Over the next four weeks, we will be looking at fires, fire lighting methods, materials, and tips. In this week’s blog, we’re taking a look at fire lighting in the wind and rain. We’ll talk through what you can do to prepare before leaving home, show you how to make feather sticks and teach you how to use a fire steel and birch bark to get your fire going.

We’re not going to be looking at friction fire lighting this week – but keep checking back in as we’ll be teaching you all about friction fire lighting and bow drills later in the month.

Remember, you can read the whole blog or skip to the sections that interest you using the links below:

Before we look at how to light fires in the wind and rain,  here’s a quick recap of what you should know when fire lighting in the UK.

A quick recap – fire lighting in the UK – safety and the law

 

Fire lighting in the UK - what you need to know



Remember, whenever you’re practicing bushcraft or camping in the UK you need to abide by the bylaws of the area.


Fire lighting and the law – England, Wales, Northern Ireland

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland you must have the landowner’s permission before lighting a fire.


Fire lighting and the law – Scotland

In Scotland, the outdoor access code states, “wherever possible, use a stove rather than light an open fire. If you do wish to light an open fire, keep it small, under control, and supervised – fires that get out of control can cause major damage, for which you might be liable. Never light an open fire during prolonged dry periods or in areas such as forests, woods, farmland, peaty ground or near to buildings or in cultural heritage sites where damage can be easily caused. Heed all advice at times of high risk. Remove all traces of an open fire before you leave.”

However, it is not just the law that needs to be taken into consideration when fire lighting.


Fire lighting – be wary of the conditions

Coniferous trees

Assuming that you’ve satisfied the above criteria then be mindful of your surroundings; note if the ground and surrounding area is particularly dry or going through a period of drought. Also look out for the potential of root fires. These are accidental fires caused by setting alight to shallow root systems – doing so can easily cause a fire to rapidly spread – this is a particular case with coniferous trees. We will talk more about location and preparation later on but try to clear the ground under where you’re about to have a fire, if the ground is peaty (such as on Dartmoor) then don’t light a fire at all – it has the potential to smolder underground and transform into a forest fire. Elevate your fire off the ground if at all possible and look out for any low-hanging branches above your fire which could ignite.
 

Fire lighting begins with preparation

The key to successful fire lighting, as with most things in life, is preparation. In this next section, we’re going to look at a few things that you can prepare to help you light a fire in the wind and rain.  

Preparing your fire lighting kit before your trip

Picture the scene, you went out walking the weather didn’t hold out and it has poured down. You had a great time but now you’re wet, your kit is wet and everything around you is wet. Luckily the rain has stopped and you’re back at your campsite (where you have the landowner’s permission to light a fire) and you’re keen to get the campfire roaring, dry out and start cooking your food. Here are some items that you can prepare at home to help you make this process much simpler.

Remember, preparation is not just about kit – practice these techniques and using this kit while in an ideal environment and you will be better prepared to use them in adverse conditions.

Tinder Boxes

Tinder boxes have a long and rich history. Flint and iron pyrites were used throughout Europe since pre-history. The famous  Otzi or Tyrolean Iceman, a well preserved natural mummy thought to date from around 3500 BCE,  was found carrying fungus (for tinder) and iron pyrites. Later, as we passed through the iron age,  basic firesteels came to replace the iron pyrites. Tinder boxes, which were used domestically as well as out on the trail, continued to be in common usage until the 18th century.

Preparing your tinderbox 

Here are some key considerations when preparing your tinderbox. Remember to choose a tin, look for the type that used to be considered an old cigarette tin. Make sure that it has a tight seal and will fit easily in your backpack. Remember, it is always worth carrying more than one method of fire lighting – consider taking matches (in a waterproof container), a firesteel and a cigarette lighter.


Producing sparks using a fire steel

A tinderbox should consist of a method of producing sparks and something to catch the sparks – e.g. tinder.
By far the best tool for producing sparks (in our opinion) is the LightMyFire Swedish firesteel – these can be picked up on Amazon for under a tenner. These firesteels, and many others, typically comes with a striker. If not you can fashion your own – part of an old hacksaw blade will work well. If you’ve a carbon steel knife then you can also use the back of this knife to strike your firesteel.


