American Bushman

"If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead, either write things worth reading or do things worth writing." —Benjamin Franklin

Friday, March 31, 2006

Laura's Big Gear Day

Yesterday all the gear I ordered for Laura showed up. FedEx came with the box from Outdoor Kids and UPS showed up with a BIG box from Wiggy's.

Add this new gear to the pair of hiking boots she got last week at REI and she's now ready for an active Spring and Summer in the woods with her Daddy.

Here's what she got yesterday:
  • Columbia fleece jacket (Pink)
  • Kamik rain boots (Pink)
  • Columbia rain poncho (Pink)
  • Wigwam wool socks (3 pair)
  • Columbia convertible nylon hiking pants (Khaki)
  • Life is Good t-shirt (Surf with Daisy)
  • Life is Good hat (Pink with Daisy)
  • Wiggy's 0-degree mummy bag (Purple)
  • Wiggy's pillow and stuffsack

I think I'm going to punch some grommets in the poncho so she can use it as an emergency shelter. She already knows some things about tying knots so giving her specific knots and uses should help to drive home the lesson.

At 4 1/2 she's already got better gear than I ever had growing up.



Watched another McPherson DVD last night. This time it was "Primitive Fire & Cordage." (By the way, these hotlinks offer streaming video trailers which had a great deal to do with my decision to buy.)

This time John and Geri showed three methods of starting a fire by "rubbing two sticks together" and made cordage from plant and animal materials. The backstrap sinew bow string was especially impressive to watch.

Once again I found myself running off in search of something to turn into cordage. Paracord is readily available in my house so I grabbed a couple of chunks to practice the cording technique and the splicing technique. Once I got the hang of the twist and wrap the process went quickly. Before I knew it I had a hank of double-thickness paracord about 20' long. This included one splice which I had to do twice as the first time it didn't hold when I tugged on the cord.

These videos are so dense with theory and background that you don't want to miss a minute. If you do, like I did, you'll need to go back for the finer points.

I'll play around with making some cordage this weekend when I get out in the woods and I'll post my results here with pictures if I can get some.

Thanks for reading,


Thursday, March 30, 2006


A week or so back I purchased some videos by John McPherson on flintknapping called "Breakin' Rock 1" and "Breakin' Rock 2, Let's Make an Arrowhead" and they arrived in today's mail. I have now watched the first one and am floored by this guy's ability.

At one point in the video he draws some lines on a spall (a section of a larger rock) and then hits it with a hammer stone driving off a flake RIGHT ON THE LINES. Whoah.

Midway through the video I had to run outside and attempt to find myself a hammer stone and a piece of flint (or other hard rock) to have a go at what I thought I'd learned. Let's just say it wasn't quite like the flint and steel lessons of a few weeks ago. I got the rock to flake but it wasn't quite as controlled as I would have liked.

McPherson has a website here. He and his wife Geri have also written a couple of books on the subject of primitive survival.

After nearly two hours of instruction (and with another 100 minutes in Volume 2) I am ready to head for a quarry. I might not do much but make a mess for a while but I sure will have some fun doing it.

All this because I wanted to learn how to "sharpen" the edge of my flint for firestarting.

Thanks for reading,


Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Note to Self...

When preparing gear for a trip that will involve some time outdoors do not forget to actually TAKE the gear on the list...


Saturday, March 25, 2006

The Surprise Hike

Wasn't expecting to hike today. It must be 35 degrees. Overcast. A slight breeze--enough to make the flags wave.

I was taking my wife's car into the shop for service when it finally gave up the ghost. I must have been about 5 miles out (maybe 3) but I was familiar with the area being so close to home. I decided to hoof it.

Just getting to the trail was an adventure. I had to descend an 8' concrete retaining wall and nearly did so accidentally while deciding where to climb down. That would have hurt.

After the adrenaline subsided (a little) I climbed down and made my way for the trail. It wasn't as close as I originally thought but it was easy to find thanks to the controlled burn going on over the past few days. The air was still filled with the smell of smoke and charred earth.

Time for a quick inventory. No compass and no map. That's okay, I know the area. I'm wearing blue jeans, my hiking boots, a wool shirt, and my favorite L.L. Bean Barn Coat--the one with the cuffs falling off and the mismatched buttons holding in the liner. I have a notepad and a pen. I have my metal match (Light My Fire Scout Model) and the sawzall striker Vinosaur made. My cell phone is in my pocket and will be used to take all the pictures. I also have my wallet, a SwissTool on my belt, a BRK&T Gameskeeper on my belt, and my stocking cap on my head.

