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Missing "essential" items: backup light, whistle, and fire starter
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Sean Passanisi
(passanis) - MLife
Missing "essential" items: backup light, whistle, and fire starter on 06/20/2013 18:23:19 MDT Print View

Hello all. I'm rounding out my kit and see a backup light, whistle, and fire starter frequently included on gear lists. I don't have these items and would love to hear recommendations. I'm considering these options:

- whistle: Fox 40 Micro

- fire starter: Light My Fire Scout Firesteel Fire Starter (do I also need matches or tinder?); how does this compare to a bic?

- backup light: Photon (Micro light II, Freedom Micro), Princeton Tec (Pulsar/II, Impulse), and the Fenix E01 (this Fenix may be overkill since I carry a Zebralight as my primary)

I'd also love to hear about any other small odds and ends I could be missing (I have basics like compass, first aid, etc., covered).

Thank you.

Steven Paris
(saparisor) - M

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Missing "essential" items on 06/20/2013 19:07:55 MDT Print View

Whistle: Brian Green did a test of several whistles here:
I have the Fox Micro but I thought the aluminum "toy" whistle, like the blue one in his photos, was much louder and easier to use.

Firestarter: I have the ExoTac NanoStriker, but have never used it. There are trips where I will bring it as a back-up but I think it's easier to just carry 2 Mini-Bics. Bonus: I came across someone last year who had forgotten matches or a lighter and I was able to give him one. I also carry a small ziploc of matches & cotton tinder.

Back-up Light: I carry a Fenix LD01 as my primary light (in case I have to hike at night) but mostly use a Photon on the included lanyard. This saves the battery life of the LD01 and has almost always been enough light to use around camp.

I also bought a neon-pink roll of mason's line (braided nylon) at Home Depot. I put a short loop on many small essential items just to help see them when packing up the next day. I also take a small piece of tyvek (a race bib) and place that on the ground inside my shelter. This is my "landing pad" (for lack of a better description) where I always (try to) put essential items so they are in ONE place. Simplifies trying to find things in the dark or when packing up in the morning.

Craig .
(zipper) - F

Locale: LOST, but making good time
Re: Missing "essential" items on 06/20/2013 19:45:38 MDT Print View

I don't carry a back-up light, I just turn around and go the other way.

What? Oh, I thought you meant back-up. Nevermind...


Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Missing "essential" items: backup light, whistle, and fire starter on 06/20/2013 20:10:42 MDT Print View

I've been walking for >50 years.

I have never carried a whistle, and have never met a situation where I needed one or where it would work. Marketing toy.

Of course I carry a Bic lighter - to light my stove for cooking. I carry a second, small, Bic wrapped up in plastic in my FAK. I have used it once or twice - that's all. And I carruy it becasue my main Bic lighter is getting very low in butane. (Actually, I used it because I had forgotten to pack my main Bic!)

I do not carry a back-up light, but sometimes my wife who walks with me may have her only micro-light. But I do check my light before any major trip.

There's a lot of gear being recommended for 'just in case'. In general, the idea gets pushed by retailers who want to sell you something. A major part of the UL concept is to break free of this extra 'just in case' needless weight (which rarely gets used), and to rely instead on thinking. Brains are much safer.


David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
One or two of the three on 06/20/2013 20:44:56 MDT Print View

Back-up lights have become much less important with the durability of LEDs and the long battery life IF your light will put out with low batteries. I have one LED light (that I no longer trust) that needed a reasonably battery voltage and would cut out with weak batteries. No moon? I've got a little squeeze light. Any moon out? Nah.

A mini Bic is my primary. If you get it soaked, it can take a while to dry enough to ignite a canister stove. A light-my-fire will get you going in that situation. Or, I've got some very small plastic vials that would hold about 3 wooden strike-anywhere matches and have a water-tight stopper. Failing that, you have to rub two Boy Scouts together, very quickly.

Skip the whistle. Skip the signaling mirror. I've never met anyone who ever met anyone who has ever used one to signal for help. Pull cactus thorns from their lips?, yes. Signal for help, no.

