Fire --how to make

We do something similar but in place of ketchup cups, we use an egg carton, pour the wax/sawdust into each egg ‘cup’ and then break then into 12 individual fire starters. No string is needed, jut light the edge of the egg carton cup.

Potato chips, but I’d rather eat them. Dryer lint if you run out of navel lint.

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In true survival situations, which are exceptionally rare in canoeing and kayaking, a fire can be excellent for morale and can help with warmth, drying clothes etc. However, if you’re prepared for wilderness travel - either by boat or on foot - you can keep warm without a fire. In fact, if you’'re dressed for immersion and have some extra clothing in a drybag that you can put on, hypothermia is seldom going to be an issue. The downside of fires, apart from the danger of starting a forest fire, is that they are very difficult to start in cold, wet, and windy weather, and damage the landscape. So it’s a bad idea to have fire-building as your fallback position. Far better to know how to keep warm without fire in cold weather and to be prepared for immersion so that in case you encounter cold rain or capsize, you have the gear you need to keep warm. These techniques are fundamental to safety and comfort when you’re in the great outdoors.

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As Golden and Tipton note in Essentials of Sea Survival, space blankets "are of little use in cold environments because:

  1. When skin temperature approaches ambient temperature, heat loss through radiation is minimal
  2. Water vapour in the microenvironment from insensible perspiration will quickly condense on the cool inner surface of the reflective blanket and reduce its reflectivity to almost zero.

See the following journal articles:

  1. Space or rescue blanket--a bluff? - PubMed

  2. Hypothermia and the use of space blankets: a literature review - PubMed

Can of ether and a match you have a flame thrower. :joy:

Most folks know there are degrees of hypothermia. Classification schemes that stratify the severity of hypothermia based on core temperature are useless in the field because it is impossible to measure in nearly all cases.

In mild to moderate hypothermia when the victim still has the ability to shiver they can usually rewarm themselves if removed from wet clothing and insulated in some fashion.

In severe hypothermia, the type that kills people, the victim has lost the ability to shiver and cannot rewarm themselves regardless of how well they are insulated. In these instances some type of active, noninvasive rewarming is the only hope. While hot packs and hot water bottles are often recommended, how many people are going to have such available on a paddling expedition? And heating water even if receptacles are available will require a fire and takes time.

Placing the victim in an enclosed space with one or more non-hypothermic individuals can be helpful. Compact and instantly usable “bothys” are available for this purpose but usually require the victim to be able to sit up with assistance. Air in the bothy is warmed by convection from the body heat of the non-hypothermic individuals.

Charlie Walbridge has suggested the possibility of using two rafts, one inverted on top of the other, to create an enclosed cocoon into which the victim can be placed along with several rescuers. Placing the individual in an enclosed space with others also has the benefit of warming the air inhaled by the victim which does not occur if the victim’s head is in the open as with most “hypothermia wraps”.

Often the most effective means of noninvasive active warming is a fire. In this setting a reflective blanket can be useful if it is set up as a lean-to tarp on the windward side of the fire where it serves as a windbreak as well as reflecting heat from the fire.

I agree completely about the “degree of hypothermia” tables. I also find concepts like the “Umbles” to be an unhelpful waste of time and bandwidth.

There’s a lot of public confusion about the difference between being chilled and being hypothermic. Chilled people are relatively easy to “rewarm”. Shivering is an early warning sign as well as a symptom of sub 95F core temps, but it also diminishes as energy reserves decline and core temps fall.

I think what’s often lost in these discussions, as well as in advice about “treatment”, is the fact that most groups are ill-prepared to safely bivouac a true hypothermia victim in the kind of conditions under which hypothermia develops. A simple exercise that injects reality into the discussion is to practice these techniques under field conditions - for example at 50F in a driving rain. Or just in cold and windy weather. You quickly find out how challenging it is to keep the entire party warm while dealing with the victim.

Anyway, over the past half-century, I haven’t been in a situation where fire was necessary. Once I learned the principles of heat production, heat loss, and heat conservation, fire became unnecessary. Look at mountaineers. They use clothes for warmth and small, portable stoves for cooking. No need for fire. This knowledge is fundamental to safe wilderness travel.

