begin, here’s the terminology I use for my bow drill set…

  • Hearth Board – a slab of wood placed on the ground which is notched to receive the friction from the spindle. This junction is where the magic happens. (AKA – “fire board”)
  • Spindle – a straight, cylindrical piece of wood of even thickness, carved or naturally straight, fashioned into a pencil-shape with an eraser end and a pointy end. (AKA – “drill”)
  • Bearing Block – a piece of bone, antler, rock, fat lighter’d (self-lubricating), hard wood, glass bottle bottom, knife handle divot, or any number of item used to hold the pointy end of the spindle in place while bowing. (AKA – “socket”, “hand hold”)
  • Bow – a slightly curved, inflexible dead branch (hardwood) which reaches from arm pit to fingers.
  • Bow String – non-stretchy cordage which secures at both ends of the bow with enough slack to receive the spindle. I’ve found real  tarred bank line (not the Wally World stuff) grips the drill very well.
  • Welcome Mat – a small piece of bark, leather, thin shaving of wood, or any other material available which is placed under the hearth board notch to catch/welcome the charred dust and protect the baby ember.

I’ll be explaining the process of building the set in the order listed above. However, you’ll need to make the spindle before you can finish the hearth board. So skip around the sections as needed.

Let’s build a bow drill set…

Hearth Board

With a round piece of wood, split it down with a cutting tool so that it measures about two fingers across, index finger to thumb deep, and long enough to place your foot to hold the board securely on the ground.

Tulip Poplar split to make a hearth board

Tulip Poplar split to make a hearth board

Now you’re ready to carve a pilot hole on one end of the board. Since I’m right-handed, my instructions can be flipped for any lefties reading this.

Place the eraser end of the spindle near the right end of the hearth board with about 1/4 inch of the hearth board showing to the outside edge of the spindle. Use the tip of your knife to start a pilot hole where the center of the spindle was placed on the board. In a drilling motion with the point of your knife, cut in a dimple that will accept the eraser end. The dimple should be about the same size as the spindle diameter and about an 1/8 inch deep.

Down-N-Dirty Tip: To help seat the spindle in the divot, leave a small 1/8 inch point in the center of the eraser end. This way you’ll only have to drill a matching 1/8 inch hole in the hearth board with the tip of your knife. I picked this tip up from Joe Mobley, a friend and friction fire savant. His channel is linked below under Additional Resources.


I like my spindle to be 10 to 12 inches in length. I’ve found this length saves my posture and back when bowing.

The Beginner's Step by Step Guide to Bow Drill Fire Craft ~

This spindle is about as long as my Mora Companion

The spindle diameter can range from index finger size to thumb size.

Carve one end to a pencil point. This pointy end has less surface area resulting in less friction in the bearing block socket.

Carve the friction end into the shape of an eraser. I chamfer/bevel the edges of the eraser edges. This will be the business end where the friction heats the board and creates an ember. Try to use wood from the same tree for both the board and spindle. Rubbing wood together from the same tree gives good traction and grinds dust evenly from the spindle and hearth board.

Both the spindle and hearth board can be made from one limb. Carving the spindle this way will require more whittle work though. If available, use a straight stick to save time and energy.

Bearing Block

My favorite hand hold is on my Red Barn Forge knife. It offers a ready-made socket for the spindle to sit while bowing. However, I don’t always carry that particular knife in the woods.

The Beginner's Step by Step Guide to Bow Drill Fire Craft |

Notice the socket in the middle of the handle

Many bearing block options are available to you in the woods. A split piece of hardwood can serve as a bearing block by cutting a dimple into the flat side. The dimple needs to be large enough so that the pointy end of the spindle will not wallow out and hit the sides of the dimple causing friction. You want little to no friction on this end of the spindle. Lubricate the bearing block dimple with crushed, green plant material, ear wax, facial oil, chapstick, or Fixin’ Wax if you have some.

The Beginner's Step by Step Guide to Bow Drill Fire Craft ~

Antler, cupped dime, and epoxy makes a great bearing block. Put a dime over a 9/16″ socket and squeeze the round end of a ball peen hammer into the dime with a vise.

I’ve used my char tin lid, broken beer bottle, rock, and my canteen cup as a socket. Pad the top of thin metal with a bandana to prevent heat transfer to your hand.


Find a dead but strong curved limb about the length of your outstretched arm. Carve a notch in both ends of the bow where your cordage will be attached.

The Beginner's Step by Step Guide to Bow Drill Fire Craft ~

The butt end of this bow is notched so the cordage can be leveraged with the tag end wrapped around the handle notch

Attach a length of cordage to the top of the bow in the freshly carved notch. Run the other end to the bottom and secure in the other notch. Feed the pointy end of your spindle between the cordage and bow and twist the drill into the rope. If the spindle flies out of the cord, try using both hands. Brace one end of the bow on the ground and the butt end against your waist/pelvis. This will allow you to use both hands to load the spindle into the bow.

The spindle should snap snuggly into the cordage with the spindle to the outside of the cordage with the pointy end facing up when the bow is horizontal.

Burn In the Hearth Board

Again, these are instructions for right-handers.

Place the hearth board flat on dry ground. Kneel down with your right knee on the ground and place your left foot on the board about an inch from the pilot hole on the board. Your right thigh should be near perpendicular to the ground and in line with your left foot.

Load the spindle into the bow. Place the eraser end in the pilot hole divot with your left hand and hold it steady. Sit the bow on the ground and hold the spindle with your right hand. Place the bearing block on top of the spindle and grab the bow with your right hand. This may seem like overkill, but I’ve seen many beginners who needed three hands to get their bow drill ready to go.

Before you begin bowing, brace your left wrist against your left shin when the spindle is in the pilot hole. The drill should be perpendicular to the board. Catch your breath and reflect for a moment on what you are about to create from nothing.

With the spindle braced against your left shin which is vertical over the hearth board, start moving the bow back and forth in a slow, controlled sawing motion. Use the entire length of cordage and not short strokes. Be sure to keep the bow moving horizontal over the ground. The bow string should be at a height just above your left boot, shoe, or bare foot as it spins the spindle on the hearth board.

The Beginner's Step by Step Guide to Bow Drill Fire Craft ~

A blurry Jamie Burleigh, Lead Instructor at The Pathfinder School, burning in his hearth board at the 2014 Blade Show

Continue this controlled bowing until you’ve burned in a ball and socket joint where your spindle and hearth board meet. In plumbing terms, the male end (ball) has successfully mated with the female end (socket). The resulting hole should look like a dark, circular pie.

Slice the Pie

Now that you have a round pie hole burned into the board, you need to cut a slice out of the pie. Score the outside edge of the board as if you were cutting the pie in half. This score mark will be the center of your slice of pie. Move to the right and left the center mark about a 1/4 inch and begin cutting into the center point of your pie hole. Rocking motions with your knife help cut across the wood grain.

The Beginner's Step by Step Guide to Bow Drill Fire Craft ~

The socket on the right burned through the hearth board during bowing. On the right, a new hole burned in and notched.

The notch or slice of pie should be a 45 + degree wedge cut almost to the center point of your pie. Take your time and make the notch walls as smooth as possible. This notch is where the charred dust will collect while bowing.

One additional tip. Chamfer the bottom of the board’s outside edge an inch or so on both sides of your notch. This allows extra air to flow to the dust pile. Fire needs air, fuel (dust), and heat (friction) for ignition.

Bowing Technique

I can’t emphasize enough the importance of prepping your tinder material before you start bowing. A double handful of your finest, driest tinder should be prepared before bowing begins. Nothing kills your primal fire enthusiasm like working to create your first ember and then have it fail due to marginal tinder prep.

The Beginner's Step by Step Guide to Bow Drill Fire Craft ~

Jamie’s left arm is straight relieving the work load from his forearm and upper body

Place the hearth board flat on the earth with the notch facing towards you or away. Either position is fine. Place your Welcome Mat under the notch. Load your spindle into the bow and assume the same stance used to burn in the hearth board.

Crouching over the set with your chest resting on your left thigh will cause your left arm to bend and require more forearm exertion to place pressure on the socket and drill. Keeping your back straight allows the left arm to be extended while anchored to your left shin. Increased pressure can be applied by leaning your bodyweight forward saving your forearm.

Grip the bow with your right hand and begin smooth, long strokes. Your heating the “ball and socket” joint only at this point. Smoke will begin to appear and thicken. Speed up the bowing and apply more downward pressure on the drill.

Charred dust will accumulate in the notch and spill onto the Welcome Mat. When the collected dust begins to smoke, stop bowing. Congrats! You’re male and female connections have created a baby ember!

Don’t celebrate yet. Keep your foot on the board and gently remove the spindle and set it and the bow aside. Hold the board in place with your hand as your remove your foot so as to not disturb the baby ember.

Tap the top of the board lightly to loosen the dust from the notch and lift the board away from the Welcome Mat. No need to rush. The baby ember will smolder and eat the charred dust as its first meal. A few fanning motions with your hand will make it glow and weld the dust together.

Carefully transfer the smoking pile of dust and ember from your Welcome Mat to the center of your tinder bundle. Swaddle the ember with the sides of the tinder material with cupped hands so that your precious baby ember doesn’t fall out. Hold the bundle face-high, pucker your lips, and blow through your gently cupped hands as if your were whistling quietly.

Continue to blow until the baby ember ignites the tinder material and you’re holding a handful of burning stuff. Place the flaming bundle under your prepared fire lay, step back, and let it eat.

Now you can give us your best primal scream!

Common Bow Drill Problems and Fixes

  1. The drill flies out of the bow string ~ Fixes: a) the bearing block socket may not be deep enough; b) the pie hole in the board may be too close to the edge or not deep enough; c) your notch is too big – carve a new notch with less angle; d) the spindle is not kept vertical – brace it against your shin vertically; e) the pointy end of the spindle has dulled and should be re-sharpened.
  2. Wobbly drill ~ Fixes: a) brace your wrist against your vertical shin over the board; b) the pie hole in the board is too wide – burn in a new ball and socket joint.
  3. Smoke but no ember ~ Fixes: a) the notch may be too narrow or not deep enough into the socket of your hearth board – widen and deepen the notch; b) moisture may be present in the hearth board – dry it in the sun, or – do slow bowing until you see smoke then rest… repeat this process several times and test the board – or find a dry board.
  4. Smoke coming from the hand-held socket ~ Fixes: a) lube the socket; b) sharpen the pointy end and make sure it is not rubbing on the edge of the bearing block socket.
  5. Can’t blow the ember to flame ~ Fixes: a) you may have marginal or damp tinder – place a fire extender such as char cloth, sooty mold, or 0000 steel wool in your tinder bundle with the ember on top; b) make sure the baby ember hasn’t fallen out of the bundle – it happens.

