Fire: Batteries and Gum

Scenario: You’ve had a long walk. You set up camp. You reach into your kit and find you’ve left your fire stick at home (or the flint goes on your lighter). You’re cold and hungry! What do you do!

If you’ve a torch which used AA or AAA batteries and you have some chewing gum on you, don’t panic. If you don’t have chewing gum but smoke cigarettes, the foil in the wrapper should work as a chewing gum wrapper replacement. Take a rectangle of the foil based chewing gum warpper. Pinch the middle. Place the ends foil side down on each end of the battery and the wrapper should catch on fire. PLEASE MIND YOUR FINGERS!



Zebra Bushcraft Billy Cans

zebra1If you’re looking for camping cookware which can handle considerable punishment, Zebra billy cans are ideal.

They come in four sizes. 10cm, 12cm, 14cm and 16cm. The 10cm and 12cm cans are ideal for one person, the 14cm for two, and the 16cm for three to four.

As you’ll see in the image, they also come with what looks like a dog bowl, which fits inside the main pot held on the rim. This allows steaming, smoking meat, cooking two layers of food or as a plate or shallow bowl.

Hang them from a tripod over a fire (the handle has a curve in the middle allowing this), pop them on a camp stove or lay them on their side and even use them as an oven to bake bread, these are versatile pots which will take years of abuse. Expect them to discolour slightly after use, but that just adds to their character.

The 14cm can is an ideal size to snugly hold a wood gas stove during transportation. Due to its height and unlike a normal pan with a standard handle, we find this more stable on a smaller stove allowing safer cooking.

What we like:

  • Solid construction;
  • The odd inner pan for steaming food;
  • Size.

What we don’t:

  • A design flaw is the plastic clips used to hold the handle upright – these melt if the pan is on a campfire. Take them off when cooking.

The issue with the clips is not enough to detract from just how good a piece of kit this is.

Some complain that the handle gets hot. Use a stick to lift the billy can when you’re ready to serve. Set it on the ground, and then use the stick, gloves or an oven glove to lift the lid. It’s not rocket science. Stainless steel gets hot! If not cooking with the lid on, you can also use an aluminium camping pan grip which are cheap to buy to handle the pot. This can also be used with the internal pan, and hey presto, you then have a mini frying pan.

In the following video a zebra billy can is used as an oven to roast a whole chicken on a small spirit burning stove. We know of people who use theirs to bake fresh bread in the morning. Please note the zebra can in the video has a minor modification, in that the plastic clips have been replaced with sprung wire.



A Beginners Guide To Hammock Camping

A Beginner’s Guide To Hammock Camping

Your equipment needn’t be expensive. We were set a challenge to build our own hammock camping rig for under £45. Not a problem and we could have done it still cheaper. It kept us dry in torrential rain, warm and we slept incredibly well. You can also buy custom camping hammock rigs and tarpaulins. Hammock camping isn’t an expensive pastime, and regardless of your budget, it’s affordable. Even those cheap chinese hammocks can hold 18stone.

DD Hammocks, a UK based manufacturer also sell custom hammock camping equipment (handling up to 20 stones). We mention them because they have good quality, affordable equipment and offer very good service. Their equipment is well designed with features which may not be apparent to inexperienced campers but are worth noting. Built in mosquito nets which stop the netting drooping on you, double layer bottoms to the hammocks for insulation (and/or storage), storage tabs inside the mosquito netting to hold a nightlight or water bottle, and suspension systems aimed at fast set up and take down. They also sell kit which is tailored to hikers who want exceptionally light weight equipment, hammocks for kids, larger tarpaulins which the family can cook under or for greater privacy at night. An alternative to DD Hammocks are ones made by Tenth Wonder which our members like too. Both manufacturers offer affordable, decent quality kit.

The great thing is you don’t have to buy all the equipment at once. Start with a tarpaulin and hammock, and then consider adding adjustable rigging (which mean you can raise or lower the hammock or adjust its lie between two trees without having to untie anything. With this and a sleeping mat to insulate your back, you’ll be set up for camping in summer months.

To extend your camping season, you can then add an under-quilt. An under-quilt is suspended under your hammock, trapping a layer of warm air. People go hammock camping in the snow using these and stay warm. One other great upgrade is a custom hammock sleeping bag or quilt. Most people will climb into their sleeping bag before sitting in the hammock and swinging their legs up and lying down. Custom hammock sleeping bags have a waterproof area around the feet, and zip up the middle. Over quilts have a similar enclosed ‘box’ for your feel, and attach around the neck and are used in conjunction with under quilts.

DD Hammocks’ beginners guide to hammock camping is a good start for anyone who wants a better understanding of setting up, equipment and sleeping positions (yes you can sleep on your side, and lay flat in a custom hammock!):

If you’re heavier than 20 stone, there are still options. Hennessy Hammocks (an American manufacturer) sell a hammock large enough for people 7′ tall and 350lbs! An alternative and cheaper option is the

Design Matters

Hammock width and length: Width is quite important, as a wider hammock gives you the option of lying at a slight angle, which flattens the hammock out and allows you to sleep on your side. The hammock has to be long enough for you to sleep comfortably.

