MPI Outdoors


Outdoor Knowledge

Easy Fire Starting Tinder
TinderOne of the critical elements to starting a fire in the wilderness is to get good tinder to ignite easily so you can build your fire on top of this initial ignition point. Most people rely on available pine needles, bird's nest, dry grass, etc. as their primary source of tinder. Sometimes these critical elements are not readily available or in a crisis situation you don't have time to look for them. Here is one you may not have thought of, Dryer Lint. Ask your wife how much accumulates in the dryer catch screen, believe me its readily available, plentiful and the cost is nothing. Considering that most of your clothes are polyester or cotton blends, the off flow lint is a good fire ignition source. You can get a large supply into a very small flat polyethylene bag. If you add a few strike-anywhere matches you have a ready-made fire starting kit. You can increase the volatility of the lint by packing a 35mm film canister tightly with a supply, then carefully saturating it with some white gas or kerosene. Close the container securely, wipe off all spillage and then tightly seal the canister around the cap with duct tape. Be very careful when you use this method of fire starting in the field, stay back from the source, as it will flash up very quickly. Always practice at home first, preferably in your back yard, with whatever components you select, so you will know how to use them when the need arises.

A pair of bootlaces
BootlacesA pair of heavy-duty bootlaces packed in with your gear can offer a multitude of useful and potentially safety related assistance in any outdoor environment. There are some benefits to leather laces, but the new heavy-duty type will work just as well in most cases. Aside from the fact that if you break a bootlace on the trail you can remedy a very uncomfortable experience, there are many other uses you may encounter where this simple $3.00 item will help benefit your outdoor enjoyment. Some of the things bootlaces can help you with you in the field are:

  • lashing poles together for an emergency shelter or for a cooking tripod.
  • replacing a torn out tent tie down or a broken rain flap tie.
  • fish stringer, lantern hanger, net wrist strap, securing things in choppy water.
  • first-aid as a tourniquet, arm sling, holding a compress in place.
  • holding your hat or glasses on in high wind or while climbing.
  • tying possible need items on the outside of your pack like a coat or rain gear.
  • temporary repair of broken tackle boxes, watch bands, snaps or buckles.
  • lanyards for whistles, compasses, pocket knives, keys, or your GPS.
  • chest strap for pulling back pack straps tighter inward with a heavy load.

If you really think of your own outdoor experiences, I am sure you can add 10 more potential uses. Bootlaces weight nothing, don't take up any space, and they are economical. Think about adding them to your gear for your next trip.

Waterproofing Matches
MatchThe common perception for waterproofing common stick matches is to dip your "strike anywhere" match heads into wax as a preventative to water penetration. Though this may work it is very difficult to do successfully. First of all not many of us want to melt down a candle or a bar of wax for coating a few matches, secondly there is the chance that the wax may become too hot in its liquid stage and ignite the match. It also is extremely difficult to scrape away the wax in order to ignite the match in times of crisis. The easier and more practical way to waterproof your "stick matches" is with an application of a heavy coating of clear nail polish over the match head and down the wood stick. Don't forget to coat the bottom of the matchstick. Think of it as the same way you would waterproof your deck. Clear nail polish will seal the match head and coat the wood to prevent penetration of any moisture.

Finding direction with a watch and the sun
Watch the sunThis method is pretty accurate to within 10° -- plus or minus 5°. It will give you some other method to help you determine an approximate direction in the outdoors without a compass.

  • Take your analog watch (one with hands) not a digital, and reset the time to Greenwich Mean Time, that is Eastern Standard Time plus 5 hours. (NOTE: determine the number of hours difference from GMT in your area before using this method.)
  • Place your watch on a flat surface, preferably on the ground. Have a small stick ready to stick into the ground. (see illustration to right)
  • In the Northern Hemisphere (this is the US and Canada) point the hour hand of your watch directly at the sun. SOUTH is now halfway between the hour hand and the 12. Place the stick in the intersection of these points, now you have a marker.
  • In the Southern Hemisphere (for those of you happen to find yourselves south of the equator) point the number 12 at the sun and NORTH will be approximately half way between the 12 and the hour hand.
  • This

PLEASE NOTE: The above described method of obtaining a sense of direction is considered ONLY fairly accurate and should be used only when and if needed. Nothing in the outdoors environment takes the place of a good compass or a GPS and up to date terrain maps.

DaylightI have found myself at times being a great distance from my camp and the hours of daylight are quickly passing. I have used this simple and fairly accurate " trick/skill" to determine how many hours of daylight are left. This way I can decide if I should quickly establish an overnight camp or if I might have time to walk back down to base camp in the daylight.

To "estimate", the hours of daylight remaining all you need are your hands to approximate this time frame.

