Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Simple Improvised Headlamp

This entry will show you how to improvise a headlamp from a small penlight. This idea came about from a happy accident. Initially I only intended to whip some strong cord around my flashlight because I was not satisfied with the thin string that was supplied, and was anticipating it breaking off at some point.

The flashlight I am using is a Fenix L1D. I love this little bugger. It takes a single standard AA battery, and works well with rechargeables. It throws out a lot of light, but also has options to decrease the brightness level via twisting the end, increasing battery life. It also has a strobe and SOS mode but whatever.

I use this flashlight all the time because of it's convenient size, efficiency, and light output, but of course often need the use of both my hands, leaving the only other option of mouthing it. Often dripping drool into it. This easy as pie mod will create a dual purpose device.

Getting Started

You don't need much. Just the flashlight and some cord. I used just shy of 1.8m (6ft) of 550 paracord. This is plenty for a light this size, and you probably don't want to have one much bigger hanging off the side of your head.

The whipping length was fairly short (10 turns) so the thread is kept clear. Thinner cord will need to be longer.

The exact length of cord is not critical as it will be made adjustable.

Whip It

<-- Double the cord along the flashlight, creating a loop. It is not folded exactly in half - one end is long - this is the line that is wrapped around the cylinder.

Hold at the point where the whipping will start and fold the long line over the short one, clamping it in place. -->

 Whip It Good

<-- Wrap around again and continue. Whipping needs to be TIGHT to work so pull that sucker HARD.

Continue until you almost reach the end, leaving a small area free. -->

If you whip it right up to the end, a loop may slip off which will loosen the whole works, leaving you with a lovely birdsnest. For this reason, stop wrapping at about 10mm from the edge.

Shape It Up

<- When you have wrapped enough loops, take the loose end and feed it through the loop.

Now pull on the short line that lays under the wraps, and pull it tight. -->

Get It Straight

Once you pull the loop tight - assuming every wrap was tight - the whole works will be secure. You can now release your grip because that cord is not going anywhere.

If you are not familiar with whipping, this is a pretty standard technique and can be used for many other purposes such as securing two or more poles together, or making comfortable handles for tools.

Go Forward

<-- Take one end of the cord and tie a knot in this fashion. This image shows the lay of the knot but you will want to tie it tighter than this before you try to sinch it up.

When tightened, it will slide along the other line and not slip under tension. Tie a knot on the other line to stop it from slipping. I used a figure-8 knot but a granny knot will do.

Move Ahead

This is how it works as a headlamp. Yeah you will look like a tool but what the hell. It works. It's easy to pull the line loose or taut around your head or hand, or hang it from your neck like a lanyard.

If you whipped it good, it will never come loose and you will never lose a valuable item such as a 90 fucking dollar flashlight ever.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Essential Fire Devices

A lot is written about fire in survival texts and I won't go into details about all the different ways of creating a fire, but rather the essential items you will want in your kit, and why.


Forget about matches. They are an outdated method for creating fire and are problematic. They take up a lot of space for relatively few "lights", and you may need to strike several matches to start a fire if the wind gets to them. They are prone to breakage. If standard matches get wet, they are useless. You can keep them in a waterproof baggy, with the striker, or you can buy or make waterproof matches, but as you will see, waterproof matches are not necessary.

The only benefit to matches is they come attached with a small amount of fuel (ie, the wood) but if you can't find a matchstick worth of fuel, you're not going to get a fire going anyway.

Standard Cigarette Lighters

For roughly the same volumetric space as a standard packet of matches, you can carry a lighter. Carry 5 what the hell.
I have only ever bought Bic lighters for as long as I remember and for good reason - they are safe and reliable. Every time you need a new lighter, buy 3 and stash 2 away.

A quote from their site:

Every BIC® lighter undergoes more than 50 separate, automatic quality checks during the manufacturing process. This includes testing of each and every finished BIC® lighter by lighting and extinguishing it to ensure the lighter performs properly before it ever leaves BIC’s factory.

They boast around 2000 "lights" each* - far more than the 50 you will get from matches (unless you do that splitting the matchhead thing which is just stupid).

*unless you smoke bongs

And one of the biggest benefits of a cigarette lighter: they are WATERPROOF. Well, not entirely, if you get it wet it might not spark immediately, but it takes very little to get it dry enough to spark and sustain a flame - even if it has been fully submerged.

  1. Remove the child proof strip. This is easily done by levering it out with a small screwdriver or the tip if a knife. I do this anyway because I hate them. Leaving these strips on will provide some protection against getting the flint wet in the first place however.
  2. Put the lighter to your lips and suck air through the striker.
  3. Strike the flint without pressing the gas if you can avoid it.

Repeat steps 2 and 3 until you get a spark, at which point you will get a flame which will dry the flint completely in short order.

The entire process will take less than 30 seconds to get a flame from a lighter that has been completely submerged.


You don't need a fire-lighter every time you start a fire, but they are worth carrying for when materials are wet, or a little green, or you just need a little boost. I prefer to carry the fibrous kind, they are made from wood pulp and some sort of fuel. The ones I have are made from 45% wood fibre and 55% wax.

The reason I like the fibrous kind is that they are very easy to slice up into small sections. You do not need a whole fire-lighter every time you start a fire.

If materials are wet, circle them around the initially small fire and let them dry without smothering the delicate flame. Start with the smaller kindling on the outside surrounding the central fire, and the larger fuel surrounding that. Bring the outer material in as it dries and feed the fire, gradually building it up and providing more heat for the larger wet material surrounding it.

If it has been pouring with rain, fuel on the ground will be initially too wet to start a fire (while trying to conserve precious luxuries such as liquid or solid fuel). Don't look on the ground for your kindling, but rather look to the trees. Almost every tree or bush will have dead twigs attached. Snap these off as they will be far more dry than material that is laying on the ground, and much easier to get burning.

Larger sticks and logs on the ground that have been sitting in standing water will be wet on the outside, but will still be dry in the core unless they have been soaking in water for a long long time. Dry the surface of such materials next to your fire, with the smaller materials closer to the centre.

By following this logical process you will always be able to get a fire going in the wild no matter how long it has been raining.

Notes on Other Fire-Lighting Devices

Firesteel is a compact and convenient device. If you are skilled with it, you will get even more fires from it that from a cigarette lighter. While these tools don't last forever, they will last a LONG time, and are essentially waterproof and will produce a spark easily when wet. I definitely recommend stocking one or two of these in your kit.

Fire-Pistons are an ancient device for creating an ember with which to kindle a fire. If treated properly, a good fire piston will last a lifetime. While not completely waterproof, by design they are sealed tight when not in use, making it very hard for water to penetrate, even if totally submerged for long periods.

Zippo-style lighters are robust and will last a lifetime if properly cared for, providing you have spare flints and can find fuel for it. Substitute fuel includes:

  • Alcohol: works well, but evaporates quickly
  • Lantern fuel: hard to light, but will burn admirably when ignited
  • Kerosine: works well.
  • Camp stove lantern fuel: essentially the same as lighter fluid (naphthalene) 
  • Nail polish remover: probably would work

You may be tempted to try diesel or petrol (gasoline). Don't. Diesel won't ignite from a spark, and petrol will puncture your face with exploding lighter parts. If you have petrol and a sparking lighter, soak something with a SMALL amount, and ignite that.