Sourcing and purifying water when on a long canoe trip or out wild camping in the UK can be a challenge.  
But, the ability to purify water is not only a key bushcraft skill, it can change a survival situation to into a thoroughly enjoyable time outdoors.

In this week’s blog, we’re going to look at sourcing and purifying water while out and about in the UK. As always, feel free to read the whole blog or click on the links below to take you to the section that interests you the most.  


Learn how to source water, build a shelter and forage for food on our weekend bushcraft course.
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Understanding contaminants in water

Purifying water
Sadly, the days of drinking water straight out of streams and rivers in the UK are long gone. Except for perhaps from springs in the wildest regions of the Cairngorms, all water in the UK should be considered to be contaminated.

This does not necessarily mean polluted in the sense that the water is obviously filthy, but polluted in the sense that it is contaminated with animal/human matter or chemical runoff from farmland.

Purifying water begins with understanding the risks involved. This means understanding the contaminants that you need to remove.

These can be divided into the following broad categories:

Broad types of contaminants

  • Turbidity

      Turbidity is the number of individual particles in water (the particles themselves are invisible to the naked eye) that, together, make the water appear cloudy or hazy. In short, it is the stuff in the water that makes it look ‘dirty’.

  • Parasites

    (With thanks to https://www.nhs.uk/conditions)
      Parasites in the waters of the UK can be divided into two broad types, multicellular organisms, and single cell organisms. The thing that they have in common is that, like all parasites, they survive in/on other organisms to the detriment of the host.

    •  Multicellular parasites in UK water include parasitic worms such as nematodes, cestodes, and trematodes.  Single-cell parasites include protozoa such as Cryptosporidium and Giardia. Cryptosporidium is very tolerant to chlorine disinfection and causes Cryptosporidiosis, resulting in severe bouts of watery diarrhea. Giardia causes Giardiasis and is typically contracted by drinking water infected with feces. If you’re infected with Giardiasis or have diarrhea then you should avoid handling food or utensils that might be used by other members of your party until you have been diagnosed as free from symptoms.
  • Bacteria

    The difference between bacteria and parasites is that while bacteria can live outside the human body parasites need a host in order to survive. Common bacteria found in water in the wilds of the UK, most likely from fecal contamination, include E.coli, Dysentery, Salmonella, and leptospirosis which is transmitted through rodent urine. These types of bacteria can produce a range of symptoms, most commonly sickness and diarrhea. Leptospirosis, however, can, in extreme cases lead to organ failure and internal bleeding, in the worst case scenario it can cause Weils Disease.

  • Viruses

    Like parasites, viruses need a host. The difference being that viruses only need a host to multiply. They are even smaller than bacteria. Fecal contamination of water often leads to diarrhoea but in certain cases can lead to more serious diseases such as Hepatitis A.

  • Chemical pollutants

    This is a serious one for the UK. Chemical pollutants in UK rivers often come from run-off from farmland pesticides and chemical fertilisers. This is particularly the case when the water source is near intensive farmland.

  • One thing to note

    It is worth remembering that ‘pathogenic organism’ is a blanket term for any organism that causes disease; so that covers viruses and bacteria (both multicellular and single cell) but not chemical pollutants.

Further in this blog, we will be examining how you can protect against the types of contaminants outlined above, however first let’s look at the effects of dehydration in the wilderness.

Remember though, broadly speaking, boiling water will kill all pathogenic organisms.


 Learn how to source water, build a shelter and forage for food on our weekend bushcraft course.
Click here for more information

 

The human body and water

 


The human body cannot survive without water. This is what makes the ability to source and purify water such a key bushcraft skill. The human body can survive for around two weeks without food but only around two/three days without water, and that’s at normal temperatures with little or no physical exertion.

 

The need for water even on short trips

It may sound like an exaggeration but even in remote parts of the UK, such as Dartmoor, the ability to source and purify water can make or break a trip.  

Think of it this way; according to the hill walker’s bible – Mountaincraft and Leadership by Eric Langmuir – a person needs 30 -35mls of water per kilo of body weight per day.

This means that a 70kg person would need 2.1 -2.5 litres of water per day; when exercising this amount triples, making around 6.3 – 7.5 litres per day. So, a two day overnight wild camping trip on Dartmoor, with no stopping to replenish supplies, would require, as a minimum,  between 12.6 – 15 litres of water. One litre of water weighs one kilo – are you really going to carry 15 kilos of water with you?


A two day overnight wild camping trip with no stopping to replenish supplies, would require a minimum of between 12.6 – 15 litres of water.
Are you really going to carry 12-15 kilos of water with you?



Signs of dehydration


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Dehydration impacts on your strength, power, and endurance. More severe dehydration hinders coordination and can, in the worst case scenario, lead to heat stroke and even death.

There is a debate about whether it is better to wait until you are thirsty to drink or to drink before you are thirsty. Ultimately though it is a personal choice. Bushcraft is about being at one with nature, not about overcoming it, so by following bushcraft principles correctly and planning ahead, you should never find yourself in a situation where water is a critical issue.

One of the best early warning signs of dehydration is urine colour. Darker yellow urine equates to more severe dehydration, while slightly yellower than normal urine equates to slight dehydration. A urine colour chart can be found here.


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Further signs of dehydration

  • Lack of energy and increased fatigue
  •  Complaints regarding temperature/clammy skin
  • Nausea


Signs of advanced dehydration

The following are signs of advanced dehydration and if experienced by yourself or by any members of your party then they should be treated immediately.

  • Headaches
  • Disorientation
  • Shortness of breath


Keeping in mind that a loss of only 2% of body mass can be enough to impact on your ability to perform muscular work. So, for a 70kg man, a 2% body mass loss would equate to 1.4 litres (1.4kg) of water [source: Mountaincraft and Leadership by Eric Langmuir].

Sourcing water

It goes without saying that in order to purify water you need to first be able to source it. Generally speaking, the rule is always going smaller, stream rather than a river, spring rather than stream.


Use your geography

When it comes to finding water use your geography and look for the lowest elevation, this is particularly true if you’re at the top of a valley.

Animals/birds

Animals and birds can be good indicators of water sources. Look for grazing animals such as cows and wild horses which never stray far from water. If you happen upon a trail made by animals then follow it down hill until water is reached. 

