Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Pine Resin...a natural glue and aid to firemaking

Pine resin or "pitch" is very useful to outdoors men and women. It is formed when a tree sustains an injury. It leaks from the tree and acts to seal the damage to prevent bugs from entering the tree and killing it...kind of like blood drying and forming a scab on a cut finger to prevent an infection. The resin hardens and forms a very tough, moisture-impervious, yellowy-waxy substance with a strong Turpentine odor about it:

Pine resin running down tree trunk.

Sometimes I've also seen Pine resin turn black and smell foul. If you've ever played around a pine tree as a child and gotten black, sticky, smelly resin on your hands, and you'll probably remember how hard it was to wash off...this is what makes it useful.The pine resin can be collected and heated to turn it into a useful glue, or for fire making, and for a waterproofing material.

A tin of resin chunks collected at a local park.
Once cooled, Pine resin is pretty waterproof, so it can be used to make objects water-resistant, like repairing a hole in a hiking boot. It can be used to seal seams and I've even seen TV survival instructors repair holes in boats with it. You have to heat the resin into a liquid form to use it, but be careful it doesn't ignite, because it will burn and burn hot too. Maybe burn a fire down to coals and use a metal cup or container to render the resin liquid, then apply with a stick.
Resin melted and formed inside the tin for future usage.
Aboriginal peoples used to apply pitch to the binding on their spears and arrow shafts to make it tougher for the binding to come undone and separate from the point. They'd also use the glue to help seal binding on fishhooks, and to place fletching [vane feathers] on arrow shafts.

Like I said before, Pine resin burns very hot, so it is useful for making a campfire. Kind of like nature's version of a magnesium bar, because it will burn in damp conditions [waterproof, remember?].

Another thing that is very helpful and good to find is "Fatwood". This is a resin-impregnated wood that forms in the lower trunk of dead trees...the resin sinks to the low point and accumulates in the wood, making it waterproof and very flammable. I found some in a local park where a tree had died and later cut down. The remaining stump had Fatwood in it. Again, you can tell it by it's amber color and strong smell of Turpentine. A few pieces will burn long and help get a fire going. I've also used a saw blade to rasp a pile of shavings from Fatwood and ignited the pile with sparks from a ferrocerium rod [something you should never be without when hiking].

Fatwood scrapings made with wallet survival tool.
Knife edge scrapes sparks from ferro rod to ignite Fatwood.
I have never tried it, but supposedly Pine resin can be used to treat a wound and seal it, just like today, some people carry SUPER GLUE in their First Aid kits. I suppose you could heat some, allow it to cool, and apply to the wound while it's still warm and semi-fluid. It would certainly seal out dirt and possible infection.

"Pine resin "Survival Candle".
You can also use Pine resin to make a field-expedient "Survival candle"...use a metal cup, or an old discarded metal can, or a rock with a depression to gather resin, then light it and make a  Survival Candle to warm a small shelter and provide light to see by. Keep feeding pieces into the fire or it will go out. Use a piece of Jute cordage [always carry Jute in you day's very useful, and moisten it with the resin and light as a wick to conserve the  resin.

My advice would be that you scrounge a tin and use it to collect Pine resin when you are hiking and always carry in your Fire bag. It's smelly, and sticky, so put the tin inside a Zip-Loc bag so it doesn't make your day pack malodorous.


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

How to make char cloth

I've mentioned before the importance of having multiple ways to make fire. It is a fact that lighters can become broken and lose their fluid, matches wet and ruined, and a ferrocerium rod lost on the trail. Having 4 or 5 different ways to make fire in an emergency is an absolute essential. A handy bit of firemaking kit to have is a flint and steel fire making kit. You needn't spend a lot of money either. A piece of flint found on a hike, a broken piece of a file, an old ALTOIDS tin, some jute twine, and some char cloth are easy and cheap to assemble.

Fint & Steel kit

Above is a photo of my trail flint and steel kit. The round tin holds everything...a striker, a batch of char cloth, jute for tinder, and flint stones. The small flint is from a flintlock musket. The AMERICAN MOUNTAIN MAN striker was a gift from a buckskinner friend and can be used as a ramrod puller, flint-knapper, and has a turnkey [screwdriver] blade. It's a cherished possession. But you don't need a fancy steel. A piece of broken metal file will work just fine, and rocks that will spark are found everywhere.

