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Leon's Blog

Reader feedback | On dryer lint, batonning firewood, finding directions by tree moss and other survival stuff

Reader feedback | On dryer lint, batonning firewood, finding directions by tree moss and other survival stuff

Feeder and viewer feedback is greatly appreciated!

by Leon Pantenburg

I wouldn’t know what readers want more info about if there weren’t responses. Here are a few comments we’ve gotten about a variety of topics.

On Dryer lint as a survival firestarter? No way!

Dryer lint is just OK as a firestarter.

Dryer lint is just OK as a firestarter.

Leon, your article was very helpful. As a player in the fabric industry, I would like to add a few points and explain for many of your readers why results are great for some and iffy for others. The key to using dryer lint is choice of fiber. Cotton is perfect. All other fibers are not. Cotton blends aren’t good, either. Wool self extinguishes because of the lanolin contained therein. Synthetics don’t burn, they melt. Bottom line, pure cotton lint is great, and is the same as a cotton ball. But you have to keep it separate from all other fibers. – Steve Lee

I believe the point here is that dryer lint is unreliable, not that it can’t work. I prefer to use natural materials from the environment for starting fires but I always carry a supply of emergency tinder to use if I need that fire now and I don’t have time to gather what I need. I also practice building fires with those materials. If you are packing something for that purpose, you want it to be something that you know will work 100% of the time and dryer lint is not it. Try lighting it with a flint & steel. It might work this time, but not when you really need it. I attempted to light some lint out of my dryer a short time ago. I flamed for about 2 seconds then went out.

As was said earlier, modern fabrics are treated with flame retardant chemicals and won’t burn long enough to get your fire going. Cultivate knowledge of your environment so you won’t need something like dryer lint to start your fires, but also carry something that is 100% reliable because it is easy to become over-confident in your ability. I like char-cloth or cotton balls half soaked in paraffin wax. They light easily with a flint & steel or an ember from a bow drill and burn for several minutes even in wet conditions. Knowledge AND experience is power. – Aaron Benham

I’d thought about dryer lint as a tinder, but then as you noted, it’s not JUST cotton. Dirt, pet hair, human hair and worst synthetic polyesters. Clothing made from the later “engineered” material are created to be flame retardant or non combustible at all. Newer clothing is treated to be flame retardant also. So, you may be trying to start a fire with what might equate to asbestos tinder. Don’t think that’s gonna work too well…- Dave Whitford

QUITE THE FIGHT OVER SOMETHING SO SIMPLE. DRYER LINT FREE vs 5 CENTS FOR COTTON BALLS. IF SAVING MONEY IS THE ACTUAL GOAL, WHY AREN’T YOU DRYING YOUR CLOTHES ON A LINE OUTSIDE. IF IT’S TOO COLD HANG THEM INSIDE AND TAKE ADVANTAGE OF HUMIDIFYING THE DRY AIR. AFTER ALL, LINE DRYING IS FREE AND GAS OR ELECTRIC DRYING IS VERY EXPENSIVE. ESPECIALLY FOR A “FREE BALL OF LINT”. – Ed

“Because lint is unreliable” as I stated earlier. In my personal experience – it hasn’t ever been unreliable. But by all means, it’s your site, so keep repeating that it is.

“The bottom line is” that dryer lint is free and cotton balls are not. They are indeed cheap, but not free. Additionally, because as a trained EMT, I would not use cotton balls as a wound dressing unless they were the only option so the concept of carrying cotton balls specifically as wound dressing with an additional purpose of fire starting is – well – a non starter for me.

And of course, I would never put dryer lint on a wound, but then again this article isn’t about how to treat wounds. – Keith

Response – Lint in unreliable, IMHO, but people think they can depend on it for firemaking and they can’t. I tested hundreds of pieces of lint to arrive at this opinion. The bottom line: Cotton is so cheap, there is no savings using “free” lint. As long as cotton balls are less than a penny apiece there is no point. Many medical prescriptions come with cotton in the bottle, and that’s free, too.
Also, you can use cotton balls as part of a medical dressing, but never put dryer lint on a wound.
Dump the dryer lint

Splitting firewood by pounding a knife through it  is another sacred cow people have strong opinions about. Basically, with the correct wood and technique, you can split wood with virtually any knife.