Persistence will pay off. If you fail, walk away and try another time or day. Keep learning and follow these fundamentals and you’ll join the Primal Fire Club!

If you have questions or need assistance, please don’t hesitate to ask.

Additional Bow Drill Resources:

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,


P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestGoogle +, YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook… and over at the Doing the Stuff Network.

P.P.S – If you find value in our blog, Dirt Road Girl and I would appreciate your vote on Top Prepper Sites! You can vote daily by clicking here or on the image below. Check out all the other value-adding sites while you’re there… 

Thanks for Sharing the Stuff!

Copyright: Content on this site (unless the work of a third-party) may be shared freely in digital form, in part or whole, for non-commercial use with a link back to this site crediting the author. All links in articles must remain intact as originally posted in order to be republished. If you are interested a third-party article, please contact the author directly for republishing information.

Categories: Bushcraft, Camping, Doing the Stuff, Lost Skills, Preparedness, Self-reliance, Survival, Survival Skills | Tags: , , , , , , | 10 Comments

6 Life and Survival Lessons Learned from Backpacking

by Todd Walker

6 Life and Survival Lessons Learned from Backpacking -

I flipped to “Fat Guys in the Woods” on The Weather Channel last night as DRG was reading her book. She glanced over the pages and asked…

“Is that Fat and Afraid?”

I belly laughed!

After climbing that first mountain, the name fit me.

6 Life and Survival Lessons Learned from Backpacking -

Are we there yet?

My brother’s boys and I drove eleven hours to tackle Eagle Rock Loop in the Ouchita (pronounced wosh-i-taw) National Forest in Arkansas. Our map called the mountainous section of the loop “vigorous”. Understatement of the year! Brutal was more like it for this old man.

This wasn’t a self-imposed survival adventure. We backpacked and camped with modern gear. Here’s what I took away from our journey.

Lesson #1: Fitness Matters

The only way to train for mountains with no switchbacks is to climb mountains with no switchbacks. Baseline fitness is helpful but may not be enough.

6 Life and Survival Lessons Learned from Backpacking -

Jake got the last laugh with his light pack

We parked at 4:30 P.M, strapped on packs and hit our first mountain 50 yards from the truck. Jake, the youngest of our trio, was point man. And perhaps the smartest. His pack weighed 15 pounds! He’d seen what heavy could do to soldiers patrolling mountains in Afghanistan. And his buddies were fresh out of boot camp and physical specimens.


Car camp!?

Had I reduced my pack weight by half, I still would have struggled to climb the mountains. I won’t lie. I secretly contemplated turning back halfway up and car camping. My young, strapping hiking partners were patient with their old uncle with frequent stops for me to catch my breath and cool the burn in my gluts and thighs.

6 Life and Survival Lessons Learned from Backpacking -

Kyle instigated this trip

If you subscribe to the popular bug-out-on-foot theory, have you tested your load out and physical abilities on the terrain you plan to walk?

Lesson #2: Water Matters

Bring more than one method to obtain potable water.


Water Filters: Kyle carried a Katadyn filter which he and Jake used. I used my Sawyer Mini, which weighs 2 ounces, to fill my 2 liter bladder in my backpack. A small 16 ounce Sawyer mylar bag was my backup when I sucked the hydration bladder dry. I consumed about 4 litters per day due to the strenuous activity and summer heat.


Around morning and evening campfires, I boiled water in my 64 ounce bush pot for cooking, hot cocoa, and coffee. Boiling was impractical on the move. Water filters are the way to go on rest stops.

Lesson #3: Feet Matter

When your only means of conveyance is your feet, take good care of them.

We crossed 3 mountains on our first full day of hiking. I noticed a hot spot on one of my toes going down the last mountain. Upon inspection, I had forgotten to trim my nails which turned out to be the source of the toe pain. My Swiss Army Knife scissors quickly solved the issue.

6 Life and Survival Lessons Learned from Backpacking -

River crossings were unavoidable. At low water levels, we rock hopped. A few crossings ended in wet feet. I carried three pair of wool blend socks. One for wearing, one for drying, and one as a spare.

Cooling off with my Five Fingers

Cooling off in my Five Fingers

Also consider packing a lightweight pair of camp shoes or sandals. I wore my Five Fingers around camp and for protection while exploring the rivers. Even though I run barefoot at home, I couldn’t afford a wound to my only means of wilderness transportation.

Take time to keep your feet dry, clean, and protected. Always break in new boots or shoes well ahead of your journey.

Lesson #4: Sleep Matters

“One of the hallmarks of the veteran woodsman is the way he contrives to make himself comfortable in camp”. ~ Warren H. Miller

Follow the 4 W’s of campsite selection when choosing your spot to bed down… remember to look up. We had to fell a 5 inch dead standing oak on our last campsite. It may not have caused us problems but you never know how the wind may change. It provided ample firewood for us and to the next pilgrims who find our site.

6 Life and Survival Lessons Learned from Backpacking -

All three of us prefer hammocks to tents. Hammocks not only offer comfortable bedding they also serve as a camp recliner by sitting perpendicularly like a swing.

You need good sleep hygiene to restore the body. Six to seven hours is about all I get at home. For some pleasant reason, I typically sleep a good 8 to 9 hours in the woods… barring abrupt disruptions from wild visitors.

I don’t worry too much about large animals. It’s the little critters that bug me… mosquitos and no-see-ums being the main culprit.

Use bug netting or insect repellent.

6 Life and Survival Lessons Learned from Backpacking -

All Natural BugShot

I’ve just discovered a natural bug repellent called All Natural BugShot that kept the biting insects and ticks away. If you’re not crazy about applying DEET based repellents to your skin (or melting your plastic gear), check BugShot out. I shared my thoughts in a short video review on our trip. I recommend it!

Lesson #5: Bears and Bacon Matter

I was flip-flopping about whether to bring the dry cured bacon into bear country.

On this special trip with my brother’s sons, I went with bacon. One and a half pounds in fact. That amount gave us 2 thick strips each morning to get our day started. We also cooked a dozen dehydrated eggs in bacon grease over two days. We were smoothing it over the campfire kitchen!


We never sighted actual bears but did walk over scat on the trails. Carry bear spray.

Here are a few bear precautions to take. I found this research site, North American Bear Center, interesting and informative in addressing commonly held myths about bear-human encounters.

A bear’s sense of smell is over 2,000 times better than humans. Knowing this, take precautions and practice good camp hygiene. Place all food and cooking utensils in a bear bag and hang it at least 10 feet off the ground and 4 feet from the nearest tree trunk.

My bear bag system contains the following:

  •  30 liter dry bag, 50 feet of paracord
  • One carabiner
  • Finger size stick off the ground

All food and cookware go inside the sealed bag and is hung 100 yards down wind from camp. I use the PCT (Pacific Coast Trail) method to hang the bag. I’ll show you this trick in a later blog.

I know this about my body but I over packed food anyway. When hot from physical exertion, I don’t eat much. We stopped for lunch breaks but never ate a meal just a few snacks of dried fruit or trail mix. And very little of that. Our largest meals were in the evening after cooling off.

Lesson #6: Family Matters

Though I’ve known Kyle and Jake since their birth, I never had the chance to connect with them as I did on this wilderness adventure. We connected by being disconnected.


Kyle made slate name tags for us

We lost all communication with the outside world miles before we reached the trailhead. No phone calls, texts, social media stuff, or blog reports. And not one among us frowned.


Welcome to Camp Walker!

We embraced being off-line and soaked in all nature could offer. We ate snake pan-fried in coconut oil, dined on homemade bacon, told campfire stories, laid still watching moon beams pour through leaves overhead, dried our wet bodies on rocky sandbars warmed by campfires, found the richness of life in our adventure, and confronted our fears and fatigue to discover how little it takes to make us happy.

6 Life and Survival Lessons Learned from Backpacking -

Going primal, gig in mouth, in search of bullfrogs

That, my friends, was the most valuable lesson of all!

Get out there, and, as always…

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,


P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestGoogle +, YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook… and over at the Doing the Stuff Network. P.P.S – If you find value in our blog, Dirt Road Girl and I would appreciate your vote on Top Prepper Sites! You can vote daily by clicking here or on the image below. Check out all the other value-adding sites while you’re there… 

Thanks for Sharing the Stuff!

Copyright: Content on this site (unless the work of a third-party) may be shared freely in digital form, in part or whole, for non-commercial use with a link back to this site crediting the author. All links in articles must remain intact as originally posted in order to be republished. If you are interested a third-party article, please contact the author directly for republishing information.

Categories: Bushcraft, Camping, Doing the Stuff, Potable Water, Preparedness, Self-reliance, Water | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

Makin’ Bacon: How to Dry Cure Pork Belly

by Todd Walker

Vegetarians fear bacon. It’s the “gateway meat”. The temptation heightens with the mere aroma of this sizzling strip tease. Only the most hardcore herbivores can withstand the maddening scent in the olfactory receptors!

Makin' Bacon: How to Dry Cure Pork Belly |

From a bacon-lovers perspective, preserving this fat-laden meat is a Doing the Stuff skill “worth it’s weight in salt.” However, if you believe the Big Fat Lie, go ahead and brace yourself for some disturbing news…

Your grandparents had it right… bacon fat won’t kill you. You need healthy fat in your diet.

Whether for health concerns or just to build a self-reliant skill, making bacon is a simple process anyone can do.

The recipe I used was given to me by Brian Manning, my instructor at The Pathfinder School. He made a video called “Hog and Hominy” where he carves up a side of his dry cured bacon to fry over an open fire. I had to make my own.

That's Brian Manning hamming it up

That’s Brian Manning hamming it up

I asked and he shared his recipe in the description box under his video. Be sure to check out his channel – Snow Walker Bushcraft – for some great tutorials and 18th century living skills.

I also found a helpful video by Steve Davis on his channel, “woodcrafter76“.