Morning dew

Dew can be a great source of water. It can be collected using a T-shirt and a mop style action to gather dew. Be aware though that although rainwater is one of the purest forms of water you should still boil water collected from dew as it may have been contaminated by pesticides or other pollutants on the grass.

Rainwater

If it’s raining, which let’s face it is quite likely, then rainwater itself can act as a great source of water.  It can be collected by simply placing a suitable container outside the tent or by setting up a more sophisticated system using a funnel made from an old tarp or other material.

Snow, and  a word on melting it

When boiling snow it is important not to compact all that you intend to boil into the pan. What happens, in this case, is that the snow at the bottom melts, turning into water, a gap between the water and snow forms, the base of the pot gets too hot and can burn through. A better way of doing things is to add any water that you have to the snow that you’re melting or to only add a little bit of snow at a time.



Learn how to source water, build a shelter and forage for food on our weekend bushcraft course.
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Purifying water


Broadly speaking, water purification falls into two main categories; boiling and chemical.

However, before you start purifying water it is best to remove the turbidity  that we discussed in the first part of the blog. Remember that turgidity is particles that are individually invisible to the naked eye. The best way of removing turbidity  from water is by using an old Millbank bag or brown filter bag (these are available from various online outlets).

Once you’ve removed all the sediment and turbidity from water then the time has come to purify it. Let’s look at the two main options for water purification.


Chemical water purification 

Chemical water purification is not as surefire as boiling water. Some, such as chlorine dioxide will deactivate most pathogenic organisms. Other chemicals, such as chlorine will kill the majority of pathogenic organisms.
Activated carbon filters can remove certain, but not all types, of chemical pollutants.


Boiling water purification

Boiling is the best and safest way to purify water.  Bring the water you want to purify to the boil and then hold it on a rolling boil for four minutes. This might be slightly more than is needed but it’s better to be safe than sorry. Boiling will kill all pathogenic organisms but it will not remove any chemical pollutants.

Of course, being able to boil water means being able to make a fire. To learn more about fire lighting in the winter read our blog ‘Lighting a fire in the winter: Tips for UK bushcraft and camping

 

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Hypothermia can be a killer out on the trail. It arises when the body’s core temperature drops too far below its normal temperature of 37 degrees.

In this blog post, we’re going to be looking at how to prevent hypothermia, what the signs of hypothermia are and what you can do when you’re out in the hills to keep your party safe.  


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As always, please feel free to read the entire blog or skip to the section that interests you the most.

 

What exactly is hypothermia?

People have a core temperature of 37 degrees, which needs to be maintained in order to survive. Hypothermia is what happens when a person’s core temperature drops progressively causing, in the worst case scenario, unconsciousness, cardiac or respiratory failure or even death.  Typically, in the UK, hypothermia is caused by a combination of the cold, wind chill and physical exhaustion.

Avoiding hypothermia in the winter

Causes of hypothermia

The causes of hypothermia can broadly be divided into those that are environmental and those that are caused personal factors such as a lack of suitable clothing. Environmental factors include windchill and wet environments.

Windchill

Windchill can be the most dangerous at lower speeds, though high-speed winds should also be taken into consideration and treated with respect – particularly given that walking against high winds can often lead to physical exhaustion.

Wet and cold

The other consideration to look out for is the wet and cold. Walking in the hills or mountains requires a breathable outer-shell layer that will protect you from the elements while keeping you dry.

Poor clothing

Your clothing should be based on a layering system (as we looked at in our blog ‘Suntan lotion or raincoats – how to read the UK weather. With a base layer that wicks the sweat away from your body, a middle layer that keeps you insulated and an outer shell which protects you from the wind and the rain.

Physical exhaustion

Physical exhaustion means that not only is the body unable to find any further reserves of energy to go on, but even enough energy to maintain its core temperature.

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How to spot the signs and what you can do

Keeping an eye out for the signs of hypothermia can help you to prevent it from developing further. By recognising the symptoms of mild hypothermia you can treat the casualty before the symptoms get worse and the casualty declines.

Categories of hypothermia

The International Commission for Alpine Rescue (ICAR) has outlined the following formula to categorise stages of hypothermia. These are as follows:

Stage I – Patient alert and shivering (core temperature of casualty around 35-32℃)
II – Patient drowsy and not shivering (core temp 32 -28℃)
III – Patient unconscious, but vital signs present (core temp 28 -24℃)
IV  – Absent vital signs, apparent death (core temp 24-13℃)
V – Death.

Learn how you can avoid hypothermia
What can you do?

Treatment of hypothermia should begin with prevention. However, should the first sign present itself, then immediate treatment is paramount before the symptoms escalate.

Treatment of Stage I

Ensure that the casualty is moved out of the wind, rain, and cold. The casualty should then be given a hot and sugary drinks or food. Provided that there is no injury (aside from the signs presenting in stage I) then the casualty should be encouraged to exercise and, once warmed up, can continue their journey.

Stage II

The casualty in stage II needs to be treated very carefully as they could be suffering from life-threatening heartbeats in not handled gently. Provided that there is no possibility of spinal damage then the casualty should be placed in the recovery position and should be given hot food and drink if there is no risk of choking – evacuation to a hospital should be conducted as quickly as possible.

Stage III/IV  

At this stage, the patient will have a reduced level of consciousness and could be on the verge of fatal dysrhythmia. Prevention of further heat loss is normally impossible at this stage. In stage IV it could be advisable to begin CPR, however, this must be continued until a hospital is reached.

 

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Preventing hypothermia when out on the trail

Rather than finding yourself having to treat Stage II hypothermia, it is preferable to prevent Stage I hypothermia taking place in the first place.  


Ensure that your wearing the correct clothing

Wearing the correct clothing is vital to preventing hypothermia. As we discussed at the start of this blog, when going out in the hills you should adopt a layering system of a base layer, mid layer, and outer or shell layer.  

Take advantage of the layering system

The layering system traps warm air between each of the layers. Wear waterproof trousers and a hat to prevent heat loss through the head and legs.  Wearing the correct clothing also means removing layers as you see fit. Overexertion will lead to sweating which can lead to a lowering of the body temperature. Avoiding sweating in cold temperatures should be a priority.

Check the forecast

It might sound obvious but check the weather forecast before you go out.  Remember, deciding to wait until conditions have improved doesn’t mean that you’ve given up – more that you’re exercising judgment.

