Can you smell it? Fall is upon us, and that means venturing out into the wilderness. Maybe it’s a hunting trip, or last-ditch chance to go camping before it gets too cold. Treks into the wild during the fall also carry risks from the weather, which is the inspiration for the survival fire challenge.
One of my favorite YouTube channels is that of Joe Robinet. He’s a Canadian chap who ventures off into the wild, sometimes with his dog. His videos are often 1 to 2 hours long, but you can learn a lot from watching what he does and the decisions he makes.
Before I discovered his channel, Joe was on the History Channel’s ALONE back in 2015. In that show, contestants are allowed to bring 10 items from a pre-approved list of 40.
The goal of the show is to see which survival expert will last the longest. In short, Joe ended up dropping out of the show after several days, and the primary reason was that he lost his source of fire.
When it comes to survival, the four most important things are shelter, water, food, and fire.
That gets us to the challenge.
The Importance of Fire
Survival is about multipurpose items. A fire, while not an item in of itself, is one of the most multipurpose things you’re going to have in the bush. It keeps you warm, cooks your food, purifies your water, wards off beasts, and serves as a signal for others.
In short, you need the capability to produce fire.
A lot of survival tips out there tell you to go to Costco or Amazon and buy a bulk pack of Bic lighters. To be fair, Bic lighters work well for most situations and you can get a back of 50 of them for pretty cheap (as seen in that link).
But here’s the thing: you shouldn’t rely on them in the wilds, especially in the fall or winter.
I recently wrapped up an interview with a Special Forces SERE instructor. Part of the conversation involved survival items, and he shared the problem with Bic, or any butane-based lighter, in cold weather. As it gets close to freezing and below, the butane no longer turns into a vapor and you can’t get a flame.
One answer is something with a cotton wick, like the classic Zippo or IMCO. You could also use matches. Both of those are great items to have in an EDC survival kit. But that’s not what we’re doing for this challenge.
The Survival Fire Challenge
To complete this challenge, you must start a fire without a lighter or matches.
You have three options in front of you:
- Magnifying glass
- Fire Steel
Friction fires are obviously the most difficult to do, so you can bet that it’s the highest level for this challenge. But that doesn’t make magnifying glass or fire steel easy, either.
The real trick to getting a fire started is not just with the ignition source, but how you get the fire to sustain and build. So this challenge involves both tasks.
Completing the Challenge
To complete the Survival Fire Challenge, you must start a fire without the use of a lighter and then boil water with it. There are a lot of ways you can accomplish this, some are more bushcrafty than others, but I’ll leave that up to your creativity.
My plan is using a folding stove from Emberlit which has served me well over the years. I’ll boil the water in a small metal pot as well.
The way we determine levels for this comes down to your ignition and sustainment sources.
Level 1 – Solar and/or “Quick Tinder”
For level 1, you may use the sun to get your fire started. Most likely that means a magnifying glass of some sort. One inexpensive option is a credit card-sized fresnel lens that you can easily keep as part of your EDC kit.
Another option is something like the compact 25mm sapphire lens from County Comm.
So that’s for the solar portion. What did I mean by “Quick Tinder?”
If you use any sort of material designed to catch a spark or ember and then sustain the burn longer, that is quick tinder. Common examples include dryer lint, TinderQuick, char cloth, or any type of paraffin-treated cotton. If it’s not natural wood, it counts as quick tinder.
This material makes sustaining the initial burn much easier, so any usage of it means you can’t get higher than Level 1.
Level 2 – Sparks
To achieve Level 2 of the survival fire challenge, you must start your fire using sparks and natural materials. Your best bet here is some kind of fire steel/ferrocerium rod and good knife skills with dry wood.
I’ve had good luck with the Light My Fire Swedish Firesteel 2.0 as part of my EDC, but if you really want to get a spark then go bigger. Something like the Uberleben Hexa is 1/2″ thick and 6″ long and throws a lot of sparks.
Aside from the spark source, you’ll also need fuel. The bushcraft method of doing this is making fine feather sticks. Here is a great video instructing you on producing feather sticks and kindling
Obviously, to make feather sticks, you’ll need a blade. A good field knife is ideal, but you can also get by with a sharp axe. Watch all the way to the end of the video and you’ll see how he uses a ferro rod to ignite the feather sticks.
Level 3 – Friction Fire
For the most difficult level, you have to build the fire using friction fire. That means doing it with a bow drill or a plow method. Both of these are doable, though they require more technique and finesse.
To build the fire, you’ll still need feather sticks and kindling.
The method you choose, if you attempt this route is up to you. Mad kudos to you if you do it!
Here are a few videos with tips and tricks for building friction fires. This is not a method for beginners. To be honest, as of this writing, I’ve never built a friction fire before. I’ll consider it a future goal after I hit level 1 or 2 with this challenge.
As always, each challenge has a required standard of proof in order to earn the badge. To officially earn your score, you must start a thread in the grading forum that includes two pictures.
The first photo should be of the equipment you used to start the fire.
The second picture should be of the boiling water over your fire.
Additionally, post a short description of the method you used and any lessons you learned while doing it.