Here’s what you’ll need for makin’ your own bacon to cure what ails you…

The Bacon Cure

  • Find a fresh pork belly, pasture raised if possible. I bought mine at a health-food grocery store called Earth Fare. Your local butcher shop may have fresh pork belly or can order it for you. Of course, the freshest route is to butcher a hog yourself. My pork belly weighed 12.6 pounds and was on sale, half-price!
  • Buy salt and brown sugar. Lots of it. Three pound boxes of course salt. I used about 12 pounds of salt and 12 pounds of brown sugar. I’d probably use less on my next batch of bacon.
  • Brian used cracked black pepper for an outside coating. I did not but may add some for taste.
  • A large plastic bin with lid. No need to be air tight. You’ll also need a second large container to combine and store the cure mix.
  •  A dark, cool place. A refrigerator, root cellar, or cooler works.
  • Butchers string or stainless steel meat hooks. Don’t have any meat hooks? Use string and a needle for hanging your cured bacon to air dry.
  • Patience. My pork belly took 14 days to cure.

Step 1 of Makin’ Bacon

In a large container, combine equal amounts of salt and brown sugar thoroughly. In hindsight, I should have used a larger mixing container. Sugar ants made a visit to our kitchen because of the spillage from my smaller container. You can never clean all those tiny granules off the cabinets and floor.

Step 2 of Makin’ Bacon

Rub the pork belly with the cure. Make sure you don’t miss any of the crevices on the flesh side. It’s like applying a rub on a pork butt for smoking… rub it good and cover it all! These little hidden hideaways need cure applied to prevent moisture build up. Moisture is your bacon’s enemy.

Makin' Bacon: How to Dry Cure Pork Belly |

The first light coat of cure

Place the coated sides in your container(s) and stick ’em in the fridge or a cooler with some ice blocks. I used a large cooler since there wasn’t much room in DRG’s fridge. Plus, I don’t trust Moose and Abby, our two rescue dogs, to be in the house alone with bacon sitting about.

I found that frozen water bottles worked better than those blue freezer blocks. I even added a 4-year-old glass jar of frozen chili to the rotation. Simply swap out melted water bottles with 4 or 5 frozen bottles in your freezer each time.

Leave the curing container in the cool place overnight and let it work.

Makin' Bacon: How to Dry Cure Pork Belly |

The morning after… Drain and rub more cure mix

Drain the collected liquid and re-apply the cure. Only this time you’ll want to add a thicker layer. Spread a 1/2 inch layer of cure in the bottom of your container and place the skin side on top of the cure. Now add a generous amount of cure to the flesh side which is facing up. Remember to hit all the creases with the cure. I added a 1/2 to 1 inch layer on top. In hindsight, that much was probably overkill but Brian said I should add more cure. So I did.

Makin' Bacon: How to Dry Cure Pork Belly |

About an inch of cure covering the meat

Put the lid back on the container and place it back in your cool place.

Step 3 of Makin’ Bacon

Repeat step 2. Drain the liquid and re-apply cure mix. After a few days you’ll notice the amount of accumulating liquid on the flesh side decreases. The cure on the bottom (skin side) will still be wet and should be replaced with new/dry cure mix.

Makin' Bacon: How to Dry Cure Pork Belly |

Late in the process you’ll have little accumulation of liquid in the container bottom with wet spots on top.

At that point in the curing process, you can scrape off only the dissolved cure mix and apply a thin layer to the area. I didn’t chance it. I basically re-coated the entire pork belly for 10 of the 14 days of the process.

Step 4 of Makin’ Bacon

Once satisfied that the liquid had stopped draining from the meat, I gave it a couple more cure applications. On day 14, I examined the belly and found no liquid had dissolved the cure mixture on top or underneath.

Step 5 of Makin’ Bacon

Wash off the remaining cure mix under cold water. Use your hand and fingers to scrap off any stubborn cure mixture from all sides of the pork belly.

Makin' Bacon: How to Dry Cure Pork Belly |

Getting ready for a wash and smoke

Pat the pork belly dry with paper towels or a drying towel.

Step 6 of Makin’ Bacon

This step is optional but I prefer a good smoke flavor in my bacon. Smoke is also an added preservative in meats.

Makin' Bacon: How to Dry Cure Pork Belly |

Keep the temp very low… below 200 degrees

I used my Big Green Egg and applewood chips for smoke flavor. You want to smoke the belly not cook it. Keep your smoker temperature under 200 degrees. If you have a cold smoker, even better.

Makin' Bacon: How to Dry Cure Pork Belly |

Applewood smoke engulfing my bacon

It took some doing to get my BGE to hover between 150 to 175 degrees. Once regulated, I smoked the pork belly for about 5 hours. I gotta admit that I was a bit worried when I saw the belly looking all sweaty after the smoking process. It was supposed to be dry to keep bacteria from forming on and in the meat.

Makin' Bacon: How to Dry Cure Pork Belly |

I hoped that the next step would remedy the wet, flimsy looking sides of pork belly.

Step 7 of Makin’ Bacon

And it did.

Makin' Bacon: How to Dry Cure Pork Belly |

Makin' Bacon: How to Dry Cure Pork Belly |

Use a large canvas sail needle or leather working needle threaded with butcher’s twine

String up the cured bacon with butcher’s twine and a needle or use meat hooks if you have some. Hang the slabs of goodness in a room in your house to air dry. You’ll want to cover them in a breathable fabric to keep flies and insects off the meat. I was in the process of hand-sewing a canvas bag when DRG, in her common sense tone, suggested using an old pillow case.

Makin' Bacon: How to Dry Cure Pork Belly |

The bacon hangout

And the rest is history, folks. I love my smart wife!

The two slabs of bacon are air drying from a shelf in our laundry room encased in cotton pillow cases.

If you took your time and followed the process, the dry cured bacon will last several months at room temperature. I plan on dividing the belly into sections and freeze all but one part for immediate use and save the rest for future outdoor adventures… if it doesn’t get eaten beforehand.

Now go enjoy the intense flavor of your homemade bacon over a campfire! Or your kitchen. Or anywhere you can!

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,


P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestGoogle +, YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook… and over at the Doing the Stuff Network. P.P.S – If you find value in our blog, Dirt Road Girl and I would appreciate your vote on Top Prepper Sites! You can vote daily by clicking here or on the image below. Check out all the other value-adding sites while you’re there… 

Thanks for Sharing the Stuff!

Copyright: Content on this site (unless the work of a third-party) may be shared freely in digital form, in part or whole, for non-commercial use with a link back to this site crediting the author. All links in articles must remain intact as originally posted in order to be republished. If you are interested a third-party article, please contact the author directly for republishing information.

Categories: Bushcraft, Camping, DIY Preparedness Projects, Doing the Stuff, Food Storage, Homesteading, Lost Skills, Preparedness, Real Food, Self-reliance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

9 Ways (Some Illegal) to Catch Fish for Self-Reliance and Survival

by Todd Walker

Outdoor adventures can turn into survival scenarios without warning. If we knew of the crisis ahead of time, we’d simply take steps to avoid it.

But that’s not always possible. 9 Ways (Some Illegal) to Catch Fish for Self-Reliance and Survival - The title of this article mentions two terms, self-reliance and survival, which need to be defined. I want to make the distinction because some of the fishing methods listed are illegal and should only be employed in a true survival situation not to stock your freezer for the winter.

Self-reliance is dependence on one’s own capabilities, judgment, or resources. The opposite of dependence upon others.

Let’s put survival into context…

Survival involves any situation where death is imminent if conditions do not change.

Running out of trail mix on a day hike is NOT a survival event.

Which begs the question… how long can you live without food? Conventional wisdom, which I seldom agree with, tells us about 3 weeks. You’ll eventually have to eat to stay alive in a long-term situation.

In a 72 hour survival scenario, you may be better served to fast and drink water.

But let’s face it, the majority of us will never be in a long-term wilderness survival scenario. But it never hurts to have a few survival fishing tricks in your tackle box.

If you’re not in a life or death situation in the backwoods, you’re simply backpacking, hiking, or camping. Looking at your short-term survival priorities, food is way down the list. However, eating becomes more important the longer you’re not found. And you don’t know if 72 hours will stretch into weeks.

There are also possible events where major disruptions happen or the rule of law goes bye-bye. Practically speaking, learning to legally catch fish now before an event can reduce your grocery bill and build food independence. Eating is part of being self-reliant. If you’re preparing for a disruptive event, hopefully you’ll have a portable water craft, nets, and heavy-duty fishing gear available and ready to go.

Canoes and kayaks are portable.

Canoes and kayaks are portable and maneuverable

In a wilderness survival scenario, you’ve got your shelter, fire, and water squared away. Now you can give attention to that calorie depleted body of yours.

The water’s edge is your first survival fast food stop. All lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams are home to a rich resource of edible aquatic life. Don’t overlook the small stuff. Survivors are opportunists without a picky palate. Fish, large and small, are in the water. You have to convince them to join you for dinner.

Here’s how…

Pack Emergency Fishing Tackle

The ideal situation is to have a fishing kit with you in the backwoods. Fishing line, hooks, and sinkers aren’t going to add much weight to your pack.

I’ve seen many kits in Altoids tins that weigh very little and would serve to procure fat fish. I went a different route. My Cigar Fishing Kit allows me to use the aluminum sleeve as a hand fishing rig. The line is wrapped on the outside of the tube to allow me to cast into the water. However, in a 72-hour survival event, your time and energy would be better spent meeting other priorities than sitting on a bank hoping a fish hits a single hook.

Trapping animals is a numbers game. So is fishing. The more hooks you wet, the better your odds are of eating. That’s why I carry a more substantial fishing kit on longer backwoods trips. My minimalist Cigar Fishing Kit rides along in my haversack… always.

Screw cap taped

My Emergency Cigar Fishing Kit

For a larger fishing kit, include these items…

  • Pack plenty of hooks (30 to 40) in different sizes. Use small hooks to catch smaller fish which can be used to bait larger hooks for the big meal fish.
  • A spool (200+ yards minimum) of fishing line. Spiderwire offers braided (super strong) and monofilament fishing line in many strengths. 10 to 12 lb. line is multitask line.
  • Lead sinkers/weights. Yes, they add weight but are too convenient not to pack.
  • Snap Swivels. Saves time re-tying hooks.
  • Artificial lures and a jar of salmon eggs… when digging/finding live bait is not an option.
  • Tarred bank line (#12 and #36). This cordage is in all my kits. It works especially well when setting up multiple hooks.
  • Multi-tool. Useful for removing hooks from fish and too many other uses to mention here.