  • Extend your arms completely outstretched at face level.
  • Bend your wrists inward so your palms face you.
  • Place one hand on top of the other with fingers pointing in opposite directions and with the bottom of your lower hand even with the horizon.
  • Raise your top hand fingers one by one until the bottom of the sun is on top of one of your fingers.
  • Each finger below the sun and above the horizon represents about 15 minutes of daylight remaining.
  • Everybody has different width of fingers, so for better results practice at home and time the sunset to see if your fingers represent 15 minutes, 10 minutes or maybe even 20 minutes.


  • Blowing a whistle, if you are lost or separated from your party in the outdoors, requires very little energy and is a highly audible distress signal.
  • A shrill whistle blast can be heard up to a mile away on land and up to 2 miles over water, and it can be easily tracked to its source and can be answered by a return whistle blast.
  • A whistle is a simple, low cost and easy, but effective outdoor signaling device. It is especially simple and easy for children to use and understand.
  • All children going into the outdoors should be equipped with a whistle, adults too. As little as 50 feet off the trail is deep wilderness for a child.
  • Remember to blow in long blasts of three in a row every few minutes, or every time you think you see or hear something. The "3" blasts in a row is a recognized distress signal.
  • Blowing a whistle uses significantly less energy than screaming, and screaming can cause additional panic and frustration.
  • A whistle in the outdoors stops being a simple toy, and becomes a very valuable piece of personal safety equipment.

A special note to parents:

  • Emphasize the use of the whistle for emergency purposes only, NOT to cry "wolf" or use as a game.
  • Anything your child can do to alert others to their presence will help to locate them quickly, if they become lost.
  • Make sure the lanyard is securely tied to the whistle and affixed to the child's jacket zipper, on their belt loop, or around their neck.
  • Have your child practice the three short blasts, before venturing off into the outdoors, and explain to them the reason for the whistle.
  • Let them know that you are very well aware that anyone can get lost, and you will not be angry if this should happen. This assurance is vital to them using the whistle in case of an emergency.
  • Teach them to remain in one place when they realize they are lost, and blow the whistle. Tell them calmly, but emphatically, that you will be there to find them.


  • Sixty to seventy percent of the average human body is made up of water.
  • A loss in liquids equivalent to 2% of the body weight reduces the mental and muscular capacity by 20%, a loss of 4% reduces it by 40%.
  • Water from melted snow or ice can cause cramps and digestive problems because it is devoid of mineral salts. When possible accompany the drinking of melted snow or ice with the intake of food.
  • Do not put snow or ice directly into your mouth to melt. It is best to melt it over an open flame in a cup. Cold in your mouth could cause local cooling and may cause diarrhea that would aggravate potential dehydration.


  • If you become lost or stranded your survival often depends on others, and you must be able to signal where you are to those looking for you.
  • A highly polished signal mirror used properly during the day can be seen for many miles from the air and across valleys or over water.
  • Smoke is always a good location indicator; make sure you take all safety precautions with your fire. Use leaves and damp material to create white smoke and try to find a location with an updraft or place your signal fire in a wide-open area to allow the smoke to move upward.
  • At night three small fires in a triangular layout can be seen for miles and recognized as a distress signal from the air. Again use extreme caution in building your fires, you don't need to set the woods ablaze. Also three smaller fires with you in the center will keep you warmer than one large fire.
  • · Always remain calm and do not panic. Use your human instinctive skills to develop a plan and then and only then execute your plan.

Another All Purpose Pack Item
Something that you may want to pack in with your "Trail Gear" is a couple of those common paper filters that you use around the house as filters in your coffee machine. These weight almost nothing and they can be folded into a very small compact size. You can use these in a variety of ways around your campsite. They are very durable and they will not shred into pieces.

  • To scrub out pans after cooking.
  • To strain water before filtering or boiling.
  • To clean your camera lens or scope lenses.
  • To use as an emergency bandage.
  • To use as an emergency fire tinder.
  • To use as a washcloth.
  • To use as "back up" toilet paper.

Homemade Equipment ???
The original file for these following low-cost equipment uses, ideas and/or fixes for Scouting and general camping was originally found on a F-Net Scouting Message Board sometime back in 1992. The listed file only gave credit as its source as originating with a BSA Troop Contest. Enjoy it for what it is a very creative utilization of "cheap fixes and fun items".

