Fire from ice? Improvised metal detector? I’ll bet that many people who’ve watched an episode of Burn Notice or MacGyver have wanted to be able to grab a couple of common items and turn them into something uncommon just in time to save the day.
Here’s your chance to learn a few of the many on-the-spot survival tricks out there.
For me, it all started when I was a kid and my dad showed me how I could use an analog watch as a compass.
From there, I could only learn more. Such knowledge is handy whether you’re traveling light in the outdoors or another exploring another country or simply staying at home.
Fire From Ice
Stuck somewhere with no matches, lighter, or other common way to light a fire? Try ice.
This less-well-known survival technique is a little challenging but can be done.
First, get ahold of a good chunk of ice that’s as clear as possible once you rub off any snow or dirt. Sculpt the ice into a convex lens by rubbing it with your hand (be careful of frostbite) or a warm cloth until you’ve formed a lens that concentrates light just like a magnifying glass.
Rustle up some good, fine, dry tinder or paper, focus the sunlight’s beam on it, and wait. As with all fire making, it’s good to have more tinder and twigs already set up so that you can stuff your burning tinder under it and start your fire.
This is a little tricky because you’ll need to find ice that’s clear enough and making a shape that works. So you might need a few tries. Plus, it does melt and change.
Start in the morning so that you have strong midday sun to focus or time to try again.
Just like with a magnifying glass, be careful about eyes and skin. You’re effectively running a laser.
Most important, if you have a match, just use it and get on to other things. Time is precious when you’re trying to survive.
Build Your Own Metal Detector
So, you’re out at the cabin one day and your cute little son decides it would be a lot of fun to stomp your car keys into the mud and forget where he did this. You look for disturbed soil but can’t find the keys. What to do?
Your spouse isn’t interested in making the 20 mile hike to the main highway, so you choose this moment to show off a little of your skill.
You can do this trick a variety of ways that include strapping things together, but I’m going to show you the simplest way.
You’ll need a handheld radio that is either AM or AM/FM and a simple hand calculator. Make sure the radio is on AM and tune it the farthest up the dial that you can without being on a station. All you should hear is static. Turn up the volume.
Turn on the calculator. Hold the radio in one hand and calculator in another. Slowly angle them to face each other until the static turns to a kind of buzzing sound. Back them away from each other until you can just hear that buzz.
You can then hold them over a piece of ground, and the buzz will increase when held over something metal. You do have to keep the space between the radio and calculator about the same all the time and hold it low, so it can be more convenient to rig it with some tape, a small box, or whatever – but it will work even without those, especially if you’re able to keep the distance between the two devices from varying.
As with all tips in these articles, make sure laws where you live are ok with you having and/or using this equipment.
Use Your Hand to Gauge the Sun
I’m sure you’ve heard of rules of thumb; here’s a rule of hand. Let’s say that you’re in an area that might be dangerous to hike at night and want to walk only in the daylight. Or, maybe you have friends visiting who need to leave before dark. How can you estimate how much daylight you’ll have?
First, just a reminder: never look directly at the sun.
Extend your arm in front of you. Hold your hand horizontally, fingers together, like many people do when shading their faces. Position your hand so that the bottom of the bottom finger is on the horizon. Count up until you reach the sun.
Every finger width is approximately 15 minutes of time before sunset, so the four fingers together equal about one hour.
A really handy fire starting equation I first tried some years ago is battery + fine steel wool = fire.
For many common batteries like AA, C, and D, you can stack a couple of them together. Pull some steel wool into a strand about 6 inches long and touch one end to each end of the battery/ies. There will be a brief ignition of the wool, which you can help with a puff or two of air. Have it set in your tinder or get it there right away because it won’t last long.
If you have a 9 volt battery, you can simply rub it on the steel wool and blow on it to start your tinder.
Do I need to remind you that this is fire, so be careful?
And, About That Watch Trick…
Do you recall that trick I wrote about before where Dad taught me about turning an analog watch into a compass?
This is one of several ways to turn your watch into a compass. If you’re in the Northern Hemisphere, you can hold your watch horizontally, stand a thin, straight stick such as a matchstick on the face, and put the shadow of the stick between the hour hand and noon.
At that point, “12” will be pointing north. (Be careful not to pay attention to the minute hand. That can throw you off.)
Another way is to point the hour hand of the watch at the sun. Midway between the hour hand and 12 will be south.
These do work, but remember that you’re not using the exact tools for the job; you’re essentially using a hammer like a screwdriver. Things like Daylight Savings Time, being in the Southern Hemisphere, and the Sun’s maximum altitude (days when it’s less than 45 degrees of altitude seem to work better) can all have an effect.
There are many, many more handy things that you can keep in your mental kit bag. However, the several tricks listed above are all improvisations that you might need if you’re up against the elements with nothing else at your disposal.
In any situation involving the health and safety of yourself or others, rely on quality, dependable equipment and training whenever possible.
Have fun out there.