Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Moisture - A Serious Enemy

We all know that moisture in cold weather situations can cause discomfort and even hypothermia.

However moisture can effect the most primal task in a winter survival emergency - Starting Fire.

Your ability to start and maintain fire could be the difference between you surviving or dying.  Therefore you should be aware that mother nature and the moisture she produces in the winter months could cause great difficulty in your ability to collect suitable dry tinder, good kindling and even burnable larger fuel.

In the summer months we find ample sources of tinder in the form of dried grasses, milkweed, cattail, mosses and other great accelerants.  The winter months however make locating these same natural tinders very difficult.  If you do find them they have been exposed to fall rains and winter freeze.  If you are successful in collecting them you will immediately feel the moisture and experience their stubbornness in lighting.

As we all know, if you don't have quality tinder you will not light your kindling.  If you can't light your kindling, you can't burn your larger fuel.  Obviously you will have no fire.

Without attempting to describe weather systems it is common knowledge that in the winter months the change between high and low pressure systems bring various types of precipitation and changes in extreme temperatures.  All of these changes bring moisture that saturates the trees, grasses, mosses and air that surrounds us.

We have all seen that in the summer and fall months we are often reminded of fire restrictions.  If you live in Eastern Ontario surrounded by red and white pine you will have experienced a spreading brush fire that can eat up an entire area of forest in moments.

However in the winter we can enjoy a large warming fire in the same location with very little risk of fire.  In our courses we teach the use of the "Roman Candle" as an emergency smoke signal to aid in rescue.  The Roman Candle is when you light the peeling bark paper on a silver, grey or yellow birch tree that causes the entire bark of the tree to become engulfed in flames that produce a large amount of smoke.  We would never think of doing such a thing in the summer months.

While working on my bow drill fire kit I experienced the effects of moisture first hand.  The fire board and drill I was using had produced many coals and was my go to kit.  Yet as the smoked rolled I was not successful in 6 attempts due to the moisture that flowed near ground level.

So moisture has pros and cons.  If you are not aware of them they could haunt you in a survival emergency.  Be sure to carry a Ziploc bag filled with summer tinder.  It takes up very little space in your pack but could mean the difference between obtaining a fire or not obtaining a fire in a winter survival emergency.

Don't underestimate mother nature and her ability to make things very difficult.  Don't chance it - Be prepared !

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