Saturday, December 12, 2009

Cold Weather Survival: Firestarting & Tinderbox

Winter has officially arrived in Minnesota. I just had an educational CCDC/CERT training session on cold water survival and hypothermia response.

A few ice safety take-aways:

Ice is never safe because of springs and fish activity. It's not necessarily a uniform consistency all over, so depth of ice varies.

Wear a PFD if you go out on the water.

Slush is always a bad sign. NEVER drive a car or truck out on the ice.

Snow mobiles actually exert less pressure per square inch on the ground than a human being. I think this is also true for a person wearing skis.

If someone is suffering from hypothermia, be sure to warm them up slowly. Getting them too warm too fast can result in cold blood shocking the heart and stopping it.

Carry a rope in your car to throw to people who've broken through the ice. (A small weight on one end with a hand loop is great too.)

Never go out on broke ice to "rescue" someone unless you've special training. You'll end up in the drink yourself.

If you don't have a rope, a ladder also works.


Another piece of advice the speaker offered offered was to carry some firestarter.

I'm not good at starting fires, so I struggle with this issue.

Kit Up has an excellent discussion of firestarting titled Lord of the Flame.

This is my current approach:

I use an empty vitamin bottle as a tinderbox. I added some cotton balls (with a dab of vaseline each) to the bottle. I then taped it to a plastic wallet on a lanyard.

The wallet is reinforced with duct tape. Duct tape is handy in an emergency, after all.

The wallet has a lighter, a multi-tool & Swedish Fire Steel in it. See Gear Junkie for a description of Swedish Firesteel.

A plain cigarette lighter at least has a piece of steel and tinder. I like the FireSteel as a backup, but I'm a safety geek...

Add some tinder (dryer lint, fat wood, twigs, grass, paper, char...) and you've a fire making pouch, aka tinderbox. A small candle rocks for light and heat generation. Tea lights, votive candles, candles also come in tins...

The duct tape on my fire making pouch is safety orange, so it's easy for me to find and retain my tinderbox.

Magnesium sticks sound good in theory, but I'm hesitant to use a knife so close to my fingers when I'm freezing to death. The bits of magnesium dust also blow away easily and it's not easy to get the spark strip to work when it's below freezing. (This I've tried.)

Here's a proposition that I've considered, but I would welcome feedback.

Starting a fire is difficult, especially in a strong wind.

In a life or death situation (with the wind blowing 50 mph), you could attach your tinder to a strip of duct tape to hold it in place long enough to get a spark on it. Otherwise tinder is easily blown away.

The downside to the duct tape method is burning a small piece of plastic in the duct tape, which is bad for the environment.

Other suggestions for a tinder box?

|Cross-Posted at Safety Neal's Civil Defense Blog|

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