Fishing Techniques

Warning: Should you decide to use any illegal fishing techniques mentioned, do so for survival purposes only. While I don’t advocate breaking laws, the State’s rules go out the window when your life is on the line. Research your federal and state fishing laws.

Limb Hooks

Locate trees with low branches overhanging the water’s edge near cover. Most fish hang out in cover like weed beds, lily pads, and fallen debris. Casting into cover usually results in snags or lost tackle.

A boat or canoe makes tying limb hooks easier but isn’t necessary. Simply grab a green limb with your hand or a hooked stick and pull it to you on the bank. Tie a line with a baited hook on the limb and easy it back into the water.

For a larger fish, use bank line with a circle hook – my preferred hook for catfish. Setting 15 to 20 of these limb hooks dramatically increases your odds of eating and frees you to attend to other survival priorities.


The idea is to tie a baited line on a floating device. It’s a sad fact that plastic bottles litter our woodlands. Other people’s trash is a survival resource if you develop a Possum Mentality.

One effective technique our neighbor used when he’d fish in our lake was to make a cane pole “jug” fishing rig. He ran a bamboo cane pole through a chunk of styrofoam and tied a line to the pole just to the side of the foam. Bob would bait the hook with a small pan fish and toss the rig into the middle of the lake and continue fishing with his spinning reel. When the pole stood on end, he’d haul in a lunker Large Mouth Bass!


Bamboo “Jug” fishing rig

It’s not likely you’ll find styrofoam and cane poles in the wilderness. However, you may happen upon a patch of bamboo or river cane. If so, cut a 8 foot section of bamboo 1 to 1/2 inches in diameter. Find a larger diameter (2-3 inches) and cut a piece with two compartments in tact. You could also bundle several smaller diameter sections together for the float if larger diameter bamboo is not available.

Lash these sections to the middle of the longer pole and tie on a baited line to one side of the rig. Toss the rig into a lake or pond and forget about it. When a fish takes the hook you’ll know it. The rig will stand on end.

Note: You probably won’t have a water craft to fetch the rig from the water in a wilderness survival situation. Tie a length of cordage or fishing line to the pole to retrieve the rig once a fish is on. Always carry a roll of bank line in your pack.

Trot Line

This method works in rivers and still water. A trot line consist of several baited lines dangling off one long line suspended between two anchor points (trees or limbs usually). Bank line is excellent for this application.

Secure the dangler lines (#12 bank line) along the long line with enough space between each dangler to not tangle under water with live bait swimming on the hooks. Of course, you’ll need live minnows, crayfish, or small pan fish to bait the trot line. You could also use rotting, stinking stuff as bait.

Spear Fishing

Metal fish and frog gigs are available and can be kept in your pack. Just cut a sapling for the handle. However, a down and dirt gig can be crafted from a green sapling alone.


Used about 6 feet of cordage here

Find shallow water and wait for fish to pass by – even snakes and frogs – then spear the critter. Take into account the angle of light refraction when spearing a target under water. It’s not as straight as it seems.

Herbal Stunning Agents

Native Americans and indigenous people around the world have used fish toxins to harvest meals. Common plants used in my area by the Cherokee are Black Walnut (Juglans nigra) and Polkweed (Phytolacca americana). The plant material was crushed and introduced to slow-moving streams or pools which stunned fish and cause them to float to the surface. They were easily harvested by hand, nets, or spears.

How to Build a Cigar Survival Fishing Kit - TheSurvivalSherpa.comHow to Build a Cigar Survival Fishing Kit -

Harvesting Black Walnut leaves

The bark and green husks on black walnut trees contain saponins which fish intake through their gills and stunning the fish. The same goes for Polkweed berries and leaves. Research your local plants to find which plants were used to stun fish.


You don’t pack gill nets or seine nets in your backpack probably. However, for long-term self-reliance, nets are a proven method of catching fish for large numbers of people. Store away a few for emergency food procurement.

Circular cast nets have weights on the outside edge that is thrown and used to catch bait fish in coastal areas. In the hands of a skilled net caster, a cast net can harvest a bucket of fish in no time.

Blast Fishing

Using an explosive device to stun or kill fish for easy collection is illegal for sure. It also destroys and disrupts other life in the ecosystem. A small M80 (small stick of dynamite) will stun and kill fish in a pool of water. Survival use ONLY.


This method is used to attract fish to easy food sources. You’ve likely seen it used as an attractant on Shark Week. It’s like feeding ducks at the park. Word spreads because fish love an easy meal.

Rotting animal flesh, insects, worms/grubs, or fish guts can be cut into small pieces and scattered into the water. This technique works best when done on a regular routine. You may not have this luxury in a short-term situation. Drop a baited hook into the chum area to increase your chance of snagging a fish. Or you might even catch a turtle.

Again, before using these proven fish catching techniques for long-term self-reliance, do your due diligence. For survival, do what you have to do to stay alive.

You got any survival fishing tales? We’d love to hear them in the comments!

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,


P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestGoogle +, YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook… and over at the Doing the Stuff Network. P.P.S – If you find value in our blog, Dirt Road Girl and I would appreciate your vote on Top Prepper Sites! You can vote daily by clicking here or on the image below. Check out all the other value-adding sites while you’re there…

Thanks for Sharing the Stuff!

Copyright: Content on this site (unless the work of a third-party) may be shared freely in digital form, in part or whole, for non-commercial use with a link back to this site crediting the author. All links in articles must remain intact as originally posted in order to be republished. If you are interested a third-party article, please contact the author directly for republishing information.

Categories: Bushcraft, Camping, Doing the Stuff, Economic Collapse, Gear, Preparedness, Self-reliance, SHTF, Survival, Survival Skills | Tags: , , , , , , | 30 Comments

How to Extinguish Your Child’s Fear of Fire with a Single Match

by Todd Walker

How to Extinguish Your Child's Fear of Fire with a Single Match |

Last summer I took my 7-year-old grandson to my shelter in the woods for a little dirt time and some quality Pops and Max bonding. We gathered up some dry material for our campfire. We laid everything out in three piles; tinder, kindling, and fuel.

It never crossed my mind to warn Max about the shower of sparks that was about to rain down on the volleyball-size tinder bundle.

“Whoa! Whoa!” he panicked and scurried away from the area.

Granted, the big ferro rod I use is like watching fireworks explode. But once the fire was going, Max found it difficult to even stand near the small campfire without some reassurance and coaxing.

He was down right scared of fire.

The “Stop, Drop, and Roll” fire safety campaign in school showed how fire could destroy your house, your family, pets, and even you. An irrational fear of this wonderful tool of self-reliance smoldered within his psyche.

How could I help him learn to use fire safely and overcome his fear?

A Bright Idea with Matches

Matches light birthday candles. That’s a happy time, right?

One reason Max (and maybe your child) was afraid of fire is that no one had taken time to teach him how to safely strike a match. We stepped out back to Pops Shop, pulled up two stumps, and opened a box of kitchen matches.

As adults, use the E.D.I. approach… Educate: teach the skill and cover safety concerns, Demonstrate: doing the stuff yourself, Imitate: allow your child to imitate the skill).

Steps to Safely Strike a Match for Beginners

Ask your child if they’ve ever attended a birthday party where the cake exploded into flames and burned the house down. It sounds silly but your child needs to make the connection between a controlled fire that is useful and the potential danger of unattended flames.

Step 1: Educate – The Fire Triangle

Introduce the Fire Triangle.

How to Extinguish Your Child's Fear of Fire with a Single Match |

Every fire must have these three elements

For a match to burn, the three sides of the triangle have to be complete… heat (ignition source – friction), oxygen (air), and fuel (the wooden match stick). Fire and heat rise. The flame will not suddenly run down the match stick and burn your fingers.

Step 2: Demonstrate

Find a spot that isn’t windy, indoors or out, strike a match and hold it vertically for your child to observe. He will notice that the flame will burn a short time in a vertical position before going out.

Now have your child hold an unlit match vertically. Light another match and hold it vertically next to your child’s match head until his ignites. Have your child hold steady and watch his match extinguish in a swirl of smoke.

Repeat the process with two new matches. Next, have your child hold the match horizontally once it is lit. The flame will slowly burn towards his fingers in a controlled manner. About halfway to his finger tips, have him blow it out like a birthday candle.

It’s likely he will feel the warmth of the flame on his finger tips. That’s good. Ask him if he was burned or in pain.

Safety Note: Be sure the demonstration area is clear of flammable material. Use a metal bucket or dinner plate to discard the spent matches. A child may panic and toss the burning match to the floor or ground.

Step 3: Imitate

Now is the moment of truth. Will he strike his own match into flame?

How to Extinguish Your Child's Fear of Fire with a Single Match |

Max imitating

Give a brief demonstration of how to strike a match. Strike away from your body. This was a bit awkward for me as I’m used to striking towards my body and cupping the burning match to create a wind screen.

Use wooden kitchen matches because they are more sturdy, longer, and easier to strike for beginners than short wooden matches and paper matches.

Have your child hold the non-flammable end between his thumb and middle finger. Move his index finger down the match stick to apply pressure on the match head as it passes over the striker strip of the closed match box. Make sure he understands to move his index finger down towards the non-burning end after ignition. Just saying.

Max tried and failed his first few attempts. He was using a poor angle with the match head on its side. Coach your child to hold the match at just under a 90 degree angle and perpendicular to the striker strip.

This process is simple for adults. But remember, your teaching a child who has never lit a match.

Make sure that he holds the box firmly and strikes the match away from his body. I suggested that Max prop the corner of the match box on a solid surface for added support. The last thing you want is for a piece of burning match head to land on his body and further burn the fear of fire in his mind.

Use as many matches as needed for your child to achieve ignition. Once he succeeds, have him hold the match vertically until it burns out on its own. Then repeat until he’s comfortable.

Be generous with the high-fives and fist bumps!

Allow him to practice his new-found skill. Have him hold the burning match horizontally and explain that this technique is used to light a campfire. *Hint, hint*

With supervised practice and coaching, Max burned through half a box of matches building fire craft skills and destroying his fear of fire.

Pops, can we go to our shelter and build a campfire? I want to cook some noodles.”

Load up, bud!

How to Extinguish Your Child's Fear of Fire with a Single Match |

Lighting his tinder bundle

How to Extinguish Your Child's Fear of Fire with a Single Match |

Letting his fire eat

How to Extinguish Your Child's Fear of Fire with a Single Match |

Enjoying his Ramen noodles we prepared over the campfire he built!