Eat well

Physical exhaustion, one of the key elements that can, out in the mountains, bring on hypothermia. The food that you’re consuming should replace the energy that you have expounded on your journey. When working out the amount of food that you will need you also need to take into account the distance that you’re covering, the conditions in which you’re covering it and the level of fitness of your party.  A 20km walk, covering a thousand metres climb (in total across the walk) will expand about 6000 kilocalories.

Learn how to prevent hypothermia this winter

Hypothermia – a recap

Always look at hypothermia with an eye on prevention. Make sure that your party is well dressed and carrying adequate food.  If anyone in the party starts shivering then you should seek shelter from the elements and prepare a hot sweet drink and food if at all possible.

 

Learn more about looking after yourself in the elements by taking part in our weekend bushcraft course – learn more here.
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In this week’s blog post we will be looking at plant and tree identification in the UK in winter.  

As the nights draw in and the temperatures drop, being able to identify the plants and trees of the British isles becomes increasingly difficult – many will have lost their distinctive leaves and berries which aid identification in other times of the year. In this week’s blog post we will be looking at how to identify trees in winter, key pointers that you can put into practice and provide you with a list of commonly found trees that you can practice identifying at this time of the year.

As always, please feel free to read our entire blog or skip to the part that interests you the most.

Difference between tree identification in winter and other seasons

The most notable difference in trees in the winter is the effect that the season has on the leaves. While Evergreen conifers are trees that retain their leaves throughout the year, deciduous trees drop their leaves in the autumn/winter and flower again in spring.

Coniferous trees identifying trees in winter



Why identify trees in winter?

Identifying trees in winter can provide you with an added depth to your winter walks. It can also provide you with access to a variety of bushcraft tools – enabling you to access the same natural materials that you would be able to access in the spring – for example; being able to identify trees in winter will enable you to find the correct wood for making a bow drill.  

Key pointers to keep in mind when identifying trees in the winter

When it comes to identifying deciduous trees in the winter the leaves are not there to help us, for this reason, we need to look to the bark, the buds, and their general shape. Tree buds, though they flower in spring, lie dormant in the winter giving clues as to the tree in which they sit. Tree shapes provide an additional clue as to their identification, field maples will, for example, have rounder profiles whereas ash trees are rather slim. Combining the characteristics of the bark and the buds in winter is a great method of identifying the tree.

Characteristics of bark and buds

Combining the key characteristics of bark and buds in a table is a great way of identifying trees in winter – see Collins Gem ‘Trees’ for a more detailed explanation of winter tree identification.  Here are a few examples below:

 

      • Hazel: Brown buds/flaking and peeling bark
      • Horse chestnut: Red and orange/brown buds and flaking or peeling bark
      • Beech: Brown/grey/black buds and cracked or scarred barks
      • Crab apples: Red/orange/brown buds and cracked or scarred bark and.

 

Why not try your hand at tree identification, foraging, shelter building, knife skills and many more aspects of bushcraft on our weekend bushcraft course – click here for more information

Several key trees to identify in the winter

Below are a few examples of key trees that you can practice identifying this winter.

Hazel (Corylus avellana):

Look for brown buds, flaking and/or peeling bark.

Hazel bark identifying trees in winter

Hazel bark

 

Hazel bud identifying trees in winter

Hazel bud


Horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum):

When it comes to the horse chestnut keep an eye out for reddy -orange/brown buds and flaking or peeling bark.

 

Horse chestnut bark identifying trees in winter

Horse chestnut bark

Horse chestnut bud helping you to identify trees in winter

Horse chestnut bud



Beech (Fagus sylvatica):

Beech trees can, in the winter, be identified by their own/grey/black buds and cracked or scarred barks.

 

Beech bark how to identify trees in Winter

Beech bark

 

Beech bud

Beech bud

 

Crab apple (Malus sylvestris):

Crab apples can be identified by their cracked or scarred bark and red/orange/brown buds.

Crab apple bark

Crab apple bark

Trees in winter Crab apple bud

Crab apple bud

Foraging in winter

Though it might seem like the forager’s patch is sparse in winter, the cold season can offer up a variety of treats for those that know where to look.

Beech nuts  

Beech nuts can make for a tasty nibble when you’re out in the woods. Simply scrape off the brown skin on the inside and eat the edible triangular seeds inside.

Chestnuts  

Chestnuts are perhaps the epitome of winter foraging. Found over most woodland floors, chestnuts can be opened up and removed from their green spikey cases ready to eat once cooked over a fire.

Pine nuts

Pine cones, the open ones at least, can be opened up and shaken to remove the pine nuts within. These can be eaten raw or toasted. For pine cones that are closed, simply put them near a fire for a few days and they should open up.

 

Give foraging a try on our weekend bushcraft course – click here for more information


Garlic mustard

Garlic mustard, also known as ‘jack-by-the-hedge’, is most often found in shady places such as the edges of hedgerows. Its heart-shaped leaves are smooth and hairless – like nettles – when the leaves are crushed they smell of garlic.

The colder season can also be a great time of the year for foraging for shellfish, read more about seashore foraging in our blog here.

Remember  – never eat anything that you have not positively identified.

 

Try your hand at foraging, learn the art of shelter building, campfire cooking and discover how to safely source water on our weekend bushcraft course.

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In this week’s blog post we will look at fire lighting in winter. We will look at the importance of being able to light a fire in winter, some useful bits of kit to take with you, the importance of using deadwood and how to create firesticks. Please feel free to read the whole blog post of skip to the section that interests you the most.


If you would like to learn more about fire lighting and friction fire lighting then why not join our one-day friction fire lighting course.  

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This blog looks at fire lighting in the UK winter, not the boreal forest, so we won’t be looking at fire lighting in mountains of snow.

 

The importance of being able to light a fire in the winter

Winter is the perfect time to perfect your fire lighting techniques. Not only will you really appreciate the benefits of a fire when the temperature outside is plummeting and the light is fading – you will also test yourself, wood will be damp and cold. But, before you start trying to light a fire in the winter, you need to ask yourself…

Should you attempt to light a fire at all?