Mosquito nets: Ideally, you want a hammock with an integral mosquito net, and one with mesh fine enough to stop midges. Aside from a cold back, nothing can ruin a night more than being eaten alive, and we live in midge country! Black mesh gives an experience of looking through sunglasses and I prefer this to green netting. Spreader bars which lift the mosquito net away from the hammock (and your face) feel roomier. Tabs inside the mosquito net give you an option of hanging a lamp (meaning there’s no need to hunt for a torch, and if you read, your light is right above your head). While you can hang a lamp from your tarpaulin ridge line, you may not be able to reach this without ‘getting out of bed’. Then you have the difficulty of readjusting your bedding after lying back down, without the benefit of a light!

Storage: While you can hang equipment from the ridge line which supports your tarpaulin, you’ll want pockets in your hammock for your car keys, phone, wallet and book/kindle. Reading in a hammock at night time is incredibly relaxing. The more pockets, the more storage. Some integral mosquito netting has tabs at each end inside, which allow a cord to be tied between them and items such as water bottles to be suspended from them. No hunting about at night for a drink!

Insulation: A double layer bottom to the hammock allows you to use a sleeping mat for insulation (even in the summer, a breeze can leave you feeling chilly unless your back has some insulation). While you can put a sleeping mat in a hammock without this bottom layer, they tend to pop out which is a pain.

Side tabs on the hammock: These are used to ensure an under-quilt (if you’ve bought one or intend to) is nice and snug underneath you. You don’t want this quilt to be compressed (by your weight) as you’ll lose some of the benefit of insulation. Neither do you want a gap as you’ll lose that trapped warm air which insulates you. They’re not essential, as you can attach an under-quilt via elastic cord to your tarpaulin ridge line.

Breathable bottoms: Some hammocks come with waterproof bottoms. It’s tempting to buy one of these to allow the hammock to be used on the ground as a bivi when camping away from trees. A word of caution though. Standard hammocks “breath” while ones with waterproof layers do not. Condensation from breathing and sweating can be a problem in hammocks with waterproof bottoms. I know several hammock campers who’ve traded in their bivi hammocks for this very reason.

Spreader bars: A few brands use spreader bars at the end of their hammocks to give the sleeper a flatter lie. While this may seem a good idea, I really don’t recommend them and wouldn’t buy one myself. These brands then use additional guy lines intended to stop the hammocks tipping over when you get in (or roll about in your sleep).

Spreader bars make hammocks unstable and remove your option of an under-quilt/blanket to insulate your back. While a sleeping mat can go inside the hammock, they slide about. Buy a hammock with gathered ends if you want a hammock you won’t slide about in or fall out of! If you want a flatter sleeping position, buy a wide hammock.

Light weight: If you’re a walker, you may want to sacrifice some of the above options to reduce carry weight. Most manufacturers offer a light or superlight range. Unless you’re camping only in the winter, do make sure you have a mosquito netting (by which we mean midge netting!) and personally, I’d still want a hammock with a double bottom to keep a sleeping mat in place! It is possible to buy detachable mosquito nets, and ones which will go over most hammocks. DD hammocks sell one.

I still don’t know what to buy!!! Well come and join our Facebook group and ask advice. You’ll find lots of experienced and helpful members as well as complete beginners. Regardless of your experience, you’ll still learn something new and they’re a friendly crowd!

Buying a hammock with these options saves you money in the long term, and gives you plenty of options to upgrade your kit which you needn’t buy straight away (or at all). All you really need is a hammock, a tarpaulin, and something to hang them from.

If you’re a serial kit collector don’t despair, you can then focus on camping knives, clothing, rucksacks, camp stoves, fire pits, cooking pots and a whole host of other things.


Spring Snare Trap

Before we get started, it is illegal to use spring snares in the UK. So why are we posting details? It’s a fun engineering project. Once you’ve made one and tested it, take it back down.

Snares are still legal as a means of hunting in the UK, but the snares must be used only to catch (not kill) the animal, and the eyes must be free running, and not locking or sprung. They must slacken off when the animal stops struggling. It’s also important to be aware that you must check a snare at least daily, and that certain animals cannot be caught by snare (including red squirrels, otters, pine martens, hedgehogs, badgers and domestic animals). Snares must be firmly attached to the ground and not used in such a way as the animal is hung or suspended when caught. The laws in Scotland are more restrictive, and snare users must obtain a registration number from the police which must be placed on the snare.

The main purpose for using a spring with a snare is to lift the animal into the air and away from predators. All you need to make the snare is a good knife, nylon string (the inner cords from paracord are ideal), a live bending sapling and some sticks.



Paracord Heaven

I love paracord. Whether as a ridge line for the tarpaulin, as guy lines to stop the tarp flapping about, or a small piece hung from the hammock suspension rope to stop rainwater running down into the hammock (as a wick), it’s probably my favourite and most versatile piece of kit.

I always have 100ft of it with me when camping. It’s cheap and versatile, and can also provide entertainment. Paracord crafting is a hobby in itself, and you can make everything from bracelets to fishing line, fishing lure, hammocks to belts.