Catching sparks – natural materials

If natural materials are easy to hand then be sure to add them to your tinderbox before you set off.  If not, be sure to keep an eye out for them as you journey towards your campsite.  Some of the best tinders are dry grass, dead bracken and even bits of old birds’ nests (it should go without saying that you should only ever use empty birds’ nests – ideally those that have fallen to the ground). Other tinders include shavings from woods such as cedar bark, clematis bark and of course – every bushcraft person’s best friend – birch bark.

Learn how to light a fire using a fire steel and birch back

Watch our video here or click play on the video below. 


Catching sparks – other options

There are a few other things that you can put in your tinderbox to help you light a fire in the rain and wind. One of the favourites of which is cotton wool balls and Vaseline. Buy cotton wool pads and a small metal tin of vaseline (the type that you can use to treat chapped lips). If these are being stored in with natural tinder then it is best to prepare them at camp, however, if you wish to carry a separate tin for vaseline and cotton wool balls then you can prepare them before you leave the house. In order to prepare your cotton wool balls pull the cotton wool apart (to access the soft wool itself), then smear liberal doses of vaseline on the cotton wool; roll these into balls and you’re ready to go. These will easily ignite when showered with sparks from your fire steel.

Preparing your kit – matches

Matches are an easy and quick way of starting a fire. Choose strike anywhere matches (e.g. not the safety ones) when heading out into the woods. One of the best ways of keeping them dry is to remove the striking strip from the packet of matches, cut it into a circle and glue it to the inside of an old film canister (admittedly these are getting harder to find!) stick the matches inside the canister and seal it tight. For a belt and braces approach you can then put this canister in a zip-lock bag. It can be a good idea to carry several such canisters in different places – for example in your jacket pocket, side pocket and if there’s room in your tinderbox.

Practice makes perfect 

Remember, practice these techniques in as many conditions as you can while close to home – even if it’s just going out in the back garden. After all, practice makes perfect and you don’t want to be learning while you’re struggling to light a fire.

 


Practice your fire lighting techniques on a weekend bushcraft course with Wildway Bushcraft – find out more here.

Wildway Bushcraft fire lighitng course

Preparing your fire

For the purposes of this next section, we’re going to divide the blog into two parts- lighting fires using sparks (including matches) in adverse weather and lighting stoves in the same conditions.

Preparing your fire: location 

When it comes to lighting a fire in the wind and rain then the location is key. As we covered in our blog organisation in bushcraft, you should look for an area that is close to the materials that you will need for your fire. In addition, be sure to avoid shallow root systems and low hanging branches. In an ideal situation, you would also place your fire within relatively easy reach of a source of water.  Look for natural surroundings, such as rocks which could act as a shelter from the rain.

A note on rocks – if you’re placing your fire close to or on rocks then avoid flint and those that have been saturated with water (such as rocks from a riverbed) as these are likely to explode if they get too hot.

Preparing your fire: materials

When gathering materials for your fire in wet weather you may need to go slightly further afield from your immediate area to find kindling that is suitable.  Look around for kindling which may be drier, though being sheltered from the elements.

Feathersticks

One of the best tools for lighting a fire in adverse conditions are feathersticks. Being able to make these is a key skill which will serve you well in most conditions. Watch our video below to learn how to make feathersticks.

Learn how to carve feather sticks – watch our video here  

 


Kindling

When attempting to light a fire in wet and/or windy conditions it is worth doubling, or even trebling, up the amount of kindling that you would normally use to light a fire. Only add more wood when you see flames coming through the previous layer. If the wind/rain is particularly strong then it can be worth building a temporary canopy using materials to hand over the top of your fire.

Practice your fire lighting techniques on a weekend bushcraft course with Wildway Bushcraft – find out more here.

Wildway Bushcraft fire lighitng course

 

How to light a stove in the wind and rain

Lighting a gas or a meth stove in the wind and rain has some principles in common with lighting a fire in the same conditions. Look for natural features which can act as a shelter for your stove or try to construct a windbreak around it. If using rocks for the purposes of creating this windshield then avoid those that have been submerged in water or flint, as both of these are likely to explode if exposed to heat for a consistent amount of time – though this is a smaller risk with gas stoves than it is with fire.