Nobody mentioned hand sanitizer? It’s something I usually have on hand even on short day trips as I keep a small container with my food bag and a small container with my bathroom kit. A lil’ dollop o’ sani can get damp tinder burning on its own. Since there’s a pandemic raging, we probably all have a stash of it.

Being able to build a fire when you need one is an important skill to have. There are often instances on a river when someone gets cold. It happens in the mountains in crummy weather. It happens in the desert in the winter.

Now people rely on stoves, there are fire restrictions, there are rules governing fires above x thousand feet. The skills are being lost.

I have been on paddling day trips a couple of times when building a fire to rewarm a cold paddler after a swim was quite useful. These individuals did not have severe hypothermia and would have eventually rewarmed themselves given dry clothing and adequate insulation. But time constraints often apply on river day trips and a fire got them rewarmed and safe to continue on downstream a lot quicker.

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I will put in a plug for fires, recent fire seasons not withstanding.
Wood is carbon neutral. It releases the carbon it has accumulated in its lifetime. I burn wood to heat my house. Stoves require mining and plastic for raw materials. They require petroleum products to operate them and they require transportation and the disposal of empty containers. Fires require none of that. Learn to make small fires and sit close. Forget about rock circles. Make it look like there was never a fire there when you are gone.

The wood is sequestering fossil CO2 that is being pumped into the air, plus natures metabolic CO2. The problem with burning it is it then is released back into the air. It is a renewable true, and less of a burden than adding more fossil carbon into the atmosphere. We really need to become carbon neutral, and burning anything that puts carbon out is not helpful for meeting that goal. Carbon neutral is the current goal, but ultimately atmospheric CO2 will need to be reduced. Otherwise it will take thousands of years to reduce on its own, what has been added over less than 300 years.

That said an occasional fire is fairly insignificant considering how much is being added in total now.

On the other hand, uncontrolled wild fires put enormous amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere. Harvesting trees and turning them into wood products sequesters carbon for 100 years. Then we grow thrifty younger forests sequestering more carbon.

Indeed! We own 60 acres of an old farm we have let grow up it trees. Trees are the best tech we have for sequestering CO2. Wood is certainly better than plastic for the environment too! Plant trees for a better future. Thin and do controlled burns to reduce the seriousness of wild fires.

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Isn’t it odd that trees use CO2 for growth and give off oxygen. The more CO2, the more they like it.

I don’t find it odd, but do find it amazing. Photosynthesis developed while the atmosphere was a reducing one without O2. Early life (bacteria) in the oceans fed on what was available. O2 didn’t have a big part to play in the evolution of life on earth until photosynthesis became common. It took about 400 millions years to change the atmosphere to one with O2. Other organisms then adapted to using the O2. Feeding on CO2 came before most life came dependent on O2 for survival. Life’s production of O2 and CO2 developed because photosynthetic cyanobacteria (stromatolites) changed the atmosphere, and life adapted to utilizing their waste product O2. As a consequence CO2 was produced as a waste product which plants use. The atmosphere is a biological product made up of 20% O2 with just .04% CO2. This is the result of Photosynthesis and respiration.

Plants also use O2 as well as CO2. In the heat of summer when water naturally holds less O2, and you have a long spell of cloudy windless days you can have fish kills in ponds. The aquatic plants produce less O2 during the day while at night are using up O2 in the water. This can lower the level of O2 enough to cause a fish kill. To say the web of life is complex borders on a gross understatement.

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Well said. Give you something to think about, regardless of where you paddle.

Tell that to China and India.

A bit of a digression, but since the discussion has wandered deeply into the forest, I want to highly recommend that anyone who loves trees and forests read the 2019 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, “The Overstory” by Richard Powers.

I normally gravitate to non-fiction, particularly books on natural history and science, but this novel (actually more of a series of short story chapters that are tied together by the theme of trees and humans’ interactions with them) is packed with meticulously researched science. The book is a compelling visualization of the natural world and a testament to the urgency of respecting and protecting it.


The way I look at wood, eventually it is going to rot and release CO2. Burning it just reintroduces the CO2 back into the atmosphere instantly. There are certain conditions (like swamps and perhaps landfills) where organic matter won’t rot but it would be difficult to sequester CO2 using wood for as long as a hundred years.