Brian Lewis
(brianle) - F

Locale: Pacific NW
backup light alternatives on 06/20/2013 21:08:11 MDT Print View

I'm not a big fan of carrying a whistle, though sometimes do, and my fire starter solution always at least starts with the idea that I'm typically carrying a fair bit of dry toilet paper (not idea, but at least something).

Backup light: I see two alternative uses for this. (a) something to see with briefly when your headlamp batteries inevitably need to be changed in the dark, or (b) something to use if your headlamp is lost or broken or you don't have spare batteries or something along this line.

I typically carry a really lightweight and small pinch type LED light for the latter, (b). I rarely bother to get it out for (a), as I find it's easier/faster to just use my smartphone display (optionally with a "flashlight" app) while changing batteries. The smartphone isn't optimal as a backup light in the event of losing or breaking my headlamp, but depending on time of year and type of trip, it's sometimes an acceptable option IMO.

Manfred Kopisch
(Orienteering) - F
Whistle can be helpful on 06/20/2013 21:15:51 MDT Print View


I have been in situations where a whistle has been helpful. My wife and I backpack a lot with our children and all family members carry a whistle.
From time to time we are in situations where we separate - often because I go out of the way to fish an extra spot, while my wife continues with the kids. The sound of a whistle carries way further than that of a voice and makes it easier to locate each other. So in group situations - especially with children - it can be useful to carry a whistle.


jerry adams
(retiredjerry) - MLife

Locale: Oregon and Washington
Re: backup light alternatives on 06/20/2013 21:31:59 MDT Print View

Photon Freedom is like a LED pinch light - button battery, 0.25 oz

Except when you pinch it, it will stay on. You can turn it on really dim so it lasts quite a while. Possible to use as a primary flashlight.

jerry adams
(retiredjerry) - MLife

Locale: Oregon and Washington
Re: Whistle can be helpful on 06/20/2013 21:36:02 MDT Print View

I usually carry whistle, 0.2 oz

Yeah, I've never used it, but if I was lost and people were looking for me it could be useful, louder, can use it for a longer duration of time

Just because you've never used something doesn't necesarily mean it doesn't make sense to carry

Joshua B
(leukos) - F

Locale: Chicagoland
Finger whistle on 06/20/2013 22:19:34 MDT Print View

I can whistle quite loudly using my fingers so I have wondered if on the rare chance I needed to signal if I could just use my fingers rather than carry a piece of plastic. But then I wonder how well that would work if my fingers were broken or my lips torn or I'm in freezing temps...then the idea of carrying a plastic whistle doesn't sound so bad.

kevin campbell
(rockymtbiker) - F

Locale: Michigan
ligher lights on 06/20/2013 22:54:06 MDT Print View

I've got a whistle, but haven't used it, ever.

Lights- I have a photon, a headlamp with lower light output that last really long, and my main that lasts a few hours. I try to use the Headlamp that runs on 1 AAA & doesn't put out loads of light the most. When I need to really light up things after dark, I use my ZebraLight, it is incredible. When I researched lights for my pack last year, this light was recommended by all the light enthusiasts across the is a link...

Lighters- I have some waterproof matches in a sealed container. Never use them. I use my Windmill waterproof & Windproof lighter. Fast, reasonably light, clear SO as to see if it is getting low on fuel, and has never failed me. Here is a link...

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
whistle on 06/21/2013 11:17:56 MDT Print View

Why a whistle? Monday on Quandary Peak, two hikers got cliffed out and had to wait overnight for help. The hikers, from Tennessee, used a whistle to alert searchers from the Summit County Rescue Group. Officials say that whistle helped expedite their rescue.

During an accident involving my own hiking group in August in Rocky Mountain National Park, I was waiting with an injured man on a steep cliff. Hours later I heard two rangers on the cliff above me whistling. I yelled, but they never heard me. They later said they only found me because they spotted me waving my arms on the slope. A good reminder that in an emergency situation, the whistle needs to be in my hand and not on my pack on the ground.