Before you attempt to light a fire in winter time you need to consider the position of your group and your skills. While a fire in winter can be a real morale booster, failing to light one can also have the opposite effect. What is more, choosing to light a fire in winter when you’re exhausted, cold and wet can leave you more exposed to the elements. If you’ve any doubt about your ability to light a fire in these conditions then it can be best to wait in your shelter, tent or sleeping bag until you’ve warmed up enough to give fire lighting another go.

Should you attempt to light a fire in winter

What to bring with you?

Perhaps the most useful bit of kit you can bring with you is an axe. A well looked after axe will serve you better than a knife in many situations. To keep your axe in tip top condition read our blog on looking after your axe. Another useful bit of kit that you can bring with you is a folding saw, such as the Laplander folding saw. In addition, a firesteel and some strike anywhere matches are always a good idea.

The importance of using deadwood

When lighting a fire in the winter, or at any time come to that, it is important to only use standing deadwood. Bushcraft is about harmony with nature, not damaging it. Besides, greenwood will be far too damp to burn effectively.

Getting ready to light your fire

With the above considerations in mind, it is now time to get ready to light your fire.

Choosing a location for your fire

Successful fire lighting in winter, as well as at any other time, depends on preparation. Preparation begins with location. Clear the ground of snow or ice and be careful not to light your fire under any branches laden with snow or ice.   

Build your fire off the floor

Layer the floor where you intend to start your fire with sticks of about finger thickness. This will protect your fire from the floor and the floor from the fire. Be sure to dig through any snow and reach the ground before layering your fire – otherwise, if you light your fire on top of the snow then as it burns it will melt the snow and slowly sink into it.

Gathering materials

When gathering materials for winter fire lighting always gather more than you need, much, much more. Remember that in order to find dry dead wood you may need to look outside of your immediate area. Gather thin sticks that break easily when you attempt to snap them – these should be about matchstick thin. From there gather more deadwood that should be about finger thickness. Once again these should be much more than you need – several armfuls.  

 

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Creating firesticks

One of the biggest issues facing you when trying to light a fire in the UK winter is the fact that the deadwood around you, especially those that are around arm thickness, could be sodden wet. In this situation , fire sticks are a (literal) life saver.  Firesticks are, essentially, pieces of wood around the length of the distance from your middle finger to your elbow. The wood should be split, lengthwise, into four. Using your knife you can then shave ‘feathers’ into the wood, these go from long curls to very short scrapings.

Learn how to make firesticks by watching our video below:

 

 

Using birch bark

Birch bark is one of the best tinders out there. Due to its high oil content, it will burn for a long time and at a high temperature even when moderately wet. Remember though, only ever take birch bark from dead trees – never cut bark off a living tree.

Watch our video to learn how to light a fire using birch bark and a fire steel.

Perfect your fire lighting techniques – sign-up for our one-day friction fire lighting course and learn to make fire using nothing but your knife, wood, and your wits – click here.
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In this week’s blog post we’re going to show you how to predict changes in the English weather – read on to find out more.

Preparing to go out in the alps is, relatively easy – you expect it to be cold, windy and snowy so you dress as such. Going out in the UK hills though is something of a different matter, within the space of hours it can go from blistering heat to horizontal rain (as anyone who has ever been walking in Scotland will attest). Protecting yourself from the elements involves, of course, dressing for the occasion – as Wainwright famously said: “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing”. However, there is no point struggling into your waterproof trousers five minutes after the heavens have opened and you’re already soaked. What you really need to do is to be able to predict changes in the weather before they take place.

That’s what we’re going to show you – how to tell if it is going to rain, if it is going to snow and what to look out for in the weather.  


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As always,  please feel free to read the whole blog or skip to the most relevant section.

Being able to predict changes in the weather begins with understanding weather patterns – and checking the forecast. Here’s how to get started.

Understanding how the weather works

A weather front is a boundary between two air masses. An air mass is simply a large “ocean” of air that has acquired the characteristics of the surrounding area – most notably temperature and humidity (for more information on weather fronts out in the mountains see Mountaincraft and Leadership by Eric Langmuir).  There are three different types of weather front, these are:

(1) Cold front

A cold front is a boundary between warm air and cold air. It’s indicative of cold air replacing warm air and is shown as blue on the weather map. Cold fronts normally mean rain as the front passes and may occasionally indicate thunder.

(2) Warm air

A warm front is warm air advancing over cold air. The presence of a warm front normally means precipitation at the front and a jump in the temperature.

(3) Occluded front

An occluded front is when a cold front catches up with a warm front, these are shown as purple on the map.

 

Cloud patterns

(thanks to the Met Office for the following information)

There are ten types of clouds which are divided into the following three categories;


High clouds

High clouds are mostly composed of ice crystals and exist between 18,000 and 45,000 feet. Typically clouds at this height are Cirrus clouds and resemble wispy brushstrokes.  

Medium clouds

Medium clouds are usually composed of a mixture of water droplets and ice crystals. They exist at around 6,500 – 18,000 feet.

Low clouds

It is the low clouds that are usually composed of water droplets, they have a base below 6,500 feet. These clouds are typically:

Stratocumulus – a series of typically white rounded rolls.  

Predicting the weather in the UK Stratocumulus clouds

Stratocumulus clouds

Stratus – these are layered clouds of grey with a uniformed base. These don’t normally mean unpleasant weather though from time to time they can bring showers.

Predicting the weather Stratus clouds

Stratus clouds


Cumulus
– these are vertical rolls or towers with a flat base.  These are most commonly associated with pleasant weather.  Though they can transform into…

Predicting the weather in the UK Cumulus and cirrostratus

Cumulus and cirrostratus

Cumulonimbus – these are the ones to look out for. They are large cauliflower-shaped towers, these often have ‘anvil tops’ and sometimes give warnings of thunderstorms, showers or snow.

Predicting the weather Cumulonimbus clouds

Cumulonimbus

 

Useful sources for weather forecasts

Before going out in the hills it is essential that you check the weather forecast. There are a number of resources that you can use, obviously, there’s the MET Office (https://www.metoffice.gov.uk) – who also has a wonderful app, but there is also the Mountain Weather Information Service (http://www.mwis.org.uk/) . The latter is an essential resource when heading out into the Scottish, English, and Welsh mountains.

Signs of change in the weather

Observing the world around us can help us to predict changes in the weather. Here are a few ways in which you can detect changes in the weather by observing nature. 

