Master The Flame

When selecting a fire steel for yourself or your child, you should get the largest one available. The old mini-rods on the side of a big bar of magnesium (mag bars) are not your best choice. Mag bars require too much prep time and manual dexterity to use properly; add the fact that most people don’t even know how to properly scrape off the magnesium and you have a recipe for disaster in a survival situation.

The popular fire-steels with plastic handles are often too small to be of long-term use; they always end up flying off and the scrapers simply don’t do an adequate job in taking off enough molten metal to light a fire with marginal or damp tinder. But they work as backups.

You want a fire-steel that is at least 0.5 inches in diameter and 5 inches long. This size will give you the most bang for your buck by allowing a longer contact time with your scraper (knife spine) and the fire-steel, thereby creating more molten metal and a greater shower of sparks. They are also less prone to breaking and are large enough to either drill through to attach a 550 cord lanyard or wrap in 1-inch-wide duct tape for a handle that also adds a multi-use option to the fire steel by having tape for cordage, repairs and fire starting.

Next, explain to your kids the differences between tinder, kindling and fuel, how to find it in the landscape and how to find natural accelerators such as fatwood. It’s also good to stress the importance of always carrying “sure fire” with you at all times in case of a survival situation. “Sure fire” is a material that has been chemically treated to burn even in wet conditions, such as The Pathfinder School’s Mini Inferno ( When torn open and fluffed up to increase its surface area, this product makes an excellent “sure-fire” device that will burn even after it’s been fully submerged in water. This process naturally brings us to the subject of fire-steel striking techniques. Most people (adults included) do it incorrectly. Then, after the use of the fire-steel is covered, consider alternative ignition sources ranging from lighters to batteries and primitive techniques.

Do-It-All Knives

Consider getting your kids a knife that will withstand the rigors of a survival situation should it be encountered. Adapt your choice to fit the age and abilities of your child.

The Mora 511 would be a fair choice for those under age 13. You can usually pick one up for around $7 and they are razor sharp and hold an edge well. They come in carbon or stainless steel and have little problem striking a fire-steel off the spine if needed, although some may require you to take a file across the spine to sharpen it to a true 90-degree angle. The handle of this specific design also provides added protection so little hands won’t slide up onto the blade should unnatural force be applied or the knife becomes wet.

For those ages 13 and older who need a more robust knife capable of realistic survival tasks off the grid, I would recommend the Mora Bushcraft Black. The Bushcraft Black, which retails for about $48, has a heavier carbon steel blade capable of being struck by flint to throw sparks, is very sharp and holds an edge well. If, however, you prefer a full-tang knife with at least a 5-inch blade, a 90-degree spine and that’s capable of long-term survival tasks, you might consider the Jeff White Bush Knife, which retails at $64. All of these and others are available from both Self Reliance Outfitters and Campcraft Outfitters (

Knife safety becomes the top issue as children must understand proper cutting and carving techniques. Teach them how they should not remove their knife from its sheath unless it’s going to be used for work, teach how to always cut away from their body and how to properly hand a knife from one person to another. Discuss the “Triangle of Death,” which puts the lower abdomen, groin and femoral arteries in danger of being cut and can lead to life-threatening injuries. Also address the “Blood Circle,” which refers to how the people in the arc of your knife swing are in danger of being cut. Give your child a skills test by assigning them the task of making a wooden tent stake. If they can use safe carving techniques and can make a workable tent stake without injury or issue, then they will get to keep their survival knife.

Secure Shelter

Shelter would be next on the list of priorities. The simple lean-to survival shelter using the SOL Sport Utility Blanket from Adventure Medical Kits ( is the first step in teaching shelters that will increase one’s odds of survival. The appropriate knots should be taught in addition to the alternative uses of the survival shelter and what to look for in natural shelter sites. The primary importance should be staying warm and dry when it’s cold and cool and covered when it’s hot; these two sentiments will help maintain core body temperature and stave off hypothermia and hyperthermia, at least short term.

Lifesaving Water

How to filter and boil water are the easiest and most reliable safe practices for kids to know. A stainless steel canteen like that offered by Self Reliance Outfitters is one of the better options as it’s measured to 32 ounces, which just so happens to be the amount of water needed to use most chemical treatment tablets and iodine available today. Techniques as simple as putting a bandana over their steel canteen to filter out large particulates before boiling is a fine place to begin. Also teach them how to scrounge for containers such as glass bottles and jars to use for water boiling.

Up To The Test

Your goal is to have your youth perform each skill set in a total of 15 minutes—this is approximately the amount of time it takes your body to begin exhibiting symptoms of hypothermia and hyperthermia. By enforcing this timed dynamic, situational awareness is developed, hard skills mastered and fear eliminated, as they’re able to perform skills quickly and effectively under stress.

This article was originally published in the SURVIVOR’S EDGE ™ Spring 2015 issue. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.

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