Carry Three Ways to Make Fire

Death Valley
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Four wheelers know it’s critical to be prepared when they go off road. One area that sometimes gets taken for granted is the ability to start fires. We just assume that a book of matches or lighter will be handy when needed.

That’s usually the case while in camp or in the vehicle. But what happens when you’re alone in the wild? Could you start a fire if you had to? Hikers, campers and just plain vacationers occasionally get lost and find themselves in a dangerous situation. It may never happen to you, but it’s always good to be prepared.

I suggest you always carry three forms of fire-starting methods on you along with some tinder, and practice with them throughout the year. Why three methods? Redundancy, as NASA will tell you, is good. In fact, it could save your life. By carrying three forms of fire-starting material, you essentially eliminate the possibility of not being able to at least create a spark. (You still need tinder and a supply of fuel.)

The importance of fire-building capability can’t be understated. Fire can be used to:
  1. provide heat
  2. cook and preserve food
  3. purify water & sterilize wound dressings
  4. act as a signaling device

As important as the uses of fire listed above are perhaps the most important use is for comfort and companionship. Humans have been staring into a fire forever during long nights. A fire helps maintain a positive mental attitude and chase away boredom, loneliness and fear.

A fire could literally save your life. Granted, only a tiny number of people get caught in survival situations each year. But those incidents can occur in many areas and in any climate.

Mini Light My Fire Swedish firesteel - 1500 strikes Light My Fire Swedish Firesteel
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There are several methods to start a fire that we all can master without resorting to primitive methods like a bow drill. They include:
  1. Butane lighter
  2. Matches (kept in a waterproof case)
  3. Magnesium bar with built in flint and your knife. I like Doan Magnesium Starters because of the quality. There are other metal bars out there; look for pure magnesium. The magnesium burns quickly, so make sure the magnesium powder is on top of your tinder. Add a short piece of a hacksaw blade on the chain on the bar so you always have a scraper/striker even if you lose your knife.
  4. Light My Fire Swedish Firesteel. This is a manufactured magnesium fire stick that produces an incredible spark. It includes the stainless striker tools you need to create a spark. There are several sizes. I like the smallest one, because I can carry it in my pocket. (The size determines the ultimate number of strikes - from 1,500 to 12,000.) The manufacturer claims it creates sparks in any weather and at any altitude.
It’s also a good idea to carry tinder. Then you don’t need to go scrounging for tinder, which naturally will be damp during wet weather. There are numerous commercially available products. Many are well engineered to catch a spark and fire up quickly. A small package of 5 or 6 is only a few dollars. If they are compressed, pull one end apart or use a rock to break up the fibers. You might even be able to reuse one if you can transfer the fire to your kindling and extinguish it before it is all gone.

Fire balls Ready to make some cotton fire balls.
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My favorite homemade tinder is cotton balls smeared with a dab of Vaseline. These catch a spark in most conditions, and the Vaseline provides a sustained burn which is needed to start larger tinder. Don’t overdo the Vaseline. Some cotton fibers are needed to catch the spark.

Make up about a half dozen cotton balls and pack them in a little container. 35 mm film canisters are perfect, if you can find any. You can also use pill or aspirin bottles; many outdoor stores sells small plastic bottles that work as well.

Other ways to start a fire include:

- Steel wool and a battery. Fine grade (00) steel wool and a D cell work nicely. If you don’t have a D cell, try two AA batteries. You’ll drain the battery rather quickly. Assume one shot with a AA battery and maybe a couple tries on a D cell.

- Magnifying glass - Easy to slip into a pocket. You need sun, however.

Whatever methods you choose, make sure you practice them several times a year and under various conditions. Don’t wait until disaster hits. Between your emotional state and the weather conditions, you’ll have a heck of a time making it work.

Carry your three fire starters and tinder in your pocket. While you may have extras in your vehicle, backpack and tent, you need to keep these tools on your person. You could be separated from your vehicle, backpack and even fanny pack. Tuck your materials in a pants or shirt pocket each time you step outdoors.

Remember to replenish any supplies you use. Also, add a category on your preparation checklist http://www.4x4training.com/Articles/Camping/Checklist.html for “pocket fire starter.” That will remind you to add this important outdoor gear each time.

Going forward, you will always be prepared to start a fire if need be.

