Friday, December 20, 2013

A Great Emergency Bush Stove

We here at BTF love the opportunity to test out products that either claim to be geared for survival or products that could be used for survival. We like to test them to their breaking point to determine whether those products are truly capable of saving your life in a winter survival emergency. There is a major difference between camping gear and survival gear. Make no mistake - Survival is the difference between life and death. Therefor the right gear is very important. 

The other day while wandering through the local Canadian Tire I spotted a product that peeked my interest. I had seen them before however had never thought of testing them. I took a moment and picked the product up and was immediately engaged with the packaging claims. So for $8.99 I thought it was well worth the risk. 

The product is the Magic Heat Stove. A product that considers itself great for everything from Tailgate Cooking to Natural Disasters.  It claims it will provide 6 hours of heat and is safe to hold,  safe to use with no evaporating fuel. It also claims to be better than gel fuels. The pictures show the Magic Heat Stove cooking a stir fry and heating a Haybox. 

What intrigue me about this product was its lightweight, portability and obvious simplicity. The system runs with a small fuel canister with a screw top covering a soaked wick. Together with a small tin wind shield and steel cross members as the burner top. These 3 items put together make a simple looking bush stove. 

However, products are not often tested to their breaking point by folks like us. So yesterday I had the opportunity to be on the Bat Lake Trail in Algonquin Park for a training day.  With a few minutes to kill I prepped a small area off the trail to test. I lit the Magic Stove and constructed the burner setup. I then took out my survival tin from my pack and packed it full with the fresh snow. 

As most of you are aware, hydration is so vital to your survival. Therefor the ability to turn snow into water and bring it to a boil could be the difference between living or dying. 

Within 15 minutes I was pleasantly surprised to see the melted snow boiling as clean water.  It was a strong rolling boiling capable of sustaining the snow melting process to produce a great amount of drinking water. 

For the 2nd portion of the test I dismantled the 3 parts and buried them in the snow and carried on with the snowshoeing we were there to do. Approx. 1 hour later I returned and constructed the stove again. I then lit the wick with no issues at all. This was a great test to determine how the product would work when frozen and wet. 

Another great reason to have this product is amount of heat it produces quickly. If you've been submerged in ice cold water you have very little time to screw around before you'll find your fine motor skills disappear. This stove allows for quick easy lighting and can rewarm your hands to allow you to function 

This is another product that I will now carry with me. The simplicity and reliability is worth well more than $8.99. Go out and get one. 

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Winter Wonderland or Winter Emergency

Although its only the first day of December a quick glance outside here in Eastern Ontario reveals mid January type conditions. The roads are snow covered, the bush is deep with snow and the trees are heavy with the white stuff. 

For those who love this time of year and all of its outdoor activities this early arrival of winter is an exciting time. With that excitement comes a danger that is often overlooked. Unfortunately most winter enthusiasts are heading outside ill prepared for a winter emergency. 

Whether you are heading out on the snowmobile for the first time or strapping on the snowshoes to enjoy the powder you must be prepared. Here at Beyond the Fire School of Survival we always say "Prepare Today... Survive Tomorrow" and we live by this mindset.  If you escape to the great outdoors prepared for anything rarely will you find yourself in an emergency. If you venture out ill prepared for the dangers of winter adventure than you run a very real risk of suffering a scary fate. 

Regardless of your choice of adventure here is a list of kit you should have with you whether your intent is a quick trip on the sled or a half day hike in the back country. 

  • First Aid supplies
  • Matches, lighter, candle
  • Headlamp with new batteries
  • Spare socks, hat, gloves
  • Folding draw saw
  • Granola bar
  • Water
This list could go on and on however the larger the list the less likely people would carry it. This list is realistic and could save your life. Remember our Circle of Survival poster. Each of these items fulfills a need on that Circle. This list is light weight and easy to carry. 

As we enjoy the beauty of the Canadian winter we must respect its ruggedness and ability to test or knowledge, skills and abilities.  Never explore without the necessary tools to survive in the event that Mother Nature decides to unload her furry. 

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Don't ever pass by these two items !

