Exploration & Survival
4 Ingredients for a Perfect Night Outside
Wes Siler, who writes Outside's Indefinitely Wild column, presents the first episode of his new weekly online-video series, Rewilding. Because standard survival advice is a bunch of bull, Wes wants to show you how easy it is to develop the kind of skills that will enable you to actually get out and enjoy the outdoors, without spending piles of money. He starts with the recipe for his favorite night outside: a dog, a knife, a steak, and a campfire.
SUBJECT: I've always lived in big cities. London, New York, Los Angeles. I always manage to get outdoors but it always took a lot of time and effort. My name is Wes Siler. That's the problem I my fiancee Virginia and I we're trying to solve last year, so we moved to Montana.
Now we live just north of Yellowstone National Park. We have elk and moose and wolves and grizzly bears right outside our door. What once took hours or days to reach is now right here in our backyard. I've been doing incredible stuff outdoors as long as I can remember. It's easy to get the idea that to do this you need to learn how to drink your own pee or fight a grizzly bear with a bowie knife. I'm here to show you that couldn't be further from the truth.
Spending time outside doesn't have to be about survival. I'm going to show you how to enjoy it. With the right mindset and some basic skills, you can be safe, you can be comfortable, and you can have a great time doing it.
I've had a really fortunate life in that I've always had the outdoors available to me. My dad gave me this. I have been going camping every month of my life since I was five years old. And it's such a powerful, wonderful experience that improves my own existence and deals with my anxiety and all that stuff. That I really want other people to have access to this. I look at the survival shows, I look at the elite athletes, and I don't see my version of the outdoors. I don't see the everyman version of the outdoors.
I've never needed to start a fire outside of having a merit badge lesson. You know like rub two sticks together, start a fire. I've never had to drink my own pee. I've never had to kill a rattlesnake to eat. But I can tell you you rattlesnakes are tasty because I've optionally done that. Everyone can enjoy the outdoors. It doesn't matter what your level of physical fitness is. It doesn't matter what you've done in the past.
You don't need a bunch of money or a bunch of free time Even if you live in a big city, mountains like this are not that far away. You know, when I lived in L.A. this was a four hour drive, mountains just like this. It doesn't have to be mountains. It could be a beach, it could be the desert, it could be Death Valley, it could be Mexico. And honesty, you know a lot of the time that's just taking the dogs for a hike. You can go find an outdoor environment, challenge yourself a little bit, and enjoy the hell out of it.
The whole point of this series is to show you how to have a great time outdoors. And to me there's no better night outside than a campfire and a good steak. So let's start there. Let's show you how to do it. This is an experience you can repeat.
So fire is the fundamental outdoor skill. Helps you be comfortable in your camp, it helps you cook food, it helps you purify water. When you learn how to make a fire, you want to learn how to make a fire that is repeatable in any weather circumstance whether it's rainy or snowy or windy, whether you have dry wood or wet wood, whether you have crappy wood like twigs and leaves. Whatever it is, you want to have a method that is consistent, that you can repeat, and that is utterly 100 percent reliable so you can always, always, always have that fire. And doing this will make your outdoor experience so much more comfortable and so much more rewarding. And hopefully from here on out, you will never not be able to have a fire.
You're looking for a place to have a fire. You want something that's out of the wind and you want somewhere it's not going to risk brush or anything else setting fire around you. Look for limbs above you, look for grasses and dry wood in the general area, and try to avoid all that. Try to have a fire in a controlled area that's not going to affect the environment.
The first step to start a fire is finding wood. The best wood for a fire is going to be dry and dead, and you're going to find that in standing trees, not on the ground where it sits there in the moisture all day long. So you want to find an upright dead tree to pull wood off of. Just grab it and break it. If it just snaps cleanly, it has that nice crisp snap to it, that's a piece of wood you can start a fire with.
The second step is to break wood down into very, very small pieces. Processing wood and having it ready to go will enable you to feed the fire as it grows, and manage its success as it starts to come to life. You don't have to go looking for wood. Like have it there ready to go.
As you're processing your wood, a good quality fixed blade knife can really help split the wood down into manageable pieces. A knife is easy to carry, weighs almost nothing. It can really get you inside those dry dead logs. Gives you that perfectly combustible wood that will really make fire making easy.
On the internet you're going to find a lot of macho posturing around outdoors content, and somebody's is going to show you how to start a fire by like blowing on twigs or looking at them really scarily. You just want to be able to have something that you can use every time. I use a knife and a ferro rod. It will never fail me. It never breaks, never runs out of fuel. I do it with every fire, and that way if I ever really do find myself in a challenging situation, it's not a skill that I saw on YouTube. It's not a skill that I read about. It's a skill that I practiced every other time that I've ever started a fire, and it's reliable and repeatable.
The hardest part of starting a fire is getting that initial flame going. And the easiest way to do that is to carry a fire starter with you. That way you always have the ability to have a dry piece of tinder ready to go that can catch a spark and get a flame going. I use some cotton balls smeared with Vaseline. The Vaseline keeps the outside dry no matter what the weather. Pull it open, and the inside with catch even the spark from just a knife blade on a rock.
Once that cotton ball's going, the Vaseline helps the cotton ball last longer. So you get four minutes of two inch high flame, which really makes getting that fire, adding that kindling and just building a fire just that much easier. You know, it works in the rain, it works in high wind, it works in challenging environments.
As the fire grows you want to add more wood. You want to add-- start with very small stuff and then move up to medium sized stuff and finally large stuff after several minutes. Just watch how it burns, make sure it's combusting. Don't choke the fire. Don't close it off. It needs all that oxygen to burn. Just try to watch it, just try to learn from it, and just try to see what it needs, and give it what it needs.
In order to cook on a fire you don't need a big wood tepee. You don't need massive flames. You want a nice solid bed of hot coals. I usually go for about two or 3 inches thick, just nice glowing red coals. And from there those are perfectly clean, those are perfectly ready to go. You don't need a grill. You don't need a grate. You put your meat directly on those coals.
It's super easy. Anybody can do this. And be-- it just gives you that amazing quality of life. There's nothing cooler than just coming out here with a knife and a steak and very little else, getting that going, and having an amazing meal. The biggest barrier to entry to all this is just to start doing it.
And honestly, it's just going out there and making the mistakes and failing and doing that and just learning what it feels like to get rained on. What it feels like to be a little too cold. What it feels like to want to fire and not have a fire. And from that you can come back home and learn what skills you need to progress, learn those skills and then go and have a better time next time.
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