Category Archives: Blog

CAJUN JAMBALAYA FROM DEHYDRATED INGREDIENTS USING MINI TRANGIA CAMPING STOVE

In the turn of the millennium, right before Katrina, I spent two years in New Orleans. In the party town I was invited to a number of parties in local households, and according to my experience, there just were no parties without some version of Jambalaya being served. And there are some good reasons for that; Jambalaya is at the same time both simple and sophisticated. Garnished with some fresh herbs, it can be served on your finest silverware, or scooped into disposable cups by your drunken friends from a shared large bowl. It is relatively easy to prepare in large quantities using very limited number of pots and pans, and it tolerates a fair amount of variation in ingredients. And most importantly, most often, despite the variable ingredients, it tastes damn good.

A little while ago, while preparing Chef Emeril Lagasse’s version of Cajun jambalaya (recipe is at the end of this article), I decided to try to develop a hiker/backpacker friendly modification of this wonderful dish.

First thing to do was to dehydrate everything heavy and/or easily spoiled material, ie. veggies and meats. I seasoned thin slices of chicken breast and shrimps with Emeril’s Bayou Blast (recipe below), hot sauce, and Worcestershire sauce. Then I fried the chicken well done (you cannot be over careful with the chicken), chopped it to small cubes, and dehydrated them together with shrimps and tomatoes over night in conventional electric oven. At the same time onions, garlic, celery, and green peppers were dehydrating in my homemade food dehydrator.

The only “wet” ingredient I did not dehydrate was the Chorizo sausage for two reasons; first, Chorizo and other similar kind of sausages are so heavily salted, that they stay good for days, if not weeks, at room temperature, and second, the sausage is pretty dry to begin with, and any attempt to dehydrate it would probably only melt away the delicious fat in the sausage.

The reason why I used Chorizo instead of Andouille of the original recipe was the fact that when you ask for Andouille sausage at the arctic circle, most of the shop keepers just roll their eyes, and the friendliest ones advice you to take a quick 800 km (500 miles) flight to Helsinki, where some small exotic delicacy shop may, or most probably, may not have Andouille available. So, my Andouille is Chorizo. Sorry, chef Lagasse.

Then it was time to test whether it is possible to turn rattling small bits in plastic bags into mouth watering Jambalaya. My original plan was to prepare one portion of Jambalaya using only the Mini Trangia camping stove, but since a friend of mine wanted to join me for a nice day in the forest, and I didn’t want to see him starve, I changed my plan to also test the little Trangia stove’s ability to heat up a larger carbon steel pan packed with enough food for two hungry guys.

So, I started with rehydrating all of the dehydrated stuf in the Trangia pot. After about 30 minutes, I added some chicken broth concentrate (a cube of the same stuff works equally well), and some oil, and let the whole thing simmer for about another 30 minutes. At this point you can add some bay leaves into the pot, but due to the fact that I have never been able to tell any difference between two dishes, one with, and one without bay leaves (maybe something wrong with my taste buds), I skipped the bay leaves. Then I poured the content of the trangia pot into the larger pan, added the rice and chopped Chorizo, and let the Jambalaya simmer till the rice was cooked.

The end result was an absolute success! The only difference to the freshly made Jambalaya was in the texture of the chicken and the shrimp. They were not bad at all, but the truth is that de-, and then rehydrated meat and seafood can never be as tender as freshly cooked ones. However, taste wise it would have been almost impossible to separate the camp site version from the fresh one.

This test also proved that the tiny trangia stove packs enough punch to heat a relatively large carbon steel pan. I wouldn’t try use this combination in the middle of the winter, but at least at above freezing temperatures, it seems to work just well.

