Welcome back to the SARCRAFT Blog! We hope you all had a merry Christmas and happy New Year filled with family and fellowship. It’s been great having a break to catch up, but now it’s time to get back to work and hit 2019 like a loaded-down logging truck with no brakes!
If you’re familiar with the 9 c’s of survivability, you know that one of the items on the list is a candling device. Most people take that to mean a flashlight and leave it at that. After all, you do definitely need one of those. Stumbling around in the dark is ineffective and unsafe… a sprained ankle or broken wrist from tripping over a rock or log could be a fatal injury in a wilderness survival situation.
But let’s take the idea of a candling device back to its original inspiration… a candle. Shocker, right? If you’ve been with us from the beginning, you’ll remember Jonathan’s Survival Time Machine blog series from late 2017 in which he scored a pumpkin-spice-orange candlestick from Goodwill for a few pennies. Some of you questioned the utility of carrying a candle in the 21st century, when we have flashlights to guide our way, ferro rods and lighters to start our fires, and heaters to warm our tents and shelters. But there’s anything that’s true in our field, it’s that there’s still a place for the ancient ways in modern times.
A candle is one of the most overlooked multitaskers in the outdoor world, and it has far greater utility than meets the eye. Let’s start with firecraft. A candle makes a superb fire extender… starting a fire with wet tinder or kindling is sometimes your only option in less than ideal conditions, and it’s often next to impossible to get those kind of materials to take a spark, in spite of your best efforts. It’s far more effective to light a candle and then allow the open flame to dry out and light your material. If you’re using a lighter, just flick your Bic and light it up. If you’re using a ferro rod, it’s a few more steps but just as effective in the end. (Perhaps more so… butane lighters have some definite situational limitations.) Your first step is to place a fire lay, such as a piece of leather, wood, or bark. It doesn’t matter much what it is, as long as it keeps your fire away from the bare ground. Lay your candle down on it and fluff out the wick as much as possible. Then use the spine of your knife and scrape some ferrocerium shavings off your rod in a pile below the candle wick (or a mag bar if you’ve got one), and light ‘er up. Now you’ve got a reliable open flame to help you get your fire going.
What else is a candle good for? More than we have space to discuss here. But here are a few other uses:
- Heat. A candle is surprisingly effective for warming up a small space such as a survival shelter, tent, or snow cave. Even a few minutes of open flame can make a huge difference in the ambient temperature. If you’re running a Kochanski SuperShelter but can’t build a fire for whatever reason, a candle can be a great option for heating up that improvised greenhouse.
- Light. Even a small candle can throw off enough light to work by. If your situation doesn’t lend itself to a fire and you don’t want to run down your flashlight batteries, a candle can allow you to continue to work on small projects after the sun goes down.
- Cooking. Although not as good as a fire or stove, a candle (or better, two to three candles) can produce enough heat to boil water if harnessed properly. In order for this to work, you’ve got to reflect and channel the heat. An improvised reflector made from aluminum foil works great to direct the heat where it needs to go and keep the wind off of it.
- Medicine. If you need to sterilize a needle, tweezers, or knife for any first aid purpose, a candle works great. Fire works better than just about anything to kill any microbes that may be present on your tools in order to prevent infection.
What kind of candle should you carry? Well, that depends. Stick-type candles are far superior as a fire extender, as their long shape lends itself much better to getting into the base of a fire. However, they’re more difficult to set down unattended for heat, light or cooking unless you bushcraft out a candlestick. Tea-type candles sit flat and are much better for those purposes, but are more difficult to use as a fire extender. If you’ve got the space and don’t mind the extra weight, carry both. One more excellent and oft-overlooked option for a stick candle is a trick birthday candle. Its wick is infused with magnesium and is near-impossible to blow out. This makes for an annoying (or hilarious, depending on which side of the candle you’re on) party trick, but also for a windproof, waterproof fire extender. Plus, it weighs nearly nothing.
A good compromise is the large-diameter stick type candles made for candle lanterns, like this 90’s-cool model from UCO Gear that I picked up for a few bucks at Gear Goat Xchange in Charlotte, NC this past week. (If you’re ever in downtown Charlotte, you should definitely check these guys out. Cool little shop with friendly staff and great prices on used outdoor gear.) These candles can stand up on their own on level ground, but can also be used as a fire extender. And you can use them in candle lanterns, which are pretty cool in their own right, and will probably get their own post one day.
And if you’re wondering where I got the one on the right in the photo… I definitely didn’t snatch it from a candlelight Christmas Eve service, if that’s what you think. The Possum Mentality never sleeps.
What about you? Do you carry a candle in your kit? Do you have any other great uses for it? Tell us in the comments!