That's a good selection of clothing and gear. I'm comfortable. Heck, I'm nice and warm despite the fact that I have no windproof clothing. This wool shirt is really keeping me nice and toasty. If I exert myself it may keep me TOO warm. It's chilly out too. Not so cold that I worry about frostbite but cold enough to freeze the puddles scattered on and off the trail.

Hmm...hurt my back a little when I tripped. Oh well, got to get moving if I'm going to make it home in time to get another cup of coffee before the machine shuts off.

Need to keep in mind also that the area is still full of coyotes. There are tracks and signs on the trail but none can be very fresh as the dirt is frozen and the tracks are deep. Last time it was warm enough to sink into the mud must have been three or four days ago.

It's good to see Spring is coming. The trees along the path are starting to bud. There are some old cattails off the trail and I head down to collect a few for tinder. Cattail fluff is an excellent tinder and will work very well with the metal match in my pocket should I need to get a fire started. It also works very well as an insulator and I could shove it down my shirt, in my boots, etc. if this wool shirt weren't keeping me a little too warm already.

Another mile and I was ready to cross the street into my neighborhood. I find it strange to make the transition from wood to neighborhood so quickly. I could probably go on and on about the problems of (sub)urban sprawl but that's not what this blog is about.

Down the street and into the garage and I'm home. The coffee maker is still on and a hot cup is ready at the push of a button. Aah...

Thanks for reading,


Friday, March 24, 2006

Kids' Outdoor Gear

My best outdoor buddy is my 4 1/2 year old daughter Laura (far right.) She likes to get out and knock around the woods. Finding REAL outdoor gear (not the stuff that looks like outdoor gear) has been a challenge since her first outing last summer.

I found a website yesterday that caters to the kid interested in an active outdoor lifestyle. There I found rain gear, hiking pants, wool socks, hats, floatation devices (PFDs,) etc. FOR KIDS. Awesome.

The site is called Outdoor Kids and so far I've been impressed with the level of service I've received. I'd encourage you to check them out if you've got little ones that could use more appropriate gear for outdoor activity than is usually available at the local sporting goods store and/or outdoor store.

My daughter is going to be blown away when her new gear arrives. She'll be outfitted for those late-winter/early-spring hikes when the weather isn't quite warm and isn't quite cold and can be quite wet. Did I mention that Outdoor Kids offered quite a selection of pink gear? While she does love getting dirty Laura is still a VERY girly girl. :)

Thanks for reading,


Thursday, March 23, 2006

Wiggy's Water Bottle

Just playing a bit with image uploading.

I got this bottle from Vinosaur in January as part of the gear-exchange we constantly do before a foray into the woods.

Love it.

The lid has a gasket that keeps water from leaking out. It holds the same as a Nalgene and can be set on or near the coals to heat water/melt snow. I'd like to see a Nalgene handle THAT.

Wiggy also makes a heck of a sleeping bag. I have three and am contemplating picking up another for my daughter Laura who is as interested in the great outdoors as I hoped she would be.

If you act quickly it looks like Wiggy is having a sale on his sleeping bags through April 30th.


Charcloth Junkie

Yep, it's official...I'm a charcloth addict.

I made several batches to distribute on Sunday's hike which was all handed out. Yesterday I made another two batches. The first came out extremely well and the second did not.

Sadly the second batch was the big one.

I could cook it all some more but have more charcloth than any small nation could use in a reasonable period of time.

I really don't know how I spent so much time in the woods last year (and this year to some extent) without carrying some charcloth.

I am now convinced that (while flint and steel firestarting is hugely rewarding) charcloth and firesteel firestarting is possibly the most effective (best chance of success) method of building a fire.

As always, TEST YOUR CHARCLOTH before heading out to the woods with a new batch. If it doesn't work and you've planned to use it exclusively you're are up the proverbial creek. It's also best to never plan to use one method exclusively.

  • Plan
  • Alternate
  • Contingency
  • Emergency

I guess that means have FOUR methods available.

Pictures from Sunday will go up shortly.

Stay tuned,


Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Outdoor Gear

While I'm trying to move away from synthetics and back to wool there is still something that appeals to me to be able to dress in the same gear our Special Forces are using. Here's an article from describing how you'd go about doing that:,1023,5785,00.html

It works out to about $1200 for enough gear to get you outdoors all year.


Monday, March 20, 2006

Into The Woods (3.19.06)

Flint and Steel firestarting, despite appearances yesterday, is NOT as easy as you might think.

We headed into the woods for the first group outing of 2006. As three of us had afternoon plans we intended to keep the hike short. Final turnout: Dan, Jeremy, Emma, Spen, Rebecca, Matt, Holzi, and me. Not bad for some last-minute planning.

