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Primitive Outdoor Skills: Dead Trees

Sunday, 05 May 2013 01:23 Written by  Craig Caudill

One of the most exciting things about primitive outdoor survival skills is the fact that nothing is viewed as garbage. Everything in the environment can be put to use if a person is willing to think out of the box. The idea of reuse and recycle has never been more accurate than in the art of primitive survival skills.

In this particular article, we are going to examine the possibilities a dead tree presents. Although that ugly dead tree may not look like it, it is actually a smorgasbord for wildlife. Woodpeckers in particular love dead trees because of all the larvae and tasty bugs that thrive on the dead wood.

When it comes to uses for humans, the bark on a dead tree is typically pretty easy to peel off the tree. This bark is a great shelter material. It can also be used as bedding. Okay, it is not exactly soft and comfy, but it will keep you off the cold, wet ground.

Another use is the inside layer on the back of the bark. This is fabulous fire starting material. You can use your hands, knife or even a rock to scrape out that dry material. More tinder bundle material can be found on the tree. Use a knife to scrape it away. As you gather supplies for a fire, the bark will also make a nice additive to a fire that is just getting going.

The trick to using your immediate surroundings is to open your mind to the possibilities. That bark we talked about has extensive uses beyond what we mentioned here. When you head out in nature next, take a good look around. Do you see anything that could be used as cordage? Do not limit yourself to the environment. Your shoestrings or somebody’s long hair could all become life-saving tools.

And if there is no real purpose for what you see, don’t fret, it likely still has one last use—burn material. A dead tree offers some great fire starting material. Starting and maintaining a fire is a basic skill that everyone should know how to do. However it is not as easy as one would assume. There are a few things a person must remember in order to get a proper fire burning. One way a person can commit these fire necessities to memory is by remembering the “Triangle of Fire Making.”

Basically, three sides to a triangle means three sides to making a fire.

1-An ignition source. This could be ferro rods or a lighter
2-A fuel source. Fuel cubes are perfect and are easy to carry in a survival kit.
3-Oxygen-enough said.

Let’s talk about fuel sources a bit. New and even experienced fire starters may reach for any old piece of wood that is sitting on the ground. They would be making a mistake. Limbs and other fuel sources that are on the ground are likely going to be wet.

Your best bet is to find a fuel source that has not been in contact with the ground. Hanging dead limbs are ideal. It is even better is if those limbs have been exposed to the sunlight. Between the wind and the sun, this dry dead wood is a prime fuel source. Check out this video to get a good idea on how to identify the right wood to gather to start your fire.


No matter how easy it seems to pick wood up off the forest floor to start your fire, don’t do it! You will regret it.

Evergreen is an umbrella term that encompasses several varieties of trees. Spruce, cedar and pine are some of the most popular trees around and are extremely useful when it come to making a fire. You can check out this video for more information about the spruce tree and how useful it is to fire making and survival in general. A spruce tree is very similar to the incredibly useful cedar tree.

In the video, you will see how to use a dead spruce tree to make a tinder bundle. If you cannot find a dead tree, look at any living tree and you will likely find dead branches hanging down that are within reach. A major bonus is how flammable these trees are. The dry foliage that hangs from the tree is easily plucked and crumbled with your hands. If you do not have any tools with you, this is another huge plus.

If you do not have a lighter, you will most definitely appreciate the flammable material. One of the downsides is it burns hot and fast. You will need to make sure you are ready to keep the fire going with a lot of wood ready to go. Fortunately, this stuff manages to maintain its flammability even in the rain.

If you are fortunate to be in an area with cedar trees, you are in luck. Cedar is an ideal wood for a bow drill set all the way down to the cordage. The roots of the tree make excellent cordage material. You will be amazed to discover how much fire starting material is literally at your fingertips when you know what to look for. The next time you head out into nature, take a good look at your surroundings and you will be amazed at how much you really see now that you know what you are looking for.


Craig Caudill tests survival gear equipment for Dan’s Depot. You can read more of his posts here. He also teaches outdoor survival skills at his Nature Reliance School.

Last modified on Tuesday, 07 May 2013 11:46
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