Often times while we are travelling through the bush enjoying our favourite outdoor passion we forget to pause and take stock of what surrounds us.  Mother nature provides us with everything we could ever need to survive whether it be fire, shelter, water, food, signalling or first aid. 

On a recent hike through the bush I was reminded of the materials I love to use while creating fire through primitive means. However, these same items are also the same items I keep in a ziplock bag in every bag I carry into the bush whether on a Search and Rescue, canoe trip, winter survival course or just a hike with my boys. 

So as I paused to enjoy the natural growth of these life saving materials I realized they deserved a blog post. 

The 1st material is commonly known as Old Mans Beard.  A green moss like material which grows on the branches most often on softwoods such as white pines, red pines and Balsam in Eastern Ontario.  The material when picked is spongy however drys extremely quick and becomes brittle. At the brittle stage this material is extremely flammable and makes amazing tinder on its own or within a tinder bundle. 

The 2nd material is simply dried grasses. Whether its ditch grass or farm grasses. These materials tend to grow on the side of roads and trails and in the fall are 2-3 ft tall and extremely brittle. Collecting a handful and folding it in half provides enough tinder material for two to three tinder bundles. The brittle grasses are extremely flammable even when damp.

A ziplock back filled with these two naturally growing materials coupled with a lighter, match or primitive coal method is an amazingly easy and dependable way to start fire.

Remember that we must be prepared to survive a wilderness survival emergency if we have any chance of actually surviving it.  Gather materials, practice their use and then carry them on your person to give yourself a fighting chance of survival.


Thursday, August 22, 2013

A Huge Loss in the BTF Family

A little over 5 years ago John and I wandered through the bush lot enjoying a cup of coffee and sharing a vision.

It was amongst the tall red pines that Beyond the Fire School of Survival was born. A dream to build a cabin where people would gather to share a wilderness experience while gaining new knowledge, skills and abilities.

However a dream will never come to fruition without supporters and believers. For us here at Beyond the Fire there was no one more important to us than John's father Bev.

Bev was unwavering in his support of our dream and never flinched when we approached him with a tall request to use a little piece of heaven on his 100 acres of land. He loved the idea, the vision and the belief that his land would be used to teach people about the wild and rugged places he grew to love.

His support was so much so that he gifted us with all of the building material necessary to construct what would become our cabin and classroom.

Our excitement was never alone during the construction phase. Bev would often travel out to the location to watch and wander the bush and share in our vision.

Until today I had been at a loss as to how to share our loss.

On June 2nd, 2013 Bev passed away and left a void in our lives that can never be filled. However, Bev will live on forever in our hearts and memories.

Bev was born in 1925 and passed in 2013. But what he did between those years was truly amazing.

Rest in Peace Bev.

Monday, April 15, 2013

InstaFlam Field Testing Part I

A few weeks ago I received an email from Derek Trott who is the VP of Sales for a company called Ramagex based out of Quebec.  Derek had visited the Beyond the Fire website and felt that he had a product that was perfect for our School.

The product was called "Instaflam" which he described as an environmentally friendly fire starter that instantly lights when wet.  Well, for those who know us here at BTF you know that begs to be field tested.

Derek and Instaflam were up for the challenge and graciously sent us their product.  I advised Derek that BTF was not a School of Camping nor do we promote products that cannot stand up to rigorous testing in harsh conditions.  Derek didn't hesitate to welcome the challenge.

Simply put, the Instaflam product is composed of wood wool which is saturated with paraffin wax.  The company states that it will light even when wet and burn for approx. 10 minutes.

So, with snow on the ground, -10 degrees and a good northwest breeze I took the product out for Part I of the field testing.

Test 1: The One Match Test

In a survival situation you must ration every item you have because you never know how long you will be there or what challenged you will face.

Placing the Instaflam product one inch into the depth of the snow I used one regular waterproof match.  Instaflam immediately ignited within a split second of the flam touching the product.  I was impressed.

I then timed the burn time to challenge their 10 minute claim.  Well, 18 minutes and 22 seconds later the single Instaflam unit burned out.  I was very impressed.  This kind of burn time provides the user with plenty of flame and heat to get small tinders and branches igniting into a fire.