And then the recipe for the Cajun Jambalaya, and the spice mix. Unfortunately, the link to the original source of the recipe did not seem to work anymore, but all the credits for the recipe (except the Chorizo part :)) belong to chef Emeril Lagasse and www.foodnetwork.com

CAJUN JAMBALAYA
Ingredients

12 medium shrimp, peeled, deveined and chopped
4 ounces chicken, diced
1 tablespoon Creole seasoning, recipe follows
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup chopped green bell pepper
1/4 cup chopped celery
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
1/2 cup chopped tomatoes
3 bay leaves
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon hot sauce
3/4 cup rice
3 cups chicken stock
5 ounces Andouille sausage, sliced
Salt and pepper

Emeril’s ESSENCE Creole Seasoning (also referred to as Bayou Blast):
2 1/2 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons garlic powder
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried thyme

Directions

In a bowl combine shrimp, chicken and Creole seasoning, and work in seasoning well. In a large saucepan heat oil over high heat with onion, pepper and celery, 3 minutes. Add garlic, tomatoes, bay leaves, Worcestershire and hot sauces. Stir in rice and slowly add broth. Reduce heat to medium and cook until rice absorbs liquid and becomes tender, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes. When rice is just tender add shrimp and chicken mixture and sausage. Cook until meat is done, about 10 minutes more. Season to taste with salt, pepper and Creole seasoning.

Omelette from dehydrated eggs

When you have fresh eggs and a decent frying pan, basic omelette is one of the easiest dishes to prepare. Trying to prepare it from dehydrated eggs, with a mini Trangia camping stove, at -5 C (23 F) weather, may be not that easy. Do the rehydrated eggs stay in one piece when fried? Is the thin and flimsy Trangia frying pan too thin and flimsy for cooking those kind of things successfully?

Well, what there is to do but to try?

So, I begun by adding about 150 ml (5 fl oz) of room temperature water onto the powder of three eggs. For the next six hours, I shook the mixture for about a fifteen seconds every hour or so. The end result looked pretty much like beaten eggs. So far, so good.

Next, it would have been a time to add a splash of milk, but due to the lack of extra containers, I skipped the milk, oiled the pan, poured the eggs onto it, and seasoned them with some black pepper. Since I’m not a big fan of plain omelettes, I chopped some air dried salted meat onto the omelette. That was for texture, some additional protein, and of course the taste.

In order to avoid burning the omelette through the ridiculously thin Trangia pan, I held the pan pretty high above the flame, constantly moving it around. After few minutes, it was time to flip the omelette. I was truly sceptical about the outcome. Would it break to pieces? Would it stick to the pan? Would it be burned black?

To my great surprise, the omelette flipped easily in one piece, and the colour was very nice, no burned spots at all.

And most importantly, also the texture and the taste were great. There was no way to tell whether the omelette was made with dehydrated or fresh eggs.

Based on this experiment, I’m absolutely convinced that dehydrated eggs can replace fresh ones in pretty much any dish you can imagine. Well, maybe not the whole soft boiled, or sunny side up fried eggs, but you know what I mean.