Not much is more beautiful in our world than cooking Ramen noodles over a fire my grandson built!

Check him out on our video. He is now known as Max “Fire” Walker…

Click here for more on our Boomproof Fire Craft Series.

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,


P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestGoogle +, YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook… and over at the Doing the Stuff Network.

P.P.S – If you find value in our blog, Dirt Road Girl and I would appreciate your vote on Top Prepper Sites! You can vote daily by clicking here or on the image below. Check out all the other value-adding sites while you’re there…

Thanks for Sharing the Stuff!

Copyright: Content on this site (unless the work of a third-party) may be shared freely in digital form, in part or whole, for non-commercial use with a link back to this site crediting the author. All links in articles must remain intact as originally posted in order to be republished. If you are interested a third-party article, please contact the author directly for republishing information.



Categories: 180 Mind Set Training, Bushcraft, Camping, Doing the Stuff, Preparedness, Self-reliance, Survival Skills | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Bombproof Fire Craft: 8 Unorthodox Fire Resources Hidden in Your 10 Piece Kit

by Todd Walker

If you haven’t had a chance to read Part I of our Fire Craft series, I recommend that you start here.

8 Unorthodox Fire Resources Hidden in Your 10 Piece Kit |

You depend on your “Next Fire” kit in all weather conditions. It’s your go-to resource for building sustainable, repeatable fires.

But here’s the thing…

You can never have too many fire resources!

Get creative with your 10 Piece Kit and you’ll discover many items are hidden fire resources. As a refresher, here are the 10 Piece Kit items:

  1. Cutting tool
  2. Combustion device
  3. Container
  4. Cover
  5. Cordage
  6. Cotton bandana
  7. Cargo tape
  8. Cloth sail needle
  9. Candling device
  10. Compass

The second C above has “captain obvious” written all over it. Combustion equals fire, right?. But the beauty of the 10 C’s of Survivability is that each piece should have a minimum of three uses to help meet the following survival priorities.

Having the knowledge and skill to use these resources creatively in fire craft might end up saving your life.

8 Unorthodox Fire Resources

Know the capabilities of the resources within your kit. This takes Doing the Stuff  to build Self-Reliance with your gear. No need to tell you this but UPS will not deliver skills to your door step.

Here’s how to use items in your 10 piece kit as a fire resource, excluding your orthodox combustion devices of course.

#1) Cutting Tool

A high carbon steel knife doubles as a flint and steel set. Simply find a rock harder than the knife steel and strike down the spine to scrape tiny metal shavings off which oxidize quickly and spontaneously combust.

Plus, your cutting tool can craft primitive friction fire sets to create an ember which ignites a tinder bundle. There’s too much a good knife can do to list here.

#2) Container

Metal containers can be used to char material to make next fire easier. Place 100% natural cloth or plant tinder in the empty container and place it in the fire. Be sure to seal the lid with a metal nesting cup or flat rock that will starve the process of oxygen. When the smoke stops coming from the container, remove the container and let it cool before opening the lid.

Test the charred material to see if it will take a spark from a ferro rod or flint and steel set. If not, your char material is not cooked enough. Repeat the process.

8 Unorthodox Fire Resources Hidden in Your 10 Piece Kit |

Also makes a mean cup of hot cocoa!

A sturdy stainless steel container can also be used to carry burning coals for a couple of hours if the need ever arose. I personally carried a cup of coals in my SS nesting cup for two hours while constantly blowing the coals to keep them alive… and then built a fire with what was left to boil 64 ounces of water. Not bragging, just letting you know the capabilities of a good metal container. Try that in a Nalgene bottle.

#3) Cordage

This item can be made from material off the landscape. However, it’ll take some skill, considerable time and energy. Carrying commercial cordage in your kit allows you to have sting for a bow drill set to make fire.

Friction Fire: The Art of Rubbing Sticks Together

Bow and bow string

#4) Cotton Bandana

This kit item has so many uses. In fire craft, a 100% cotton bandana or even pajamas makes excellent char cloth to help ensure your next fire.

Here’s a thought though…

There are too many other valuable uses for a bandana than char cloth if suitable plant tinder are available for charring. Charred plant tinder will be part of this Fire Craft series… stay tuned.

#5) Cargo Tape

Duct tape, like bandanas, have crazy amounts of survival uses. One being it burns like napalm.

Loosely roll a two foot section into a ball. Now light the tape with an open flame, if you have one, and it will burn for several minutes to ignite tinder and kindling. Very useful as a fire extender to dry damp tinder material.

Caught without a Bic lighter or other open flame ignition source, rip 1/8 inch strips from a one or two foot strip of tape (I assume you remembered to pack your best ferro rod). I’ve found Gorilla Brand tape to be the bomb. It’s more expensive but you get what you pay for.

With every strip, you’ll notice hair-like threads hanging off to create surface area. We’ve already discussed the importance of surface area in tinder bundles – see Part I of the series. When these narrow strips are piled loosely into a bundle, you can achieve ignition with a good ferro rod.

Here’s one of our video demonstration of this technique:

#6) Candling Device

When choosing a flashlight or headlamp, it’s wise to choose a torch powered by standard AA batteries. Even AAA batteries will work as an ignition source. I also have a cool little LED camp light that snaps on top of a 9 volt battery that I keep in my pack.

To achieve ignition with batteries, we need to move past the 10 piece kit. Steel wool is not a part of the 10 C’s of Survivability. However, as a cleaning and tool maintenance item, make it a habit to pack a bit of AAAA steel wool. You can find it at most any paint or hardware store.

Each AA or AAA battery has 1.5 volts. That voltage alone will not achieve ignition with steel wool in my experience. Daisy chain two batteries, head lamps and flashlights usually have at least two, by taping the junction of a positive and negative end together with Gorilla tape.

Now tear off a small strip of steel wool (1/16th inches or smaller) just longer than the two batteries. Fray the ends of the steel wool strip to create surface area. Hold one end of the steel wool to the negative pole. With the other end, touch the opposite pole while simultaneously touching a small batch of steel wool which will ignite and can be added to a tinder bundle. Steel wool is an excellent way to ignite marginal or damp tinder material.

For those that know me, I love to enjoy a fine, organic dark chocolate. The bars I buy are wrapped in foil. The foil can be used as a conductor if steel wool is not available. See, another redundant use for chocolate bars.

#7) Compass

Your compass is a source of solar ignition if you have a quality base plate compass with a 5x magnifying lens. I invested in the Alpine Compass before I attend the Basic Class at the Pathfinder Learning School last year. The magnifying lens on this compass will create embers on char cloth via solar ignition all day, every sunny day.

8 Unorthodox Fire Resources Hidden in Your 10 Piece Kit |

My instructor, Brian Manning, explaining details on my Alpine Compass

Now we’re officially out of the 10 piece kit. But here’s a bonus… my 11th C of Survivability which I’m never without in the woods.

#8) Cocoa Powder

Hot cocoa! The key word being hot. To make a hot cup of this luxurious, energy drink, you need fire.

And cocoa powder can give you the assist in your next fire!

Here’s how make Fire by Cocoa

[Note: I carry 100% raw cocoa powder not the Swiss Miss packets. I’ve not tried the pre-packaged hot chocolate mix full of sweeteners with solar ignition.]

Place a small dime to quarter size amount of dry cocoa powder on a “welcome mat” (leaf, leather or wood chip) as you would when creating an ember with a bow drill set. Whip out your magnifying lens or quality compass on a full-sun day. Align your lens perpendicular to the sun’s rays so that it focuses the solar energy in a tiny, burning spot on the pile of cocoa. You’ll begin seeing smoke rise from the cocoa in a few seconds. Hold the magnified sun spot steady for 30 to 60 seconds.

Remove the lens and watch the smoke rise from your smoldering ember as it grows in your cocoa pile. Transfer the ember onto a finely processed natural tinder bundle and blow the ember into flame.

Our quick video tutorial shows you how to start a fire with cocoa powder:

By the way, you can achieve solar ignition with dry coffee grounds and tea in the same manner.

After placing the burning tinder bundle under your kindling, boil some water in your stainless steel container, add the desired amount of cocoa powder (sweeteners optional), and enjoy.

Fire from cocoa for hot cocoa! One of the many unorthodox methods of fire craft.

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,


P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestGoogle +, YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook… and over at the Doing the Stuff Network.

P.P.S – If you find value in our blog, Dirt Road Girl and I would appreciate your vote on Top Prepper Sites! You can vote daily by clicking here or on the image below. Check out all the other value-adding sites while you’re there…

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Copyright: Content on this site (unless the work of a third-party) may be shared freely in digital form, in part or whole, for non-commercial use with a link back to this site crediting the author. All links in articles must remain intact as originally posted in order to be republished. If you are interested a third-party article, please contact the author directly for republishing information.

Categories: Bushcraft, Camping, Doing the Stuff, Preparedness, Self-reliance, Survival, Survival Skills | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Bombproof Fire Craft: Build a “Next Fire” Kit that Cheats Death

by Todd Walker

Of all the outdoor self-reliance skills, fire is king. Many will argue over my statement.

Bombproof Fire Craft- Build a -Next Fire- Kit that Cheats Death -

You know fire is life out there! No one can deny its usefulness as a survival tool.

Here are my reasons it tops the list of wilderness survival skills…

  • Potable water via boiling for hydration – essential for Core Temperature Control (CTC)
  • Cooking  (especially hot cocoa)
  • Create charred material for your Next Fire
  • Fire hardening wooden weapons/tools
  • Burn and scrape wooden containers
  • Wilderness clothes dryer
  • Making pine pitch glue, straighten arrow shafts, bending wood, etc., etc.
  • Smoke for preserving meat
  • Hygiene – take a smoke bath to kill bacteria on skin and clothing and repel insects
  • Making medicinal concoctions
  • Emotional camp comfort and defense against uninvited wild visitors
  • Illumination
  • Hypothermia’s antidote (CTC)
  • As a southern Chigger magnet, the fact that smoke drives these tiny biting mites out of debris shelters is reason enough to make fire my #1 wilderness survival resource in the South. If you’re not personally familiar, they can cover your body with red, itchy welts that can drive you to the brink of insanity!

Fire is even a survival tool in modern homes. The crackling oak logs in your fireplace, the blue pilot light in the furnace, even your electric hot water heater and night-light in the baby’s nursery makes fire indispensable to every home.