The key to making a flint and steel kit work is making char cloth. Basically, it is cotton cloth that has been charred and brought to the edge of consumption, but retains the ability to capture a spark and begin the burning process all over again. Making it is an easy process and can be done on top of a COLEMAN stove or campfire. It is an extremely smokey process and must be done out of doors. Here is the process:

In the photo above, I have loosely packed squares of cotton fabric in the char tin [these jeans have seen a lot of miles on trails and I felt the best way to use them was to keep them involved in my outings].  The char tin is just a can with a snug lid. The hole in the lid allows smoke to escape during the charring [gassification] process:

In the photo below, the char tin has been placed on the Coleman stove and the burning process begins. Takes about twenty minutes to complete the process [NOTE: Never do in the house too much'll have every smoke detector screaming!]:

After about 20 minutes you'll notice the smoke getting whispy. This is the signal to stop the burning process. I use a little wooden peg to plug the hole in the lid and remove from heat, but you could also just bury it in sand to smother the fire. Either way, be sure to wait for the tin to cool before opening it and retieving the charred cloth:

In the photo below, we see the finished char cloth. It is almost, but not completely consumed and can easily be set alight again by using a spark:
This charred cloth will allow you to perform spark-based firemaking such as flint `n steel or using a ferrocerium rod, such as the ones shown below:
In the photo below, we have an image of a spark that has been caught in the char cloth and begun burning again:

To make a fire, a small piece of the char cloth would be placed inside a prepared nest of fine tinder [dry grass, wood shavings, jute nest, etc.] and blown gently into a flame. Char cloth burns for a LONG time, so you don't need much and you do not have to get hasty and throw it in your tinder nest. Blow slowly and fully into the tinder nest so the char can ignite it. It takes a little practice, so do it in advance at home so you understand the process before going out on the trail.
As a final reminder, all firemaking kits and components should be wrapped or stored inside a waterproof container to prevent damage by moisture. Even a lighter will not function if it becomes wet, until it is dry once again, so protect your kit! 


Sunday, January 19, 2014

Classic Camping - Going back to the "old ways"!

This weekend I attempted to recreate a "Classic Camping" outing. Classic camping is defined as the way camping was done circa 1890-1920. In that period, there was a surge of interest in hiking, camping, and climbing. The development of National Parks and the automobile opened up vast areas of the country and Americans began to camp for recreational purposes. High end camping purveyors like ABERCROMBIE & FITCH sold fine tents and sleeping bags made of Egyptian cotton, fly rods, and new ultra-lightweight aluminum cooking gear. It was a period where there was an overlap of the old and new.

I've done similar camping at period correct Mountain Man rondy's, so I had a leg up on this. I went through my old Mountain Man gear and picked out some items. I selected a local campground and set up this camp:

Canvas tarp shelter
Basically, I made the canvas shelter tarp from a painters drop cloth. I hand-sewed leather tabs on the tarp and made a 2 X 2 frame which assembled with spikes from the hardware store. I bent the spikes shape and cold-blued them. This gave me  easy hooks for the tabs and hanging camp accessories from. I used fabric from the drop cloth and made a canvas bedroll and brought an old USGI wool blanket.

Canvas haversack made by my lovely wife.
Tin cup and wooden spoon & bowl from a Thrift Store.
 I carved the larger ladle spoon from a willow branch.

Camp bedding: I used a poly tarp for a groundcloth. Not exactly period correct, but I wasn't interested in moisture coming up through the ground. The covers were *adequate* [I'm not sure what the overnight temperature was, but I would've liked another blanket for better warmth and comfort]. I forgot my knit cap so I wrapped my shemagh around my head, which helped tremendously.

Camp bed
Camp cookery: I used a wooden bowl and wooden spoon and baked a loaf of bread in a cast iron Dutch Oven and another in an old B.S.A. pot found at a garage sale. I started the dinner fire with wood shavings and a ferro rod, although wooden matches and or early lighters would've undoubtedly been used in the 1890-1920 period.

