Firecraft From An EDC Perspective
When we are out and about in the city and wandering the concrete trails along the asphalt rivers that run through our urban wildernesses, under the neon stars of the city skies, most of us tend to look at EDC tooling at least a little differently than we do when compared to a woodland environment. We do this viewing from different perspectives that are based on our own life experiences. Personally I seldom put any thought to self defense when I am out in a wilderness environment. Having grown up in wild places, fishing and trapping commercially in my youth, I am generally pretty relaxed in a secluded forest environment. Yet I definitely think about such things when I am in crowded urban environments. However I have a friend who has lived in the city his whole life, who seldom feels threatened in an urbanized environment, but would never voluntarily go to the woods without two firearms and spare mags. The differences, as a general rule, are because we all think only along the lines that we have a contexts for. Our personal known truths that have been developed over time through our own experiences in life.
A good illustration of this would be the green moss Swiss Army Knife I carry. It's pictured below with some of my other edc gear. It is a Swiza, a new iteration of the SAK. It has a softer more gripy texture, a locking primary blade, and better ergonomics than some others in my opinion. It has become a near constant companion these days, but for reasons I imagine few would be likely to guess.
It, and a blue cammo variant, arrived as gifts for my youngest daughter and myself Christmas of 2016. They came from a friend who lives in Switzerland some time before they were even available from a purveyor here in the U.S.. I liked the design, and naturally the cool factor as well, immediately upon opening the package. I carried it daily for some time after that, and I have used it quite a bit. I have no complaints about the Swiza at all, but I also have other folding knives I like too, so it became part of my edc tool rotation. Then one day an impromptu dinner with a friend made for an unexpected time when I would have loved to have it on hand. I would have used it, as one of its intended uses, to remove the cork from our bottle of wine in a more civilized manner. As it turned out the Swiza was sitting very comfortably in a tray on my desk. So, I cut a small branch that was just smaller in diameter than the neck of the bottle, cut the business end of it nice and flat so it wouldn't punch into the cork, and used a larger branch as a baton to drive the cork into the bottle. Then I smiled, probably a bit sheepishly, and poured her a glass of wine. I think she may have actually been impressed with how I handled the situation, but I saved that bottle. I saved it stick cork and all, and put it on a shelf near my desk. I keep it as a reminder that a thing can only ever be useful if it is at hand when it's needed. The Swiza has been a close companion ever since.
For all of us, the things we hold to be important have their own hierarchy, an order of usefulness to us on a personal level. As a woodsman I haven't left home without a knife, at least a small one, since I was seven years old being taught to hunt. As a hunter, and then later as a fisherman, a commercial fisherman, and a trapper, I would come to prefer fixed blades, and just as much for reasons of hygiene as durability. As a writer, and unfortunately one who has lost or misplaced really good lines and important information due to an inability to make a note, I am almost never without a pen or three or some way to make notes. Having had the very unpleasant experience of severe frostbite as a teenager, and vividly remembering the doctors looking me in the eyes as they explained why they needed to remove parts of my body in order to save my life, I never leave home without multiple ways to get warm if the need arises. So a knife, a pen, and a way to start a fire are among my constant companions, and they take up very little space on my person.
To this day I still prefer fixed blades over folding knives, particularly when it comes to food. It doesn't matter if I am dressing game preparing meals or just eating dinner, I prefer a knife that doesn't have hard to reach – and impossible to see – nooks and crannies where organic matter can rot and grow potentially dangerous bacteria. A few days ago a young man, a student at a local university from the looks of him and his things, made a comment I thought was laughable. I had stopped in at a local diner on the north shore called “Good Dog”. I like the fact that they support our local farmers and a local bakery, but I also like that they make really good chili dogs. They are also really messy, but delicious none the less. Plus their wi-fi is faster than some others there, so I like to stop by when I am working in the area. The young man was looking at me as I drew out my own small knife to cut my chili dog into bites, and he gave me a funny look. “Have we not evolved to a point where we're civilized enough that we don't need to carry knives in public yet?” he asked the room at large as he leaned his head in my direction to indicate he was referring to me. So I stopped typing for a moment and just looked at him considering his demeanor. Then I cut another bite, speared it with my fork, and held it up between us to make my point. I smiled at him and said “actually, I like to think I'm civilized enough to not get mustard, slaw, and chili all over my keyboard, without having to waste a hand full of napkins in the process. Have we not reached a point where we put too many things in the land fill already?” Then I ate the bite and went back to typing. He apparently didn't have anything further to add to the conversation and went back to his you tube videos, and I went back to the multi-tasking of eating my late dinner and editing images from a photo shoot earlier in the day.