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Lower Desert
Mojave Desert
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Related Articles from Badlands Off-road Adventures

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Some Upcoming Events

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Lone Pine Visitor Center
Lone Pine Visitor Center
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Here is a quick summary of upcoming events.
  1. March 21 Death Valley National Park Expedition:
  2. March 29 Off-Road Driving Sand and Dunes:
  3. March 30 Tire Repair & Hi-Lift Mini Clinic - Pismo

  4. April 05 Getting Started Off-Road - LA area:
  5. April 06 Day 2 Getting Started Off-Road Clinic- Mojave:
  6. April 07 Tire Repair & Hi-Lift Mini Clinic - Mojave
  7. April 26 Getting Started Off-Road - San Diego area:
  8. April 27 Day 2 Getting Started Off-Road Clinic- San Diego area:
  9. April 30 Guide Book Exporation:


Death Valley March 21-24

Death Valley

This is a 4 day trip on the back roads in Death Valley. We will drive the Panamint Mountains, drive past Badwater Basin (lowest spot in North America), visit Chloride Ghost town, Titus Canyon, check out Ubehebe Crater, Teakettle junction, The Race Track & Lippencott Mine Road, camp at the Warm Springs and leave via Steal Pass up to the high meadows, then take Dedeckera Canyon down to the Eureka Sand Dunes. All four days will see some light to moderate 4-wheeling. Much of the trip is quite remote with random or no cell service. We don't plan to stop at tourist sights you can get to in a passenger car.
Check out the details and sign up on the website: http://www.4x4training.com/Adventures/Deathvalley.html
August 2013 Off-Road Adventures Magazine: Death Valley Excursion by Denis Snow

You can register directly at http://www.4x4training.com/calendar/calendar.php#Deathvalley


Guide Book Exploration April 30- May 4

Wheeler Crest

The plan is to select one of the many Guide books and do a number of the trails it describes. Most guide books are regional in nature. That allows us to link multiple trails together while reducing the amount of time on the highway. We can do mountain regions in the summer and desert regions in the winter.
Check out the details and sign up on the website: Guide Book Exploration

You can register directly at by clicking here.


Sand Clinic March 29, 2014

Sand Clinic
If you have been waiting for the next Sand Driving Clinic, put it on your calendar for March 29th and sign up now. This day-long clinic will expose you to a variety of driving conditions and levels of difficulty. Driving on sand is challenging and different than dirt, so we’ll progress slowly as you learn the proper techniques. As your confidence grows, you will master increasingly more challenging dunes. Along the way you will be exposed to the beauty of SVRA and the thrill of the windswept dunes. This is a rare opportunity to cruise the only beach in California open to vehicles.
More details...

Register for the Sand Clinic using this link.


Tire Repair & Hi-Lift Mini Clinic March 30, 2014

Plug a tire?

The March 30th clinic will be held near Pismo, CA. This 3 hour clinic will provide you with the knowledge and skills to repair the most common tire problems and to use a Hi-lift jack safely to aid you in the process. To drive confidently off-road learn how to:
  • Fix a bead
  • Plug a puncture
  • Break a bead
  • Replace a valve stem

You can find out more details on line at Tire Repair & Hi-Lift Mini Clinic:.

And register on line at http://4x4training.com/calendar/calendar.php#TireRepair.

Winch Recovery Bandana & Winching DVD

Winching Recover Bandana
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We have our new stock with many new colors (Red, Orange, Green, and Blue) on hand. The Bandana is packed full of useful information and is a quick reference in the field when no DVD player is available."

The Bandana layout follows the “Vehicle Recovery Plan” with pathways to more detail. A unique section of the Bandana, gives the steps for a “Winch Rigging Check: Walk through” so that you verify every element of the rigging before you commit to the pull. Stuff this in your recovery kit and you will always be ready!

Pick up or order the Winching DVD too! There is no substitute for hands on training. If you can, sign up for one of Badlands Off-Road Adventure’s Winching Clinics.

Warning – the Bandana and DVD are not a substitute for proper training and use of quality equipment that is used within the bounds of their safe working load. We advise you to use the information provided in both the Winching Recovery Bandana and the "Basic to Advanced Winching and Recovery DVD" at your own risk. We cannot control the quality and specifications of the equipment used and the methods actually employed.

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Order a Basic to Advanced Winching & Recovery DVD too!

Winch DVD
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I hope to see you on the trails!
Tom Severin, President
Badlands Off Road Adventures, Inc.
4-Wheel Drive School
Make it Fun. Keep it Safe.
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