12 comments on “Kick the Old School: Fire Is Not a Safety Tool

  1. Interesting thoughts on the “standard” campfire. When ice fishing or winter camping I rarely use a campfire anymore. Clothing has become so thermally efficient that a “fire” has become as you say “entertainment”. Nice write!

    • Thanks. Thermally efficient clothing is certainly a part of it, but much of it is just that there are much better ways of staying warm.

    • Having seen one forest fire get started, and plenty of people getting burned, I agree entirely on the “very dangerous” part. I prefer listening to the world as it is rather than watching something that I brought into the wilderness.

  2. I strongly disagree.

    This kind of mentality: “what can I do to make sure my stove and light don’t break, and I don’t become too cold.”Let’s get rid of this notion that fire is an emergency tool, and relegate campfires to their place as campsite entertainment.” Just encourages people to rely more on equipment and consumerism and a total lack of self reliance.

    Being able to ignite and maintain a fire under a variety of adverse conditions is really an essential skill, it’s just basic woodcraft for living in the bush in the north. If your fire isn’t keeping you warm then you need to develop your skill level and knowledge. You should know how to maintain a fire to keep yourself warm and alive in subzero weather.

    • Equipment without skill and knowledge is useless, so I strongly disagree that using equipment is equal to lack of self-reliance. Going into the woods intelligently, whatever equipment you choose to take, is the most important thing.

      I’m sure you’ve spent more time in the bush in winter than me, Jonathan, but over several months worth of winter expeditions, averaging about 8 days in length and with temperatures down to -40 F, I’ve never bothered with a fire below 10 degrees because I’ve always been warmer (and downright comfortable) using my internal furnace to heat myself. Keeping alive in subzero weather is more than possible without wood fires.

      And that’s just cold-weather survival you’re talking about. For warm weather or just for cooking– once again, unnecessary. Note, though, that I’m talking about hikers in general. If your goal is to go out in the woods with no manmade equipment and live off the land for long periods of time, fire is probably your best friend. But most hikers are not hard core bushcrafters like yourself.

  3. Hi Ryan,

    “Equipment without skill and knowledge is useless, so I strongly disagree that using equipment is equal to lack of self-reliance. Going into the woods intelligently, whatever equipment you choose to take, is the most important thing.”

    Yea, I actually agree with that. I didn’t mean to say that going into the woods with equipment is equal to a lack of self reliance, only relying on it is (and leads to trouble when the equipment fails or is lost) without any other basic knowledge of how to function without the gear.

    • Very true. I do think that, for the average hiker/backpacker, it is possible to have a very close to zero chance of critical equipment failure, though. It takes knowledge and practice, but it is possible. I’ve mentioned before on this blog that simpler gear is best, mainly because there is less chance of a necessary piece breaking– stoves in general are the champ in this case, since the basic camp stoves are so near to foolproof. I’ve had the same MSR Whisperlite for almost nine years now, and it seems unstoppable. Even simpler stoves can be created from soda cans (for an alcohol stove) or coffee cans (for a wood stove), and neither of those have a single moving part that can possibly go wrong. I actually really like the idea of the coffee-can wood stove, since you can use twigs for fuel, which are practically unlimited in places where I hike, and it has a minimum impact on the environment compared to larger fires.

  4. I use fire on a daily basis in all seasons to increase my comfort. In spring and early summer in Maine, you have to swaddle yourself in netting or stay in your neeted tent if you don’t have a smudge fire going in camp. Fires here are essential during June and July to ward off mosquitoes. Once lit, I create clouds of smoke by throwing in damp duff, and the mosquitoes don’t like it. When backpacking I actually use the wood option on my multifuel Bushcooker LT1 most days to cook on, and save the bother of fretting over where to buy alcohol, and worse yet, those expensive and often impossible to find gas canisters, which are produced through very wasteful practice when you add up all the fuel and manufacturing costs to get the damn things over here from China and then what? Using fire for fuel also allows me to brew up a cup of morning coffee or two- I know that most hikers don’t want to carry the extra alcohol or canisters that allows them to heat water whenever they like, so they usually limit the cooking to just one meal.
    I’m not even going to go into my preferred winter camping program, but I can assure you, sitting in my heated tent in shirts sleeves in definitely going to be what I’m choosing if I need to get out for a week or more in winter. I’m done with cold winter camping.
    And what can be more uplifting at night than to be gathered around a glowing pile of coals, and roasting up that greasy pepperoni, salami, or even better that luscious Spam?

  5. The bushcooker I wouldn’t consider to be a campfire, per se. Wood stoves are a perfectly good idea– more efficient for cooking than a campfire, and an easier to refuel than a liquid fuel stove. The only downside, really, is the soot buildup on your cook pot.

    As for skeeters… yeah. They’re a pain. I’ve never had good luck with smoking them out, though. I always end up inhaling just as much smoke as the mosquitoes do πŸ™‚

  6. Don’t underestimate the primal power of the campfire.
    From The Book section of Outside magazine, page 46. April 2012. On “The Social Conquest of Earth”, by Edward O. Wilson: “.. The answer [ how Homo sapiens managed to evolve into such a world-dominating species], according to Wilson,….is a pile of burning wood.”

    • There’s no doubt that fire and opposable thumbs brought humanity out of the trees. But these days we have a lot of things that accomplish our goals on an individual basis.

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