My how time flies by. She will be twenty-five this year, and has a life, home, and child of her own these days, but my oldest daughter and I still get to hang out together a few times a month. Like the rest of my life since the leg injury last year our outings have been mostly urban of late, so our hikes have all been on city sidewalks lately. But no matter there, we did that a lot when she was little too. Plus since I corrupted her with my coffee habit almost a decade ago now, we enjoy having coffee together on the patios of our local coffee houses.
Just because she is grown does not mean that I feel any less responsible for her safety and well being when she is out with me now than I did when she was a child. With my background, and having very clear memories of the parts of my life that made me an authority on the subjects of wilderness and urban survival, I would never be able to live with myself if either of my children had to suffer severe or debilitating injuries due to poor planning or a lack of being prepared on my part. So even in an urbanized environment I always have, among other things, ways to cut things that need cutting, write things that need writing, and to start a fire at need, unless something has gone horribly wrong. As far as pens for urban carry go, I like the Tuff Writer pens and prefer the Mini Click. I prefer pens that are thumb actuated over pens that twist, given the choice, but I prefer either of those over a threaded removeable cap. I use my pen quite often The Precision Press pens are really nice too. The have thumb click operation as well, and they have some very nice contours. Yet at 5.1 inches long, the mini is nearly an inch shorter than the Precision Press. It and seems to draw less attention, whether in my shirt pocket or laying on my note book on a table at a local eatery. Being a writer, I'm more drawn to those aspects most of the time. If, however, I am more focused on the self defense side of things I take the longer one.
Fortunately for us oxygen-breathing humans “weeds” grow in lots of places, even in city parks and along urban road ways. Just as fortunately, for those of us who study various survival techniques, many weeds such as; golden rod, thistle, and several others propagate via wind dispersal of their para-sail-like seeds. This latter item is fortunate for us because in the bitter chill of winter, when a fire is most likely to come in handy, these seeds are dried and ready to take flight. This means they are no longer pulling moisture up through their stalks creating internal wetness. Their structure is such that any moisture on the outside has a tendency to dry fairly quickly, as the dried flowers sway in the breeze on the tops of the long skinny stalks. Unless it is currently raining, has recently rained, or it is early in the morning and the dew is still on the plants, they are typically dry enough to easily light with a ferro rod. In their dried state, they will take a spark from a ferro rod and ignite extremely well, and the dry hollow stalks will ignite just as easily from the flames produced by the burning dry flowers. A large mass of these dried woody plants will produce a lot of heat and make an excellent tinder and kindling combination, but it will burn quickly.
This system of ignition usually works very well, and it will work just as well in a barbecue grill in a city park as it will in a meadow in the deepest wilderness imaginable. In fact it actually works better more often than not (on dry days when the grill is not pretending to be a bird bath), because of the pre-made wind breaks on three of the four sides, and standing directly in front of the grill blocks the wind from the fourth side.
This knowledge and abilitty could come in handy for any number of reasons. I have built fires in park grills on several occasions just so my children and / or my date could warm their hands and face on a cold winter evening as we were enjoying the sun setting over the water. I have used it as a means to warm up our leftovers from local eateries while we relaxed and enjoyed an impromptu evening in the park. On one occasion I had the misfortune of my lighter being too low on fluid to get the barbecue lit during a summer picnic in the park with friends. I'm certain there could be others.
Granted, we all know this fire could be ignited in different ways under good conditions. This same sort of tinder material could only ever be even more easily ignited by using the flames of a cigarette lighter or matches. However, unlike most cigarette lighters, a ferrocerium rod with a striker will work even immediately upon emerging soaking wet from that river back there on a cold day in late January. and the ferro rod is a lot less bulky to carry in the pockets of dress slacks than a match safe would be.
Obviously this information applies equally well to pretty much any high quality ferro rod and striker. Yet I personally prefer the one I've used in this post, a nanoSTRIKER XL from Exotac Inc. as an edc fire starter. It was originally designed for thru-hikers and backpackers, but I find it translates into urban edc carry quite well also. This is because it is a sealed system that protects the rod from the salts in our sweat or salt water when carried in a pocket, and salt water is the nemesis of all ferrocerium rods. I have pulled other ferro rods from my pocket after long sweaty hikes to find them coated in a hard yellow substance and requiring a good deal of clean up to be serviceable again. I also prefer it because it is one of the few all inclusive systems that comes with its own striker included. I have carried one daily for the last six years and I have used it extensively, so I am used to it. However gear choice is definitely a personal thing. Whatever you choose to carry, I would suggest spending a little time familiarizing with it under calm circumstances, rather than learning any shortcomings under stress.