Anna DeBattiste, the Public Information Officer for the Summit County Rescue Group said, "all of our rescuers carry whistles attached to our backpacks to help find people. A whistle carries so much further than a person's voice."

the weight of a whistle wont kill you ... hell if you wear it like you should it doesnt even count towards you "pack weight" ... so you can still be that XULer


John S.
(jshann) - F
Re: whistle on 06/21/2013 11:22:11 MDT Print View

Hi Eric. I have been on a trip where a person was lost all night long. A whistle is what helped to find them quickly the next morning after they spent a night out in 20 degree temps.

You won't ever need them until you need them. I'd imagine there are many stories of how the whistle has helped persons get found. I'd also imagine a google search will find several stories of getting found with a signal mirror, but I do not carry one since I hike in groups.

Edited by jshann on 06/21/2013 11:23:33 MDT.

michael levi
(M.L) - F

Locale: W-Never Eat Soggy (W)affles
re on 06/21/2013 12:18:19 MDT Print View

Whistle on the sternum strap is such a good idea.

Don Morris
(hikermor) - F
Re: One or two of the three on 06/21/2013 21:19:02 MDT Print View

I have done a fair amount of SAR, mostly in southern Arizona. We have responded to legitimate rescue situations that were initiated with both mirror flashes and whistles. They aren't items that are likely to be in routine use, but they are quite useful when you need help. Both items are well worth their weight.

Christopher *

Locale: US East Coast
Re: Missing "essential" items: backup light, whistle, and fire starter on 06/21/2013 22:30:30 MDT Print View

I have actually used my whistle several times to chase away bears. I sound like a little girl when I try to yell. Not very intimidating. Enter the man-whistle.

Hamish McHamish
(El_Canyon) - M

Locale: USA
Re: One or two of the three on 06/21/2013 22:31:53 MDT Print View

"Skip the signaling mirror. I've never met anyone who ever met anyone who has ever used one to signal for help."

They say that there are no strangers, just friends you haven't met yet. Here are some friends David hasn't met yet:

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
Re: Re: One or two of the three on 06/22/2013 03:05:09 MDT Print View

James, I'm not sure he and I would be friends. "Tired, dehydrated, and hungry"?!? When I'm tired, dehydrated and hungry, I drink something, find something to eat and head home. I don't use a flashy thing nor want six (6) different agency mobilized unless someone is really in trouble and not just flashing his little flashy thing.

The websites that link to each other are weirdly hyper about how a signal mirror saved him from a non-emergency and how there is some conspiracy among other media to ignore that aspect.

You're not wrong to carry a mirror if you want. I'm not wrong to do otherwise or to discount most things that conspriacy theorists go on about.

John S.
(jshann) - F
Re: Missing "essential" items: backup light, whistle, and fire starter on 06/22/2013 05:44:27 MDT Print View

Matthew Steiger
(txlur) - F
fox40 on 06/22/2013 06:39:28 MDT Print View

I believe the fox 40 is recommended over the toy pea whistle as it does not have the ball inside that can freeze up, and fail to sound.

Good thread. Whistle as bear deterrent is interesting.

Pete Staehling
(staehpj1) - F
Non-essential on 06/22/2013 07:09:53 MDT Print View

- whistle: I am 62 years old and have never used/wanted/needed a whistle despite spending a large portion of my life in the woods in one outdoor pursuit or another.

- fire starter: I carry a striker type fire starter only because it is easier to light my alcohol stove with one than with a bic. Otherwise the backup for the bic might as well be another bic if you really need a backup. Without a lot of practice, most people will have trouble starting a fire with a striker in ideal dry conditions and wouldn't stand even a remote chance in wet conditions.

- backup light: At the risk of being burned at the stake, I'll say that I always figured that a primary light wasn't really a necessity, let alone a backup light. I went as far as not carrying one, but found that, after scorching a couple meals I did like to be able to look into my cook pot. I then started wearying a $10 eGear Pico light on a chain around my neck as my only light. Since I use it seldom and for a few seconds at a time the 15 hour battery life lasts me a very long time. Mine has been used on many thousands of miles of bicycle touring including a coast to coast bicycle trip as well, on a few short backpacking trips, and has been used around home for over a year and is still on the original battery. It is bright enough to check the color of a blaze at night or to see the bear checking out your canister.