There’s truth in the old sayings

Some of the old sayings have a ring of truth to them – remember the phrase ‘red sky at night shepherd’s delight, red sky in the morning shepherd’s  warning’? Well, it turns out that phrase may have more than a ring of truth to it. This is because the weather in the UK normally comes from the west. So a clear evening sky heralds fine weather, while a red morning sky can be caused by high cirrus clouds at the leading edge of a front.  

“Rainbow in the morning give fair warning”, this saying also has a ring of truth to it, as it indicates rain in the west and heading your way.


Learn how to build shelters, make fires and find sources of food on our weekend bushcraft course – click here for more information.

 

Looking at wildlife  

Wildlife can provide good clues as to what the weather will do. Right before it rains birds tend to fly lower to the ground because the air is thinner just before a storm. If you’re along the coast then the sight of seagulls nesting or seeking refuge rather than flying is also a sure sign that a storm is along the way. Before a storm begins cows may also huddle together or even lie down, ants and spiders also become more active just before a storm.

Heed the wind  

The wind can also help you to predict changes in the weather. If the wind has been blowing for a few hours, you can see how fast it is blowing by watching the clouds, and then it suddenly drops it is a good sign that a storm is on its way.  

Dewy mornings

Dew can also be a good sign of a good day’s walking ahead. Lots of dew first thing in the morning, or late in the evening can indicate a clear day ahead.

Essential clothing for the mountains

When you’re heading out into the mountains, the moors or the hills the correct clothing is essential. What this comes downs to is layering. When out walking several thin layers are better than one thick one.  The layering system can be divided into base layers, mid layers, and outer layers. We’ll look at these in more detail below.

Base layers

The base layer is the layer closest to your skin. Whatever you choose as a base layer when out in the hills it needs to draw sweat away from the body. Cotton T-shirts, for example, are particularly bad at drawing sweat away from the body, that is to say, that cotton T-shirts hold on to the sweat. This means that when you stop sweating all the moisture that is held in the T-shirt close to your body begins to cool down very quickly,  this, in turn, can make you very cold. The act of drawing the sweat away from the body is known as “wicking”. Some of the best materials for wicking base layers include Merino wool or synthetic materials.

Mid layers

Mid-layers go, as you might expect, between the base layers and outer layers. Mid-layers keep you warm and can include fleece tops, tops of synthetic fibres, other T-shirts, jumpers, etc. anything to keep you warm.  


Outer layers

The outer layer is designed to keep you dry and safe from the wind. In terms of choice of material, a waterproof jacket or smock forms the best outer layer. When choosing such a jacket it is advised that you pay particular attention to the hood. The hood should be able to be drawn tight around the face to protect from the elements but open enough to allow you to move your head.

 

 

Keep safe from the elements by learning how to build shelters, make fires and find sources of food on our weekend bushcraft course – click here for more information.
Learn more about bushcraft with weekend bushcraft courses in the UK from Wildway Bushcraft

In our mind there is little better than sitting around a campfire; as Henry David Thoreau said, “The fire is the main comfort of the camp, whether in summer or winter, and is about as ample at one season as at another. It is as well for cheerfulness as for warmth and dryness”. With that in mind, this week we’re going to take a look at some tools for fire lighting that you can prepare before your trip, how to practice at home and give you a bit of an introduction to tinderboxes. Remember, you can either read the whole blog or skip to the part that interests you the most.

 


The best way to get started with friction fire lighting is by taking our one-day friction fire lighting course.
Click here for more information and to book your spot.
Friction fire lighting from WIldway Bushcraft

 

A word on preparation


Remember the old Boy Scout motto? Well being prepared is key to successful fire lighting. Gathering the right kind of tinder, building your fire in the correct manner and approaching fire lighting with the correct attitude will all help when it comes to getting your fire going. Here are a few things that can help you when it comes to being prepared to light your fire.

 

How to make char cloth

Fire lighting in the wind and rain with Wildway Bushcraft

Charcloth is a great favourite when it comes to fire lighting.  It is essentially ‘charred’ cloth and has been used throughout history in primitive fire lighting techniques. Once the char cloth has been created it will catch fire with the slightest spark.

While it can theoretically be made from natural materials, such as fungus, this blog is going to focus on making char cloth out of cotton.

Making the char tin 

Making char cloth begins with making the char tin. In order to make your char tin you need to find a metal tin deep and wide enough to store strips of cloth in it. An old tobacco tin or the like will suffice. The tin needs to be airtight or as close to as makes no difference. Make a hole in the centre of the lid of the tin – remember, only make the one hole. The hole only needs to be about 1/2mm wide; this step is vital as without it gases will build up in the tin and it could explode.

Put your cloth in the char tin

The cloth that you put in the char tin must be 100% cotton. An old TT-shirt will suffice. The cloth needs to be cut up into small squares and layered gently into the tin. Don’t cram it in, it needs to be gently put in with air between each of the pieces of fabric.

Put your cloth and char tin in the fire

The fire in which you put your char tin need not be a roaring inferno. Rather, it should be a either a gentle flame or the embers of the fire. Watch the char tin and you will see smoke begin to billow out of it – this is totally fine and what you want so don’t worry about it. Wait for the smoke to stop appearing from the hole at the top of tin, then remove it from the fire.

Whatever you do, don’t take the lid of straight away. This is because the tin will be red hot but also because opening it straight away might cause the air to rush in and to re-ignite the fire.

 Remove the lid from the tin

Remove the lid from your char tin and look at the cloth inside it. It should be completely black, soft and not too fragile. You should be able to take out each piece of cloth and shake it gently without it crumbling.

Light it up

Your char cloth should now be able to ignite as soon as any spark falls on it. Test it at home and then practice using it to light fires in different conditions. Remember though that even if you’re using char cloth you still need to build your fire properly – just because you’re using char cloth doesn’t mean that you can go straight in and start a fire using large thick or damp logs.

The best way to get started with friction fire lighting is by taking our one-day friction fire lighting course.
Click here for more information and to book your spot.   

Friction fire lighting from WIldway Bushcraft

 

Vaseline/cotton wool balls

Vaseline and cotton wool are a great tool for getting a fire going in the wind and rain. They are easy and inexpensive to make and can easily be made at home. Done correctly, vaseline and cotton wool balls should light with a single spark.