Test 2: Fully Submerged and Floating

Not just dipped and wet.  Fully submerged and floating.  This is survival folks - not camping !  If you follow the blog you know full well my thoughts and passion for cold water submersion preparation.  Any product I carry summer or winter must be tested in these conditions.

So with a camping pot filled with cold water I headed back out the snow where I placed the Instaflam product into the water.  I then proceeded to fully submerge the product under the water for 30 seconds.  With the Instaflam floating on the top I again utilized one waterproof match.  With several seconds the product ignited.  I was impressed !

The product stayed lit for 3 minutes and 12 seconds.  Keep in mind that this product was fully submerged and then floating in water.  There was not a dry shred on that product when the testing began.  I was blown away.

I then removed the product from the water and placed it into the snow and manipulated the product a bit at which time I was able to relight it.  Amazing.  It then had a running burn time of 9 minutes.

Part I Conclusion

When I received the product and conducted the research I was sold on its suitability for the camping adventurer.  However, I was not completely confident in its suitability for the hardcore back country employed personnel or search and rescue operators.

In doing Part I of the testing I was amazed at the products resiliency and ease of ignition.  This product has proven itself as more than a ma and pa camping product.  This is an outdoor adventurer product that suits minimalists, naturalists, environmentalist and anyone else who just wants a product that they can trust when a fire is necessary.

This product has already founds its way into my SAR gear as well as into my instructional pack.

Stay tuned for Part II of the field testing where we push the product to points not yet explored !!

Please visit to find out more and to locate your closest dealer.  Do not hit the bush this year without this product in your pack.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Circle of Survival

With years of experience as a Search and Rescue Operator as well as a Survival Instructor I have learned many constants that are known about wilderness emergencies and the responses that have led to successful survivors and their rescue.

Whether you read literature designed for Search and Rescue Professionals or books designed for outdoor enthusiasts you will undoubtedly find information related to successful outcomes from a variety of wilderness emergencies.  You will unfortunately also learn about wilderness emergencies where the individual succumbed to the elements.

When developing our syllubus' for our school I understood that the majority of students were adults and therefor learned more from field and dirt time than from watching videos posted on social media sites.  It was also clear through personal experience that adult learners were more successful when information was delivered through the use of visual aids rather than written documents.

Over the years I have instructed many courses where I have been tasked with presenting topics on the Enemies of Survival as well as the Survival Priorities.  However, Survival Priorities is a topic filled with "What ifs".  I often found myself responding to each question on a case by case basis.  The difficulty in these questions is that there are no correct answer nor is there a consistant numbering of those Survival Priorities.

Survival in a wilderness survival emergency is never a static situation.  This situations are dynamic and ever changing.  That ever changing nature makes your Survival Priorities ever changing and evolving.  

This winter has provided me with the opportunity and time to create a visual aid which I have called the Circle of Survival.  A circle is known as a shape that has no start and no end.  It is ever rotating. 

The inner most circle is your Situation or Wilderness Survival Emergency. 

The middle circle is an area of constant change.  You must Assess your situation.  Plan your appropriate course of action.  Then you must Act to fulfill your priorities in surviving your situation.

The outer most circle contains the options of survival priorities that you must deal with in order to successfully survive your survival emergency or situation.

It is no secret that many of victims have perished in wilderness survival emergencies because they acted without planning or failed to assess because they panicked.  An understanding of the Circle of Survival will provide you with the knowledge necessary to properly Assess your Situation, Plan an appropriate course of action and then Act to prioritize your survival needs.

The Beyond the Fire School of Survival  "Circle of Survival"

Monday, March 11, 2013

My Season is Almost Over

When I awoke this morning to the time of the clocks changed I sadly realized that wonderful winter season was slipping away. The sun was bright with a familiar touch of warmth that notifies us that Spring is just around the corner. 

So, with knife around neck, boots on feet and an hour to myself I wandered into the bush to enjoy the sounds and sights that signal the change in seasons. 