  1. Channel lock pliers make good potholders.
  2. Make an oven by lining a moving box with aluminum foil and pushing coat hangers through both sides about half way up the box to form your grill. Put coals in a pan and put the pan on three stones on the bottom of the box. Close the doors (lid) and bake away.
  3. Canning rings can be use to cook your eggs in for egg sandwiches. (Works well for English Muffins or Hamburger buns).
  4. Nylon rope can be used as shoelaces.
  5. Use a large zip lock plastic bag, filled with air, as a pillow.
  6. Plastic butter tubs make good storage containers for your camp kitchen. (Not a good idea to use in a backpack).
  7. A plastic bottle makes a good latrine for cold weather camping. (You don't have to 'go' very far from your sleeping bag). Keep it just out side the tent flap.
  8. An old closed cell foam exercise pad will make a passable sleeping pad.
  9. Plastic bottles can be used for canteens. Make sure the lid does not leak before using in a backpack.
  10. The pins, which hold the backpack and shoulder straps to the frame, can be replaced with a small piece of coat hanger threaded through the hole and twisted around it.
  11. Twist ties can be used to hold up another tarp from your dining fly to form a windscreen.
  12. A small automotive water hose clamp can be used as a stop for your dining fly's upright poles.
  13. Drill a hole in the bottom of nested poles and put a screw in to stop inner poles from sliding out.
  14. Short lengths of coat hanger or wire can be threaded through the holes and springs of the summer camp cots to replace the missing springs.
  15. Carry several pieces of lumber cut into 2 inch squares to summer camp and use these to level platform, tent and cot.
  16. If for health reasons you must sleep on a cot in cold weather insulate yourself from the cold air under the cot with several layers of newspaper.
  17. Old shower curtains make great ground clothes.
  18. Make a double boiler for melting paraffin from a 1 lb. coffee can and a 2 lb. coffee can. Bend a coat hanger so it will support the 1 lb. coffee can inside the 2 lb. can. Pour some water in the 2 lb. can and put the paraffin in the 1 lb. can.
  19. Waterproof matches by dipping in melted paraffin.
  20. Make fire starters by filling paper condiment cups with saw dust and pouring paraffin into the cup.
  21. Put matches in corrugated cardboard strips (about every other hole) and dip into paraffin for fire starters. Cut off what you need to start a fire.
  22. If your hand warmer came without a bag or the bag has been lost, replace the bag with a sock.
  23. A length of chain and a piece of coat hanger bent into an S-shape will allow you to hang your lantern from a tree limb.
  24. Use a cookie tin as a Dutch oven.
  25. Keep batteries in an appropriate size prescription bottle to insure that they cannot run themselves down by accident.
  26. Prescription bottles make good match safes.
  27. Prescription bottles or 35mm file containers make good storage places for small items.
  28. Grills from old ovens can be used for fire grills, refrigerator shelves cannot be used as they will release toxic gasses when heated.
  29. A Frisbee will add support to paper plates when the plate is placed inside the Frisbee.
  30. Make a camp washing machine from a five-gallon bucket and a toilet plunger.
  31. Placing a plastic garbage bag over logs in a triangle will create a washbasin.
  32. Making a slit in a trash bag large enough to let your head through will make an emergency poncho.
  33. Laundry lint makes good tinder.
  34. Cutting slivers off scrap lumber and heating in the oven to dry out the wood will produce some very dry tinder. Remember to store in plastic bags for your next trip. Save candle stubs for fire starters or to use as paraffin to make other fire starters.
  35. Insulate your backpacking stove from the ground in cold weather with a 6" X 6" piece of plywood.
  36. Cover the ice in a picnic cooler with foil to help it last longer. Keep the water in your canteen cooler by wrapping the canteen in foil.
  37. Use foil ring dividers for frying eggs. Put rings in the greased pan and drop eggs into each ring.
  38. Find it hard to put patches on straight? Tape them in place first with two-sided tape. When you are halfway done sewing, remove the tape.
  39. Save a handbook, guide book or map that's getting battered looking by putting on a transparent contact paper cover.
  40. Run candle stubs along the edge of a saw to help it glide better.
  41. When it comes time to pack up at the end of a camp, a wet toothbrush, face cloth and bar of soap wrapped in foil won't dampen the other things in your kit.
  42. To prevent night accidents in camp, use phosphorescent paint to mark the edges of latrines, the top of corner pegs of tents, etc.
  43. Before starting to sew a tough material like denim or canvas, stick the needle into a bar of soap. The coating will help the needle slide more easily through the fabric.
  44. To make sure you don't sew a pocket together while sewing a badge to the front, slip a jar lid, preferably plastic, into the pocket, and then fearlessly begin to sew away.
  45. To help shed burrs easily rub the laces of your hiking boots with paraffin before hitting the trail.
  46. Keep a dry bar of soap in your sleeping bag to help combat musty odors that develop during damp-season camping.
  47. Waxed milk cartons are an excellent source of emergency kindling. Cut cartons into slivers, wrap a bundle of them in a small plastic bag and carry them along in your pack.