If great care is taken then your stove can be used in the awning space of your tent – though obviously this is a fire risk and is not recommended by the manufacturer.

Tips for striking matches

Striking a match in the wind and rain is certainly a skill. Though it may be common practice to strike the match away from you when lighting candles and the like, it is better in bushcraft to strike towards you. This will allow you to cup your hands around the match and protect it from the wind.  Hold the match vertically, fire after all burns upwards, and then guide it carefully towards the flame.

 

Practice your fire lighting techniques on a weekend bushcraft course with Wildway Bushcraft 

find out more here.

Wildway Bushcraft fire lighitng course

Cooking for several people while at camp can be difficult task whether you’re cooking over a fire or a stove. In this blog, we talk about how to make cooking at camp easier;  show ways to improve the efficiency of your stove and show you some bushcraft techniques. 

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Tarps are a lightweight and extremely versatile alternative to tents. In this blog, we look at setting up a  tarp for the solo camper, tarp set-ups for couples and hammock camping for individuals and groups. Read on to find out more.

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Organising your camp, whether you’re practising bushcraft, wild camping or even just at a campsite, is essential for keeping your food safe, morale up and your fire burning throughout the night. Read this week’s blog post to find out more or just skip straight to the section that you’re most interested in.

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How to choose the best place to build a shelter? What makes a good wild camping spot? How can I choose a good campsite pitch? These are all questions that are answered in our latest blog. Read on to find out more.

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Making Charcoal

Charcoal has a huge variety of uses, from purifying drinking water, building a fire, a dye, making your own ink and has even been used as medicine. You can also use it to dehydrate something in order to preserve it. In bushcraft of course, the most common use for charcoal is to build a campfire. But you don’t need to head to the shops to get it, making charcoal is quite easy.

What is charcoal?

Very simply, charcoal is wood that has had all the unstable compounds burned out of it, leaving carbon behind. Carbonizing wood requires fire and the ability to cut air off from that fire. This means the fire will go out after absorbing the volatile compounds, but will not entirely consume the wood. Once the fire goes out, you are left with charcoal.

You can make charcoal in different ways:

– By using a pit where the fire gradually builds up and then smothered.
– In a clamp or pile, which gradually smothers as it burns.
– Using a kiln with the charcoal wood in a container. Once surrounded by fire, the volatile gases go into the outer fire to improve the burn.

Charcoal making guide

Here is one simple method of making charcoal:

1. Choose a clear site with no stray roots nearby and build a fire.

2. Find a metal container with a loose-fitting lid. This will act as your cooker. Then cut a small hole in the lid. This is very important because as the wood burns inside the container, it will give off methane gas, which is highly flammable. If you allow the methane to build up too much, it could cause an explosion. Take a coat hanger and wrap it around the container with the hook on the top. This will create a cage, which you can use to easily move the container in and out of the fire.

3. Choose and prepare your wood. You might have to rely on what wood you can find nearby. However, you will need to think about what you plan to use the charcoal for. There are two basic kinds of wood, hardwood and softwood. Hardwood (oak, walnut, hickory, and beech) charcoals tend to burn hotter and hold together well. Softwood (pine, willow or poplar) charcoals are better at absorbing things.

4. You will need to chop the wood into small chips to put into the cooker. Use your axe to split each piece as many times as possible. When you’ve split the big pieces into thin pieces, chop them up into small twig-sized pieces.

5. Put the little pieces of wood into the cooker. Put the lid on and use a stick to move the cooker into the fire. You can also use the stick to make sure the cooker stays right in the flame. As it begins cooking, white smoke will come out of the top hole and under the lid. After a while, this smoke will become highly flammable. Once the smoke stops being flammable, your charcoal is ready. To test this, put a burning stick up to the hole on the top of the container.

6. Take it out of the fire immediately, but do not remove the lid just yet. If the charcoal gets exposed to the air too soon, it will become white ash. Wait for the container to become completely cool before removing the lid. Bend back the loose wire on the cage and pull the container free. Check the contents. There should not be any wood pieces left and very little or no ash. To test it, take a big piece and snap it. You want it to snap easily.
Find out more about making charcoal

To perfect your charcoal making technique, or you are a complete beginner, sign up to our axe skills and charcoal making course, where you will receive hands-on tuition from the experts at Wildway Bushchraft. Get in touch for more information or visit our courses page to find out what else we have in store this year.