For the survivalist, inside the paracord sleeve are 7 to 9 nylon cords (depending on the quality) which can be used as snares, sewing thread or fishing line.

Paracord Bracelets

Not just a fashion accessory, paracord can be woven into a bracelet to provide a 7′ to 9′ piece of paracord (when you pull the bracelet apart) whenever you need. Add a buckle with a built in whistle, and you give your kids entertainment and a way for them to call for help if in trouble. You can even buy buckles with built in fire starter kits. There are many different designs and knots used for the weave, but the simplest (to get you started) is the cobra bracelet. Glow in the dark paracord bracelets are a great way to keep an eye on the kids at night (I use luminous paracord to hang my torch up at night… handy when it’s pitch black and you need the loo).


There are many other kinds of knots which give different styles. You can even splice together two different coloured cords to give you a two tone bracelet.


Want to make something even fancier. Try the wide dragon’s tongue design!


Fishing… no kit? Paracord to the Rescue

As we mentioned above, inside a paracord sheath are thin cords which can be used as fishing line. What about bait? If you can find worms, you can do a spot of worming. This involves attaching worms to a hook, and then a weight to keep the worms bouncing along the bottom of the stream or river. A problem most anglers will be aware of is conventional weights getting caught on the river bed, and suddenly you’re playing a tug of war game which you’re likely to lose (along with that hook and your worms). Line left in rivers isn’t a good thing for wildlife, so why not rig yourself a paracord slinky weight. The following video shows you how! This is less bulky than normal worming weights, and therefore less likely to get snagged between rocks.


What happens if you dig and can’t find worms though. You’ve got some hooks in your survival kit, but no fish is going to bit on a bare hook! Make a fly from paracord!


No hook? Well, so long as you can find a thorn bush, you can rig this up with a paracord line. Thorns were still being used as fishing hooks at the turn of the 20th Century.


No hook, no bait, no thorns… well the vultures will eat well (just joking). Make a paracord net and make a fish trap!


Paracord can be used to make fishing nets, net bags and even hammocks!


If you want a paracord hammock (we use one slung underneath a tarp to hold our equipment and keep it off the ground), while you can make one (and for the fun of it, why not), they are incredibly cheap to buy.


Magnesium Flint Fire Strikers

flintYou need to light a fire with something. Matches get soaked, flints fail on lighters and the fuel runs out. You need a reliable backup when camped away from shops and civilisation (hammocks strung outside ASDA tend to get funny looks).

What are magnesium fire strikers? Black metal rods with a thumbnail sized plastic handle. The rods are made from magnesium and have a strip of flint running down one side.

When you need to light a fire, you shave little pieces of magnesium off the stick onto tinder, and then strike the other side of the stick with the attached green metal rectangle. Hey presto… fire.

You shave the stick and strike the flint using a hard metal object. Most sticks come with a striker. The striker in the picture is the green rectangle.

People either love or hate these magnesium fire strikers. The main reason for people not liking them is no-one having explained how to use them. Unless you know that a new fire striker has a thin plastic coating which needs scraping off first, your first couple of attempts at using the striker will bring disappointment. Put simply “plastic don’t throw a spark!” We believe many a cheap striker has been unfairly thrown in a bin.

As with any new equipment, play with it before it becomes a necessity. Get to know it, how it feels, and feel comfortable using it. Isn’t that half the fun. Make a spark, light a bonfire or your barbecue. Do it in the garden and not in the living room, or you’ll have your daughter tell you off. Trust me… they do.

Another tip? You’ll find it easier making a spark by using the back of your knife to strike the flint rather than the soppy piece of green or orange metal provided.

My favourite

ministrikerSome strikers work better than others, and I was surprised at how effective a tiny one was which came with my knife. When you check on Amazon, it gets a 5 star rating. It’s called the Mini Magnesium Flint Fire Striker Spark Lighter (a bit of a mouthful) by AoE Performance. Well worth the investment and having this tiny striker as a back up. If anything, buy two. My spare hangs from a carabiner on my tarpaulin ridge line. The  second is in a pocket in my knife sheath. At £1.49 each, they’re a bargain (and so small there’s no excuse not to carry two!).

What do you light?

Striking a spark onto wood or coals directly is going to cause you frustration. You need either tinder or good firelighters. Tinder is anything which catches a flame easily. It can be grasses, wood shavings, feather sticks or firelighters.

Make life easier and take home made firelighters. These take a spark from a fire striker and give you a lovely ball of flame (even without magnesium shavings). See our post “Tips for Firelighting: Vaseline“. These are fantastic, and hold a flame far better than shop bought fire lighters, even in the wind and when it’s wet!

Don’t expect a fire striker to get logs burning, even when using firelighters. Those firelighters need kindling heaped on top before you’re piling up the logs! I keep a small sack of kindling in the boot of the car. You can buy one from most petrol stations (at least you can in my part of the country). Nothing is worse than setting up camp in rain and finding no dry wood to burn. A sack of kindling will give you enough wood to at least cook on for a night.

If you’re camping with children, send them off gathering sticks. Break them off into 6” to 1foot long pieces, and put the thinnest on the fire lighter first when it’s blazing. You’ll be good!