To the modern mind, access to fire’s life-sustaining value is automatic. Press a remote for endless hours of TV entertainment flowing from coal-burning power plants.

Unfortunately, fire is not automatic in wilderness survival.

For this reason, and the chigger thing, your Next Fire kit should contain at least three different ignition sources to help you build a sustainable fire.

Ignition Sources

Bombproof Fire Craft- Build a -Next Fire- Kit that Cheats Death -

Plant tinder and ignition devices going clockwise from 12:00: Cottonwood inner bark, Tulip Poplar bark, Horseshoe Fungus, Flint and Steel w/ Char tin, Magnifying Lens, curls from feather sticks, and in the middle is Fat Lighter’d shavings, Gorilla Taped Bic Lighter, and Ferro Rod.

Depending purely on primitive combustion methods like a bow or hand drill is reserved for primitive living experts or backyard bushcraft practice sessions. Failure is always an option with friction fires. Heck, even modern ignition sources doesn’t guarantee fire in all conditions.

I’ve listed the advantages and disadvantages for the items in my Next Fire kit. Each device is easy to use with practice.

A) Bic Lighter (Open Flame)


  • A new Bic will give you thousands times more open flames than a box of kitchen matches. A wet match is useless… well, except for picking your teeth.
  • Submerge a Bic and it can be back in service within a minute or so by blowing the moisture off the tiny ferro rod striker.
  • Easy to use. Even a young child can use a lighter (Tip: always remove the child safety device from Bic lighters in fire kits to make them easy for you and a child to use in an emergency).
  • Even an empty Bic is a useful combustion device. More on that later in our School of Fire Craft series.

Tip: Wrap Gorilla tape around the lighter and you have a built-in tinder and fire extender – a walnut-size ball of duct tape will burn over 10 minutes.


Use a carabiner to attach the duct taped lighter to your pack

Note: I only use matches for specific fire challenges. They are not a part of my Next Fire Kit.


  • It’s difficult to monitor the fuel level unless the housing is clear like the cheaper, rectangular lighters. I only carry Bic lighters.
  • Extreme cold will kill a Bic. Warm it in your arm pit or crotch to get the butane flowing again.

B) Ferrocerium Rod (Spark Ignition)


  • Scraped with a sharp flint shard, broken glass, or a 90º knife spine, 1,500º F to 3,000º F sparks spontaneously combust to ignite tinder material.
  • Sparks even in wet conditions.
  • The average outdoors person will never wear a ferro rod out.
  • Can ignite many tinder sources, even non-charred material.
  • Beginner skill level needed to learn to use one.
  • For more info on ferro rods, click here.


  • They are consumable.

C) Magnifying Len (Solar Ignition)


  • Beginner skill level. Ever drive ants crazy with one as a kid?
  • Ignites different tinder materials.
  • Saves other ignition devices on sunny days.
  • Self-contained – no assembly required.
  • Never wears out. Always protect your lens from scratches and breakage.


  • Depends on sunshine.

D) Sure Fire – Not an ignition device but…

I consider this item essential to every Next Fire kit!

InstaFire: Lights in Wind, Rain, Snow, and on Water!

InstaFire burning in the creek! No toxic chemicals in this sure fire.

I carry commercially made chemical-based sure fire starters as well as DiY sure fire. There is no such thing as cheating when it comes to making fire in an emergency scenario. Practice primitive but prepare modern!


  • Works with spark ignition or open flame.
  • Burns several minutes.
  • Burns when wet.
  • Easy to ignite.


  • Sure fire is never a disadvantage.

D) Flint and Steel (Spark Ignition)

This primitive method may seem outdated or useless by some but I include it in my Next Fire kit because options in fire craft make us anti-fragile.


  • Lasts virtually forever.
  • Any rock harder than the steel can drive sparks from the steel.
  • That same rock can be used on the spine of a high carbon steel knife to ignite charred material.
  • Intermediate skill level. Easy to use with prior practice.
  • For more info on flint and steel, click here.


  • Sparks in the 800º F range – significantly less than ferro rods.
  • Charred material or specific un-charred plant tinder are needed to catch sparks.

E) Charred Material

Partners with flint and steel but is works with solar ignition and ferro rods.


  • It only takes a spark to create an ember. Works with solar ignition too.
  • Easy to make and use – even without a metal container.
  • Any natural material (cloth or plant tinder) can be charred.


  • Must be dry to use

With the exception of the magnifying lens and flint and steel, the other devices mentioned are modern. I’m bypassing friction as an ignition source but will cover the basics of ancient fire craft later in this series.

None of the ignition devices, modern or primitive, will build a sustainable fire without a proper pyre (pronounced the same as fire) – a.k.a. fire lay.

No matter how you construct your pyre, these common denominators must be present for a fire to grow.

Like all living things, fire must eat to live.

The Meal Plan for Fires

Mistakes I’ve made and seen others make when practicing fire craft, even with open flame ignition sources, were more times than not due to poor preparation and taking short cuts. This is especially true with primitive methods. With only a small ember to ignite a tinder bundle, choose the most finely processed combustible natural material available.

The following three-meals-a-day analogy may help you feed your next fire.

Breakfast: Tinder

This meal is truly the most important meal in a fire’s life. To help the flames rise and shine, feed it what it loves… a hearty helping of fluffy, dry, dead plant material.

We eat grits for breakfast in the south. My Yankee friends eat other disgusting mush.

Like food, tinder varies by locale. Your job is to spend time Doing the Stuff to test different plant tinder and find the best local breakfast to feed your fire.

Plant tinder, when processed or broken down to create surface area, will accept a spark or small open flame from a match or lighter to produce fire. In the eastern woodlands, the Piedmont region of Georgia in my case, we have an abundance of plants and trees which can be processed (shredded) down to create tinder the size of hair stands.

It’s all about the surface area!

Some of my Georgia favorites I’ve had success with are…

  • Tulip Poplar inner bark
  • Red Cedar bark
  • Cottonwood inner bark
  • Fat Lighter’d, fat lighter, lighter wood, non-Georgia natives call it fatwood (resin-rich dead pine stumps, knots, and limbs) – more fat lighter’d info here. Make a quarter-size pile of lighter’d shavings with the spine of your knife to create the Breakfast of Champions for any fire!

Fat lighter’d shavings lit with a ferro rod

  • White fluffy stuff – cattail heads, dandelion clock, and Bull thistle gone to seed are a few flash tinder that flame up quickly and should be added to other substantial tinder material for longer burn times.
Bombproof Fire Craft- Build a -Next Fire- Kit that Cheats Death -

Flash tinder (Bull thistle)

  • American Beech leaves die and hang around on branches well into spring just before new growth appears offering months of easy-to-reach seasonal tinder material.
Live Wild Where the Pavement Ends

Beech tree leaves

  • Pine needles – dead pine needles crushed and rolled (processed) in your hands will create nice bundles of tinder material. Look for mounds of pre-processed pine needles on roadside curbs courtesy of vehicle tires. Collect them and practice your backyard fire craft.
  • Dry grasses (flash tinder) – I like to use broom sedge to form a tennis racquet shape with a handle to hold my finest tinder material. A word of caution on grasses in humid climates like Georgia… they tend to hold moisture. Harvest grasses that have died naturally and are as dry as possible.
  • Black Sooty Mold – I first discovered this fire extender on American Beech trees and found it will take a spark from ferro rods and produces an ember via solar ignition. Click here for how to find and harvest this fire resource.

Lunch: Kindling

Nothing is more discouraging than watching your fire consume all its tinder and not eat the next meal… kindling. Your fire was hungry but didn’t like what you offered for lunch.

The best bet is to feed your fire the smallest and driest twigs available. This material is called “smalls” for a reason. Collect pencil-lead size to pencil-size material. The smaller the surface area the faster it reaches combustion temperature. If you have fat lighter’d or other resinous wood available, by all means, process it to use for kindling.

Post #500: The One Stick Fire Challenge

One 2 inch stick of poplar made this: L to R: Thumb, pencil, pencil lead, and bark tinder

If “smalls” are not available or rain-soaked, create them by splitting a larger stick or limb with your cutting tool. You’ll find dry, combustible wood inside larger dead wood. Click here for a tutorial on creating a One Stick Fire.

Now practice it in the rain…

Dinner: Fuel

After eating lunch (kindling), feed your fire progressively larger fuel. Finger-size up to the size of your wrist tops off your fire’s diet. Your fire will let you know when it is ready to eat more fuel when flames being licking up and through the pile of kindling. Add too much too soon and you’re in danger of choking the fire. Heimlich maneuvers must be performed to free air passages to nurse the fire back to life.

Fire loves chaos and randomness. However, fuel should be laid, not thrown, on top of young fires. As it grows and matures, kick back and let it eat.

Bombproof Fire Craft- Build a -Next Fire- Kit that Cheats Death -

Remember… fire is life out there but never automatic!

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,


P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestGoogle +, YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook… and over at the Doing the Stuff Network.

P.P.S – If you find value in our blog, Dirt Road Girl and I would appreciate your vote on Top Prepper Sites! You can vote daily by clicking here or on the image below. Check out all the other value-adding sites while you’re there…

Thanks for Sharing the Stuff!

Copyright: Content on this site (unless the work of a third-party) may be shared freely in digital form, in part or whole, for non-commercial use with a link back to this site crediting the author. All links in articles must remain intact as originally posted in order to be republished. If you are interested a third-party article, please contact the author directly for republishing information.

Categories: Bushcraft, Camping, Doing the Stuff, Preparedness, Self-reliance, Survival, Survival Skills | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Horace Kephart Days: The Revival of Classic Camping

Guest post by Kevin Bowen

Horace Kephart Days: The Revival of Classic Camping -

First off, I must thank Todd Walker for the opportunity to write this piece for his blog. He really wanted to attend Kephart Days this year but an even more important event took place the same weekend that required his attendance, the birth of a beautiful, healthy grandson. Congratulations good buddy!!!

I first met Todd online about a year or so ago and then had to chance to meet up with him and Bill Reese at one of the Workshop in the Woods classes, hosted by primitive expert/teacher/author, and all around great guy, Scott Jones. If you regularly follow Todd’s blog, you have been introduced to Scott already. Since then, I have garnered a great respect for Todd’s attitude, an affinity for his ideas and work ethic, and more than anything, a love for his friendship. It’s truly an honor to help him out with this project. This article will have neither Todd’s articulate nature, prose, or flow. But, please bear with me and I will try not to bore you and attempt to deliver at least a sliver of the respect this event deserves.