How essential can something that has only been invented in the last hundred years or a bit more be? Humankind got by without flashlights for most of our existence as a species. I think of them as a convenience rather than an essential.

(PNWhiker) - F

Locale: Pacific NW
Backup on 06/22/2013 10:00:24 MDT Print View

I have a Coughlan 4 in 1 safety whistle. This also has a compass, thermometer and magnifying glass (stuff you can remove from your emergency kit now). It's 0.8oz and pretty inexpensive. It's also nice that it clips on your pack.

I use a Fenix LD01 as a backup light. It's lighter than a extra AA battery for my headlamp, and it provides full redundancy.

I use the Exotac UL polystriker as a backup fire starter.

All are available from REI.

Ian B.

Locale: PNW
Mirrors and whistles on 06/22/2013 11:01:40 MDT Print View

I carry a Suunto MC2 compass with mirror. I prefer a compass with a sighting mirror for a number of reasons but having the option of using it to signal someone is just another added bonus. I've used signaling mirrors in training but have yet to use one in a real world emergency.

I'm new to SAR but it's taken less than a year to learn how invaluable a whistle is. I've always carried one and never used it prior to volunteering with this organization; I can see how someone would be inclined to shed it from their base weight. When SAR is banged out for a mission, having the whistle really helps the ground teams zero in on the victim's location. No disrespect to any of the dissenting opinions but they don't weigh much and it's probably worth reconsidering.

I carry the Storm Whistle which is very loud.

Happy trails all.

Edit: I carry a Bic Lighter which has never failed me and matches as a backup. I'm in the market for a Exotac Nanostriker.

I have a $3 led light which weighs .3oz as a backup light. Bright enough to walk with if a marmot ever ran off with my head lamp.

Edited by IDBLOOM on 06/22/2013 11:07:25 MDT.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Mirrors and whistles on 06/22/2013 16:20:05 MDT Print View

> When SAR is banged out for a mission, having the whistle really helps the ground
> teams zero in on the victim's location.

A good reason for a SAR person to carry one.
Perhaps not quite as applicable for non-SAR people on a simple trip?


Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Mirrors and whistles on 06/22/2013 16:40:16 MDT Print View

I've never found a mirror to be of much use. However, a whistle can be pretty handy. I used to lead a lot of group backpacking trips. On one layover day, the entire group had spread out and was supposed to return to camp in time for dinner. One member was missing and one hour overdue, so we set out in pairs to search. The whistle was worthwhile, because searchers could be heard over a much longer distance than if we were just shouting or something. The missing hiker started responding with his own whistle, and the problem was solved quickly.


Billy Ray
(rosyfinch) - M

Locale: the mountains
Re: Non-essential on 06/22/2013 16:41:49 MDT Print View

"How essential can something that has only been invented in the last hundred years or a bit more be? Humankind got by without flashlights for most of our existence as a species"

Yes... and humans have been dying in the wilderness for a million years or better... natural selection, you know. Yes... the species got along without the 10 essentials... but millions of individuals did not...


John S.
(jshann) - F
Re: Re: Non-essential on 06/22/2013 17:22:56 MDT Print View

lol..They used fire to light their way at night more than a hundred years ago. It's not like they stayed home because they didn't have battery operated light.

Edited by jshann on 06/22/2013 17:24:11 MDT.

Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife
"Missing "essential" items: backup light, whistle, and fire starte on 06/22/2013 17:31:56 MDT Print View

Whistle--invaluable when backpacking with kids. You should see them come when I blow two blasts, which means dinner is ready! It sure beats yelling! I think that what the SAR folks here are trying to point out is that it's a lot easier for them to find someone if the lost/injured person has a whistle!

Extra light--has been handy several times when Icouldn't find my headlamp in the dark, including the time my dog was sleeping on it! Most of the time I'm not sure why I have it, but it's so tiny that it's no big deal.

Mirror--nice to have when traveling solo and I get something in my eye or a scratch on my face. IMHO, signalling with one is pretty iffy. Mine is really tiny--one of those Coghlan mirrors cut down to 1/4 size. .

