Archive for the 'Fire and Camplife' Category

Jun 02 2007


Published by under Fire and Camplife

Note: This article is written by Robert Retallick. Until he registers I can not assign it to his user.

My kids and I took off an afternoon to work on a wikkiup in a place that we have thought would be good to do it. We picked a spot right on a creek where there is a natural spring and we’ve been to the spot enough to know it doesn’t flood at any time of the year.

Right near this spot are old broken cottonwoods which tend to break off in large splinters that leave huge slabs of material to use as shingles. There are also some green alders that were washed away at the bank and were blocking the creek somewhat. Alder, no matter if it’s green or dry is very brittle and pretty large trunks can be broken off.

The point of this exercise is to show my kids that good dwellings can be made with what is available. When it’s done is should be fairly rain proof and tall enough to have a fire inside. Right now it’s drying a bit as it is very heavy from being green and the large slabs are still wet with the rain we’ve been having.

In the above picture you can see how we used the natural forks of the trees to make an interlocking center. You can make the center interlock very tightly by laying everything down on the ground first and interlocking it while it’s on the ground. Then you raise it up in the middle and keep pushing it up. The increasing angle will really help bind the forks together.

The above shows the large slabs of cottonwood that will overlap as shingles.

This last pic shows the approximate size of the shelter. I can easily stand up and have room to reach up still in the center. It should sleep 4 pretty comfortably.

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Apr 05 2007

Snow Blindness

Published by under Fire and Camplife

The light from the snow can in spring be very hard on your eyes. The potential consequence being snowblindness. Having experienced it myself once, I can tell you that it isn’t fun and the condition would seriously impact your ability to provide yourself with food. The danger of becoming snowblind isn’t all that great as long as you stay in the forest, especially in the evergreen coniferous forest. But in case you need to go up in the tree less mountains or cross a big surface of ice, you will need some kind of protection.

Coating charcoal around your eyes will help a little, but to be properly protected you need some special googles. While I don’t know of any transparent natural material with UV protecting properties, the inuits (and probably others) made googles with slits in them, to reduce the amount of sunlight which hits the eye. Especially important it is to remove the reflection from the snowy ground.

If you of some reason has gotten snowblind, you need to stay indoors in the dark for a number of days days, the length depending on the severity of your case. You will know that you have been cured when it does no longer feel like needles stinging your eyes when you look outside.

Very soon I’ll post instructions on how to make more advanced snow googles of wood. Not many photos I’m afraid, but hopefully the text alone will be suffcient.

Here is a photo of some quicky birch bark googles in usage. They work reasonably well, but the slits could have been made narrower.

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Jan 19 2007

Walking Barefeet

Published by under Fire and Camplife

Since there isn’t much to report from skillswise, I thought I’d give the readers a simple treatise on walking barefooted. Walking barefooted, however looked down upon in our society it has numerous advantages over using shoes. I have done this for several years during the warm season and find it much more comfortable than using shoes.

First on the advantages of going barefeet:

Having your feet exposed to water, dirt (which sucks up fats and moisture) and the sun washes, dries and condition your feet automatically. Shoes on the other hand, locks in moisture and promotes bacterial and fungal growth. At first it only creates annoying smells, but in time it can develop into quite dangerous foot-rot. There is a reason why all the rainforest tribes around the world go barefeet. Shoes would never dry up.

Foot health
If you ever have heard of massaging your feet. That happens all the time when you walk barefeet. Being as close to the ground as practically possible, it almost eliminates the chance of stepping over. It also trains your feet and legs (very much in fact) and toughens up the skin. Blood circulation is increased and that reduces freezing on your feet in winter. Something which I have barely done after I started to walk barefeet almost all the time.

There are three reasons why you walk silently without shoes.

  1. The pain of stepping on something sharp makes you take care when you step (effect is reduced as you toughen though).
  2. Better contact with the ground, when you feel the sticks directly you can avoid breaking them much easier.
  3. The sole of the foot is softer than that of the shoe.

Maybe not so relevant today, but in a time when you needed that leather for winter shoes you would want to save it by walking barefeet in summer. Modern shoes may not wear out so quickly, but moccasins, birch bark shoes and other natural shoes do. So, if you are going primitive for a longer period of time, you more than likely need to learn yourself to walk barefeet.

Like a heavily used horse, a human trekking for multiple days with a backpack over rough country and without rest will need some sort of shoe to avoid wearing down the sole underneath. The sole will regenerate, but you need to rest for that to happen. You will also need shoes on very hot sand, where there are a lot of thorns and in the snow. There are plenty of ethnographic examples that defy all of these, so it isn’t written in stone.

Getting tough feet

Tough feet are unfortunately impossible to buy in a shop. Every spring I do this, as my feet has pretty much reverted by then. It will not revert all the way though, so it will not take as long as the first every time.