Air dried meat, Lapland style

https://youtu.be/I1e08KLS4RA

Dehydrating the  salted meat is probably one of the oldest ways to store meat. Methods to achieve the best results in various climate conditions vary a lot. Italians prepare their prosciutto di parma by dehydrating the selected salted pork meat for over a year in carefully controlled conditions. The best Spanish hams “Jamon pata negra” may take up to three years of dehydration in carefully designed dehydrating cellars.
Above the arctic circle, everything is a bit easier. In the arctic spring, the locals just hang the meat under the eaves of their houses, wait for, depending on the weather, for two to five weeks, and the desired delicacy is ready to be served. Cold nights combined with barely above freezing temperature days and dry arctic spring air prepare the meat to perfection in no time.
Unfortunately, the Lapland style air dried meat is only available for those of us who live above the 66 degrees north (or similar kind of climate), or for 200€/kg (about 100$/pound) at your very, very specialized delicacy store.
However, if you happen to belong to about 99.9% of the unfortunate people of the world, who live south of the 66, you may still want to know how the savages of the north prepare their meat.
So, here it is; Take about 5 kg (10 pounds) of good quality meat. The real Laplanders use only reindeer meat, but meat from moose, elk, or deer works equally well. Today, most of the Lapland style air dried meat is made out of sirloin steak or equivalent, and it tastes damn good too.
Cut the meat to 2 to 3 cm slices (about an inch) along the fiber direction (opposite to the beef jerky directions). Then cover the bottom of a bucket or any other similar container with coarse sea salt (you will need about 3 kg (7 pounds)). Place a layer of meat on the salt. Cover the meat with another layer of salt, and repeat the process till all of the meat is buried in salt. Place the container into the fridge for 10 and a half hours. This may sound like nit picking, but from years of experience, I have found out that 10.5 hours is pretty much perfect time to salt the meat. You may try your own timing, but from my experience, 10 hours is a bit short time, and 11 or 12 hours makes the meat too salty.
Another way to salt the meat is to soak in in the 6 to 7 % salt water for a day or two, but I have never tried it in that way, and therefore I cannot give any suggestions about timing of the project.
After 10.5 hours, rinse the solid salt out, dry the meat with paper towels, and hang the meat strips outdoors under the eaves of your house.
In Lapland during the early spring, the bugs are nowhere near to bother you, and the birds do not care too much about salted meat. Therefore, most of the locals just stick small holes to the meat strips, and hang them in the open air from pieces of strings or wires. I, and some of the other people I know, are sissy enough to use a protective cage made out of chicken wire or equivalent to protect the meat from carnivorous tits and such.
Whatever method of salting, or hanging the meat you are using, the end result depends a lot on the weather. In the ideal conditions, the constant shift of the temperature from below to sligthly above freezing keeps the meat fresh while dehydrating it at the same time.
By following these instructions, in 2 to 5  weeks, the meat gets blackish brown color and firm texture, and the traditional Lapland delicacy should be ready to be served.
The right way to serve the meat is to use a very sharp knife, and cut the meat into paper thin chips against the fiber direction.
One thing to mention is that the final content of salt may be well above 10%, and therefore one should never think of it as survival food in any condition where the water supply is limited.
For the old time Laplanders the availability of water was never a problem, and as well as a source of protein in many kind of soups and stews, they used plain air dried meat as light weight snack in the wilderness. Most of the modern people  find the taste of soups or stews made with air dried meat a bit strange, but I haven’t yet met a person who does not love the plain meat as a snack.
Finally, a word of warning; Lapland style air dried meat is highly addictive. Once you start eating the meat chips, it is very difficult to stop, and pretty often, due to the serious salt over dose, the end result is a swollen face and stiff joints in the following morning.
Salted dried chunks of meat stay good in room temperature for days, and in the fridge for God knows how long, but if, for some strange reason, after a day or two, you still have some meat left, for the long time storage the freezer is the right place.

Universal Waypoint GPX template

I’m not 100% sure whether the gpx files created by Garmin GPS devices work directly with other brands of GPS devices (don’t have one to test), but the following template should work as a backbone of home made Waypoint GPX files with any device that accepts standard Geocaching GPX files.

 

<?xml version=”1.0″ encoding=”UTF-8″?>
<gpx
version=”1.0″
creator=”GPSBabel – http://www.gpsbabel.org”
xmlns:xsi=”http://www.w3.org/2001/XMLSchema-instance”
xmlns=”http://www.topografix.com/GPX/1/0″
xsi:schemaLocation=”http://www.topografix.com/GPX/1/0 http://www.topografix.com/GPX/1/0/gpx.xsd”>
<time>2017-01-06T12:09:52Z</time>
<wpt lat=”66.400000000″ lon=”25.800000000″>
<ele>0.000000</ele>
<name>UnivTemplate</name>
<cmt>Should work with anything
</cmt><sym>Geocache</sym>
</wpt>
</gpx>

Just copy the text, and paste it into any text editor.

You can freely change the values of latitude ( lat=”66.400000000“), longitude (lon=”25.800000000“), and elevation (<ele>0.000000</ele>), as well as the name (UnivTemplate), comment (Should work with anything), and symbol (Geocache).

The symbol “Geocache” should work with pretty much anything, other symbol names may be device dependent.

Save your new creation as .gpx file, for example “YourNameOfChoice.gpx”, and copy it to where ever the gpx files are located in your GPS device.

Good luck with your own custom gpx files!

 

 

 

How to modify or make new Waypoint GPX files

GPS exchange format, or GPX, is an open GPS data format, which can be used to describe waypoints, tracks and routes. When you mark a waypoint into your Garmin (or some other brand) GPS device, the information is saved in the form of GPX file. However, typing any significant information into to the GPS in the middle of nowhere can be a major pain in the rear end. GPX files are also the information sharing tool for the Geocaching community. Geocachers usually get their ready made GPX files directly from their official hobby sites, such as geocaching.com, and those sites are doing their job pretty well, but whether you are a geocacher or not, every now and then it would be nice to be able to conveniently add some extra info with the symbol marking your geocache or any waypoint of interest. After years of wondering what the hell can be so significant or interesting that I have bothered to mark it into my GPS with a name “a”, “1”, “abc”, or in the best case, a descriptive word, such as “camp”, I have begun to modify my GPX files at home.

