Tag Archives: firestarting

Chaga – Survival Mushroom Powerhouse…


I got called out the other day..

I haven’t seen much on the blog lately other than Survival Weekly..” said my former field trainer in his subtle, passive aggressive way of telling me I have been sucking as a blogger.

I don’t know if you know this Turdis, but when you have a kid, your life changes..”  I replied in my best smartass tone.

Of course, as a father himself,  he knows that and  was one of the many that uttered that vague statement leading up to the birth of my son. Curtis, or as I affectionately call him “Turdis”, and I have a special relationship. Years ago, when he came onto the hoghunting crew, my partner and I poached his district in a friendly inter-crew rivalry, leaving a wasteland of empty hunts between our districts.

Karma played out years later when I reported to Big South Fork for field training and found out I would be subjected to his authority as my field trainer. He jokingly tormented me, I returned the favor on the wrestling mats, and the cycle continues.

A brother for life  that doesn’t hesitate to shoot me straight, Curtis is right, I have been slacking..

It’s not because I haven’t been getting out in the field, hunting, trapping, foraging, cutting wood, etc., but it’s been due to a bear problem.


Well, not those bears, this one..


While no one could ever really tell me how “your life will change”, I have been able to make some observations over the past couple months for first time dads:

  1. Plan on being late everywhere. If you tell you buddy you will be there at 9:00, it will really be 11:00 because of baby related ordeals
  2. You will get pee and poop on you. No way around it.
  3. Members on both sides of your family will lose their mind and forget you are an adult raising a child and not a child raising one
  4. Your years of purposely sucking at washing dishes is null and void now. Domestic duties now fall on you no matter how bad you suck at that stuff.
  5. Even if prompted, you may or may not choose to acknowledge how much your wife did before the baby as you marvel at how much dirt you sweep up every other day.
  6. You will eat like a bachelor again. If you aren’t a good cook, you will wish you were, so you could feed your wife and yourself something better than grilled cheese.
  7.  If you co-sleep, plan on being exiled. Even if you get a king sized bed, if won’t be big enough. Credit to Jake for telling me that, even though I didn’t believe him. He is still exiled with a one year old!!
  8. Stuff that was important or fun to you before, will melt away as playing with your boy and making him smile is more fulfilling
  9.  You will rank it at the top of the list as “the best thing that ever happened in your life”
  10. Your wife’s robe will become her second skin 🙂

And of course, writing blog posts will get pushed aside for other tasks. That is until Curtis calls you out..

All joking aside, we are coming up on the 4 month mark now and winning against some breastfeeding issues, pumping wars, and restless nights. I can now relax a bit and get back on track with some Chaga Power!!

That weird looking growth on the tree is actually a mushroom called Chaga or True Tinder Fungus (Inonotus obliquus) and grows on birch trees. It is coveted by bushcrafters for it’s firestarting prowess and by herbalists for it’s medicinal value.

Over the years I have gathered and used chaga in several ways:

1. It makes a good bug repelling incense and saved me from bug driven insanity on more than one occasion.

2. It is awesome natural tinder for flint and steel fires or great as a coal extender.



3. It is a medicinal, anti-oxidant powerhouse. Wild claims abound of chaga having higher ORAC values than any thing on earth.

ORAC Results Fruits and Vegetables per 100g / 3.5oz  USDA & Tufts University (2003)

  • Chaga  Mushroom 3,655,700
  • Acai Berries  80,000
  • Goji Berries  40,000
  • Prunes  5,890
  • Pomegranates  3,370
  • Raisins 2,890
  • Blueberries  2,450

If that doesn’t get your attention, it is also claimed to be the highest in superoxide dismutase and loaded with betulinic acid, a known cancer fighter. Anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, anti-herpetic, anti-HIV, anti-diabetic, anti-aging… if you read the list of Chaga’s powers, you may wonder why Marvel comics hasn’t made it a superhero yet.

While a lot of the claims come from sellers of chaga products, there is a growing body of research coming out of overseas where it has been used for centuries. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=chaga

What interests me is it’s historical use in Siberia and an obscure study back in 1973 that focused on chaga for psoriasis treatment and gut health.  http://www.chagatrade.ru/images/PSORIASIS_chaga.pdf

Being that I have a strong interest in herbal medicine, a love for foraging, and the willingness to self-experiment, I started drinking 16 ounces of chaga tea everyday last week. I have a small patch of psoriasis on my thigh and I am interested in seeing what happens over the next few months of daily use.

There is much debate about extracting chaga’s potent medicine, but I choose the Siberian way (hot water) and easiest (chunks). The key is not to boil it, but keep it at 150-180 degrees for hours, so I use a crock pot.

Leaving it in chunks allows easy, no strain clean up and refreezing of the chunks for the next batch. These chunks are on their third run.


This was from an overnight brew. The tea is dark and pleasant tasting. I add a little honey to sweeten it.


After brewing, I bottle the surplus, freeze my stock, and sip away.


While chaga may not have a role in a short term, wilderness emergency, it’s potential health benefits make it a long term “survival” prospect for everyday life.


Chaga hunt…sleeping on the job.


Pimp my lighter…


Friction fires are the sports cars of the survival world. They are cool, sexy, and chicks dig them, but once you learn how to make one, you will always carry another way to start a fire. Don’t get me wrong, I love friction fire too, but when you really need a fire in bad weather or if you are injured, there are better choices. You show me a one-armed, 100% made in the field, friction fire set, in foul, crappy weather, and I will show you my $1.85 lighter that will accomplish the same end goal a lot quicker and can be done by the average person.