If you missed the 2015 annual Horace Kephart Days event held May 15th-16th at the Schiele Museum in Gastonia, North Carolina, you missed an amazing and well run event complete with imparted knowledge, new friendships, relaxation, discovery, and fresh respect. The purpose of the event was to bring awareness to Horace Kephart “The Dean of American Camping”, his life and legacy, contributions to camping, woodcraft, preservation, and enduring spirit. In addition to this purpose was to observe and interact with Steven Watts, David Wescott, and the Acorn Patrol Classic Camping Demonstration Team.

Horace Kephart Days: The Revival of Classic Camping -

Steve Watts and David Wescott sharing the knowledge

Even the most novice outdoorsman should be familiar with the name Horace Kephart. Many have heard of the Kephart knife which was named after the style of knife that he preferred when enduring long spells in the outdoors. Even more so, his book Camping and Woodcraft, is one of the most definitive manuals for outdoors enthusiasts. There is an abundance of information on Kephart, even though there may be even more mystery surrounding him. I would suggest researching this great individual to seek the benefits that you would surely reap from it. Fortunately, conversations were already being had for next year’s event. Personally, I can’t wait to see what it will bring.

Having only Saturday to attend, I had to fit as much into 8 hours as possible, even though a full immersion into the subjects would have required much more time. Upon arriving, I immediately knew I was at the correct place even though I had yet to see a classic camper face. My senses went into overload with the whiff of the fresh air accompanied by that wonderful wood smoke and campfire aroma that we all love. It didn’t hurt that waves of the morning’s breakfast cooked over the fires were still lingering. Well, except enhancing my appetite.

Horace Kephart Days: The Revival of Classic Camping -

Horace Kephart Days: The Revival of Classic Camping -

What’s not to love about this camp!

Walking up to the campground, there was a beautiful scene of different shades of canvas set up meticulously all about the backcountry farm grounds. The tents were in perfect agreement with the old farm buildings and would make one feel as if they went back through a portal in time. Amongst the canvas were whelen lean-tos, baker tents, wall tents, diamond shelters, wedge tents, and others. The period representative items amongst the campers ranged from a few to an abundance, all stoking visitors inquisitive nature. The best part of the camp, however, was the warm and welcoming personalities there. Finally, after speaking only online, I was able to meet Steven Watts, David Wescott, and Horace & Laura Kephart’s great granddaughter, Libby Kephart Hargrave in person.   Also, in attendance were Georgia Bushcrafter’s Bobby O’Quinn and Master Woodsman’s Christian Nobel, along with Bobby’s son and Christian’s daughter. It is amazing to see the kids joining in on the fun.

Horace Kephart Days: The Revival of Classic Camping -

A classic camping bed in order

Horace Kephart Days: The Revival of Classic Camping -

“Smoothin’ it” with a well equipped nightstand

After quick introductions and hellos, we headed over to the main museum building and auditorium. Just as welcoming inside the museum as on outside were other Kephart enthusiasts and lecturers. Some had even come from states away, even California. Speakers on Kephart and his contributions to woodcraft, conservation, and the Smokey Mountain National Park were Jason Brady, Bob Plott, George Frizzell, George Ellison, and Libby Kephart Hargrave.   After the lectures, descendants of Horace Kephart were on hand for autographs, discussion, and pictures. Participants of the event were also welcomed to participate in a documentary being filmed on Kephart, when walking around the campground, by providing one word that comes to mind when pondering Horace Kephart. Libby’s personal word was “complex” while my thoughts conjured up the word “reflective”.

When leaving the auditorium, we were also invited to stop by Mr. Bill Alexander’s bark basket display. Mr. Alexander was extremely inviting and you can easily see that he has a passion and artistic nature for his baskets. Fortunately, I was able to gain a little insight and tips for some that I plan to make as well. He is also an author, poet, hiker, and researcher as well as a great guy to have a long conversation with.

Horace Kephart Days: The Revival of Classic Camping -

Wash stand outside a tent

Back outside, the fellowship and enjoyment continued. Along with Mr. Watts and Mr. Wescott were the amazing Acorn Patrol members, who displayed an amazing 1920s demonstration camp. All of the members were not just displaying camping in the old style but exhibiting an old style neighborly attitude where all were welcomed into their homes away from home like old friends. Included in their displays were some extremely expensive items and priceless heirlooms. However, all were invited to touch, experience, and ask questions. Even offered were food, treats, drinks, and a constant willingness to sit down for a friendly chat. I also noticed in their displays that all of them had high quality tools, which was a tenant of Kephart. These are just a few testaments to their willingness to share their passion. These were also skilled artisans and exquisite researchers. Needless to say, they are enthusiasts of history, which is abundantly evident in their displays as they strive, and succeed, to be accurate. If any of you read American Frontiersman or The Backwoodsman periodicals, you would have surely enjoyed the research and writings of some of the Acorn Patrol members.

Horace Kephart Days: The Revival of Classic Camping -

Period cooler to keep food fresh

Speaking of past articles in the aforementioned periodicals, two items really caught my eye. One was the axe sheath featured in American Frontiersman #175, in an article by Watts & Wescott. It is a sheath/sling combo that allows a camper to have his axe securely on him at all time while retaining the use of both arms and hands. The other was a period representative cooler, also featured in a piece by Watts & Wescott in The Backwoodsman Vol. 36, No. 3. Amazingly, this cooler that one could put together for $35 dollars or so, will rival $300-$500 dollar coolers or similar size and keep ice in them for 3 days! All one needs is an enclosed wooden box,a #10 can (5lb vegetable or bean can), filled with frozen water, placed inside a larger pot with about 2-3 inches on each side for your “freezer” compartment, pack wheat straw all around this pot for your “refrigeration” section, and a canvas bag filled with about 2 inches thick of wheat straw to lay on top of the inside before closing the lid. Upon touch, Steve’s meat packages were still frozen and the eggs as cold as if they had just been removed from a refrigerator, even though the lid had been off for about 30 minutes upon my inspection.  Unfortunately, I missed seeing Acorn Patrol member, Thomas Ray’s ML Kephart knife and other blades that were loose representations of Kephart’s personal knife discussed in his article in American Frontiersman #175.

   In the afternoon, we attended the “Sermon on the Mount” presented by brother of divinity, David Wescott and brother of re-creation, Steven Watts. The lecture combined a pleasant mixture of information and comedy. The main topic was of classic camping and how it relates to Horace Kephart and also to our story of a nation and our legacy. First off, Mr. Watts and Mr. Wescott gave the back story of classic camping. In particular, how it became extremely popular from 1880-1930 due to a combination of the frontier being closed, a yearning to get out in the wild, and new technology including the automobile. Mr. Watts hit on it perfectly with the idea that “it was age of Daniel Boone meets the age of Henry Ford”. They also explained how the classic camping movement is on an upswing from the year 2000, no doubt in major part from the research, publications, and efforts of these two fine gentlemen and the Acorn Patrol as well. It’s no mistake that Camping in the Old Stylewas first published in 2000. In addition, they touched on how classic camping relates to modern and car camping today.

Horace Kephart Days: The Revival of Classic Camping -

Wescott’s tent and book, Camping in the Old Style

Mr. Wescott brought a new term to our attention as well, neoteny. Neoteny is defined as the retention of juvenile characteristics in the adults of a species. Well, needless to say, we get accustomed to and trained as adults to forget ways to think outside of the box, especially with survival and enjoyment as well. Case in point, how many of you created a tree house or fort that was sustainable at a young age just from construction scraps or whatever you could scrape up? Now, if you were tasked to create the same today, how many of them would hold up to the first step you took on it before collapsing? Personally, I’ve been looking for a term for some time now to describe this theory. Now, I have it. Furthermore, it really illustrates why we have a juvenile desire to just be in the woods and somewhat away from modern civilization that we’re accustomed to.

Horace Kephart Days: The Revival of Classic Camping -

Steve Watts with Suzanne Simmons, one of the Acorn Patrol “Original Eight” and the director of the 18th century lifeways program at the Schiele.  

Mr. Watts touched on the fact that what they are doing is not just recreational camping but re-creational camping, as in recreating the style that was at a per capita peak in about 1920. The idea was to head out in your Model T Ford for a weekend in the wild, in comfort, with your skills as a woodsman but with many comforts and luxuries of the day. Honestly speaking, I can now see how enjoyable and relaxing this camping can be. The furnishings may look old style but are deceptively comfortable. The tools are such quality that you often could finish a task in less time than you could with modern tools of a similar design but a sense of pride and enjoyment. We already are aware that anyone reading this article understands the enticing lure of the campfire and an honest meal cooked over it, as well as fellowship with your friends by the same fire before retiring to a nice slumber away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Steve did touch on, however, that there is no substitute for the knowledge in your head. The more knowledge of camping and woodcraft that you have, the less you have to carry with you and tasks are achieved more easily through an understanding and efficiency as opposed to confusion and struggle. He encourages us to research and participate ourselves.

The “Sermon on the Mount” lecture was one of the focal points of the events for me and really got me thinking. How many of our forefathers enjoyed this type of camping? Of course, miners, frontiersmen, soldiers, scouts, railroad workers, explorers, traders, etc. had to. But, how many after that did this because they truly loved and enjoyed it. Families would go out together to enjoy time together as opposed to substituting electronic devices for meaningful, wholesome interaction. One of my personal favorite historical figures, Theodore Roosevelt, specialized in this type of camping. He did so not just for his adventures and safaris, but because he loved it and the outdoors.

If you did not get a chance to attend Kephart Days this year, you surely missed a treat and I strongly recommend a trip to see these wonderful people and their craft next year. To that point, if you would like to see Steve Watts and the Acorn Patrol in person sooner than the 2016 Kephart Days, they will be having an event in The Cradle of Forestry in Pisgah Forest, NC in October. That too, I have no doubts, will be worth the trip, especially in the beautiful October weather. The entire group and all participants put on and together an amazing display. I have no doubt that Horace Kephart would have enjoyed this event and be proud of what his legacy represents as well as the movement it has spawned with these wonderful people.

To put some scenery to your imagination, I have included some pictures. However, you can also find pictures online that are surely captured with much better photography equipment and an eye than I have provided.