During any random hikes in the forest, I mark any points of interest into my Garmin, using the shortest possible name for each spot, usually a running number. I also type something into the “notes” area, usually a single letter or number (this saves some typing work down the road). Similarly, if I already know which Garmin symbol I want to use instead of the cursed standard flag, choosing it is behind a single click in the field. After returning home, all of the spots still clearly in my mind, I connect my Garmin to my computer, and, in front of a fire place, possibly with a glass of wine, type a proper description for each of the spots with a proper keyboard, and the next time, approaching the symbol on my Garmin device, instead of wondering what the f does this “a” mean, I can read something like “a nice spot for a coffee, not enough fire wood for over nigh camping” or “Aggressive farmer, owns a shotgun. Uses small shots, though.”.

Well, how to do this?

After connecting the GPS device with the computer, open the Garmin folder. In the Garmin folder, there is another folder with the title GPX. Open it, and in there you should see a bunch of files named something like “Waypoint_01-OCT-16.gpx”. Pick the date of your trip, and open the file. At the last couple of lines of text, you should see the name you gave to that particular point of interest in the form of <name>the name you gave</name>. Now you can replace the “the name you gave” with any new name you wish. Similarly, you will see the single letter “note” you typed in the form of <cmt>your note</cmt> (If you did not add any notes to the original waypoint, this <cmt>your note</cmt> does not exist in your gpx file, and you must manually add “<cmt></cmt>“ between “</name>”, and “<sym>” markings in the gpx file). Replace “your note” with a proper description for your point of interest. And, if you wish to change the symbol now, replace the “Flag, Blue” with the symbol of your choice (below this text, you can find some of the symbol names. Finding the rest of them requires some google activity, or some fiddling with your GPS.) Then just click “save as”, and rename your gpx file appropriately.

(If your text editor tries to save your file as xxxxx.txt, change .txt to .gpx)

Then just disconnect your GPS from the computer. Next time you open the map in your GPS, move the cursor on to now properly named symbol, and click it. And now, instead of no, or vague description of the place, you will see the information you just typed to the “your note” section of the GPX file.

That was probably the simplest and easiest way to customize GPX files. However, sometimes it would be nice to be able to prepare GPX files at home in advance, without separately visiting every single point of interest, and unfortunately, the entry level GPS devices, such as Garmin eTrex 10, only let you mark waypoints at your current location. To get around this problem, it is necessary to replace the coordinate values of an existing GPX file with the values pointing to your place of interest. It is possible to get the coordinates from pretty much any map program such as Google maps, Openstreetmaps, or even from decent paper maps, but a common problem with many of these outside sources is that they use different coordinate systems than your GPS device.

Sometime in the future, I may make a video about coordinate conversions, but for now, I’ll only describe a quick and simple way to utilize your own GPS device to get the correct coordinates for your GPX file.

In order to see GPX compatible coordinates on the map, turn on your GPS, and click “Setup”. Then scroll down, and click “Position format”, and choose hddd.dddddo (my default was UTM UPS). Now open the map in your GPS, move the arrow to the spot you wish to mark, and read the coordinates from the screen (if you need the elevation of the spot, zoom in, place the arrow on to the nearest contour line, and read the elevation). Next, open a random GPX file (I have one named “template.gpx”), and replace the (lat=”XX.XXXXXX”, lon=”YY.YYYYYY”, and <ele>ZZZ.ZZZZZZ</ele>) with your new latitude, longitude, and elevation values. As you may notice at this point, the default values of Garmin’s waypoint GPX files have six decimals, and you only got five decimals from the screen of your GPS. Don’t worry about that at all; The accuracy of your GPS device with five decimal coordinate values is about 1 meter (3 to 4 ft), which, for a civilian in any imaginable situation, is quite enough. (the default 6 decimal system probably has something to do with Garmin’s preparation for the future.) Now that you have the correct coordinates, do the renaming, redescription, resymboling, and save the brand new file to your GPX-archive folder, from where you can copy it to your GPS at your convenience.