How to make vaseline/cotton wool balls

Vaseline and cotton wool balls are really easy to make. Simply get the cotton wool pads that are used for makeup removal and the like. Pull them apart so that the soft, fluffy, inside is accessible, scrunch them up into small balls. You can then either put these balls into your tinderbox as they are, along with a small tub of vaseline, such as you would use for chapped lips. When it comes to starting your fire you can smother them with vaseline, drop a spark on them and hey presto! Alternatively, you can smother them with vaseline before putting them in your tinder box.

The best way to get started with friction fire lighting is by taking our one-day friction fire lighting course.
Click here for more information and to book your spot.  

Friction fire lighting from WIldway Bushcraft

 

Tinderboxes

char cloth, fire, Steel striker and flint

In this section, we’re going to have a little look at tinderboxes, the history of them and what you should put in them.


A short history of the tinderbox

Until the invention of matches and their commonplace usage, the tinderbox was the primary method of fire lighting. This was true of fire lighting in the home as well as in the wild. The tinderbox would contain a fire steel, a striker, and tinder – which would typically be char cloth or a bundle of fibrous wood.


Preparing your tinderbox

Making up a tinderbox can be great fun and is key to fire lighting in adverse conditions. You should include char cloth, as we showed you earlier, and perhaps some cotton wool balls/ vaseline or fibrous bark – birch is always a good place to start. You’ll also need a fire steel and striker. Here, we’re great fans of  Swedish fire steel, in the video below we show you how to light a birch bark using a Swedish military fire steel and birch bark.

Watch our video and learn how to light a fire using birch bark

 

The best way to get started with friction fire lighting is by taking our one day friction fire lighting course.
Click here for more information and to book your spot.  

Friction fire lighting from WIldway Bushcraft

Practicing fire lighting at home 

Practice, as they say, makes perfect. When it comes to lighting a fire in the wind and rain out in the wild practice is essential. Practicing lighting fires close to the comfort of your home in adverse conditions will help when it comes to doing for real out in the wild.  This goes for friction fire lighting, which we covered earlier this month and fire lighting through using aids such as char cloth.


What to look forward to next month


Winter bushcraft skills

Next month we will be looking at bushcraft skills for the winter months including; how to read the weather, fire lighting in winter, foraging and plant identification and what to look out for when it comes to hypothermia.

Friction fire lighting from WIldway Bushcraft

Welcome to this week’s blog post. This week we’re taking an in-depth look at that most impressive tool for friction fire lighting – the bow drill. We will be teaching you about the history of the bow drill, the theory behind its use, the component parts of the bow drill and the woods you need to make it. We will also be taking a look at natural cordage, troubleshooting and the mental attitude that it takes to succeed when using the bow drill.

Remember, you can read the whole thing or skip straight to the part that interests you the most.


The best way to get started with friction fire lighting is by taking our one-day friction fire lighting course.
Click here for more information and to book your spo
t.
Friction fire lighting from WIldway Bushcraft

An introduction to the bow drill – history and mechanical advantage

Bow drills date back about as far as the history of human civilisation. It’s believed that they were used as far back as the 4th and 5th millennium and examples of drills were also found in parts of the Indus Valley Civilisation (around 3300 – 1900 BCE in Northwest South Asia). Bow drills, one of the earliest forms of friction fire lighting were also used by native Americans, Eskimos and aborigines ins Alaska and Northern Canada.

While other friction fire lighting methods, such as the fire plough, potentially date back even earlier the bow drill gives the user a major mechanical advantage – in that the cord used with the bow turns the drill, rather than the drill being turned by the user’s hands.

If you’re not yet familiar with the basics of the bow drill then have a quick look at our blog –  introduction to friction fire lighting.

Why the UK focus? 

With this blog, we’re focusing on making and using a bow drill in the UK – where we are based.  That means the woods and cordage that we’re looking at will be readily available in the UK.

If you would like to learn more about friction fire lighting then sign up to our one day course.
Click here for more information and to book.

Friction fire lighting from WIldway Bushcraft

 

The theory behind the bow drill

The theory behind the bow drill is similar to the theory behind all friction fire lighting methods.  That is, grinding two combustible materials together until the friction takes the material beyond its auto-ignition temperature – creating an ember which is then used to ignite timber.  

Making your bow drill – component parts and wood


In the section below we will teach you how to make a bow drill, covering the component parts, suitable woods (and how to identify them), how to carve the hearth, the drill, and the bearing block. We will also provide you with an introduction to using natural cordage.

The component parts of the bow drill

The bow drill is composed of four main parts – the drill, the hearth, the bow and the bearing block. Take a look at our blog on an introduction to friction fire lighting where we introduce you to these components. Don’t worry – we’ll cover them in more detail below.

https://www.wildwaybushcraft.co.uk/product/one-day-friction-fire-lighting-course/

The different parts of the bow drill.



The drill

The drill should be around 20cm in length and between 2cm and 3cm in diameter and as straight as possible. The end of the drill that will be in contact with the hearth needs to be carved into a blunt point; while the end that is in contact with the bearing block needs to be carved to a sharper point – this will help to reduce the friction between the drill and the bearing block.

The hearth

The hearth is essentially a rectangular block. It should be made of the same wood as the drill and about as thick as the diameter of the drill, around 40mm wide and 30cm long.

The bow

We will be looking at the cordage needed for the bow in more detail further on in this blog. The body of the bow itself can be made of any wood that you have at hand. Unlike the wood that you would make a hunting bow out of the wood for the bowdrill needs to have as little spring in it as possible.  It needs to be slightly curved and should measure the length of your fingertips to sternum.

The bearing block

Carve the bearing block so that it fits comfortably in your hand. It can be made of any wood that you have at hand, even a stone with an indent will do.

Suitable woods for your bow drill  

Choosing a suitable wood is key to success when it comes to using a bow drill. The woods listed below are not an exhaustive list but a small sample of those that might be suitable when practicing bow drill in the UK.

  • Elder
  • Field Maple
  • Willow
  • Hazel
  • Birch
  • Sycamore

Identifying suitable woods for your bow drill

Bushcraft is all about living with nature, not about surviving despite it. One of the key bushcraft skills that anyone can have is the ability to identify the surrounding flora and fauna. This is not an exhaustive guide but a brief run through of how to identify the trees listed above.  

If you would like to learn more about friction fire lighting then sign up to our one day course.
Click here for more information and to book.

