New Years Day 2001
A Walk in the Woods

My boss gave me a digital camera for Christmas, so I was anxious to try it out. I asked my daughter, Emma, to accompany me to Campton Hills Forest Preserve, Kane County, Illinois, for a short survival walk. I have very little winter hiking and camping experience, so I wanted to practice some cold weather fire starting: it seemed as good an excuse as any to get out! Nothing particularly exciting or unusual here: just a chance to get outdoors with my daughter and to play with the new camera.

Bill Qualls

I've never seen so many people at this Forest Preserve! There was a lot of snow and a lot of kids enjoying their last day of vacation. Emma saw a friend and joined her for about a half dozen rides down the hill sledding.
We don't get much opportunity for sledding so I told Emma that if she wanted to just sled with her friend that I would understand. Imagine my surprise when she told me, "No, I want to go hiking with you instead." That's my girl!
We hiked about a half mile into the woods and found a place where I could practice my skills. My first attempt at fire starting was a little careless and consequently a failure. I used small twigs for kindling. That would have worked just fine in the summer, but not in this cold (approx 20 degrees?) I was more deliberate the second time around. I used my Anaconda knife to split a few one-inch oak branches into quarters. This is me splitting the wood. First lesson learned: Always take a fixed blade knife capable of splitting wood whenever you go hiking in winter!
Another shot of me. One nice thing about having a digital camera is that the kids (Emma) can take as many pictures as they want at no cost!
The Anaconda knife does such a good job of splitting wood! Here's some of the kindling. Note the leather gloves. Second lesson learned: Bring leather gloves in addition to mittens. Mittens are great for warmth, but not for work.
With all this split wood, I will have no trouble starting a fire! Note the foam pad I am kneeling on. Looked good at the K-Mart, and I'm sure it's fine for sitting on, but my knees got wet as I was kneeling on it to prepare the fire. It's just too small. Third lesson learned: Much better to use a thinner but larger piece of closed cell foam from an old sleeping pad.
Time to get the fire going. I used a sparking rod. Cotton balls dipped in Vaseline make the best tinder!
A single cotton ball dipped in Vaseline will burn for several minutes. Half a cotton ball is usually more than sufficient!
I take an old army surplus canteen cup on most of my trips. I used it here to melt snow. Of course, it takes quite a bit of snow to get two cups of water. I used another cup to add snow as it melted down. Fourth lesson learned: For winter hikes, bring TWO pots or cups. If you need to melt snow in an emergency, you can use one to melt and one to scoop. (Of course, there are many ways to improvise a scooper if necessary.)

You can't see it in this picture, but I used a small shovel to clear the snow so I could build the fire on the ground. A small shovel is really nice to have along on a winter hike!
Emma looks forward to some warm Ramen soup!
At last, Emma enjoys the fruits of our labors.
Finally, a parting shot of Emma as we leave the woods. We both had fun and learned something.

Summary of lessons learned: Whenever I go hiking in the winter I will take with me (1) a fixed blade knife capable of splitting wood, (2) leather gloves in addition to mittens, (3) a thin closed-cell foam pad at least 2 feet by 2 feet, (4) TWO containers capable of melting snow.

Copyright © 2001 by Bill Qualls. Last updated January 1, 2001.