Wood always catches more quickly if it has been split. The resins are trapped in the heart wood, and it is the resins and volatile material in wood that give the flame. When the flames leap up a foot above the pile of wood it is these burning gases that you are watching. Charcoal doesn't flame up because all the volatile materials have been driven out by heat.
The safest way to split wood is with a sheath knife and club. It can become a two person job which helps to spread the work out. Pounding a hatchet works nicely, but trying to convince youngsters that they should never swing a hatchet on a camping trip is a trick I have never discovered.
I like to use a sheath knife with a 6" blade. Once the blade has been hammered in the full width, I pound on the tip (which is sticking out the other side of the log) while pressing down on the handle. I've never broken a blade this way, but did break the handle once. By the way, don't try this with a folding knife. The pivot is sure to loosen.
If you like to cook over an open fire, there is nothing like a small rubber hose to encourage reluctant wood, or coax a small ember to life. Start with a 3" piece of 3/8" aluminum or copper tubing. Slip an 18" piece of rubber tubing over the metal and you are ready for action. No more bending over with your face next to the fire trying to blow at just the right spot. Waving a plate isn't any better. I've been doing this for over 20 years, but recently came across it in a book by Cal Rutstrum who says he learned of it from an old timer. One caution! Don't breathe in through the hose.
Cold feet is a common complaint of winter campers. We all know that evaporation is a cooling process, so get your feet as dry as possible before turning in. Do this by changing into dry, heavy wool socks an hour ahead of time, and then switch these with another pair when you get in the bag. If There is no water in the skin of your feet, there will be no cooling from evaporation.
Cold feet could be telling you that your sleeping bag is not adequate, or that you are losing too much heat from your head. This last is when the Finbar Hood can make a big difference. But you need to understand what is happening with body heat to use the Hood properly. It might seem complicated at first, but it's a little bit like waxing skis - once you get the hang of it the mystery disappears.
While an adequate bag is essential to keeping warm, a person should keep in mind that most body heat is lost through the head. If your body feels cold, this occurs because blood is taken away from the skin. It's all a matter of the body trying to protect itself. But the body continues to pump blood to the head, and this can account for up to 75% of heat loss. If you can prevent loss of heat through the head the rest of the body has a better chance of staying warm.
For comfort, though, we must lose heat. Just remember what it's like in summer, trying to sleep with the temperature above 95. By varying the amount of insulation in the Finbar Hood, you have precise control of how much heat you lose through the head.
This is precisely where the Finbar Hood shines. By keeping all moisture from breathing out of the insulation you have a better chance of staying warm. This might not seem like a big deal for one night, but the moisture build-up in one or two weeks makes a difference. In one ten-day test with most nights below zero, my sleeping bag gained only 9 oz. in weight.
On several occasions the Finbar Hood saved the night for me when my bag was not adequate. And it wasn't a matter of just getting by; I was comfortable.
Do you have trouble staying warm at night? Eat plenty of food and drink lots of water. No one wants to make that trip outside in the middle of winter, so lots of you cut back on water. But the basic fact is this: no matter how much food you have in your system, the chemical process of turning it into energy (heat) cannot take place without plenty of water in the system. It is a known fact that most people brought down by hypothermia are also dehydrated. So, drink, drink, drink!
Just being outside in the winter causes you to lose a great amount of water, much more than you would in summer. In winter we breath in air that is very dry, and exhale air saturated with water. This must be replaced by drinking more water.
And a word about alcohol while camping in cold weather: alcohol is a heavy-duty diuretic and therefore promotes dehydration.
"Not for me." is what I hear from most people when the topic of winter camping comes up in casual conversation. Most of this reaction boils down to concern about getting a good sleep. True, getting a good sleep takes some doing, but it is not that much of a mystery.
Start out by changing into dry clothing. The things you wore during the day are bound to have some moisture in them. The evaporation of this moisture will cool your body.