Friction fire lighting from WIldway Bushcraft


A note on wood: don’t take live wood. Look for dead wood that hasn’t started to decay yet, it should break free from the tree with relative ease – no need to use a knife.


Elder (sambucus nigra)
 

Sambucus Nigra


Leaves are feather shaped with around  5 -7 miniature leaflets. The edge of each of these is serrated and there may be what feels like hairs on the underside. Bark, on the more mature trees, takes on a deeply furrowed and cork-like appearance.

Field Maple (Acer campestre)


Acer campestreNative to the UK Field Maple trees can grow to up to 2o metres and live for up to 350 years. A deciduous tree, the leaves of a field maple are small, dark green and shiny with five lobes and rounded teeth. These fade to yellow before dropping off in the autumn.  Their bark is light brown and flaky and becomes corky with age. The twigs are slender brown and in autumn have small grey leaf buds that grow on long stems.

Willows (Salices)

Salix fragilis

Willow (Salix singular or Salice plural for those of us who like Latin) is a varied and complex genus with many different species recognised.  The Salix fragilis crack willow (pictured) is one of Britain’s largest native willows. Mature trees grow to around 25 metres, the bark is dark brown and as it ages deep fissures appear. The leaves on mature trees are hairless and shiny on the top, catkins will appear before the leaves.  

Hazel (Corylus avellana)


Native to the UK, Hazel is one of the most useful trees out there for bushcraft. In ancient mythology, a hazel rod is supposed to protect against evil spirits and the tree itself was, in medieval times, considered a symbol of fertility.  Male and female leaves live on the same tree, yellow male catkins appear around February before the leaves do. Hazel is often confused with Elm, however,  the leaves of hazel are soft to the touch – while elm leaves are roughly hairy.  

Birch – Silver Birch (Betula pendula)

Betula pendula

There are many types of Birch trees in the UK, one of the most useful in terms of bushcraft is the Silver Birch (Betula pendula). Mature trees can reach 30 metres in height, the bark is a white/silver colour and the leaves are small and triangular with a tooth edge – these are typically green but fade to yellow in the autumn.  

Sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus)

Acer pseudoplatanus

The sycamore is a non-native species to the UK. Though having been introduced at some point in the middle ages it is now naturalised. Mature trees can grow to around 35 metres and their lifespan can stretch to 400 years. The bark on mature trees becomes cracked and forms plates when it ages. On younger trees the bark is pinkish/grey and smooth to the touch.

Making your bow drill – carving

This next section is going to talk about how to carve a bow drill. Remember though that practice makes perfect – so keep trying even if it doesn’t work the first time around.

If you would like to learn more about friction fire lighting then sign up to our one day course.
Click here for more information and to book.

Friction fire lighting from WIldway Bushcraft

 

Carving the drill

When carving the drill piece of your set be sure to start with the straightest piece of wood that you can possibly find.  It should be around 2-3cm in diameter and around 20 cm long. The end that will be in contact with the hearth should be carved into a blunt point while the end that will be in contact with the bearing block should be carved into a narrower point (though not too sharp).

Carving the hearth

Square off three of the four sides to form a rectangle around 4 cm wide and 5mm thick. Narrow a depression into the hearth in the centre of the blog then, using the bow, wear down this depression into a smooth bore then cut a V shape extending towards and over the edge of the hearth.

Carving the bearing block

The bearing block should fit comfortably in your hand with a notch in which the top of the drill will sit.

Making the bow

The bow can, unlike the drill and the bearing block be made of any wood. It need not be springy, like an archery bow, but should be slightly curved.

Types of cordage

Cordage is key when it comes to your bow drill, earlier this month we looked at making a bow drill using paracord but today we’re going to look at using natural cordage.

An introduction to natural cordage


Natural cordage is, of course, the way that the bow drill would be have been used by people in primitive times.


Natural cordage from plants

Plants can be used for natural cordage with the bow drill. In the UK the stems of nettles can be used but creating cordage from nettles can be really rather labour intensive. However, making natural cordage from nettles can also be a rewarding experience. To learn more about how to make natural cordage have a look at our blog here . 

Natural cordage from animals

Sinew is one of the strongest natural cordages available. The tendon sinews of game that you’ve trapped or hunted, of course only in a survival situation, are are the most apt source of natural cordage. The sinew will need to be dried and prepared before it is ready for use. To learn more about natural cordage why not come on our weekend bushcraft course – click here for more information.  

Using your bow drill

Using your bow drill takes a lot of effort, both physical and mental but succeeding with it is highly rewarding. Here are a few tips to help you along your way.

Prepare your fire first 

Fire lighting with a bow drill should be approached in the same way as fire lighting with sparks. You need to prepare your tinder and kindling with the utmost care.


If you would like to learn more about friction fire lighting then sign up to our one day course.
Click here for more information and to book.

Friction fire lighting from WIldway Bushcraft


Troubleshooting

Making fire by friction takes a lot of time and a lot of practice, one of the best ways to learn how to make fire by friction is to get help from an expert instructor but if you want more advice read our blog on bow drill troubleshooting.


Mental attitude towards friction fire lighting

Friction fire lighting is not easy; maintaining a positive and strong mental attitude is key to success – this is particularly true when trying to light a fire by friction in the wet weather.  

 

Getting children involved with friction fire lighting

Friction fire lighting is a great way to get children started with bushcraft. While it might be a bit much to expect children to succeed with friction fire lighting from the off (or for anyone to do so for that matter) it can be a good way to show them elementary elements of friction fire lighting. For example, you could introduce children to tree and plant identification, cordage selection and even morals around trapping and skinning animals.

 

If you would like to learn more about friction fire lighting then sign up to our one day course.
Click here for more information and to book.

Friction fire lighting from WIldway Bushcraft

Friction fire lighting might be one of the most important bushcraft skills. Along with shelter building and the ability to source food and water, friction fire lighting is one of the basic building blogs to not only survival but also living comfortably in the woods.

The best way to learn friction fire lighting is to sign-up for a course with an experienced bushcraft instructor. Wildway Bushcraft offers a one-day friction fire lighting course – we run these courses whenever you like – just get in touch and let us know when suits you. Find out more information here.