 


Learn more bushcraft skills on our weekend
bushcraft course. 

Click here to learn more and book your space.

 

 

 

Our next big expedition of 2019 will be the River Spey Bushcraft Canoe adventure in July.
Travelling from Loch Insh to Spey Bay on the East Coast, this five-day journey will provide ample opportunity to encounter some of Scotland’s resident birds and beasts. Here’s just some of the wildlife you might bump into on a Wildway expedition;

Atlantic Salmon

Renowned for its fishing, the River Spey is the ultimate destination for many returning Atlantic Salmon.
Hatching from eggs in the cool tributaries of the highlands, the juvenile Salmon known as ‘parr’ then travel downstream to the coast. The growing fish tSpey Salmonypically spend one to four years at sea, often travelling to an area just off West Greenland in search of food. On reaching maturity, the Salmon will then return to their river of origin to spawn. Unlike certain Pacific species, Atlantic Salmon do not routinely die after breeding, meaning that some fishmay undertake multiple migrations in their lifetime.

OspreyBushcraft Osprey

As you paddle your way down the Spey, you might be fortunate enough to spot the agile Osprey in action. Returning from their overwintering grounds in southern Europe and North Africa, these striking black and white birds are specialist fish-eaters, plunging talon-first into the water to capture their prey. Reaching a metre and a half wingspan, Ospreys hold Amber Status on the RSPB’s Red List, making them a rare but beautiful sight on UK rivers.

Eurasian OtterOtter

Take a walk along the riverbank during one of our wild camps and you might spot signs of one of the UK’s most elusive animals, the Eurasian Otter.
Persecuted almost to extinction in England, Scotland has long been a stronghold for these enchanting animals. Feeding predominantly on fish, Otters are strongly territorial, coming together only during the mating season. Cubs remain with their mother until 13 months old, learning the skills necessary to go it alone in the waterways of Scotland.

Grey Seal Seal

Drawing closer to the estuary of the River Spey, you’re likely to come under the scrutiny of the local Grey Seals. Equally comfortable in salt and brackish water, Grey Seals are the UK’s largest carnivore, weighing up to 310kg. Though bulls can occasionally be aggressive, most seals are cautiously inquisitive, with some friendly enough to attempt a lift on passing kayaks!

Bottlenose DolphinDolphin River Spey

As you near the end of your canoe bushcraft adventure, you’ll reach the coast at Spey Bay, home to the world’s largest Bottlenose Dolphins.
Attracted by the Spey’s wealth of Atlantic Salmon, Bottlenose Dolphins are gregarious and intelligent, living in family pods of up to thirty individuals. The most common oceanic dolphin species, the Spey Bay pod are well known for showing off their acrobatic skills.
Should you wish to learn more about these remarkable animals, the Scottish Dolphin Centre at Spey Bay offers talks, tours and a unique audio-visual installation (www.wdcs.org).

Interested in encountering wild Scotland by Canoe? Find more details of our River Spey Canoe Bushcraft Expedition here; If you need to know what we take away with us on these trips check this post out.

Bushcraft Kit

Now, I have been guilty of a never ending collection of bushcraft kit- a bag for this, a knife for that, more axes than I could ever use, and as for billy cans, why do I need so many pots and pans?

So I thought I would sit down with a brew and try to help others avoid the same pitfalls.

Now there is nothing wrong with buying bushcraft kit and equipment if you want, it’s nice to have new things but not as nice as having well loved solid “go to” items that you know work, so here are my top 10 items that I take with me on every trip;

Knife- a good knife is a must but a good knife does not mean an expensive knife. A Mora Knife will see you through every job you could want to do out on your trips to the wild. At around £12 it’s a no brainer, it’s simple and a joy to use. If you want to fork outmore money then you can find some very nice knives being hand made by some very talented makers out there. If you’re going to buy an expensive knife, I would suggest one with a full tang and a Scandi grind to ensure it lasts a life time.Bushcraft Knife