The two firestarters that I rely on a daily, are a metal match (a.k.a. firesteel, ferro rod), and a Bic lighter. Both have their strengths and weaknesses, but they complement each other well, forming a good team. The open flame of the lighter can overcome moist, unprepared, and stubborn tinder, has 1.5 hours of fuel (I have timed them), all while weighing a little over a half ounce. I will showcase my metal matches later, but your local Stop ‘n Rob can get you started on this lighter kit today.

Lighters get a bad rap from failures due to cold temperatures and from getting wet. In my region, the cold has not been an issue as I keep one in my chest pocket, under my coat. Warming them up under your armpit or crotching them are also ways to warm them up if they are being finicky. If you live way up North, my guess is that matches may be in your kit and you probably have your own solutions up there already.

While there are tricks to dry a lighter out, prevention is always best and while we are at it, we will add some waterproof tinder and an o-ring to prevent fluid leaks.

You will need:

Bic lighter – Arsonists love white lighters because you can see the fluid level. Be like the arsonist, pick white. If you already have a light colored one, you can shine a flashlight through the body to tell the fluid level. Just switch to white in the next run.

Duct tape – Orange will make your lighter stand out if dropped and can be used as improvised flagging strips, among ,many other uses.

Balloon – Orange is a good choice here too. This is ‘Ol Humpy’s signalling device for getting picked up on the lake bank.

3/4 O-ring 

Petroleum jelly soaked cotton ball in wax paper – I wrap mine in wax paper like a piece of candy. This keeps them from getting everything greasy and getting water logged if you take a swim,

Needle nose pliers


Step 1: Peel off the sticker. Pull out the child safety if you aren’t a child.


Step 2: Wrap 3 feet of duct tape around the body, just under the logo. This will still allow you to see the fluid level when you turn the lighter on it’s side.


Step 3: Slide the O-ring over the the lighter and wedge it under the button. This will prevent the lighter off gassing if the button is pressed in your pocket or pack. When you need flame, just roll the O-ring down.



Step 4: Slip the PJ ball and the lighter into the balloon and tie it off.


Now you have a 1.5 ounce pyromaniac’s delight, complete with three available tinders, an open flame source, and a mini-firesteel striker. There is even more room in the balloon for another PJ ball or two if you wish. I believe in redundancy of key items, so one balloon kit goes in my first aid kit in my pack, one balloon kit in my survival kit in my cargo pant’s pocket, and I carry a non-ballooned lighter for everyday use in my chest pocket. Putting the lighters in balloons has the side benefit of limiting use except in dire need, so keep an unwrapped one handy.


If everything is wet and you need a little help getting your fire started, the PJ ball will go for over six minutes. And thanks to the Alaskan natives that burned up all Danno’s duct tape, I learned years ago that it makes a great waterproof tinder, just don’t let it stick to your hands. By carefully untying the balloon you can re-use it, use it as a makeshift water carrier, or for signalling. Cutting or ripping it open is always an option and will yield over a minute of burn time.


Even if you use up all the gas, the lighter is still in the game. Just pop off the metal shroud and you will have access to the “flint” striker (ferrocerium for the purists out there) that will light finer tinder like cotton balls, cattail fluff, seed heads, etc.



So the next time the earth quakes, poison arrows fall from the sky, and the pillars of Heaven shake. Just do what ‘ol Jack Burton does.

Look that big ‘ol storm right square in the eye, tell it to give you it’s best shot, and flic your pimped out BigPig Bic…

Interested in learning more practical survival skills, a few spots are still available in next weekend’s class: http://bigpigoutdoors.net/survival-101-1.html


Burn this instead..


I have received some very amusing calls and emails asking me “Which sleeping bags burn best?” and “Should I pack a propane torch in my kit?”. Well, we can laugh about mistakes when everything turns out okay, but I am sure if the trio had died that night and left their kids without a father, none of us would be laughing. An injury, a freak storm, or gear failure could happen to anyone of us, and in this weather, that could be a killer.

It was a record breaking 1 Degree when I hit the trail this morning. Two to three inches of snow blanketed the woods. Proper clothing choice and managing my layers allowed me to stay comfortable on the six mile hunt. Even though he had ice in his beard, my co-worker had broke a sweat, which is not good in this weather. On our lunch break I showed a him the wonders of birch bark as a kicker to a twig bundle fire to warm us up a little.

There are three birches commonly found in the mountains, Yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis), Black birch (Betula lenta), and River birch (Betula nigra). A primary importance of their many uses, is the volatile oil in the bark that makes it a supreme firestarter, even when wet, and I showcase these in the Survival 101 class. You will hear me say “Once you know how to start a friction fire, you will always carry a metal match and a lighter“, the same goes for natural tinders. Always, always, carry a surefire tinder like petroleum jelly soaked cotton balls, and then look to supplement them with natural tinders. I skipped the PJ balls today to emphasize the quality of birches.

It rained before the snow, then it froze, and it has stayed that way. I made a quick twig bundle from dead hemlock branches and added several pieces of Black birch bark from a dead tree I passed. You can light it with a metal match, a.k.a. firesteel, ferrocerium rod, etc., or more readily with a flick of the Bic. That was it. A properly made twig bundle, a few pieces of birch bark, and lighter.

We kicked out a place in the snow, made a platform, and added some thumb sized fuel. The next stage would be to add wrist sized fuel and then keep going up. Large fires can burn crappy fuel, and if you really need a fire, chances are it is kind of crappy.


Black birch sheets on dead tree:


Yellow birch: This picture was actually taken in the area of last weekend’s rescue




River birch bark: I find these down by the lake, but it is also commonly planted ornamentally. Grab some outside Starbucks or Olive Garden and give it a whirl.



Paper birch (Betula papyrifera) – This is the mac daddy of the birch world, but unfortunately it doesn’t grow around here. Look for this if you live up north.