For the past several months (on and off) I have been playing with various methods of firestarting. The method that has given me the most fits has been flint and steel. It always seemed simple enough but the lack of results discouraged me. I'd move on to a more reliable method always thinking I'd come back and work on flint and steel again later.

Finally, a week ago, I managed to catch a spark on my charcloth and transfer the glowing ember into a bundle of jute twine. That ember was blown to life inside the bundle and I had finally crossed over from "tried to" to "did it" (sort of.) While catching a spark and turning it into burning tinder is a success it isn't the kind of "save my life when I'm lost in the woods" kind of success. It is only a step on the path of flint and steel firestarting.

Tinder, kindling, and fuel wood are needed for fire. Burning tinder keeps you warm for a few minutes (at best) while a FIRE will warm you until the last of the embers cools. I had to take my flint and steel firestarting to that level before I could consider the skill mine. Fortunately that was mostly a matter of proper wood collection.

When collecting tinder (pencil-lead sized pieces) you want ONLY the sticks that snap off easily. If they bend they're going to be too wet to burn initially. Collect enough of these pieces to fill the space between your hands with you are touching index finger to index finger and thumb to thumb.

Next is kindling. Collect a big two-arm load of thumb-diameter sticks about as long as your forearm. This also needs to be nice and dry to most effectively build your fire but wetter sticks WILL dry out on the fire at this point.

Last is the fuel wood. This is the stuff you get that's as big around as your wrist, as long as you can carry, and can be larger, shorter, dryer, or wetter. Just keep in mind that wet logs WILL smoke more than dry. Build a stack of fuel wood to knee height if you're wanting the supply to last the night.

For our general purposes the kindling fire is more than enough to get us by. If on an overnight, however, there would be someone assigned to wood-collection duty as soon as we set up camp.

So, once the proper wood was collected I pulled out my striker (an old file,) my flint (harvested from my parents' landscaping,) my charcloth, and my jute twine. Unravelling the twine can be a pain but it will be worth it when the fire leaps to life. Three strikes with the file and I had a spark in the charcloth. The charcloth was stuffed into the bird's nest of jute and blown to life. The burning tinder was placed at the base of the tinder pile and allowed to burn. Once your tinder pile is burning add some of the kindling. Once the kindling is applied sit back and realize that you have actually built and started a FIRE with nothing more than a rock, an old file, and some burned cotton.

NOW I owned the skill. Picture Tom Hanks in "Cast Away" at the moment his ember turned to fire and you have some idea of what I was feeling.

It was now my responsibility to teach what I had learned to anybody that wanted to also own the skill. Sunday was my first chance and I happily obliged.

I lined up the necessary gear, built up how it could take me many strikes to even get a spark and many more to catch one, and then promptly caught a spark on the first or second strike. Whoops. :)

Matt, who had been paying close attention, pulled out his flint and steel firestarting kit and assembled his charcloth and flint just as I had and on his first or second strike caught a spark.

Everyone else just looked at how easy it was and went back to work on whatever they had been doing before our VERY short lesson. takes me several months of trying to get a spark into the charcloth, another month of getting the charcloth to light the tinder, and another week after that to get the lit tinder to burn wood. Matt takes about a minute to cover all that ground. He's a natural.

There are a few tricks to flint and steel firestarting which I will get into later this week.

The outing was fun, it started and ended well, no injuries, no hurt feelings, and lots of positive comments already this morning from those involved. This makes me happy.

Time in the woods is sometimes best enjoyed alone. Other times it is nice to know that others share your passion and the company is welcome.

Thanks for reading,


Blog Thoughts

On the way to yesterday's hike I spent some time thinking up topic ideas for this blog. Some of the ideas that came to me were firestarting gadgets, sharpening gadgets, knifecraft, and stewardship.

In the coming weeks I hope to delve into these subjects at some length.


Sunday, March 19, 2006

Welcome to my new blog.

Here you will find information about my quest to learn (and teach) outdoor skills that are being lost.

Some will pigeon-hole them as "survival" skills. They are. I am not, however, a "watch out for the zombies" survivalist. I'm just a guy who enjoys getting out into the woods confident in my ability to make it out again when I'm ready to go home.

Here you will also find gear evaluations. I am an incurable gear freak and constantly convince myself that whatever I buy will be the last of that type of item I'll ever need...until the next great thing comes along. If I'm going to blow the kids' inheritance I might just as well pass along what I've learned.

I am also a stay-at-home dad and have two kiddos who are learning about the great outdoors. From time to time I'll write about my experiences in the woods with my 4 1/2 year old daughter and/or my 2 1/2 year old son.

With that, let's get this ball rolling...

Thanks for reading,