Fire starter--I no longer take kitchen matches; the last few boxes I've bought (for the fireplace at home), over half the matches were defectiveand woouldn't light. I take a Mini-Bic, a paper match book, and several of those REI emergency matches that burn almost forever and can't be put out. Plus half an Esbit cube for tinder. Of course I rarely build fires when backpacking.

Edited by hikinggranny on 06/22/2013 17:35:58 MDT.

jerry adams
(retiredjerry) - MLife

Locale: Oregon and Washington
Re: "Missing "essential" items: backup light, whistle, and fire starte on 06/22/2013 19:00:06 MDT Print View

"Mine is really tiny--one of those Coghlan mirrors cut down to 1/4 size."

hard core light person - cuts down something that's already light to 1/4 the weight : )

Hamish McHamish
(El_Canyon) - M

Locale: USA
_ on 06/22/2013 19:05:21 MDT Print View

I don't think anyone is wrong to carry or not carry a signal mirror. When it comes to emergency equipment, though, I don't believe that what your friends have experienced is the key to making the decision. I don't have any friends that have deployed a PLB but I still carry one because I believe the benefits exceed the costs. I have a reasonably good idea of the risks I face outside and I've seen reports of a PLB being of great benefit to people in dire straights, even thought I don't know them personally. To be sure some brought it on themselves but plenty of others didn't.

Cherrypicking the 'conspiracy nuts' from the multitude of stories of successful signal mirror use doesn't disprove the argument.

Dan Yeruski
(zelph) - MLife

Re: Re: Mirrors and whistles on 06/22/2013 19:52:58 MDT Print View

I have never carried a whistle, and have never met a situation where I needed one or where it would work. Marketing toy.

I have never carried a whistle, and have never met a situation where I needed one or where it would work. Marketing toy.

I have never carried a whistle, and have never met a situation where I needed one or where it would work. Marketing toy.

I read that three times to try and understand how carrying a whistle would be a marketing toy. someone please explain.

Signal mirror would be handy when the rescue copter is heard coming to find you.

My choice of fire starter is the Spark-Lite.

Edited by zelph on 06/22/2013 19:56:30 MDT.

Mike M
(mtwarden) - MLife

Locale: Montana
tinder on 06/23/2013 19:44:58 MDT Print View

while a reliable spark source is certainly needed, when the chips are down- some carried tinder can make the difference between starting a fire and not- I carry 3-4 tinder tabs and a wetfire cube- a few grams total

for the small weight, I'll continue to carry a whistle and a small signal mirror and keep hoping that I don't ever use either :)

I've found a photon on a lanyard is mighty handy in the dark around camp

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: tinder, etc on 06/23/2013 19:54:55 MDT Print View

For tinder, I carry Tinder Quick tabs stuffed into a spy capsule, which goes on the keyring with my firesteel. There is an AA flashlight and a Fox 40 whistle on the same ring. I carry a K&M match case with UCO hurricane matches and a compass in the end in the other pocket.

Gregory Stein
(tauneutrino) - F

Locale: Upper Galilee
My 2 cents on 06/24/2013 04:21:02 MDT Print View

Hey guys,

For 1-2-3 nights and no night hiking in new moon I use Photonlight Freedom. I do also use it for extended trips when I'm familiar with the surroundings. Here in Israel it is hard to get lost. Much higher chance to find yourself dehydrated (this does happen a lot). For night hiking in new moon I'd use Zebralight H501. In full moon I actually trail run WITHOUT light at all. Just give your eyes 15-20 minutes to adapt.
Ah, my backup light is my Nokia 1280 cell phone which has brilliant light! It's not a smartphone (I don't have one), some of its features: 1 charge in two weeks (!! Oh!), bright enough light which I accidentally forgot to turn off and found that in the morning it is still that bright! The phone weighs 76 grams which is good for ,multiuse and dependable device that:
0) cell phone for emergency
1) backup light
2) my watch (I hate wearing one on my arm)
3) my alarm clock

Each of my kids have one. I do also checked a dozen to choose the one that is really easy to blow through for kid and is loud. +1 for codes like "two short - dinner", "one long - danger" etc. It is also fun when you hike with kids. I would carry one in solo for the reasons mentioned above.