Batonning firewood:

In the last 40 years, I have trained everything from Boy Scouts to U.S. Marines in survival skills/tactics…hiked the entire length of the Appalachian Trail, twice…found myself in 3 very real survival situations…taken part in more than 319 wilderness search and rescue operations….and spent a total of 3,353 nights (the combined equivalent of 9 years of my life) out in the wild, in every weather condition imaginable. Yet oddly enough…not once in those 40 years, has the need to beat my knife through a log with a stick ever been necessary. – Wilderness Endurance

“testing your knife for batoning wood should be done through the center, not a tiny piece off the edge. are you saying that therefore also testing how well an axe splits wood is pointless? because lets face it, any axe can split wood. not a test of how sturdy the blade is, but a test of how well it can split wood” – John Johnson
“The thing that’s ridiculous about batonning for survival is this: where the hell is all this saw-cut firewood coming from when you’re in an emergency survival situation out in the wild? The only reason to split wood rather than just finding smaller pieces for kindling is that the smaller pieces are wet. How are you doing these cross-grain cuts in big, wet logs when you’re out in the wilderness with just a knife? If you’re cutting logs like that successfully, you probably have an axe. If you have an axe, you don’t need to baton. It’s such a made-up thing, when I was a kid nobody ever even thought about doing that. You just always carried a forest axe when you were going out in the woods.” – aaaa

Response: The debate continues…

Survival Myth Busted: Finding directions by tree moss:

I have found the moss on the tree to be completely bogus and I hate that people have been told this for decades and believe it. Kind of a urban myth in a way. – Omega Tactical and Survival

Soooo…what happens in Oregon is the norm and nothing else is possible? Great, then I guess all

According to my compass, the moss was on the west side of this stump. (Leon Pantenburg photo))

According to my compass, the moss was on the west side of this stump. 

beaches are covered in rocks and “gooey”ducks and really pale people. If it comes to survival in a triple canopy situation, I’d grasp at any straw for a chance to live. I’d rather take a chance on moss than do nothing. But the sun always comes up every day, and without it the moss wouldn’t do jack. So just use the sun if you’re lost. Don’t rely on the direction of water if you’re on terrain or near the continental divide or fault lines. Always use the sun. – Big L

Response: Great philosophy – provided the sun is out. I also noticed this moss incongruity in Iowa, Minnesota, Mississippi, California and other states where I thought to look. I would never place my faith in moss for finding directions. If you’re already lost, you need to stay put! You could go in the wrong direction, further widening the search area for SAR.

Solar lights:

Solar lights have come a long way in the last few years, and wonder if they are worth adding to an “essentials” list yet?
Solar yard lights would make for a nice camp lantern with renewable (free) light. Am experimenting with going solar in my tent light. Some companies ( d.light for example) make solar lanterns being used in underdeveloped nations, and they are increasing the battery life to last for “years”. – Aaron

Response – I’m working on a solar, inflatable lamp review right now. I like them, and they’re safe for kids to use inside tents.

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Leon's Blog

Leon Pantenburg is a wilderness enthusiast, and doesn't claim to be a survival expert or expertise as a survivalist. As a newspaperman and journalist for three decades, covering search and rescue, sheriff's departments, floods, forest fires and other natural disasters and outdoor emergencies, Leon learned many people died unnecessarily or escaped miraculously from outdoor emergency situations when simple, common sense might have changed the outcome. Leon now teaches common sense techniques to the average person in order to avert potential disasters. His emphasis is on tried and tested, simple techniques of wilderness survival. Every technique, piece of equipment or skill recommended on this website has been thoroughly tested and researched. After graduating from Iowa State University, Leon completed a six-month, 2,552-mile solo Mississippi River canoe trip from the headwaters at Lake Itasca, Minn., to the Gulf of Mexico. His wilderness backpacking experience includes extended solos through Yellowstone’s backcountry; hiking the John Muir Trail in California, and numerous shorter trips along the Pacific Crest Trail. Other mountain backpacking trips include hikes through the Uintas in Utah; the Beartooths in Montana; the Sawtooths in Idaho; the Pryors, the Wind River Range, Tetons and Bighorns in Wyoming; Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, the Catskills in New York and Death Valley National Monument in southern California. Some of Leon's canoe trips include sojourns through the Okefenokee Swamp and National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia, the Big Black River swamp in Mississippi and the Boundary Waters canoe area in northern Minnesota and numerous small river trips in the Midwest and Pacific Northwest. Leon is also an avid fisherman and an elk, deer, upland game and waterfowl hunter. Since 1991, Leon has been an assistant scoutmaster with Boy Scout Troop 18 in Bend, and is a scoutmaster wilderness skills trainer for the Boy Scouts’ Fremont District. Leon earned a second degree black belt in Taekwondo, and competed in his last tournament (sparring and form) at age 49. He is an enthusiastic Bluegrass mandolin picker and fiddler and two-time finalist in the International Dutch Oven Society’s World Championships.

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