It was soon obvious that I wasn't the only one enjoying the warmth of the afternoon. Two snowshoe hare and morning fresh deer tracks accompanied by the sounds of the spring birds bouncing from tree to tree. 

Along the way I was lucky enough to find a stand of beautiful white birches that gifted me with a few chunks of true tinder fungus. A great find with a real nice spongy orangish core perfect for primitive fire making.  I also found a wonderful white pine filled with Old Man's Beard perfect for tinder material. 

In the end I was able to spend some time in the bush enjoying what's left of a winter that has brought much growth and experience for us here at Beyond the Fire School of Survival.  

Friday, February 22, 2013

The Wilderness Solutions Fire Piston

Recently I stumbled across a website for the company Wilderness Solutions located in New York.  The company specializes in Primitive Fire making tools, supplies and instruction.

30 minutes later I had read all of the material and watched several videos that were posted about the 2nd Generation Fire Piston.  The concept of the Fire Piston intrigued me and my thirst for new knowledge.  The thought of learning another way of creating fire that has been around for generations excited me and without hesitation I ordered one.

As with all ordered products the wait is always the worse part.  However, when the tidy brown box arrived I ripped into as if it were Christmas again ! Inside was the 2nd Generation Fire Piston and a ziplock baggy of rolled char cloth.

I won't dare say that I was skeptical but I wondered how many attempts it would take for me to create an ember using this method which I had never attempted.  With a quick read of the included instructions I headed down into the laundry room to give it a go.

I placed a rolled piece of char cloth into the recessed pit of the steel rod.  I gently placed the tip into the tube and with a swift palm I struck the handle jamming the rod into the tube and quickly removed it.  It was at that point that my jaw seemingly dropped as I gazed at the glowing ember on the char cloth.  I was sold.  Right then and there this primitive tool was to be a paracord neck carry for me !!

So today I decided to take a few pics of the process to allow you to see the Wilderness Solutions Fire Piston in action.

The Wilderness Solutions 2nd Gen Fire Piston
with small piece of char cloth
Birch Bark, Jute Twine and the Fire Piston.
The starting position !!
The glowing ember in the fire piston.
The coal transferred onto the Jute.
Fire is Life !!
This Fire Piston that was created by Jeff Wagner is an amazing tool and has proven itself to be dependable and simple to use.  From a pure survival standpoint I consider this to be one of the best fire making tools I own.  The successful use requires little to no fine motor skills which is essential if ever submerged in water during a winter survival emergency.

When you get a chance jump over to Jeff's website at and take a look at his amazing research and products.

Fire is Life !!

Prepare Today ... Survive Tomorrow

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A Day to Play

Very rarely do I get to head into the wilderness without an agenda or a task required to be completed. However, today was a refreshingly different day with a focus on relaxation. 

This week our family inherited two kids from very close friends who were travelling abroad. 

Young Noah always asks me a thousand questions about survival and the cabin. So today was the day !

Noah, Justin and I headed out to the Beyond the Fire School of Survival location where we met up with Instructor John. Once there we wasted no time in grabbing our gear and headed out to teach the boys some skills and above all else - to have some fun. 

The two boys selected the site, shovelled away the snow and got busy collecting firewood for the days adventure. With a little help from John and myself the boys constructed their lean-to shelter and filled it with bedding materials in preparation for their lunchtime snack - Bannock. 

However, in order to cook Bannock we needed a fire. Cue Young Noah and his desire to learn the art of making a fire. Not just any fire making would do though. We decided that Noah would make the fire by nurturing a coal into a flame. 

Noah prepped his birds nest with birch bark, cattail and bundled Jute twine. Using a new fire piston I created a coal which we transferred into Noah's nest. That's when the magic happened. With coal in nest Noah gently blew into the nest until he created a flame. The look in his eyes was priceless. He could not believe he created fire !

Shortly after we stoked the fire the boys watched in disgust as I wrapped what seemed like a sloppy mess of something around their fire sticks. But in a very short time they were mesmerized as they watched the dough rising and creating an amazing survival food known as Bannock. 

At the end of the day both the boys had an amazing time out in the fresh air doing what we were all meant to do. For John and I it was a much needed retreat from the stressors of real life. 