If you have extremely tender feet, start on grass and coarse sand. Walk around all day on this soft ground for several days, it should make your feet sore. Dont’ bother resting after this small ordeal, but press on. On the days that come, start walking on very coarse asphalt and coarse gravel. That will be very painful and your feet will be very sore. When it gets so bad that you feel like tendons are pulling all over the place and blisters are forming. Take two days with shoes on.

After the rest, start walking everywhere without shoes. Especially in the forest, where the ling will whip the soft parts on top of the feet and toughen them too. Take two days with shoes whenever you feel blisters forming.

As you continue walking barefeet it will become second nature to you and you will loose your fear of stepping on something sharp and become able to run, even in the forest.

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Dec 12 2006

Rock shelter

Published by under Fire and Camplife

Where I come from, in a very good strategically good place, there is a very old rock shelter. As the spot is very hard to find and is located it very difficult terrain I had to search a lot to find it. Only a few people knew it existed and no one knew the exact location any more.

The shelter is situated almost at the top of the valley side, in the middle of old pine/spruce forest and only a short walk from prime hunting and fishing grounds. When it was first used I don’t know, but I know it was used by my grandfather in quite recent times. On one side, small and flat rocks have been stacked up to make a wall where there was none. This wall has deteriorated in time. In the far end there is a natural chimney.

One of my brothers and I decided to improve upon this shelter. We brought with us two pieces of reindeer antler to work with and started digging into the floor of the shelter. Within the dirt there was plenty of flat rocks, some which we used to repair the wall and some which we used to build an improved chimney. We originally planned to build it into an earth-lodge, but we have pretty much given up the idea as it is an excellent one or two person shelter as it is. As you can see on the photo, it is now much higher under the roof than it used to and very cozy indeed. We have yet to try it, but maybe some time next year.

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Nov 25 2006


Published by under Fire and Camplife


A topic greatly neglected by most primitivists, including me. Most outdoors people seems to look upon being dirty as a proof of masculinity. I am now of another opinion. If you were living permanently in the wild, especially along with several other people, it might have gotten rather uncomfortable, not to say hazardous to your health. It is amazing how good it feels to clean up properly in the wilds, I’ll say it is even better than showering at home


The most obvious consideration when it comes to staying clean is washing the body. Washing the genitals and anus should preferably be done every day. Either with a wet piece of cloth or with your hands. Soap isn’t really necessary to become clean. If you wash every day, you will never get so dirty that you need more radical means. That is however an utopia. Most people don’t have the discipline to wash every day. To clean properly up you then need to sweat it out and plunge into either water or snow to remove it before it sets back into the pores. This can either be done by exercise or a sweat lodge. In winter, sweating in your clothes can be dangerous, so the only alternative used should be the sweat lodge.

I have built and used a sweat lodge a couple of times and I love the way you feel after a sweat-bath. Slightly prickly on your skin, but glowing.

When cleaning it is no point in heating any water,except for comfort. You become cleaner with cold water. Most bacteria thrive in normal bath-temperature. Warm water is however more fat-soluble, so there you have another reason to use the sweat lodge. How to build a sweat lodge will be covered in a later article.

Toilet hygiene

When I was saying that bathing is the most obvious task with hygiene in the wilds there is an subject that really deserve that position. However, from experience I can tell you that this is not the case for a great number of people. Washing your hands after going to the “bathroom” is very important to prevent stomach upsets etc…

When it comes to wiping, there is usually an order of preference. I prefer sphagnum moss, with other mosses coming second and grasses and leaves third. In winter, none of these are usually available. As rather uncomfortable substitutes I use pine or spruce branches (with the needles!). To clean up properly afterwards I resort to snow. Sometimes, if there is nothing else around, I will use snow all the way. It is a good thing that the diet offered in the wild usually is full of fibre….

Nails and hair

That the hair gets all fatty is quite annoying. Personally I have never gone without soap long enough for this effect to disappear, but from what I have heard it disappears after a few months. To avoid the hair becoming like a cake of dreadlocks, you should comb it every day. Making a simple comb isn’t all that hard. You just need some pointy sticks tied together. Alternatively the hair can be braided. When the hair needs trimming (I wear mine long), you can either use a flake or a glowing coal. I have tried neither, but I assume that with some training the results can be satisfying. Especially if someone else does it on you. Beard can be cut or burned, but both seem too hazardous for me. I would rather braid mine.

The nails can be cut in one end and carefully ripped off. I have tried this and the results are a little too unpredictable for me, but it may be all due to lack of skill. Alternatively they can be abraded down on a stone. A slow task I’d assume, but if done every day it may not be so bad.

Mouth hygiene

Tooth rot that goes too far can actually be lethal. Because of that, preventing this problem is essential to long term survival. As long as you eat wild food only, it will probably not be much of a problem, but to be on the safe side I would suggest to brush your teeth with a chewed twig or a finger with wood ash on. Especially if you have eaten lots of carbohydrates. Pitch is sometimes recommended is pine/spruce pitch, but keep in mind that the taste will linger on for the rest of the day and ruin the experience of that fine venison you have for dinner…. Fine fibres, and sinew in particular, are suitable for flossing the teeth.

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