Horace Kephart Days: The Revival of Classic Camping -

Kevin with Libby Kephart Hargrave, great-granddaughter of Horace Kephart

There are too many thanks to go around for the enjoyment that I received at the event and new friendships/bonds created, but I would like to especially thank the following: Libby Kephart Hargrave for organizing and putting on a great event to celebrate “The Dean of American Camping”, Horace Kephart. Steve Watts and David Wescott for their relentless study, effort, and desire to educate and encourage this movement, as well as their generous hospitality and warm nature. The Acorn Patrol: Thomas Ray, Tom and Jennifer Mancke, Steve Maxwell, Jim Green, Michael Eldridge, Kim Niedert, Cindy Carpenter, and Eve King. This group put a lot of time and effort not only to create an immaculate display but also had the most inviting personalities while doing so. George and Elizabeth Ellison, Bob Plott, George Frizzell, Bill Alexander, Joe Flowers, and Jason Brady for their lectures and invaluable contributions to the event. Janet Deyer who serenaded us with lovely, period violin music. All of the Kephart descendants and Libby’s amazing husband, John Hargrave, who came out to attend and support the event and cause. The Schiele Museum for hosting the event and having other great exhibits to tour as well. The camera and production crew documenting the event and working on the amazing Kephart documentary that will be coming out. Last but certainly not least, everyone who came out from near and far to the event or who just happened to drop in out of curiosity and stay for a spell. Without you, this event would not exist. I sincerely hope to attend and see some of you there next spring. Hey, if you notice, should your name be Tom, Bob, or George, you are a shoe in to be accepted. Just be prepared to participate in the “Hello” echo when your name is called!

Horace Kephart Days: The Revival of Classic Camping -

Steve Watts, Kevin Bowen, and David Wescott

[I’d like to thank Kevin for sharing his experience and photos with us. Hopefully we can share a campfire and canvas at next years event. Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance! – Todd]

P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestGoogle +, YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook… and over at the Doing the Stuff Network.

P.P.S – If you find value in our blog, Dirt Road Girl and I would appreciate your vote on Top Prepper Sites! You can vote daily by clicking here or on the image below. Check out all the other value-adding sites while you’re there…

Thanks for Sharing the Stuff!

Copyright: Content on this site (unless the work of a third-party) may be shared freely in digital form, in part or whole, for non-commercial use with a link back to this site crediting the author. All links in articles must remain intact as originally posted in order to be republished. If you are interested a third-party article, please contact the author directly for republishing information.

Categories: Bushcraft, Camping, Lost Skills, Self-reliance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Made by Hands: Make it or Buy it?

by Todd Walker

Made by Hands: Make it or Buy it? |

My blogging buddy, Patrick Blair (Survival at Home), is credited with the idea for this post. He recommended I share all my DiY stuff in one photo. Haha… that’s a challenge which would take a wide-angle camera lens.

Instead, I thought I’d share some of the stuff I’ve made over the years in hopes of inspiring others to make their own.

We promote skills over “shiny object survival” gear around here. But honestly, I’m a gear junkie as much as the next guy. We’re members of a tool-using species!

Man is a tool-using animal. Nowhere do you find him without tools; without tools he is nothing, with tools he is all.

~ Thomas Carlysle


There’s more to self-reliance than just buying gear and tools though…

It’s about making your own and living this philosophy… Prepare modern but practice primitive.

Could the 10 C’s of Survivability be reproduced in a 72 hour survival scenario?

Yup. However, specific skills, resources, and time are needed, which may be hard to come by. So, Buy it… but learn to make most, if not all, of these essential kit items.

  1. Cutting tools – Unless you’re a very talented craftsman or artisan, I recommend buying the best knife, ax, and saw you can afford.
  2. Combustion device – Learn to make primitive fire via friction and flint and steel. Flint or quartz can be used on the spine of your high-carbon steel cutting tool to light charred material. You carry a next fire kit, right?
  3. Cordage – Finding natural resources suitable for cordage expends calories. Making indigenous cordage is a good skill to learn though. I practice making cordage because I enjoy primitive skills. If you don’t, buy cordage for your kits.
  4. Cover – A USGI poncho or emergency space blanket doesn’t weigh much and can be found for under $20. I hammock camp with my bed sheet tarp but carry an emergency space blanket I purchased.
  5. Container – You must stay hydrated. Yes, you can make containers from the landscape but a metal container gives you anti-fragile options!
  6. Cotton – Never made it… buy this item for sure.
  7. Cargo tape – Practice making natural glues but buy and keep Gorilla Brand duct tape in your kits. If it can’t be fixed with duct tape…!
  8. Cloth sail needle – My metal repair needle is mounted on the back of my primary knife sheath with Gorilla tape. Primitive needles or awls can be made from bone, but, again, time and resources area factors.
  9. Candling device – Buy a quality head lamp that takes “AA” batteries. I carry a candle and have made fat lighter’d torches and oil lamps but a flashlight is too easy to pack.
  10. Compass – Navigation is the primary use for a compass. If that’s all your compass can do, you should consider buying another one. My multi-functional Alpine compass can also be used for combustion, signaling, self-aid, and tick removal.

Even if money isn’t tight for your family, there’s no better satisfaction than using gear made by hands… your hands!

Today is a celebration of making the stuff of self-reliance. Click the title links in the photo essay for details on how to make your own stuff.

Made by Hand

Below you’ll find DiY projects in two broad categories: Outdoor Self-Reliance and Homesteading.

Awesome photo courtesy of Connor M. Lamoureux on Instagram (adventureconwards)

Awesome photo courtesy of Connor M. Lamoureux on Instagram ~ adventureconwards

By the way, if you’re on Instagram, give us a follow at… ToddatSurvivalSherpa.

Make tag
Buy tagor



How do you know when it’s best to Make it or Buy it? Skill level, tools and equipment, space, time, and resources are determining factors on which project to tackle. The ultimate goal of making stuff is… making us more self-reliant.

What kind of person are you making?

Outdoor Self-Reliance

Wool Blanket Hunting Shirt

100% Wool Blanket = Awesome Hunting Shirt

My hunting shirt made from an Italian wool Army blanket

Oilskin Bed Sheet Tarp


DiY Hands-Free Ax Sheath

How to Make a Hands-Free Ax Carrying System |


Outdoor Cooking Tripod

How to Build a Bushcraft Tripod for Your Outdoor Kitchen


Mountain Man MRE’s (Pemmican, Parched Corn, and Dried Fruit)


Smoke house teepee

Fixin’ Wax

A Simple Fixin' Wax Recipe for Fixin' Stuff

Tree Bark Archery Quiver


Base Camp Sawbuck

How to Build a Sturdy Sawbuck with Logs and Rope -

Primitive Process Pottery

Making Containers from Primitive Process Pottery -

Brian Floyd, our main instructor, made a tasty stew in one of his pots for lunch.

Wooden Spoons

Spoon Carving with an Ax |

Making Containers from Primitive Process Pottery -

Blowing through a section of river cane to burn the bowl of my spoon

Char Material for Your Next Fire


Embers on charred punk wood

Waterproof Fire Starter


A door hinge pin chucked in my drill

Pine Pitch Glue Sticks

How to Make Primitive Hot Glue Sticks |

Fat Lighter’d Torch


Natural Cordage

When Primitive Skills and Prepping Have Sex |

Indigenous cordage I made this weekend. Clockwise from 12:00 ~ Dogbane; Tulip Poplar; Okra, and Yucca.

Base Camp Stump Vise

Make a Stump Vise for “Smoothing It” Camp Projects |


Sling Shot Bow

A DiY Survival Sling Shot with Big Game Capabilities

A DiY Survival Sling Shot with Big Game Capabilities

Duct Tape Arrow Fletching

Ducttapevanes6 - Copy


Cigar Fishing Kit

Screw cap taped

Screw cap taped

Altoids Tin Oil Lamp

30 Ultimate DiY Gifts in Santa's Survival Sleigh

DiY olive oil lamp

Survival Gig


Used about 6 feet of cordage here


Compost Tumbler


30 Ultimate DiY Gifts in Santa's Survival Sleigh

DRG’s elevated compost tumbler

Rain Collection System



It’s not camo paint, but it blends in very well in the front yard.

Tomato Ladders

Todd's Tomato Ladders |

Four Tomato Ladders anchored and ready with an old wooden ladder on the far left.

Pallet Fencing

Up-cycled pallets, windows, and doors.

Up-cycled pallets, windows, and doors.

Rat Trap


Paper Fire Logs


The wet fire log ready for drying

Farmhouse Table

Pipe clamps putting the squeeze on the 2x6's

Pipe clamps putting the squeeze on the 2×6’s

Foldable Sawbuck

Sawbuck: Work Smarter in the Woodpile

Sawbuck in the woodpile!

Battery Storage Rack

Attention Men: Pinterest is a Prepping Goldmine

Power at your finger tips

Self-Watering Container Gardening 



Rendering Tallow

Almost ready.

Almost ready.

Homemade Sauerkraut

Get Your Gut In Shape: Down and Dirty Sauerkraut

Plumber’s Stove

How to Make a Plumber's Stove on Steroids for Cooking and Warmth |

Cedar Bench

Here she sits outside my shop

Here she sits outside my shop

Plantain Salve


This tin fits nicely in my haversack

Being a student of self-reliance, my expertise is limited in making a lot of the gear I own. However, it’s good enough to get the job done. For instance, the bed sheet tarp has been through extensive field testing and has performed like a boss!

Then there are DiY projects I’ve tried that failed miserably. The journey to self-reliance depends on failing forward.

Your turn. What’s your favorite gear or equipment you’ve Made by Hand? Let us know in the comments.

Keep Making the Stuff of Self-Reliance,


P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestGoogle +, YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook… and over at the Doing the Stuff Network.

P.P.S – If you find value in our blog, Dirt Road Girl and I would appreciate your vote on Top Prepper Sites! You can vote daily by clicking here or on the image below. Check out all the other value-adding sites while you’re there…

Thanks for Sharing the Stuff!

Copyright: Content on this site (unless the work of a third-party) may be shared freely in digital form, in part or whole, for non-commercial use with a link back to this site crediting the author. All links in articles must remain intact as originally posted in order to be republished. If you are interested a third-party article, please contact the author directly for republishing information.

Categories: Bushcraft, Camping, DIY Preparedness Projects, Doing the Stuff, Gear, Herbal Remedies, Homesteading, Preparedness, Self-reliance, Survival, Survival Skills, Water | Tags: , , , , , , | 10 Comments

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