Dutch oven bread
For camp lighting, I used a candle lantern purchased at a department store. Horace Kephart used a folding candle lantern that collapsed into a flat, portable package for storage until needed.
Camp candle lantern
After dinner I cleaned my cookware, dried it by the campfire.
Camp Breakfast: I decided to use my homemade Hobo stove, which I fashioned from an old coffee can. This is a great stove for quick fires to boil water for coffee and such. It becomes amazingly hot fast with just little twigs for fuel. I used a piece of Fatwood and matches to start the fire.
"Hobo" stove in action.
Hot chocolate and oatmeal, then break camp and head for home. A great outing!
If you are interested in trying "Classic Camping" there are several resources available to assist you. One that comes to mind is the excellent WILDERNESS OUTFITTERS series of videos by Dave Canterbury  [ ]. Another resource would be the WOODSMOKE SYMPOSIUM offered by Dave Wescott and Steve Watts [  ].


Monday, January 6, 2014

Pass your trail knowledge on to the next generation!

One of the concerns I have is that our youth are losing touch with the natural world and the outdoors. More and more they're being insulated from the natural world by the modern technology of handheld phones and computers and music players. Some spend hours parked indoors in front of a computer living a virtual "cyber-existence" and rarely, if ever, venturing outside to explore nearby woods.

It is a proven fact that children [and adults] who spend time afield are healthier and less depressed. Also, if our young people forget about the outdoors, wildlife, and nature, there will be fewer people to advocate for the preservation of open space, state and national parks, or the protection of wildlife species from extinction. It is vitally important that those of us with outdoor experience share our knowledge and love of the outdoors and encourage young people to venture outside.

One way I contribute to this cause is by helping out at our local middle school. Every November, the local middle school holds their annual "Mountain Man Rendezvous Day". The event is organized by the 8th grade history teacher and is held each year on the last school day before the Thanksgiving break. The 8th grade history students have a hands-on, learn by doing, field day, and cycle through various skill stations including archery, tomahawk throwing, rope bridge, etc. One year they even had lunch cooked for them by their moms in cast iron Dutch ovens!

Being a living history re-enactor and bushcrafter,  I have been invited each year to come to the school and demonstrate equipments and skills of the Mountain Men to the students. I decided this year [2013] I would set up a Shadow Stick and demonstrate direction finding. The day before the event I went to the school to set up a display, and began by carving a shadow stick and pegs from a nearby willow branch that had broken:

 Carving a Shadow Stick and pegs
As the sun rose above the Santa Lucia Range at a little before 7 that November morning, I noted the shadow's fall and placed a freshly-carved willow peg, and thereafter hourly at 8, 9, and 10, giving me a perfect east-west line as seen here:

Shadow Stick with pegs placed for the
Sun's position each hour.
I returned at 11 a.m. and found that a large tree had thrown a shadow of it's own and blocked out all access to the low, late Autumn sun, effectively ending the project...a good lesson in itself; be careful where you place your shadow stick! Goals for the following day then were to educate the kids on actual Mountain Men who passed through our county and to share some of their skills that were essential to their daily existence...water procurement/disinfection, fire-making, sheltering, way-finding, primitive tool making, etc.

In addition, I decided to show them the Ottomani compass [with respects to Dr. Ron Hood] and how it is regulated as well. It is always interesting to teach sun navigation because clearly many of the youngsters have never given thought to how the the earth revolves, how the sun passes in the sky, and how it can be used to determine time and direction were you without a compass or timepiece.

I also decided I would bring a few modern items that correspond to the 1820-1840 equipment of the Mountain Men, that a day hiker should carry with them when hiking. In this way I could encourage them to try trail hiking, practice hiking safety by preparedness, and also show that the skills and priorities of 1820 are still just as applicable in modern life, and in fact, could save their life were a hiker to become lost or injured while a-trail.