For solo hikes you need one. In Israel we have those tasty cactus fruits. I love them. But it's a bit hassle to take off all the prickles and when you eat it you might get some on your face. Mirror is essential tool for it. If not soloing, then it is not that essential IMHO. Signaling with mirror for greater distance is not that helpful in my opinion. Anyway I carry one. I use 1 laptop HDD plate at 4 grams not a big penalty.

Emergency firestarter:
After buying and testing several options I chose Sparklite firestarter + 6 tinder tabs. This is 10 grams (even 9 :) ) and could be lighted easily WITH ONE HAND! which is very important if you are in an emergency (read broken hand). It is also more dependable than bic lighter. Matches and all sort of fire steels REQUIRE BOTH HANDS until you are some kind of circus actor. However when it's freezing it is easier to use fire steel if you have both hands available :)

Just my thoughts.

Kind regards,


Edited by tauneutrino on 06/24/2013 04:35:52 MDT.

Diane Pinkers
(dipink) - MLife

Locale: Western Washington
mirror vs whistle on 06/24/2013 07:18:33 MDT Print View

Terrain might have something to do with the choice. In woods-covered terrain a mirror isn't going to accomplish much, but the whistle will alert ground based SAR. In open country, a mirror might be better to alert helicopters overhead.

I hike a lot in the woods. My compass does have a mirror on it, and if needed, could be used for signaling, but much of the time it works much better for checking out how bad my bed hair is. A whistle would be more reliable in those circumstances.

Sean Passanisi
(passanis) - MLife
Bic vs. firesteel on 06/26/2013 13:41:43 MDT Print View

Thanks for all of the great comments and suggestions.

What are the pros and cons of a bic vs. firesteel?

John Taylor
(jtaylor) - F - M

Locale: Shenandoah
Can see Pete's point on 06/26/2013 14:38:53 MDT Print View

I completely see Pete's point. For many years I never carried a whistle. I have carried one for the past 5 or so and never have a use for it.

What I consider essential is a quick source of fire, a bandana, and a knife. That about covers everything in my book and I have had some extensive wilderness survival training. I can make friction fire, I can make knives from stone. But why go to the effort when the essentials are cheap and light weight.

My fire starter of choice is the Sparklight system with quick tender. I have used it several times and once in a hypothermic situation In the rain. The system works.

Fire steels are not bad either, but I prefer the Sparklight because of light weight and compactness. Tender included.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Bic vs. firesteel on 06/26/2013 14:43:13 MDT Print View

Carry both. I use the bic for ordinary stuff and the firesteel is for when everything else fails. I have no problem with the extra weight of redundant fire starters.

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - M

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: Bic vs. firesteel on 06/26/2013 15:08:42 MDT Print View

Firesteels are weak fire starting tools. They are always reliable but they need very dry and flamable tinders or a bunch of prep to work. If you have ever done a splitwood fire with a firesteel then you know what i mean. With a lighter you can light up a bunch of wood curls/feathersticks instantly. With a firesteel you need to make tiny scrapings on a flat surface. It complicates things in situations where you are desperate and stressed out. Mastering a firesteel requires a lot of practice.

A firesteel with some easy to light manmade tinder is the best firestarting method. But you need stashed tinder for it to be effective and quick in an emergency. A lighter is much more effective when working with natural tinder.

So i carry both. I carry a kneck knife, firesteel, and tinder around my neck in case i get seperated from my pack. I use my bic for most tasks

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
Re: Bic vs. firesteel on 06/26/2013 15:39:25 MDT Print View

"What are the pros and cons of a bic vs. firesteel?"

A Bic is quick and easy, can be used with one hand (let's say your other hand was trapped under a boulder!), and doubles as a light. You can also generate some heat in pinch if you CAREFULLY! run it under a loose parka or trash bag. That is a trick every serious caver learns from people who have done it. A candle is better yet, but a Bic works in a pinch. Even if you run out of butane, the sparker can still light a canister stove. When ever darn thing is wet, you can eventually light a stick on fire by holding it over the Bic. But in those cases, you really want a square of wax paper, a small candle, or ear wax smeared on belly-button lint.