GPX files are small (about 1 kb), and therefore, easy to store and transfer. I store my personal GPX files in the hard drive of my computer, and when ever changing the maps in my GPS, I also replace the old GPX files with the corresponding new ones. In addition, when ever in need of changing information with the friends, who are, for example, going to hike alone in my home grounds, it is extremely quick and easy just to e-mail them all of the necessary gpx files from the area, and after a minute or two of work, they have all of the nice secret camp sites, fresh water sources, and such, in their own GPS devices.

Some useful Garmin Waypoint Symbol Names:

  • Anchor
  • Drinking Water
  • Bike Trail
  • Fishing Area
  • Boat Ramp
  • Forest
  • Bridge
  • Gas Station
  • Campground
  • Information
  • Car
  • Lodging
  • Crossing
  • Medical Facility
  • Dam
  • Parking
  • Danger Area
  • Restricted Area
  • Pharmacy
  • Restroom
  • Picnic Area
  • Scenic Area
  • Pin, Blue
  • Skull and Crossbones
  • Police Station
  • Summit
  • Radio Beacon
  • Swimming Area
  • Residence
  • Trail Head
  • Telephone

How to dehydrate pea soup, and prepare it with a mini trangia stove

Pea soup has been, and still is, commonly used food in the Finnish military for several good reasons: a) it has excellent nutritional value, b) the main ingredient, dry beans, is very light weight, and has a very long storage life, c) the soup itself is easy to prepare for a large group of people, and d) in practice, it cannot be over cooked, and it can be reheated for several times.

Pea soup is also a very good dish for any campers, hikers or survivalists, who wish to enjoy tasty and nutritious hot meal every now and then. However, the soup has some unpleasant properties. One, preparing the soup from scratch, ie. from dry beans, takes a good 16 hours (at least 12 hours to soak the beans, and few hours of cooking), two, home made soup does not stay good for a very long time, and canned soup does not taste good to begin with, and three, as all of the soups, also the bean soup, even concentrated canned pea soup, contain lots of water, and is a bitch to carry around.

Fortunately, to circumvent these problems, it is possible, and very easy too, to dehydrate the soup.

Dehydrated pea soup, even with some meat in it, stays good for weeks in a backpack, and the weight reduction in comparison to the wet soup is about 80%, and best of all, preparation of delicious pea soup from dehydrated ingredients at a camp site is as easy as it can get.

Due to the facts that soup spills easily, and that a large flat area speeds up the evaporation, for dehydrating soups, or any other relatively liquid stuff, a conventional oven is better than a regular food dehydrator.

To begin the process, heat an oven to about 50 C (122 F), and line an oven tray with baking paper. Then spread the soup (either home made or canned) evenly on to the tray. One average size tray can handle anything between 500 and 750 ml (2 to 3 cups) of soup. Place the tray in to the oven and wedge the oven door slightly open with some wooden or metal kitchen utensil. Dehydrate for 14 to 24 hours (depending on the amount and the water content of the soup) till the soup is dry and the consistency brings corn flakes into your mind. Pack the dehydrated soup into a ziplock bag, and store in a cool dry place. If your soup contains meat, I recommend freezing it for long term storage.

To prepare pea soup at a camp site, try to remember what was the original volume of the soup, and heat up equivalent amount of water, and pour it into a pot on top of the dehydrated materials. Then simmer the soup on low heat (use the simmering ring with Trangia burner) for 20 to 40 minutes till the peas, and especially the meat, are rehydrated, tender, and hot. The slowly boiling soup can pretty much be left alone for the whole time, but a little stirring a couple of times during the process is recommended.

When the soup is done, season with some mustard, which, in addition to tasting good, also thickens the soup a little bit, and enjoy.

One full Mini trangia pot of soup contains about:

Energy 2500 kJ

Proteins 35 to 60 grams (depending on the meat content)

Carbohydrates 85 grams

Fat 25 grams

How to keep your teenager cool, really cool

Ice swimming is something that, if you are living in Scandinavia, you are supposed to enjoy. Well, I live in Scandinavia, and I have dipped into a hole in the ice for several times, and, to be honest, enjoyed the afterwards feeling a lot, but I’m still trying to figure out whether the good afterwards feeling is good enough to counter effect the shock I feel every time I descent into the ice cold water.