Aside from an adequate bag you need good insulation to sleep on since the stuff you sleep on gets so compressed when you lie on it that it does no good. In fact, when I use a down bag, I grab it by the underside and shake it until all the down slides out of that area, giving me maximum benefit from the down. Do this before the down has a chance to fluff up. A waterproof pad is a must, and those self-inflaters are superb. An ordinary air mattress is useless because the air in it circulates. If you don't have one of those self-inflaters, you almost need two pads.
I get additional help by sleeping on my jacket and anything else that I don't actually wear in the bag. Turn the sleeves inside-out and pull up the zipper to hold everything in place. This stuff goes under the bag.
To keep everything in place throughout the night, I like to make a trough in the snow as soon as the tent is set up. The snow that you had previously trampled is still soft at this stage, so put your pad down and pound it with your fists and knees until you have a good depression. Then lie down in it to see if there are any bumps. This is the time to smooth them out because it can't be done later.
If, in spite of all you've done, you don't have enough ground insulation under you, the skin you are lying on is sure to get cold and wake you. If you just happen to be using the Finbar Hood all you need do is quickly roll over to a warm side and go back to sleep.
As I look through outdoors magazines, I see more and more ads for walking sticks, but have never come across an article on how to use them. Now that I am in my 70's a walking stick is always with me when I head out into the hills. Even twenty years ago I found one indispensable in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of New Mexico.
But I don't use it as a staff. On the Appalachian Trail I learned that a stick was of no use in helping me to push my way up a trail. I don't look on it as a third leg, but rather as an extension of my arms. Where I find it most useful is in crossing, climbing, or descending a slope, whether grass, talus, or a boulder field is under foot. I can always take longer steps and don't tense up when the going gets dicey. On level ground I just carry it.
What about the stick? First of all, I like it to be the same as my height. If it's shorter it is of no help when stepping off a high rock. Secondly it should be strong but light. I like Colin Fletcher's recommendation for bamboo. One inch diameter seems about right, but your weight could make a difference.
Bamboo splits with time, so you will have to reinforce the space between the nodes with fiberglass. Kits for auto body repair aren't too hard to come by, but be sure to pay attention to precautions about ventilation and skin contact with the resin. A double layer about 5" wide at each location should do the trick. A nice refinement is to wrap a layer of 1/8" or 3/16" nylon cord at the places where you will be holding the stick. This should be glued on with resin, but be sure to get no resin on the outside of the cord. Give the stick a good tryout before deciding where to wrap the cord.
You will have to somehow protect the tip from wear. A rubber crutch or cane tip would be the simplest solution. If you prefer a metal tip, I suggest getting a 5/16" bolt about 2" long that is not threaded all the way to the head. Screw a nut all the way up on this. Drill a slightly larger hole through the end node and epoxy the bolt into this hole. I would put a surplus of epoxy into the hole, give the threads a heavy coating, and then slide the bolt into the hole. Once it's in place, I would tap the stick onto the ground to force the surplus epoxy around the bolt. Once everything is cured grind the head to a point. No grinder? Cut off the head and file the tip to a point.
Having a carbide tip would be ideal, and I could make up some of these if enough people were interested.
What to do if you expect to get a lot of use out of your stick and the steel tip wears out after much resharpening? If you were to coat the threads with something like petroleum jelly before applying the epoxy this would act as a release agent and the bolt could be turned out with a vise grip pliers.
You could also reinforce the bottom node with a metal ferrule. Nothing fancy, just a short piece of copper tubing or electrical conduit.
Here is what the drawing shows. You stiff-arm the stick with the up-hill arm, and the other will necessarily be bent. This is the way to do it whether you are going up, down, or across a hillside. If a foot slips, it generally will be the one that you are placing onto a new location. If this happens, you will then be supported by one foot and the stick, hence the importance of the stiff-arm. Keeping your center of gravity between the planted foot and the end of the walking stick is important. If the going is difficult, I will plant the stick before each step; if it is easy, I will move the stick with each step so that the stick and my foot hit the ground at the same time.
When coming down hill quickly, I like to side step and more-or-less just drag the stick. However, this isn't so good on a heavily used trail because it will cause extra wear.