The fire steel works immediately after pulling it from a puddle, which a Bic does not. And, in conjunction with a Bic, you have redundancy. I once arrived at first campsite with no Bic. My best guess is that it slipped out of a pocket while double-checking gear in the hotel room. A fire steel would have been SO much easier than a fire drill carved with a SAK Classic!

For me, bringing only one: Mini Bic.

But for how important a fire can be when things start going badly, a fire steel SOMEWHERE ELSE in your system is worth it to me.

michael levi
(M.L) - F

Locale: W-Never Eat Soggy (W)affles
bics on 06/26/2013 17:30:24 MDT Print View

If I'm doing a hike that is less than a few weeks I'd rather take a bic and a backup bic for all of my fire needs.

Mike M
(mtwarden) - MLife

Locale: Montana
Re: Re: Bic vs. firesteel on 06/26/2013 17:58:50 MDT Print View

David said "But for how important a fire can be when things start going badly, a fire steel SOMEWHERE ELSE in your system is worth it to me."

agreed, I don't think redundancy is necessary w/ many things when hiking, but fire ignition would be the big exception imo

jerry adams
(retiredjerry) - MLife

Locale: Oregon and Washington
Re: Bic vs. firesteel on 06/26/2013 18:23:14 MDT Print View

I've always considered fire to be recreation, not survival

If the conditions are bad, like raining and windy, it's very difficult to get a fire going, and if you can manage to keep the fire going in the rain, you' get cold and wet faster than the fire will dry/warm you

Better to get into sleeping bag inside tent. Or hike out to your car.

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - M

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: Re: Bic vs. firesteel on 06/26/2013 20:40:02 MDT Print View

Of course you need a shelter before a fire. I like a tarp because I can have a fire while being sheltered from the rain.
I have spent rough nights drying out wet clothing and stoking a fire all night while under a tarp. I get out of my sleeping bag every couple of hours and put more wood on the fire. I did this every night for a week long trip once (I didn't plan on doing it). It's not fun but it's better than being cold. You can't do this with a tent.

You can't carry a tent and sleeping bag in your day pack, so for day hiking a fire becomes the primary way to keep warm during an unexpected overnight. The most important emergency items in my day pack for wet weather are a folding saw, fixed blade, and a tarp. If you get a fire going you might even be warm enough to get some sleep.

For the backpacker, a fire becomes a tool to compensate for compromised insulation and/or temperatures far below expectations. Also if you are hungry, sick, or recovering from extended exposure your body can have a tough time generating heat and an external source can really help.

Trying to build a fire on top of an exposed ridge or mountain in a storm is pointless. You are better off crawling into a bivy and waiting it out.

Max Dilthey
(mdilthey) - M

Learning Curve on 06/26/2013 21:36:22 MDT Print View

I don't know if this is useful, but I struggle with fires (i'm practicing). The following have happened to me resulting in not having a fire:

1) Didn't practice enough with the firesteel, 20 minutes later I gave up and went to sleep.

2) Brought matches, forgot match paper and had toothpicks.

3) Filled my Zippo, but the Ronsonol evaporated or spilled, anyways, no fire. I eventually dropped that anchor anyways.

4) figured out the firesteel, stuff was wet and I had no tinder, no fire.

I carry mini-bics but I prefer matches for my wood stove. I like the SOL wheel firestarter, because it's Max-proof. I am learning from my mistakes, but if it's relevant to you, don't throw in "backup" firestarters unless you can use them to, you know, start a fire.


P.S. I couldn't signal with a mirror in a funhouse. I wish I grew up with the Scouts...

Edited by mdilthey on 06/26/2013 21:39:11 MDT.

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - M

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: Learning Curve on 06/26/2013 21:56:52 MDT Print View

"4) figured out the firesteel, stuff was wet and I had no tinder, no fire."

Building a fire in the rain:
The one stick fire, the foundational skill for wet weather fire starting:

Edited by justin_baker on 06/26/2013 21:58:03 MDT.