In this blog, we introduce you to friction fire lighting, provide a brief history of this age-old skills, teach you some tips for identifying suitable woods and how to get children involved in friction fire lighting. Feel free to read the whole blog or skip to the section that interests you the most.



Friction fire lighting from WIldway Bushcraft

Friction Fire lighting the origin of civilisation

Friction fire lighting is nearly as old as humankind. Fire gave us the origin of our civilisation, evidence of deliberate exploitations of areas for fires dating back nearly 1.5 million years have been found in Africa, there are even suggestions that friction fire lighting could go back to an earlier date than this.

Two types of friction fire lighting techniques

Essentially, there are two types of friction fire drills, that is the bow drill and the hand drill. We will be looking at the bow drill in more detail later this month, so keep your eyes open for that blog post. In it, we will show you how to source wood, carve it into the shape that you want and it will even take a look at using natural cordage.


If you would like to 
learn more about friction fire lighting sign up to our one day course.

Friction fire lighting from WIldway Bushcraft

 

 

What’s the difference between the hand drill and the bow drill

The bow drill is, as the name suggests, a technique of friction fire lighting which involves  ‘drilling’ one piece of wood into another by means of spinning it using a ‘bow’. A hand drill, again as the name would suggest, involves using your hands (as opposed to the mechanical advantage of the bow) to drill one piece of wood into another.

 

Woods for friction fire lighting

Friction fire lighting begins and ends with choosing the correct woods. Choosing an unsuitable wood will mean that your efforts are doomed to failure before they’ve even begun. In the sections below we look at suitable woods for the bow drill and the hand drill.

Woods for bow drill

In this blog, we’re only going to be focusing on European woods. The best ones for bow drills are;

Elder
Field Maple
Willow
Hazel
Oak
Popular
Yew
Sycamore  

(this is not an exhaustive list and there are lots of other woods that could be suitable for making a bow drill).

It’s important not to use green wood when making your bow drill, these are too wet and won’t help you to produce heat. Ideally, you need dead wood that has not yet started to decay.

 

Oak tree for friction fire lightiing

Oak makes a good wood for friction fire lighting

 


Woods for hand drill

The following European woods are suitable for making a hand drill. Experiment with different combinations and see what works for you and of course, what is available in the environment in which you’re practicing.

Elder
Juniper
Pussy willow
Sycamore

Juniper for friction fire lighting

Juniper makes a good wood for hand drills

Getting started with the bow drill

Remember, practice makes perfect. One of the best ways of getting started or even perfecting your technique is to take part in a friction fire lighting course.

                                      Take part in our one-day friction fire lighting course – find out more here and start making fire by friction.

Friction fire lighting from WIldway Bushcraft

Anatomy of the bow drill

Not including the bark slab on which to collect the embers the bow drill is essentially composed of four main parts – the bearing block, the drill, the bow and the hearth.

https://www.wildwaybushcraft.co.uk/product/one-day-friction-fire-lighting-course/ 


The hearth and the drill should be carved from the woods that we’ve discussed above, the bow and bearing block can be made of any wood that you want to use.


The drill

The drill should be as straight as possible and ideally be between 2cm and 3cm in diameter and 20cm or so in length. The end that is making contact with the hearth e.g. the end that is creating friction needs to be a blunt point in order to maximise contact. The other end of the drill e.g. the end that is in contact with the bearing block needs to be carved into a sharp point – this will help it to reduce the friction against the bearing blog, making it easier for you.

The hearth

The hearth is essentially a rectangular block made of the same wood as the drill. It needs to be about 5mm thick, 40mm wide and a minimum of 30 cm long.

The bow

The bow can be made of any wood that you have at hand. It shouldn’t have much spring in it, and should be a bit longer than the length of your arm. For the purposes of this blog we’re going to assume that you’re using paracord – but we will be looking at natural cordage in next week’s blog so stay tuned.

The bearing block

The bearing block needs to be carved to fit comfortably in your hand. As with the bow it can be made of any wood that you have at hand. Carve a small depression in it for the pointed end of the drill that we discussed earlier.

Preparing your bow drill set

The next step is preparing the hearth board. Carve a small depression into the board about 4cm from the end (it doesn’t matter which end). Using the drill (see the photo at the start of this section) rotate the drill until the depression that you have recently carved begins smoking.

Carving the notch

The next step is critical to success. Cutting a notch in the hearth enables the hot dust that you are creating in the depression of the hearth to gather and collect in one place. The notch should be a basic V shape, extending from the outside of the board to the depression.  Place a piece of bark under the notch, allow the embers to collect there and then you’re ready to ignite your tinder.

If you’re having trouble getting an ember with your bow drill then read our blog on troubleshooting your bow drill technique.

 

Getting started with the hand drill

As with the bow drill, practice makes perfect for the hand drill. One of the best ways of getting started or to perfect your technique is to join us on our one day friction fire lighting course.


Join us on our one-day friction fire lighting course – click here.

Friction fire lighting from WIldway Bushcraft

 

The hand drill works on the same principles as the bow drill e.g. with friction. While the hand drill is easier to make than the bow drill,  it does lack  mechanical advantage and therefore is harder to master.


The drill

The length and width of your drill will come down to personal preference, experience and the type of wood that you are using. The drill should be around 40 cm to 75 cm long with a diameter somewhere between 9mm and 13mm. The drill, whatever the length, needs to be as straight as possible.


The hearth

The hearth should be made of one of the woods that we identified earlier in this blog. It should be made in a similar fashion to the hearth of the bow drill but made slightly shorter. Ideally, the hearth shouldn’t be too thick, around 1.5 cm should be enough.


The theory

Spin the drill between your hands applying a downward pressure into the hearth. As the smoke appears, increase the speed with which you are rotating the drill until you have produced a small ember.


If you want to learn more about friction fire lighting sign up to our one day course.

Friction fire lighting from WIldway Bushcraft

 

How to practice at home

A garden then it is a great place to practice friction fire lighting before heading out into the woods. When walking, look for suitable materials – practice carving them into the correct shape and applying the techniques at home.

Children and friction fire lighting

Friction fire lighting is a fun way to introduce children to more advanced elements of bushcraft. This does’nt mean that children have to make their own bow drills but you can start by introducing them to the appropriate trees.

 

 

Learn more about friction fire lighting – sign up for our one day course here.

Friction fire lighting from WIldway Bushcraft

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

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.

 


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