Saw- a small folding saw makes life so much easier in the woods. Not only is it more efficient but it’s kinder on the tree if you’recutting green wood. I use a Baco Laplander, they are around £15 and I have never had a problem with mine. They come in woodland green and black so I tie some orange Paracord on to mine so it’s easier to find should I drop it or place it down on the ground.Bushcraft Saw

First Aid Kit– where my knife goes so does my “ouch pouch!” Often over looked, this should be one of the first things you pack. Mine contains plasters, cleaning wipes, Compeed blister plasters and the like. There are some good ones of the shelf you can buy but it will be cheaper to make one that suits your needs. The most important thing is you have one with you.Survival first aid kit

Tarp’- I use a light weight DD 3×3, which packs down really small and fits in to my day sack. I always take it with me in case of heavy rain and can be put up in a couple of minutes. I attach about 4 m of Paracord to each corner and then shank it up so it’s tidy and out of the way. Top Tip- take a stuff sack so you can keep the rest of your kit dry if putting a wet tarp away into your kit bag.

DC4– my little sharpening stone is a must take item. It is perfect for touching up my knife’s edge whilst in the woods. I really have not found anything else that does the job as well.DC 4 Knife sharpner

Billy Can– I use a 12cm Zebra Billy Can, with this I can cook in it and eat out it of but most importantly I can boil water for my brew, I don’t do well with out tea!Billy can

Fire Steel– my main way to start fires when I am out and about, I have used lots of fire steels in the past and with out a doubt the best one I have ever come across, and still use today, is the Light My Fire Army version. I have found that it just works the best out of every one I have tried. This is one bit of bushcraft kit I just want to work, it’s that simple.Fire Steel

Whistle– I always pack a whistle, it’s a simple thing but I won’t head out on a trip without one. It’s a great way of gaining attention should I find myself in an emergency situation and need to get help. My bushcraft kit always has a spare tucked away.

Tinder– just because you can find tinder in the wild, does not mean you should use it every time you need to light a fire. The UK is a small place so I don’t like to use up natural resources unnecessarily so I always carry some pre sourced tinder. Be it cotton wool or Birch bark, or a bit of fat wood, it’s just sensible to have some dry “go to” tinder all ready when you need it.

Brew Kit– last and by no means least, TEA, SUGAR and COFFEE MATE. I need tea to survive. I am part Zombie without a good brew in the morning!

Like I said at the start, this is my top 10 “never leave for a trip without” list. You will able to add to this, but the most important thing is to enjoy the wild places you visit and learn and have fun. Right, kettle has boiled, so I am off!

Without their leaves, deciduous trees can be tricky to identify during the winter. But by studying important features like the bark, twigs and bud formation, you can soon learn how to recognise a tree whatever the season. Here are our tips for identifying 10 of our favourite deciduous trees this winter.

Sycamore

The sycamore is usually found in forests and woods and the bark of the young trees is often smooth and can be silvery-grey or brown. As the tree gets older, the bark begins to crack, which eventually become large peeling scales. The sycamore’s buds are oval-shaped and arranged in opposite pairs. The buds have a pointed end and are green with brown tips.

Ash

The ash is a large tree which can be found growing in forests, on open hillsides and in hedges. The ash is one of the first to lose its leaves in autumn and is late coming into leaf in the spring. The buds of the ash grow in opposite pairs and are round, except for buds at the end of shoots and branches, which have more of a cone shape. The buds are very dark in colour and the ends of the shoots curve upwards. The bark is smooth and grey or can be a paler grey-brown in younger trees. As the tree ages, the bark becomes cracked and often develops criss-crossing ridges.

Silver birch

You will find the silver birch in forests, on sandy heaths and open hillsides and down mountain valleys. The silver birch has, unsurprisingly, silvery coloured bark and as the tree ages, the lower part of the tree develops black diamond shaped marks anad develops a thick and cracked texture, with dark grey/brown almost black bumpy ridges. The buds are sometimes sticky and are small and oval-shaped.

Hazel

The hazel is a small tree, usually with multiple stems and often located in hedges and under larger trees in woodlands. The bark starts as a shiny light grey/brown colour. In younger shoots the bark can be peeling but the peelings can often be quite fragile and delicate. Cracks appear in medium sized growths, with larger trees having smooth grey/brown bark. The buds of a hazel tree are green, fat and oval shaped.