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Hudson's Bay Tobacco Fire Tin Kit

Over the past 3 weeks I have had the opportunity to spend a lot of time out in the bush. This time in the bush has provided me the training platform to put some new kit through the testing process. 

The latest item to be put through the riggers of testing was the Hudson's Bay Tobacco Fire Tin Kit.   I purchased the kit from the best outdoor equipment store that I know - The Canadian Outdoor Equipment Co. 

The kit drew my attention due to its primitive/voyageur fire starting principles. There are countless fire starting methods that exist from primitive to state of the art. However, I have very little experience with the flint and steel. Thus I was excited to get started. 

The Hudson's Bay Tobacco Fire Tin Kit :

The Fire Tin
The Tin opened up. Note the removable
 cap that exposes the fire lighting
magnifying glass.
The Tin with all the contents : Flint, Steel,
Char Cloth and Jute.

The lit char cloth with a glowing ember
 after a single strike of the flint
with the steel. 

This kit was well worth the investment and honestly after 3 weeks of use it will now be a staple in my pack during any outdoor excursion.  The flint is large enough to hold and has great edges that when struck with the steel produce solid sparks that easily catch the char cloth.

The tin itself is large enough to house the items supplied but will also allow for several other tinder items such as birch bark to be carried.  The tin is lightweight and robust allowing it to bang around in your pack with no worry of damage.

Similar to the fire kit I made and discussed a few posts ago, pre-made kits that you carry provide the confidence and materials necessary to make fire anywhere at anytime.

Fire is life !!

I highly recommend this Hudson's Bay Tobacco Fire Tin Kit from The Canadian Outdoor Equipment Company.  Visit their site by clicking on link in my favourites on the right side.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Stand Behind Them - Or Stand In Front !

What an amazing opportunity we had recently to spend two days in the bush with the 3RCR Snipers. A skilled group of amazing Canadian Soldiers who are at home operating in the wilderness.

Although the weather played havoc on us during the two days the experience was still great. These guys bring a very unique skill set and a knowledge of the bush that is second to none. 

After a fire starting lesson and an exercise briefing they grabbed their rubble and headed off into the bush to commence the task at hand. As an instructor I found it amazing to watch as these teammates worked seamlessly to get the job done. They were effective and efficient and required no guidance on group dynamics or leadership principles. 

Even more exciting for us was watching each of the 4 teams construct totally different shelters from one another. We instruct and motivate our students to construct the "A-Frame" shelter design but we never steer anyone away from taking the opportunity to perfect a design they're comfortable with. 

As mentioned the weather was terrible and required the lads to prepare for hypothermia type conditions. Warm days, cool nights and rain. Definitely unseasonal and very dangerous. Staying dry and sheltered became a serious priority. This was difficult due to a location that provided very little green resources. 

In the end the experience was great and we feel very fortunate to have been invited to spend the time with some great soldiers.

Team 1
Team 2
Team 3
Team 4
Team 1 enjoying their fire !
Team 4 plus a stow away !!
Instructor John brewing up some lunch !

Sunday, January 27, 2013

If You Could Only Have 2 Items

Whether preparing for a planned backcountry adventure or dealing with a survival emergency the kit you carry has a huge impact on your survival success.  

Last week I polled the blog followers to see what people would choose to carry if they could only carry two items. Obviously a worst case scenario but none the less a realistic issue during a true emergency. 

It was interesting to see the results. A total of 18 votes were received. Here is the breakdown:

  • Fixed Blade/ Fire Starter  -  10 votes
  • Axe / Matches. -  5 Votes
  • Hinged Saw / Tarp  -  2 Votes
  • Tarp / Lighter  -  1 Vote

This is a great discussion piece. Although there was a majority there is no correct answer. Each person will base their decision and vote on their knowledge, skills and abilities. 

I want to thank everyone who took the time to vote. I have posted a new poll and look forward to watching the results. 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Fire Tin

In my last post we discussed the very real threat that cold water submersion possess on your life.  Whether it be a full body submersion into a lake during a snowmobile adventure or a thin ice break while crossing a small creek only knee deep.