The following morning I arrived and set up a canvas lean-to and camp for the display of basic Mountain Man equipments:

Canvas lean-to shelter
This camp display was 1820-1840 period equipment of the type used by Fur Trade Mountain Men for day-to-day existence ["Survival"], and consisted of a canvas shelter/blanket/ground cloth, an oak keg for water gathering, sheath and clasp knife cutting tools for preparing game and other camp chores, a tin cup & small iron kettle for cooking and/or disinfecting water, flint & steel fire kit, and sisal and handmade Yucca cordage...essentially the "5 C's of Survival" were presented to them, albeit circa 1820.
In the photo below are various period equipment [Bottom center-Clockwise]: Flint & Steel kit with strikers, char cloth; Resin-impregnated Fatwood; Pouch with stones that will throw sparks; handmade Yucca cordage; Ottomani Sun Compass [modified]; self made Buckskin pouch with burning lens for firemaking.
Primitive kit
Primitive skills of use to the Mountain Men were also explained and displayed including hammer stones for use as tools and for flaking shards for skinning fish and game, fashioning rabbit sticks to conserve shot/not draw unwanted attention, and primitive digging tools for roots or to make a campfire pit:

Digging sticks, hammer stones, & rabbit sticks
I explained various ways of making fire, including bow drill, flint and steel, and burning lens, and displayed and demonstrated these items to the students:
Explaining the burning lens
I also demonstrated a flint & steel fire, followed by a firemaking demonstration with a modern Doan's [magnesium] bar and dryer lint. The immediate ignition of the dryer lint using the ferrocerium rod contrasted against me trying to catch a spark with flint & steel on charred cloth for several long seconds, gave them a real appreciation for technology:
Flint & Steel Firemaking demonstration
A Black Powder firearm was also displayed but not demonstrated. Our excellent Sheriff's School Resource Officer was on hand to ensure safety, and we took this opportunity to explain the 4 rules of firearm safety to the students and to remind them never to "play" with a firearm and to notify an adult or the Sheriff's Department if they were to find an unattended firearm. I also explained the uses of a large sheath knife for making shelters, chopping wood, and other camp chores:
Sheath knife uses were explained.
I then brought out the Ottomani Sun Compasses and explained their construction, how to "calibrate" the Ottomani compass using a Shadow Stick's west-east line, and use on the trail, stressing it is an aid to navigation and gives an "approximate" direction:
Explaining the Ottomani Sun Compass
The students were also shown a modern "economy" trail hiking kit they could easily assemble for less than $10.00 dollars that would cover the priorities of survival [Shelter, Water gathering, Signalling, Firemaking, Cutting tool, and Cordage] specifically; Dollar store items including a poncho, a cheap magnesium bar, paring knife, jute cordage, free Salvation Army combo whistle/squeeze light, free health fair water bottle and a free book bag pack, explaining Public Health Fair's and Expo's are great sources for obtaining useful free gear.
I explained to the students that once you've experienced sleeping a night under a poncho shelter with just a blanket and a proper campfire, you lose all fear of "freezing" and realize you'll be just fine, and that it's a confidence builder. I also showed a few inexpensive items can make all the difference between a passable night and hypothermia. I explained that a few simple preparations can prevent hypothermia should one become disoriented and have to spend a night on the trail.
In conclusion, I would encourage that if you possess outdoor skills or knowledge, and a heart to share what you know, consider check with your local schools, park docent programs, or wildlife rehabilitation centers. It may be that one of these groups can use your expertise to educate and encourage young people to explore nature and start making their own tracks outdoors.


Sunday, January 5, 2014

Hiking with a Haversack

If you spend anytime in bushcraft, you'll become aware of the term "haversack". In case you don't already know, a haversack is nothing more than a shoulder bag with a single shoulder strap. They were used extensively my military forces around the world for centuries. During the U.S. Civil War, soldiers often used canvas haversacks and some officers carried haversacks constructed of tarred leather [waterproofing]. They were issued to U.S. forces right up through WWII.

My haversack...a surplus British military shoulder bag with a
Soviet M91 rifle sling for a strap. Very tough, solid canvas.

Haversack's are not designed nor intended to be used as a backpack, and they're definitely not intended for a heavy load. They're meant for carrying just a very few essential items, usually meal rations and little more. A more modern variation would be the "messenger bag" that became popular with bicycle messengers and was often seen on the TV action program "24".