But my feelings aside, my teenage son seems to genuinely enjoy plunging into the icy water, and as often as I can, I try to make that possible.

Thus far, I have only tried to publish videos with some educational information, but this one is different. This is pure entertainment, showing how some of the teenage kids, in this case my son, spend their free time in Lapland.

The story behind this video begins with a weekend trip to our hunting cabin with my 13 year old son and my 7 year old daughter. After arriving to the cabin, starting the fire, and cutting a hole to the river ice for drinking (and sauna) water, the kids began to get bored, and my son, a competitive swimmer, got an idea to go swimming into the partially frozen river. Due to the fact that the river was flowing pretty fast, and once you are in the partially frozen fast flowing river, it is practically impossible to get out of there, I refused to let him go. Naturally, as a teenager, he kept on whining about how over protective idiot I am, and so on. So, eventually, I compromised, and let him carve his own kiddie pool closer to the bank of the river, hoping that he would use most of his steam during the process.

Well, what do I know, after axing the hole to the ice, my son went in for several times, and claimed that he really enjoyed it. In addition to that, my 7 year old daughter also dipped into the hole (carefully guarded), and afterwards, both of them were pretty happy about themselves.

Enough self confidence built, and enough energy used, the rest of the weekend was a blast.

Despite this success story in raising the kids (for a weekend), if you are planning to do the same, please, pick the safe location very, very carefully, be sure that your kids are good enough swimmers, and in good enough health to do the ice dip, and that they are doing it voluntarily (this is not any “tough love” red neck thingy, this should be fun).

I end this story with a little whine about the current state of minds and rules in the world:

I had some wonderful video material about my 7 year old daughter jumping into the icy water (the most innocent and beautiful video about genuine joy in the face of a wonderful child), but I could not publish it for two reasons; a) it was possible to recognize her from the video (possible harassment from school mates (or any random pervert)), b) she was naked (possible harassment from school mates (or any random pervert), and worst of all, by showing a video of a seven year old naked child, there would have been a real chance of getting sued for distributing child pornography. People using child pornography are truly sick, and they should be locked up for ever, but I’m not sure whether the people who think that an innocent picture of a naked child playing is pornography, are much better.

If God would accept nudity, we all would have born naked!

Random pebbles as fire scraping tools

After watching several youtube videos about using stainless steel to strike sparks from a ferro rod, and reading a bunch of comments claiming that it is impossible to get any sparks using stainless steel, and that the steel used in the videos must have been some kind of bad quality fake stainless steel with very high carbon content, I decided to make a video about using some random pebbles from my front yard as fire scraping tools.

For the test I picked ten small stones of unknown mineral content. Each of the stones had some rough edges, but none of them were particularly sharp. Then I used them to scrape my trusty ferro rod. I’d have expected at least some of the stones to fail the test, but to my rather mild surprise, every single one of them produced a nice shower of sparks with the ferro rod, proving that it is absolutely not necessary to have any specific high carbon steel tools to get sparks from a ferro rod.

Since practically any rock is harder than a ferrocerium rod, in order to be able to shave tiny pieces from it, the only thing to remember is to pick stones with at least one relatively sharp edge.

It is truly amazing how hard it is to get rid of once widely spread misinformation.

The world is full of correct information about properties of ferro rods and fire scrapers, as well as about flints and firesteels, but still the misunderstanding of those property differencies seems to prevail. Are people really so information illiterate that they cannot decide which one is more reliable source of information, “Honest prepper Joe’s survival page” or The Smithsonian institute, or such?

It will be interesting to see for how long does it take before someone claims that my pebble video is fake, or that the only reason why I was able to get any sparks was that all of the pebbles were pieces of high carbon iron pyrite.