  48. If a Scout has to take medicine, give him a break by letting him suck on an ice cube to numb his tongue before swallowing the vile tasting stuff.
  49. Ice cubes are handy when you have to remove a splinter from a hand or foot. Use the ice to numb the area around the splinter before operating.
  50. Make your own insect-repelling candle from an ordinary thick candle. Drill a 1" deep hole near the wick, fill the whole with citronella and cover it with melted wax.
  51. When handling evergreens or pinecones, they can remove the sticky sap from their hands easily if they use baking soda instead of soap to wash.
  52. Water proof matches by dipping them in nail polish.
  53. To prevent batteries from wearing down if a flashlight is accidentally nudged on while you're traveling, put the flashlight batteries in backwards.
  54. Kitchen foil can add extra warmth to your boots. Trace each foot on a piece of foil and add a ½" border. Place the foil inside your boots, shiny side up so you benefit from radiant heat.
  55. The little plastic tags from bread and bun packages are great for pinning up wet bathing suits and towels at camp, and they take up a lot less packing space than clothespins.
  56. To protect your feet from blisters smear soap on the inside of your inner sock at the heel and underneath the toes. Carry along a bar of soap and, when you feel your feet become tender, give it a try.
  57. Wear nylon "footies" next to your feet to help prevent blisters.
  58. To keep mosquitoes away rub the inside of an orange peel on face, arms and legs.
  59. Waxed-paper milk cartons have several lives left in them after the milk is gone:
    - Make a drinking cup by cutting off the carton about three inches from the bottom.
    - Make a water scoop by cutting off the top.
    - Cut a container into slivers, wrap them in plastic and put them in your pocket for emergency kindling on a camping or hiking trip.
    - Make a leak-proof mini-garbage can by opening up the top of the container and putting in your scraps.
  60. Discarded roll on deodorant bottles make an excellent insect repellent applicator because it enables you to keep 'bug dope' off your hands and out of your eyes. Snap off the plastic top or snap out the ball, rinse out the bottle and refill with your favorite liquid repellant.
  61. Make handy fire-starters by filling egg carton cups with lint from the dryer and pouring melted paraffin over the lint. Break the cup off to start each fire.
  62. Keep your toilet roll dry by packing it in a coffee tin with a snap-on lid.
  63. Remember that mosquitoes and biting flies seem to like dark colored clothing and the perfumed scents of many grooming products (soaps, shampoos, colognes, etc.) Dress so that you won't attract the biters, and try using unscented grooming aids.
  64. Certain fibers can be damaged by insect repellants. Don't apply repellants to spandex (from which bathing suits are made), rayon, or Dynel fabrics. Tent fabrics, plastic and painted surfaces also can be damaged by insect repellents
  65. An insect repellant will not keep bees, wasps, or hornets from stinging you. Your wisest move is one away from stinging pests.
  66. Try using a 35mm film canister when collecting insect specimens. A drop of alcohol makes the canister a fine killing jar. Label the canister with tape and keep the specimen in it.
  67. It is easier to cut plastic containers if you soak them in very hot water immediately before cutting them.
  68. Wrap fishing gear in foil to keep line from tangling and hook from rusting. By lining the compartments of a tackle box with foil, you can prevent rust damage to plugs and other equipment.
  69. Wrap a wet washcloth in a foil package and put it into your pack. You'll have a handy 'wet-wipe' for cleaning hands and face after a satisfying camp meal.
  70. Foil provides good packaging material for a campers personal toilet articles.
  71. Waterproof matches by dipping them in shellac.
  72. To remove musty smell from canteen, put three teaspoons of baking soda into the canteen with a bit of water. Swish it around and let sit for an hour, then rinse out the canteen.
  73. An empty plastic soda bottle, cut off to a convenient height, will work as a camp bowl. You may want to sandpaper the cut to smooth the edge.
  74. Make a survival fishing kit out of an empty 35mm film canister. Wrap fishing line around a small empty thread spool. Tie the end to a fishhook, and place in the canister. When ready to use, take the spool of line out. Lay the line across the opening of the canister and snap the lid back on for use as a bobber.
  75. Make a fish scaler by nailing metal bottle caps to a wood block. Scrape against side of fish against direction of scales.
  76. To conserve rope, mark each length of rope with a distinctive color and make a rule that the rope is never cut.
  77. A rope tied to a bleach bottle with an inch of water in it will make an effective water rescue throw line.
  78. Save inner cardboard tubes from kitchen and toilet rolls, stuff with waste paper and use as firelighters.
  79. Cut a rubber glove, when discarded, into thin strips to create varied rubber bands.
  80. Did you know that the egg whites left in empty eggshells makes good glue? Use it for scrapbooks, etc.
  81. When using a bucket for a messy job, line it with a plastic bag that can be thrown away afterwards.
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