Beech

The bark of the beech is smooth and silvery grey in the younger trees. As the tree ages the bark becomes rougher, but not as textured as other trees. The buds are long, thin and pointed and have a coppery brown colour. On young beech trees, you often see dead brown leaves that are still attached during the winter.

Wild Cherry

The wild cherry grows in mixed woods. The bark of young wild cherry trees is shiny and can be greyish-pink to purpley-red. In older trees, the bark is more purpley-grey with raised light brown bumps and peels in horizontal strips. Its buds are egg-shaped and dark orangey-brown.

Hornbeam

Hornbeams tend to grow alongside the beech tree and its bark is a silver, dark grey colour and has a smooth texture. As the tree ages, the bark may develop criss-cross ridges. The tree’s long buds are pointed, green/brown and close to the stem.

English Oak

The English oak is a common tree and is one of the more dominant large broad-leafed trees to be found across Britain. Younger trees have smooth, grey/green bark, and as the tree ages, the bark becomes more cracked with distinctive ridges. The buds are orange/brown and often grow in a cluster near the end of the twig and are egg-shaped with blunt rounded tips and grow in clusters.

 Elder

The elder is a common tree that can be found in hedgerows and woodland. Its bark is beige/grey and the young shoots often have raised bumps, while the older growth develops very rugged cracks and ridges. The buds grow in opposite pairs, and are purple, with spiky scales.

Goat Willow

There are 18 species of willow native to the UK, along with many hybrids. The goat willow is the more common willow tree. Often found growing near water, the goat willow is pale grey and the bark is banded with small diamond-shaped ridges. As the tree ages, the bark becomes shallow, with criss-cross ridges which can later become orange cracks. The tree’s buds are rounded and a shiny red or a chestnut brown colour.

This time of year is a great opportunity to put your winter bushcraft skills into action, so get outside as much as you can and enjoy this beautiful season.

As some trees shed their leaves during the autumn and winter months, determining the identity of deciduous trees can require a little more effort at this time of year. So we have put together a quick guide to help you know what to look for:

Bark

The bark protects the underlying tissue of the tree and its appearance varies across all the different species. The colour, thickness, pattern and texture of the bark are useful ways of determining a tree’s identity. Not only should you study the appearance of the bark but you should touch it to feel its texture. You can also look at how the bark is peeling as this can also differ, depending on the species.

The bark of a young sycamore for example, is usually smooth and can vary from silvery-grey to a brown colour. As the tree gets older, the bark develops cracks which progress to large peeling scales. You need to get up close to the tree and have a good scratch and sniff too! The smell of the bark is also another useful tool, just like with the yellow birch which smells like wintergreen whereas the wild cherry has more of a bitter almond scent.

Buds

The size, shape, colour, texture and position of the buds can often be a useful way to identify a tree during winter. Flower buds can form in different places and can often be much larger than the leaf buds. The leaves will grow as terminal buds, which are found at the ends of the twigs, or they will take the form of lateral buds, which grow along the sides. The number and placement of the buds on the twigs can also be significant to determining the tree’s identity. The buds are most often enclosed in modified leaves known as scale leaves. These may be tough protective structures, coloured or sometimes they might be sticky, like the horse chestnut. When the scale leaves fall, they often leave distinctive markings on the twigs.

For example, the buds of a Hazel tree are short, blunt and have green and red scales and the shoots have rough hairs. Sycamore buds are arranged in opposite pairs and are egg-shaped with a pointed end, green in colour and the tips of the bud scales are brown.

Twigs

Twig markings provide useful information as to how the leaves are arranged when they are there. They can also tell you where the buds grow. Some trees like the ash, maples and dogwoods have opposite branching and this is when the twigs and buds grow off a main branch in pairs. Trees like birches and sycamores have alternate branching which means that the twigs and buds grow off a main branch one at a time.

There are many other bushcraft activities you can get up to this winter, it’s a great time to get outside and practice all your bushcraft skills. For expert tuition from a Wildway Bushcraft instructor, join us on one of our popular courses for a fantastic time in the great outdoors.