Survival 101: The Yellow Lifesaver

This common tinder can get your fire started even in extreme conditions

If you spend enough time in the backcountry, you will find yourself having to make fire under extreme conditions: in a downpour, snowstorm or where the risk of hypothermia is nipping at your heels.

Getting in the habit of always carrying three firestarters (stormproof matches, spark rod and lighter) and a vial of cotton balls smeared with Vaseline is a critical step in being prepared.

Your other friend, found in most forests throughout the world, is resinous wood, particularly the old stumps and logs from dead pine, spruce and other conifers. We have used this wood on winter survival courses in the deep snow and in wet weather during the summer months, and it has been key in getting ignition and warming our bones during cold nights. Conifers are the king of fuel woods when survival is at stake and will work even when it's been raining for ten days straight.

Look for old stumps in pine or spruce forests or use dead-standing trees. The yellow tinge lacing the dead wood is what you're looking for. Some companies actually sell "fatwood" firestarting fuel which is nothing more than resinous wood sawn into small pieces.

This shaving technique is a woodcraft skill that you can practice in your backyard. This is where a quality fixed-blade comes into play. Otherwise, keep an eye out for that yellow-tinged wood on your next hike and try it for firestarting. It can be a true lifesaver for when the chips are down and it's been raining for days.

The telltale yellow hue and the strong, Pine-Sol-like aroma of the shaved wood will indicate you are using a conifer.

Place your blade almost parallel to the branch or stump and shave off fine pieces of the resinous wood to create a handful of tinder.

This pile of shavings can be ignited quickly with a spark rod or lighter even if the wood is wet.

This article was originally published in the Ancient Pathways newsletter. For more survival tips visit


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