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
firesteel on 06/27/2013 00:04:52 MDT Print View

without the right tinder it is quite hard for the average person to start a fire with a firesteel even in perfect conditions ... basically youll need cotton balls, very often PJ ones, or something similar ...

a lighter is much easier for most people to use ... and even then good luck for the average person to start a fire in the pouring rain with one without some good firestarting material, like PJ cotton balls ....

the trick with fires is to start planning for one BEFORE you actually need it ... if yr lost and you dont think youll make it back, start collecting twigs and other fun stuff, dry em out if you can ...then if you need it yr all set


Hamish McHamish
(El_Canyon) - M

Locale: USA
_ on 06/27/2013 06:30:21 MDT Print View

Good info from Justin and Eric. Justin has obviously put in the time to develop the skillz.

Running a fire in wet conditions has been very useful to me. It is a significant confidence booster when despite your best planning, you can't be sure how things will turn out. This is doubly true on marathon dayhikes where you don't have a sleeping bag, and if you do have a foam pad it is a bare-minimum piece.

Mors Kochanski is right: it is better to be warm and wet than cold and dry, or cold and wet.

+10 on carrying foolproof tinder. PJ infused cotton balls are my favorite. You gotta stack the odds in your favor.

If you think that a firesteel will light anything in the forest, you are wrong.

Again, stack the odds in your favor: Bic + firesteel + PJ balls + skillz = power & confidence. That's a big rate of return on a couple ounces of weight.

I for one am disappointed that we have not been able to somehow mention GLBT or Six Moon Designs issues in this thread. Surely we can do better.

Corbin Camp

Locale: Southeast
Whistle on 06/27/2013 10:31:19 MDT Print View

I carry one because A) it really isn't that heavy B) I'd rather have something with me that could help me or someone else out in a bad situation C) I'm too lazy to replace the whistle on my sternum strap that's part of the clip then replace that clip with something that weighs 0.0002 oz lighter.

I see a whistle right up there with a seat belt. You can go years without an accident but it's that rare case where something happens out of your control where the presence of a simple device means you live or die.

Eric Blumensaadt
(Danepacker) - MLife

Locale: Mojave Desert
A surprise "essential" on 06/27/2013 14:36:41 MDT Print View

After getting "monkey butt" this past week while on a 6 day backpack in Utah's Coyote Gulch I realized I had forgotten to bring a tube of Polysporin or Neosporin in my FA kit.

It WON'T happen again! It was "sorely missed". ;o)

Tad Englund
(bestbuilder) - F - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: A surprise "essential" on 06/27/2013 15:37:59 MDT Print View

Eric, thank you for not posting a picture!

Hamish McHamish
(El_Canyon) - M

Locale: USA
_ on 07/02/2013 10:07:26 MDT Print View

My research has shown me that signal mirrors and other simple visual signal aids are important not so much as a sole signal (though that has happened), but as a crucial tool for "the last 1/2 mile". Reading various survival/SAR accounts shows a common theme: a flight plan or a concerned relative gets the initial search effort going, but closing the last gap between SAR and the survivor is often surprisingly tough.

some recent signal mirror successes in Alaska:,0,3667716.story

I guess you could say that never making a mistake will ensure you don't need to carry that 0.7493 ounce signal mirror, but only a couple BPL folks have that kind of mojo.

Mike M
(mtwarden) - MLife

Locale: Montana
mirror on 07/02/2013 10:29:18 MDT Print View

or 0.2 oz for the AMK mini signal mirror :) as mentioned before it can be used for to inspect yourself for medical purposes as well- not to mention getting your hair just right for that picture! :)

David Miles
(davidmiles) - F

Locale: Eastern Sierra
Re: Missing "essential" items: backup light, whistle, and fire starter on 07/03/2013 19:27:27 MDT Print View

I carry:
-Fox 40 whistle, AMK signal mirror
-mini Bic, book of matches
-Petzl Tikka2 Plus, Fenix LD01

I know several people who watched our helo search multiple days for them without a mirror to signal it. It can really shorten a bad day :)