Lost Arts

How to Start a Fire, Plus 15 Other Outdoor Skills That Aren't Complicated

Pitching a tent, healing a wound, and finding your way are about the most important things you can learn how to do. They're also the easiest.

A fire requires oxygen, heat, and fuel. Supplying those three things it the key to starting one, and the key to keeping one going. And they all exist in abundance. (Mathias Erhart)

Because having fun outdoors shouldn’t be complicated, here’s a reminder that even some of the most important skills are simpler than we often make them out to be.

#1. Start a Fire

Fire requires fuel, air, and heat. Start with the smallest, driest fuel source you can find or make. Stack it in such a way that it’s sheltered from the wind but has plenty of internal airflow. Use a lighter, match, or ferro rod to start a flame. As the fire spreads, gently blow on it to add more air. Slowly, gently, and loosely add progressively larger fuel to the fire as it grows.

#2. Pitch a Tent

Find a level spot free of rocks and other obstructions. Lay out the tent body. Assemble the poles, and take note of any color coding on pole ends and body grommets, which indicate where the pole should meet the tent. Insert the poles, one by one, at the tent’s corners, then begin clipping the tent body to the poles. Once it’s taut, check orientation and location, then stake the corners firmly by pounding the stakes in with a rock or piece of wood. Spread the rain fly across the erect tent, line up its doors with those of the tent, and attach it. Securely stake out the rain fly, adjusting its guylines until the fly is taut. Store the assorted stuffsacks and spare parts together, inside the tent, in one of the pockets.

#3. Get Found

Tell someone where you going and when you’ll be back.

#4. Stay Warm

Base layers keep you dry and should be made from thin, closely fitting wool or synthetic materials. Midlayers provide warmth by trapping air in down, fleece, or heavy wool. Outer layers keep out the wind and the rain. Strip unnecessary layers to stay dry when you’re moving; add layers for more insulation when you stop. Dry leaves, crumpled newspaper, and other materials that occupy volume can be shoved inside outer layers to add insulation if necessary. Avoid cotton.

#5. Purify Water

Bring water to a rolling boil for one minute. That kills anything that might be in it.

#6. Perform First Aid

Move to safety. Call for help. Check that the airway is clear of obstruction. Is the patient breathing? If not, apply rescue breathing. Does the patient have a pulse? If not, apply chest compressions. Check the patient for signs of injury. Stop bleeding by elevating wounds and applying pressure. Stabilize breaks and sprains.

#7. Build a Shelter

Create a large pile of leaves, grasses, and other debris. Crawl inside.

#8. Find Food

You won’t starve to death for two weeks or more. Spend your time finding help, not food.

#9. Walk Out

Stay with your vehicle and wait for rescue if at all possible. If not, walk downhill until you find water or a creekbed. Follow that downstream until you find a road. Congrats, you’re no longer lost.

#10. Treat a Blister

Cover it with duct tape or a bandage when you feel it start to develop and before it gets bad.

#11. Fix a Cut

Rinse with soap and water. Apply antibiotic ointment. Seal with a bandage or super glue.

#12. Deal with Bears

Make noise as you hike. Keep your food in a bear canister, outside of camp. If you see a bear, stay far away from it. If one approaches, make noise to scare if off. If it persists, use bear spray.

#13. Cook a Steak

Sear it quickly on both sides at the highest temperature possible. Take it off the fire and let it sit until it cools. Put it back on the fire at a low temperature until it’s pink through.

#14. Survive a Car Accident

Wear your seat belt. Pay attention. Slow down.

#15. Become Good at Something

Practice.

#16. Reduce Pack Weight

Take less stuff.

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