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The City Slicker’s Guide to Bushcraft Methods: Fire and Water

Drinking water

Making fire and sanitizing water are perhaps your most important skills to utilize in the wild.  Coming straight out of the U.S. Army Field Manual 21-76, your survival depends upon the “rule of 3’s.”

You can survive three minutes without air (this shouldn’t be a problem in the woods, as oxygen is rather abundant).  You can survive for three hours in the cold without shelter.  You can survive for three days without water.  Finally, you can survive for three weeks without food.

Keeping this “rule of 3’s” in mind will help you know how you need to live in the wild.  As you’ll quickly see, fire and water are your two most important and most immediate needs above all others.


Making fire is rather easy if you have a lighter; however, lighters will eventually run out of fuel.  So, how can you ensure that you will always have fire?  You should know several methods in order to preserve your ability to make the next fire.

We are going to show you one way of making sure that you always have fire, but please keep in mind that you should know several primitive methods and several surefire methods, just incase.

The surefire method is by using a ferro-rod, or a rod composed of ferrocerium.  These can be bought in any camp store, and they are widely available and cheap.

A dry cotton ball will often light on one strike from the ferro-rod, and coating the cotton ball in petroleum jelly will slow the burn rate, which will keep it lit for around three minutes.

Your firewood setup is crucial to building your fire.  What you need is a big handful of small twigs that are no larger than the size of a pencil lead.  Then, secure twigs that are pencil-thick.  After that, find sticks that are thumb-thick, and then you can work on larger wood for sustaining the fire.  Also, you should acquire a piece of bark that is roughly the size of your fire. The reason for the bark is that the ground is almost always cold and wet, hurting your tinder’s ability to stay hot enough for combustion.  The bark will keep it dry while you get the fire started.

It Is Safe, Will Burn On Snow, In Rain & In 30 MPH Winds, All Natural Fuel…

Lay a thumb-thick stick across the bark, and then place the cotton ball on the platform.  Strike sparks from your ferro-rod on the cotton until it lights.  Then, add your pencil-lead-thick sticks on top of the cotton, laying them across the thumb-thick stick.  Now, as we mentioned in the last series, your fire needs oxygen, fuel, and heat.  So, if it looks like the burning cotton is being suffocated by the twigs, then lift up the thumb-thick stick, allowing it to breathe.  It shouldn’t take long for even damp twigs to ignite (especially if you picked your sticks that were suspended off the ground).  The time from ferro-rod strike to a sustainable fire should be no more than five minutes.

As we mentioned, you should know primitive fire methods, so that you can continue to make fire, even if you don’t have a lighter or a ferro-rod.  One of the most common primitive methods is called the bow-drill, which has been in use for over 2,000 years. Also, consider taking along a flint and steel kit.  These methods will require practice, but you can use them in the event that you’ve lost access to your primary fire kit.

If you’ve taken one lesson from this article: always, always, always secure a way to make fire.  Knowing several primitive and sure ways to make fire will add to your security and peace of mind.  Double and triple-up on your fire supplies, as you will soon be happy you have done so.


Ideally you will have some sort of portable filter with you, but if yours becomes lost or damaged, you need to have another option. Luckily, this aspect of bushcraft is actually far simpler than most survivalists make it out to be. According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), boiling your water will kill 100 percent of all those nasties that could be lurking in the water you intend to drink.

Now, if you can’t find a small stream with moving water, then you might end up with lots of grit, which can make the water terrible to the taste.  So, a great way to remedy that situation is to utilize the water table as your own personal water filtration device.  Simply start digging a hole about five to six feet from the water source.  Once you’ve struck the water table, keep digging a little further in order to fit your container.  Wait a few minutes in order for the sediment to settle, and the water should be clear enough to drink.  Keep in mind; this will not filter out microorganisms, so you should still boil your water for a few minutes to sanitize it.  So be sure and boil your water before you drink it, no matter how thirsty you are.

Also, you can even use charcoal, sand, a bandana, and a two-liter bottle for an excellent water filter in the bush.  Charcoal has been used as a filtration device for several millennia (since roughly 2000 B.C.) and is still used today.  A charcoal filter is basically the primitive form of a carbon filter, which is what is used in many modern and almost all hiker/camper filters.  Essentially, the filter uses chemical absorption in order to siphon materials from the water, and this can be reproduced in the wild. Again, it is still best to boil your water to ensure that no harmful microorganisms survived.

Something important to remember: Boiling your water will not remove harmful chemicals and heavy metals, but it will kill 100 percent of harmful organisms in your water. That is why both steps—filtering and boiling—are necessary. You may be able to get by without filtering the sediment, toxins, and hard metals from your water, but one mouthful of contaminated water, and you could end up in the hospital.

Now, if you do own a hiker filter or iodine tablets, these will save you time and energy.  Nevertheless, it is important to be able to boil your water in the event that you lose them, or the filter and tablets have been exhausted.

A final thought: If you were to accidentally damage or lose your metal cup or bottle, you can actually make bowls in the wild from logs.  This takes an obscene amount of time however, so you might want to make these before you run into a problem. Obviously, placing your wooden bowl over the fire to boil the water is out of the question, but you can heat clean rocks and place them in the bowl, bringing the water to a boil.

The moment you think you’re out of options, the wild provides a way.  The wild may be dangerous, but it is also generous.

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