instructional article

DIY Fire starter smack down

I've seen a few different kinds of DIY fire starters ideas floating around. I wanted to try a couple out and see which performed better. I'm also doing this with my 8 year old son to each him about the elements that make a good fire starter. I chose to do a wax & cotton version and a wax & saw dust version. I'm evaluating these based on a few factors: 

1: Ease of creation (with kids)
2: Ease of lighting with a ferro rod.
3: How long do the burn.
4: Simplicity of ingredients

I'll include a step by step of how to make each below, but first... How do they stack up!?

colter co fire starter smackdown-01.jpg

After trying both of these I like them both for different reasons. The wax & cotton fire starters are super easy to make. They are compact, water resistant and easy to light with a ferro rod. Either of these fire starters would be super easy to light with matches or a lighters.

The advantage of the wax & saw dust fire starters is the burn time. They burn a very long time. Living in the Pacific Northwest one of the major concerns for getting a fire started is working with damp wood. Having a full 13 minutes of burn time to work with gives you a much stronger chance of burning some of the moisture out of damp wood and getting a good blaze going. 

Now for the How To:


Using a double boiler melt wax or paraffin in an empty tin can. I opted for the tin can option because I didn't feel like getting murdered by my wife for ruining another pan :) It makes clean up easy... just toss the can into the recycling bin. I used 6 votive candles to make 22 fire starts.


Cover a cookie sheet with a layer of parchment paper. Once the wax is melted dip 100% cotton rounds into the wax briefly. Let the excess wax drip off back into the can before placing them on the parchment paper to cool. I recommend holding the can over the parchment paper to avoid creating a trail of dripped wax. 

colter co fire starter
colter co fire starter

That's really about it! Once they cool they're ready to put into your fire starting kit for your next outing. When you use them, you can tear them in half to stretch them farther if you need to. Rough up the cotton fibers as fluffy as you can get them if you're using a ferro rod to start these.

colter co fire starter
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Find a couple empty paper towel tubes or toilet paper tubes. Mark 1" increments along the tube. Cut along those lines to create 1" cardboard discs. These serve as molds for the saw dust. 

colter co fire starter

Fill the molds with dry saw dust on parchment or wax paper. Pack it in as well as you can. Next melt the wax in a doubler boiler as described in the wax & cotton directions. Carefully pour the wax over the saw dust. Remember that sometimes when you pour liquids slowly then can drip down the front of the can and off the bottom. Just make sure that you have both potential drip points over the parchment paper before you start pouring. 

colter co fire starter
colter co fire starter

Let them cool down and then peel the cardboard tube off and they're ready to go! I used a little bit of shaved magnesium with the ferro rod to get these going. Again, with a match or a lighter these things would light up like a Christmas tree. 

colter co fire starter
colter co fire starter

This image does a good job of showing the difference in flame between these two. The wax & cotton burned really well, but the wax & saw dust burned really high and long. If you feel up to taking the extra steps and mess, the saw dust is pretty great! I feel like the combination of the two is pretty solid as well. If you put even a quarter of the cotton fire starter on top for a quick easy light and a big chunk of the saw dust and wax on the bottom you'd be set. 

Let me know if you have a favorite DIY fire starter! 


Knot tying was the first outdoor skill that I learned on my own. I found an old wilderness survival book and followed the diagrams until I figured out every knot in the book. It was incredibly empowering! I loved that book and carried it with me everyday until it got water damaged, dog eared, ripped, and eventually fell apart. I still carry those knots with me in my mind (although I do occasionally need a refresher on a more obscure knot). After years of using and teaching these knots I decided to make a knot tying guide that wouldn't suffer the same fate as my beloved book. I narrowed it down my top 16 most useful knots and put them on a bandana. The bandana itself serves a thousand uses and, unlike a book, doesn't have any issues with water. It's a powerful tool for teaching (and reminding the old woodsman.) If you have kids that are just starting to learn outdoor skills, this is a great way to give them the assets they need to learn on their own. It's a memory and a skill that will stay with them the rest of their lives. 


instructional article

A buchcraft meal in a tube


I came across a fantastic book called "Camping and Woodcraft" by Horace Kephart. Published in 1957. It is jam packed with amazing traditional outdoor skills, gear and ideas. I recommend checking it out!

