Light up the wild with a primal torch

Light up the wild with a primal torch

If you’re lost in the woods the first things you need to secure are warmth and shelter, but as night falls it’s likely you’re going to want light as well. A roaring fire does present a form of comfort, but it’s also immovable. You can’t take it and go investigate a noise, check on your fishing lines or traps, or use it as a signal for help to any rescuers, unless you’re building it to bonfire levels. Now, most survivalists will carry a flashlight or a strike light with them, but it’s important you know how to make a primal torch as well. You may need to give your family members another source of light, or light up a larger area of your camp for security.

The good news, is that these torches are relatively simple to make, and they will burn for a considerable amount of time. Not all night, but they should give you anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes of burn time, depending on the size of the torch and the materials used.

Creating the handle

All of these torches will use a similar handle. Take your knife and cut about a three-foot length of green branch from a nearby tree. You want it thick enough that it’s sturdy to carry, without being too heavy as you’ll be holding it up and away from your body once it’s lit. And the greener the better. It will eventually dry out and start to burn, but it takes that much longer for green wood to do so, so do cut this from a tree. I’d recommend collecting a few branches, because these torches do burn out quickly, and having the next one ready to go will save yourself from falling into darkness as you try to make the next one.

The oil torch

If you’ve ever seen fire torches in the dungeons of a castle, that’s essentially what you’re making here. That’ll be any type of oil that you can procure, perhaps it’s a bottle of olive oil you had in your stockpile, or some engine oil you’ve drained from an abandoned car. You’ll also need a wick, which is essentially lengths of cotton or other fabric that you’re going to soak in the fuel. Polyester will melt and drip, I’d look instead for something that’s wool, cotton or linen. Socks are a good option here, especially if you’ve a few spare pairs. When the fabric us good and wet, wrap them tightly around one end of the handle you’ve found, and it’s ready to light. This will drop burning oil and debris once it’s lit, so be sure to hold it well away from yourself as you use it.

The fuel torch

Taking on a similar structure to the oil torch is the fuel torch. It won’t burn quite as long, but it’s a good option if you’ve only got a flammable liquid available, like diesel, gas, alcohol, or even hand sanitizer. But instead of soaking the fabric first, you’re going to want to wrap the cotton tightly around the end of your handle first. The tighter the better, as you don’t want this to burn, it’s just a way to soak up the fuel that you’ll be burning. Once it’s tied, soak the end in the fuel source, and once it’s stopped dripping it’s ready to light and use. These torches do burn out fast, but should give you anywhere from 5-15 minutes of light. What I like best though, is once they’re out you can usually re-use the torch by adding more fuel to the fabric wick, and then simply lighting it again.

The birch torch

Often though, you’re not going to have oils or fuel available to make these torches, especially if it’s a hike gone wrong or some other mishap that has you lost in the woods. But that doesn’t mean you need to ride it out in the dark. Find a birch tree, and strip off the dried bark. It contains high levels of resin and will burn bright. The birch bark will act as both your wick and the fuel. But instead of trying to wrap it around the end of your green branch handle like we would do with fabric, you’re going to take your knife and split the end of the handle. Sliding the birch bark inside so it’s tightly sitting in place, and wind the loose ends around. It’s not as neat as a fabric wick, but it works in a pinch. The tighter you wrap the bark the longer it’ll burn, or keep the birch bark wrapped loose for a brighter flame. 

The resin torch

One torch that I’m particularly fond of is the resin torch. We’ve got massive pines in the woods near our place, which makes the perfect resin for this. Spruce or fir trees will also work, essentially what we need is the soft, crystallized resin that forms where a pine tree has been damaged. Scrape it free, and collect as much as possible. I try to get about a tennis-ball sized amount, that will make two or three torches. And grab a couple of pine cones too. Again, split the end of the handle of your torch, and slide a pinecone in. Next, you’re going to use your fire to melt the collected resin and drip it over the pinecones (or if you’ve got a tin to collect the melted resin and dip the pinecones in – this works too). Let it dry, and once it does your resin torch is ready to go. These will burn for about 15 minutes.

Just because you’ve not got a flashlight, it doesn’t mean you need to be stuck in the dark. Use these different techniques to light up the wild, now you know how to create a primal torch from whatever materials you have on hand. It’s easy once you know how.


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