A modernized version of a tinderbox

Before 1827, and the invention of friction matches by English chemist John Walker, a tinderbox was something to take with you when ever leaving the house. Tinderbox was a more or less weatherproof box, or a can containing everything needed for starting a fire. Typically a flint and firesteel to strike sparks, tinder, such as amadou, charcloth, or finely divided hemp or cotton, and sulphur-tipped matches to catch a fire from smoldering tinder. In short, the tinderbox was the most convenient fire starter kit in its time, equivalent to a butane lighter or a box of matches of today. Due to the fact that generally people want to use the least possible amount of effort to achieve their goals, friction match quickly killed the tinderbox.

I belong to the vast majority of people who see no reason to use flint and firesteel if something easier is available. However, it is quite possible that some day I end up being in a situation in which my butane lighter is empty, and I just ran out of matches. Therefore, I see a modern version of a tinderbox as a reasonable thing to have with me when ever going further than few hours walking distance from civilization. Since my goal is not to relive the good old pre-1827, Instead of trying to copy the original tinderbox, I’m using the most modern, low cost materials available. In fact, when I was done, the only thing left of the old tinderbox was the name. A ferro rod and a fire scraping tool are a lot easier to use than a flint and a firesteel, so, the flint and the firesteel were gone. Due to the fact that a regular cotton swab easily catches fire directly from sparks, any old tinder material, and sulphur-tipped matches, which btw are quite poisonous and no longer available, were also gone. To improve the burning time and intensity, I smeared the cotton swabs with a small amount of vaseline, and packed everything into a waterproof 50 ml plastic tube. And there it was, a fire starter kit, which, despite the fact that none of the used materials were available in the 19th century, can, without a doubt, be called a tinderbox.

In order to see whether my modern tinderbox really works, I first tested the fuel ie. cotton swabs indoors. Plain cotton swab was easy to ignite with two to three strikes of the ferro rod. The problem was that the plain cotton burned in about 30 second with rather lame flame. Vaseline smeared swabs proved to be a lot better. They caught fire as easily as the plain swabs, but burned for a lot longer time, about two minutes, with much more intense flame. Next step was to take the tinderbox outdoors. I did not try the plain swabs, but the vaseline smeared ones worked beautifully. Ignition was easy, and the flame was strong and long lasting enough to start a nice camp fire without any trouble at all.

As a conclusion, I can say that my modern tinderbox is an excellent secondary or tertiary (after the butane lighter and the box of matches) emergency fire starter kit.

Ferro rod “flint” 101

Terminologywise, probably the most confusing, and misunderstood area among hikers. Campers, and survivalists, is an ancient art of producing sparks by hitting two different materials against each other.

Before the iron age, possibly the only way to produce sparks strong enough to ignite anything was to hit an iron containing rocks of iron pyrite, also known as fool’s gold, with a lot harder flint stone.

I don’t know what did the iceman Ötzi and his buddies call their magical spark tools, but definitely, it was not a flint and a striking iron. I would guess something like “Holy magical stones of fire from the Gods”.

Then came the iron age, and with it a lot stronger sparks. Iron pyrite was replaced with a piece of high carbon iron. As in the case with the iron pyrite, the flint acted as a blade, which shaved microscopic pieces of iron from the fire striker, AKA firesteel. So, the source of the sparks was the striking iron, and the tool for separating pyrophoric pieces of iron from it (which can be seen as sparks when the iron burns in contact with the oxygen of the air), was the flint stone.

For about 3000 years, terminology was pretty clear. There was the flint and the striking iron. Then, in 1903, came Carl F. Auer von Welsbach, an Austrian scientist, and messed it all up. He invented an alloy, which contained about 70% of rare earth element called Cerium, and about 30% of iron, and called it Ferrocerium. Ferrocerium was capable of producing much more intense and hot sparks than the good old striking iron. That was the point when it went all wrong with terminology.

People began to call ferrocerium a flint. That is kind of understandable, because for couple of thousand years, something able to produce sparks, when struck with a striking iron, was called the flint. However, despite the fact that striking a ferrocerium rod with a piece of iron produces an intense shower of sparks, one cannot call the ferrocerium rod a flint. It has absolutely nothing to do with flint. Flint is, as I said before, the tool that shaves pieces of iron from the striking iron. In addition to that, flint is a member of a group of very hard rocks, not a piece of man made metal alloy.

In fact, if you want to stick with the old nomenclature, you should call the ferrocerium rod a striking iron, and, whatever material you are using to hit, or scrape the ferro rod with, a flint.