One of the things it mentioned is a food called Erbswurst. Which translates from German to mean pea sausage. I know, it sounds terrible, but hear me out! It's a mix of fats, and split pea flower squeezed into a sausage casing that was used heavily by the German soldiers during WWI. You can cut about an inch off the sausage and boil it to create a rich pea soup. And because of the high fat content it's very shelf stable. It's really an ideal survival and bushcraft food. It doesn't take up much space or require much prep work to make. 

I decided to try this idea out, but I wanted to make a few adjustments. First of all, I decided to use lentil flour instead of pea flour. I prefer lentil soup and it's slightly higher in nutritional value. 

I also adjusted the ingredients slight because I had a hard time finding hard fat. It's the pork fat that holds it's form and gives sausage its structure. I replaced the hard fat with regular pork fat sliced off a pork chop at the meet department of my local grocery store. 

Here's my complete recipe: 

Linsewurst (lentil sausage)

- 1/2 lbs. bacon
- 1/2 lbs. pork fat
- 1 lbs. Lentil flour
- 1/2 onion
- 3 teeth garlic
- Salt and pepper as desired


colter co erbswurst

I began by putting the bacon, fat, onion an garlic in a food processor and turning it into a paste.

colter co erbswurst

I put that paste into the frying pan and cooked it until it the fat rendered out and the onions and garlic cooked through. 

colter co erbswurst

While that was cooking I put the lentils into our Blendtec blender. It turned them into a nice powder pretty quick. There are other ways to do it. A grain mill or another heavy duty brand of blender will do as well. 

When the bacon and onion mixture is nicely browned add the lentil flour. Mix it together well and be ready to work with it while it's still warm. It will start to set up once it cools and that makes everything more difficult. Because I didn't use the hard fat, it made the final product more soft and easier to work with. 

colter co erbswurst

Traditionally this mix would then go into a sausage casing. I didn't have any laying around and did really want to do that anyway, so I make my own casings out of vacuum seal bags. The long term storage of these in a freezer is my end goal and these bags made sense and are super easy to make custom sizes and fill. I used a funnel to force the mixture down into the make shift casing. 

colter co erbswurst
colter co erbswurst

Then I just sealed them up and blamo! you got a lentil sausage!

colter co erbswurst

I did a little backyard field test to see how it turned out. I mixed 1 tablespoon of mix for each cup of water. So each tube would be about 6-8 servings of soup! I boiled it for about 5 minutes to give the lentil flour a chance to turn into a nice broth. It was very satisfying and hearty. 

colter co erbswurst

In the end, I think this makes a fantastic base for wilderness improvisation. I might try a version with different seasoning, and a version with black bean flour instead of lentil. I plan on using it to add fresh foraged plants to on my next outing. I think a hand full of sliced nettle leaves, or a thistle root boiled in this could be pretty amazing! 

This soup is great to use in connection with our Forager bandana. It identifies and explains 7 common edible plants. Several of which would work nicely in this base. I will be using both this year with my kids to help them gain more knowledge and appreciation of wild plants. 


Please let me know if you have any experience with traditional Erbswurst. I'd love to hear it!

instructional video

Two knots and a tarp...

I've put a lot of thought and trial into wilderness shelter building. I love lean-to shelters and wickiups and debris shelters, but the truth is they take a lot of time and even more energy. And there are just going to be some terrains where they are not feasible. That doesn't mean my boys and I haven't made them and enjoyed every minute of it. But in a pinch it's hard to beat a quick tarp shelter. In this video I show how to teach kids one of the quickest ways to put up a shelter and it only takes two knots and a tarp. 

This is the first in a series of videos I'll be doing about teaching kids essential outdoor skills. I'd love to hear what you are teaching your kids and what you want them to learn! Please leave a comment to let me know. 

When I teach my kids a new knot we always tie it several times in a row. Then in a hour we tie it again. Then the next day we tie it again. The absolute best way to make them permanent in your mind is to practice. That's why I created the Colter Co. Know Your Knots practice rope kit. Two high quality climbing ropes make knot tying a pleasure and makes the learning process easier. The knot guide comes in the form of one of our Know Your Knot bandanas. It has 16 essential knots AND serves all the purposes of a bandana at the same time. If you've got a young one picking up the skill of knot tying, this is a good way to get them excited and help them make their skills permanent.