Posted by: highmountainmuse | January 6, 2009

To build a…

Fire.  It is one of the most essential survival skills for living in the high mountains.  We rely on fire in our cabin, at camp, and for emergency survival anywhere, any time.


Our dependency on fire for us is primarily for warmth, so essential it is for survival in this cold environment, even during the summer months.  We also rely on it for cooking (both on our wood cook stove, and at camp on the open fire), relaxation/entertainment (i.e.- sitting around the campfire), and for emergency signal (though an important skill here, we are lucky to have not needed it for this purpose yet!). 


There are many fun and fancy tools for starting a fire.  Try them all, get comfortable with the different ways and means.  I highly recommend everyone goes out and plays “boy scout” by practicing building a fire from a variety of primitive and alternative means.  Try batteries and steel wool, or the magnifying glass and sunlight trick, or those nifty magnesium/steel kits, or any number of the many fire starting products on the market. I’ve even had a guest make for me a beautiful wood tool you twist and rub against another block of wood to create a spark.  And I suppose, rubbing two stick may work, too.  I’ve never had any luck with that one.


But at the end of day, a tool is only as good as your ability to use it, so just use what you are comfortable with.  Know how to use it, and make sure you have it.  Will you find the flint stone when the snow if 4 feet deep?  Or do you carry a magnesium rod on you at all times?  Or will the materials all be handy when you’re trying to assemble your battery sparker?


Maybe not.


But we have to be prepared.  And we are. I guess I look at heading out without a fire kit as foolish and irresponsible of us as it might be for someone in town to head out without their wallet.  You just don’t do it.  You may not need to use it, but who wants to find out the hard way?  In our case, it could too easily cost us our life.


Like with so many other things in our lifestyle, we do all we can to keep it simple.  A fire kit need not be expensive, primitive, difficult or fancy.  More often than not, our fire kits contain a couple pieces of folded up newspaper, a small candle, and strike anywhere matches in a little ziplock bag.  Bottom line is that it doesn’t matter what is in the kit, as long as you have one with you, and as long as you know how to use it!


This simple kit is what works for us.  Play around with all the varieties of ways and means to start a fire under cold, wet, stormy conditions, and just use what works for you.  But make sure you know how to do it, it’s simple, and you have it with you. We have them strapped to snowmobiles, stuffed into saddle bags, tucked into back packs and fanny packs, and readily available on motorbikes and pick up trucks.  They have to be on us, near us, and handy.  More often than not, there are several around to choose from wherever we are, so if one happens to get lost, ruined or wet, there is a back up close at hand.


We had arrived at camp on a pack trip a few years ago.  My job, as soon as the horses are tended to, is to get the fire going and start cooking.  Everyone, by this time, is ravenous and exhausted.  Quickly, I snapped off dry kindling, crumpled some newspaper, and struck a match.  Vhoooom! The fire blazed right up, and in no time I’d be cooking!  One of my guests looked at me most disappointed.  Why didn’t I use one of the more primitive means?  Well, I asked her, how long did she want to wait to eat? If I’m cold and hungry, and have a group of guests who are also cold and hungry that I am expected to feed, I don’t wait for fun.  I go for practical.  After seeing her and all the guests be grateful for the hot soup that shortly followed, and then later remain gathered around the camp fire until way past dark, talking and enjoying the warmth and relaxation, I think she forgave me for being so simple!


Whatever your choice for materials and method, just be comfortable with what you have.  Know how to start a fire.  Practice in the snow and in the rain.  Chances are, that’s when you’ll need them most.  Don’t wait for an emergency to figure it out and see if you can do it.




  1. Gin – never thought about the need for a fire kit but can see it is a necessity in many areas.

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