Believe it or not these two scenarios may seem very different in their threat level but I will let you know that they are not.  Regardless of the amount of submersion you fall victim to you are never the less wet, cold and in immediate need of fire to reduce the effects and save your life.

Fire kits are a premade survival item which you may never need but if you do it may prove to be the most important item you ever travelled into the wilderness with.

I have seen many different styles including everything from manufactured tinder, multiple ignition sources, newspaper, egg cartons, fire sticks, etc.  The list goes on and on.  The mistake I often see when I challenge students to use their own fire kits to start a fire is that they have never tested their kits nor thought of their limitations.

For a quick example I turn to the classic Bic lighter.  A seemingly great piece of kit as your ignition source.  During my first cold water submersion training ex I had that very lighter in my pocket.  In fact I had two.  I hit the frigid water and fully submerged above my head.  After I self rescued I grabbed my trusty Bic lighter and headed for the first Birch tree I could find.  As the wind swept a cool breeze across my hands it became painfully obvious that fine motor skills were no longer possible.  That Bic lighter has a wheel and a push down that must be spun and pushed in succession to work.  It was a sobering experience and one I will never forget.

Another major mistake that people make is thinking that the bigger the fire kit the better.  Wrong.  The smaller the fire kit the better.  For one very simple reason - you'll carry it.

Your fire kit must contain an ignition source, a tinder and most importantly must be carried on you if you ever hope to survive a cold water submersion.

Here are a few pics of what I carry in my pocket every time I hit the wilderness.  Simple and small.  However, I have tested these items more times than I can count and my confidence in these items are second to none.

Kit includes:

  • Altoids Tin
  • Cotton Balls dipped in Vaseline
  • Two pieces of Birch Bark
  • Wood shavings
I wear my Ultimate Survival Technologies BlastMatch Fire Starter around my neck.

Take my advice and create your own fire tin that you make a habit of carrying everywhere with you.  It could save your life or the life of a loved one !

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

2 minutes...Ready Set ..GO !

That's all the time you've got !!! Cold water submersion is one of the scariest and deadliest realities of the Canadian back country. 

Each year outdoor enthusiasts take to the rivers, lakes, bush and back country to enjoy their favourite winter activity.  Often these activities have deadly risks rarely acknowledged or respected.  This lack of respect leads to countless incidents of cold water submersion.

I've been fortunate in my role as a Search and Rescue Operator to experience cold water submersion in both a controlled training environment as well as on real searches.

I will spare you the science and human physiology that allows researchers to determine that 2 minutes is the window for survival.  However, I will tell you what happens to you physically, mentally and emotionally when your life is on the line and seconds is all you have.

As your body breaks through the ice of the creek, river or lake that you're on and you quickly find your whole body submerged in bone chilling water.  As you fight to resurface from beneath the water your chest tightens and panic sets in.  At the point of surfacing you gasp for air in terror.  You realize for the first time that you've fallen through the ice and are now treading in ice water.  You fight with all of your might to get out of the water but your energy seems sapped, your clothing is heavy and the ice shelf is slippery.  You kick your feet as fast and as hard as you can and eventually pull yourself onto the ice again.  As you lay there the wind whistles through you stealing any heat that your body might have had left.  You realize that your hands and feet are frozen and that everything around you is starting to slow down.

As your body temperature drops dangerously low your body's core starts to conserve what little heat it has by shutting down flow to your extremities in order to keep warm blood around the heart.  As you struggle to maintain balance and fine motor skills the simple tasks necessary to survive now become extremely difficult.

I think by now you see my point.  2 minutes goes by in a flash.  You must have training, preparedness and the mindset that you will survive.  You must carry on your person a fire kit with at least two means of starting a fire as well as some small tinder.  This kit does you no good if it's anywhere but on you.

Your survival depends on your ability to self rescue, get out of the wind, get to the bush, quickly collect tinder and kindling, start a fire that can be sustained.  It must be done in 2 minutes or less.

In my next post I will display the fire kit I carry on my person while operating on a search and rescue.