Make A Campsite Tripod

Gather three stout branches of about the same length, lay them down together and then wrap the tops with jute twine or para cord in a clove hitch. Then, stand them up, spread the branches, tighten the clove hitch and secure it with a couple half hitches—you now have a surprisingly sturdy improvised tripod. The thicker the branches, the more weight it can hold. And if you carve the feet into points, it’s sure not to budge. Make two and you have a solid platform to lay another branch across from which to hang a pot over a fire.

These rigs are versatile as well. You can place the legs farther apart or closer together to change the height of the tripods. Raise them, move them away from the fire a bit and you have a nice rack on which to dry wet clothes. Get creative and you’ll be surprised how many uses you can find for these simple constructions. Untie them when you move on and leave nothing but some more wood to feed the forest.

Rat Out Big Muskies

If you want to slam big muskies in the early winter, tie on the new SPRO BBZ-1 Rat hard bait lure. This life-like lure measures 10 inches, and it has an articulated tail sure to kick up a big wake. Because of its size, it won’t land the smaller fish for the campfire frying pan, but if the water has some big guns lurking, break this bad boy out and potentially come home with a trophy catch that will make all that shivering worthwhile.

SPRO's rat bait lure brown
SPRO’s new BBZ-1 Rat measures 10 inces, 5-1/4′ for the body with a 4-3/4″ articulating tail. It’s specifically designed to trigger the instrinctive reaction in larger predator fish.

Do-It-All Hunting Guns

Use the same shotgun for fall turkey and winter deer. If you live and hunt in a place where dense forest is the norm, this is an easy way to hunt on a budget, or a way to introduce a young hunter to three seasons of hunting without breaking the bank. A shotgun that’s set up for turkey hunting is, naturally, going to be a good gobbler killer, with a smooth pump action, a 3-inch chamber, camo skin and, most likely, a top rail for optics. With a 2X or zero-magnification red-dot and an XX full choke, you’re set for fall turkey. Purchase a rifled slug barrel and check the sight’s zero to quickly transform your turkey gun into a deer slayer, whether you use slugs or sabots. In small fields and thick brush, very few bucks will be out of range with a rifled slug gun, and you’ll be dead accurate with your dialed-in red dot. Then, when the snow melts, just switch back the barrels and you’re ready for spring turkey.

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Backwoods 911 Planning

You can have all the modern, high-tech gear in the world at your campsite. But if you find yourself turned around and away from your camp with dusk approaching and temperatures dropping, there are a few compact essentials that can get you through the night, or even save your skin. Always carry a belt pouch that never leaves your body when venturing away from camp. A small dump pouch with a secure drawstring will work, but, most importantly, it has to be something that won’t get lost and won’t pop open when you don’t want it to.

On that belt should also be your knife. Pack your pouch with a tube of waterproof matches and a disposable lighter in a plastic bag, a ferro rod and striker, a quality compass, an emergency whistle, a good length of jute twine, an emergency poncho or waterproof blanket, a map of the area, a tinder tube and a waterproof flashlight, preferably with a lock on the switch.

I like to make my tinder tubes from old paper towel tubes that have been cut into 2-inch sections and packed with dryer lint. You can coat them in paraffin wax to keep them dry, or wrap them tightly in plastic wrap. Open them up and they make the perfect tinder. The jute twine is light, packable and great for lashing together an improvised shelter or any number of field tasks. Plus, if you pull the fibers apart and fluff them, you have more dry tinder to get a fire going. If there’s enough room, a length of para cord is a good addition, or you can finally unbraid that nifty survival bracelet you might be wearing.

If you’re in serious backcountry, add a SPOT locator to the inventory. You can, of course, stuff all this into the pockets of your parka, but if you have a tendency to forget what tree you hung it from while doing work, it might be best to keep it all on your belt. And if you’re with friends, keep your two-way clipped to the pouch as well. Even if you never open it, it will provide you with piece of mind. And if you do, you’ll be glad you have it.

Have Canteen, Will Travel

While there are many products for hauling drinking water on the market, none of them make liquid lighter or have many other uses, if any. An old-fashioned military-style canteen (plastic or steel) that fits into a carrier with a steel or aluminum cup can be a lifesaver. The steel cup can be used  for cooking, and if you expend the quart of water in the canteen, the cup is perfect for quickly melting snow (which can then be run through a filtration system if necessary) to replenish your water supply. An insulated carrier helps stop the water from refreezing and lets you pack a filter straw or, in a pinch, iodine tabs. Military surplus works fine, but commercial products, like the Gerber Bear Grylls Canteen, are great options as well.

canteen camping
The steel canteen cup can be used for cooking.

Carry A Big Stick

It may seem like a no-brainer, but a walking stick can make the difference between a good weekend in the deer woods and a miserable limp back to camp. Hiking poles have their purpose, but a stout, trimmed branch works just as well, if not better, for keeping balance on uneven terrain, clearing a path through dense brush and checking that spot where you’re about to place your boot. It’s better for your walking staff to discover what looks like a patch of leaves is actually a 3-foot-deep rotted tree-stump hole filled with water than for your ankle to find out the same thing the hard way.

Get Fixed For The Trail

A fixed blade can be your best friend and the most versatile tool you’ll carry into the woods. Picking one that can complete the most tasks without failing is essential in any season. The Blackbird SK-5 from Ontario Knife Company, featuring a full-tang blade with no-slip Micarta scales, is a great choice with its spear-shaped, 5-inch blade of 154CM steel. The spine has extremely sharp corners that are perfect for shredding tinder and striking a ferro rod. The length and shape make it big enough for large battoning tasks but nimble enough for carving. Add a simple length of para cord to a solid leather sheath (check out Hedgehog Leatherworks at or Chisholm’s Trail Old West Leather at, and you can carry it over the shoulder like a bandolier. It will be comfortable over heavy clothing and you won’t have to yank up your coat every time you need to access your knife.

Build A Self-Feeding Fire

After getting it started, the biggest difficulty associated with a campfire is keeping it going. If you’re gathered around one, basking in the orange light and roasting marshmallows, it’s not much of a bother to feed and stoke. But if you need that fire for real warmth through the night, or to cook dinner, it can be an annoying struggle. To build a self-feeding fire that burns untended and produces a lot of heat and coals but low flames, follow these simple steps.

Find the driest wood you can, obviously. Then, gather several pieces of firewood, from wrist-thick to finger thick, and a good handful of twigs. Lay the largest logs in a row, arranged tightly together. Use progressively smaller sticks to build more layers on top of the base, creating a sort of pyramid. Make sure to arrange them all in the same direction, filling in as many gaps as possible as you go. Then, on top of the layered pyramid, build a typical teepee campfire structure and light it as usual. The coals from the teepee fire will burn down through the pyramid, kind of like a candle wick, and be introduced to the layered sticks, gradually catching them at high temperatures and producing a ton of coals perfect for cooking. It starts slow, but burns hot and long. If built against a backstop, the fire will also project a lot of heat. The layers will continue to feed the fire without rearranging or stoking for three to four hours, depending on the size of the firewood used. For a longer-lasting fire, simply build a larger base pyramid.

This article originally published in THE NEW PIONEER® Winter 2015 issue. Print and Digital Subscriptions to THE NEW PIONEER magazine are available here.

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