You, dear reader, may ask why I bother to do this academic nitpicking of words with the good old flint?

And I must admit that I have nothing against calling any spark producing device a flint. However, the general misunderstanding of meaning of words, and history behind them, has created hordes of “experts”, who, after seeing your very nice video about starting fire with ferro rod on Youtube, immediately attack you with comments like: a) “Your video is fake, you cannot strike flint with stainless steel. It must be XX% carbon steel.”, b) “In order to get a good striking tool for ferro rod, you must heat a specific kind of metal to an exact temperature of XX degrees, and cool it down for XX time in water/oil/magical secret liquid.”, c) “If you want to start fire with a ferro rod, you must use an ancient Roman design of striking iron, or you are not using true ancient way of starting fire.”

Answers to a, b, and c are:

a) Yes, you cannot strike fire with flint and stainless steel. The flint is supposed to shave, and the metal is supposed to burn. Stainless steel and flint stone do not work. The flint is hard enough though to shave stainless steel, but the stainless steel does not contain enough carbon to make it burn in contact with oxygen. Therefore, you do not get enough tiny high carbon chips of iron to produce any sparks. However, a ferrocerium rod is soft enough to be scraped with a sharp piece of stainless steel (or any other material harder than the rod) to produce an impressive shower of sparks (remember, a ferrocerium rod is not a flint, it is a striking iron). In this case the percentage of carbon has a role in making the steel harder, and therefore, high carbon steel works better than the softer stainless steel, whereas in case of the old striking iron, the coal enabled the metal particles burn better.

b) Another case of mixing two things, which have very little to do with each other. To get sparks with a true flint stone, you need a piece of iron that is in the same time fragile enough to be shaved to tiny pieces by the flint stone, and contain enough carbon to burn well. Therefore, the treatment of iron plays a significant role in the process of producing a good set of fire starters. In case of ferrocerium rods, the only significant properties of the iron (really, the flint) are the hardness and the sharpness. The iron (or any other material) has to be harder than the ferrocerium, and sharp enough to shave tiny pieces from the ferrocerium rod.

c) If you want to start a fire using some ancient method, forget the ferrocerium rod. It was invented in 1903. Using a regular safety match stick is far more ancient than the ferrocerium rod (friction match was invented by English chemist John Walker in 1827). Ferro rod is rather new invention, and trying to scrape fire out of it with anything older than 113 years does not make it ancient, traditional, or genuine. The Greeks, Romans, or anyone living before 1903, started their fires with a true flint stone and a striking iron, and anyone claiming to use genuine ancient methods of starting a fire with a ferro rod, could as well claim that black powder firearm is a true weapon of a cave man.

Now, that the terminology should be clear; in old terms the ferro rod is the striking iron, and anything used for shaving the rod is the flint. I would suggest using the terms ferro rod, and fire scraper. Ferro rod for it’s own uniqueness, and fire scraper for the reasons that a) it does not necessarily have to contain any iron (anything harder than the ferro rod will do), and there is no need to strike anything, scraping is quite enough to produce sparks. The names I suggested would clarify the field a lot. No more sales pitches about “magnesium flints” (some ferro rods contain up to 5% of magnesium, but it does not make them magnesium rods. They still contain about 40% of Cerium, 20% of iron, and a lot of other metals.) And, we may accept that anything producing sparks can be called flint, but really, shouldn’t it be the time to name things for what they are? At least to get rid of comments like “I loved to see you strike sparks from your magnesium flint, but shouldn’t you use a higher carbon content striking iron?”

To end up with something positive, while testing different materials (flints) for their ability to strike, or in reality, scrape sparks from a ferro rod, I discovered that an abandoned dull drill bit was the best tool (flint) to get the most intense shower of sparks with almost every scrape. A drill bit is very, very hard, and it has curvy sharp edges all along it’s shaft. These properties make it almost perfect tool to strike, or, in real world, to gently scrape tiny pieces, ie. sparks, from your ferro rod. Some parts of the curvy sharp edges of the drill bit are almost always in the right angle against the ferro rod to produce a very nice shower of sparks with minimal effort. From now on, my favorite, and the only scraping tool will be an abandoned drill bit.