In recent years, outdoors instructor Dave Canterbury [The Pathfinder School, LLC] has done much to re-introduce and promote traditional or "classic" bushcraft skills. Canterbury developed his "5 C's" concept of absolute minimal outdoors survival gear one should possess when a-trail: CORDAGE, a CUTTING tool, a COMBUSTION [firemaking] device, a COVER [sheltering material], and a CONTAINER [water gathering vessel]. Canterbury adopted the classic haversack as a means of carrying this minimal gear, and it can be seen in many of his earlier "Wilderness Outfitter" or "Pathfinder videos on YOUTUBE [ ].

I occasionally use a haversack on those days when I want to travel light on a day hike. I would suggest that they are a good choice for the occasional or amateur hiker who doesn't want to buy a lot of gear, but only wishes to carry a few essentials for a comfortable hike, i.e., a bottle of water, some food, sunscreen, and a few other essentials. However I still suggest that even an amateur carry a few items necessary for surviving a cold night lost or injured on a trail. In the following photo's, I will share the contents of my own Haversack.

Contents of my Haversack

In the above photo, we see the contents of my haversack...In the TOP ROW are a sealed plastic bag with a lightweight emergency poncho [COVER or shelter], a Space Blanket, and chemical lightstick. I also have included a RITE IN RAIN notebook/pencil for making notes or sketching trail features for way finding, 100' bundle of 550 paracord [CORDAGE], a small First Aid kit, and a Flint & Steel kit and a candle with matches [COMBUSTION, or firemaking]. In the BOTTOM ROW I have my STANLEY cookset [CONTAINER for gathering water and ability to boil the water in order to disinfect it], a spork, a Swiss M71 jellied fuel stove, and some trail food items. The total weight of the pack is around 6 lbs., and is seen packed in the photograph below: 
All kit items pack very nicely inside the haversack.
If you have paid close attention you will have noticed that I only mentioned four of Dave Canterbury's "5 C's of Survival". Some items should always be carried on your person at all times in case you become separated from your pack. Specifically, your knife [CUTTING tool] and a means of making fire. To that end, I carry a knife, either a fixed blade sheath knife or folder on my person and an additional means of making fire:
Always carry a knife and firemaking means on your person!
In the photograph above, we see a self made 2-twist lanyard with carabiner for attaching to my pants belt to prevent loss of  my ferro rod and striker, and my matchsafe. I've also attached a spare blade, a tiny carabiner knife [a wonderful Holiday gift from youngest daughter Erin...made razor sharp after an hour or so re-profiling the blade on my stones] for picking splinters and performing small cutting chores.These items are then tucked deep into my pants pocket. Finally, I carry the excellent ESEE "ZANCUDO" folding knife from Randall Adventure Training [ ].
It is always advisable to carry a canteen, which has a cap and is a secure means of carrying water. Once the water has been treated chemically or disinfected by boiling in a cookpot or vessel, it can be transferred to the canteen for consumption anytime you wish. I prefer a single-walled steel canteen or bottle that can also be placed over a fire to achieve a boil [CAUTION: LEAVE CANTEEN UNCORKED AND DO NOT USE DOUBLE-WALLED BOTTLES FOR BOILING...THEY CAN EXPLODE].
A handy tool to have is a spring steel "Fish Mouth Opener" hook, like the one shown is compressed and placed inside the bottle and then released to suspend the bottle over a fire. It easily fits in the haversack:
KLEAN KANTEEN with hook manufactured by

You don't have to spend a lot of money either. Unlike a pricey new pack from a sporting goods store, the haversack I use was found at a garage sale and purchased for .50 cents. I later added an old canvas rifle sling for the carrying strap, which makes it handy for hanging from a limb off the damp ground:
My haversack. All I need for a day outing is
easily carried inside of it.
Surplus stores often have bags that can be modded into a haversack [Dave Canterbury has modded a n old USGI buttpack into a haversack by adding a shoulder strap]. Another option might be a castoff photographers bag.
There are also new commercially made haversacks or messenger bags available, some I've seen for as little as $20.00, and some like those made by CHROME cost much more. Either way, if you are considering hiking but don't want to carry a heavy pack, you might do well to consider carrying your trail essentials in a traditional haversack. Happy Hiking!