Earlier this week, we considered tinder and kindling, stepping up the scale of combustible campfire material categories. Today, we look at the largest-sized component: fuelwood.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary quite simply defines fuelwood as “wood grown or used for fuel.” This compound word is thought to have come into use in the 14th Century.

Whereas with kindling, you are looking for twigs no larger than a pencil, with fuel wood, there isn’t an actual limit to how large a piece might be, but there are certainly practical limits. A general rule of thumb that we use in our outings is that a good size for fuel wood is about the thickness of your wrist, or, perhaps, your forearm if you’re building a larger fire. If you have pieces larger than this, they should probably be split down to a smaller size before being used to feed the fire. You’ll want your initial pieces of fuel wood to be smaller.

Where the tinder is used to alight the kindling, the kindling is used to start fuel wood on fire. Once a campfire is established, additional pieces of fuelwood can be used to sustain it.



In our last outdoors post, we looked at tinder, one of a handful of components to successfully build a fire. Today, we consider kindling.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines kindling as “dry twigs, pieces of paper, etc., that burn easily and are used to start a fire.According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word came into use in the 1510s as a present participle from of “kindle,” which is said to have likely originated from Old Norse “kynda.”

From the definition is sounds like a synonym for tinder, but among those who practice the skill of fire building, it is considered one size up from tinder. Tinder is the first material to be ignited. The tinder then sets afire the kindling. Where examples of tinder might be dried grass or leaves, kindling is generally thought of as twigs – sticks no bigger around than pencil.

Going one step up the size scale of combustible materials, we find fuel wood, the subject of our next post on fire building.


This coming weekend, some members of the Family Trivium household will be going camping with a youth group, with the primary focus of the outing being to teach basic outdoor skills to the younger members of the organization. Among the skills being covered will be fire building. What’s a fall campout without a campfire?

There are a handful of components necessary to successfully build a fire. One, of them is tinder, which the Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines as “dry material (such as wood or grass) that burns easily and can be used to start a fire.” Middle English in origin, it comes from Old English “tynder,” and first known to have been used in the 12th Century.

Mr. Family Trivium’s favorite tinder is dryer lint from loads of cotton. It isn’t something found in nature, but it’s very reliable, and makes a practical use of something which would otherwise be thrown away.

For starting charcoal, Mr. Family Trivium uses newspaper. He loosely stuffs wadded-up newspaper into the bottom of a charcoal chimney before loading the top with lump charcoal for grilling, or charcoal briquettes for dutch oven cooking.

If you’re testing out your wilderness survival skills, you’ll need to scrounge up whatever you can find, Dry grass or pine needles tend to work fairly well. We’d love to hear about your favorite tinder in the comments.


Last week, we covered the last of the items on the Boy Scout and The Mountaineers classic lists of Ten Essentials. The Mountaineers updated list consolidated other items, leaving room for its item 10: emergency shelter. There are many options to fill this spot. Here, we will look at the tarp.

“Tarp” is an informal, shortened version of “tarpaulin,” which the Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines as “a large piece of waterproof material (such as plastic or canvas) that is used to cover things and keep them dry.” “Tarpaulin” was first used around 1600 according to the Online Etymology Dictionary. It is a compounding of “tar” and “palling,” or “heavy cloth covering.” At the time, canvas was often coated in tar to make it waterproof.

While a tarp is one of many options for an emergency shelter, there are some campers, who swear by a tarp as their standard shelter, in place of a tent. The argument goes that a tarp is lighter than a tent and quicker to set up.

While we have camped out on nights where a tarp would have been an enjoyable experience, more often, we would have also needed to bring a bug net. Add in a ground cloth, which we always do, and you basically have a tent. In our area, what most people call camping season is bug season. For us, it’s almost always camping season, so perhaps on one of these cool weather camping trips we’ll finally get around to trying out simply sleeping under a tarp.

Returning to the definition of tarpaulin, it seems inappropriate to carry a heavy piece of tarred canvas as an emergency item in your daypack. It is. Even those blue polyethylene tarps, which are sold in the camping section at the Local Walmart, seem a little on the big & bulky side. They are. Modern purpose-built backpacking tarps are made from compact, lightweight materials which we’ll examine in upcoming posts. Until then, we hope you’ll find time to hit the trail to absorb some nature, but please be sure to take along your Ten Essentials.


In our last post, we started talking about the navigation component of the Ten Essentials with an examination of the map. Item 10 on the Boy Scout list and item 1 The Mountaineers updated list, the map shares a spot with the compass, the subject of this post. The compass gets a slot to itself as item 2 on The Mountaineers classic list.

Dictionary.com defines the compass as “an instrument for determining directions, as by means of a freely rotating magnetized needle that indicates magnetic north.” The word is derived from Old French “compas” meaning “circle, radius, pair of compasses” around 1300 according to the Online Etymology Dictionary. Old French “compas” comes from “compasser” meaning “to go around, measure, divide equally” in the 12th Century. Old French “compasser” comes from Vulgar Latin “compassare” meaning “to pace out.” I.e. measure. A compass is equally divided into 360 degrees for the measurement of direction.

At camp last week, we really didn’t refer to the map very often because we were given a tour highlighting the areas where we were likely to need to go and because we stuck to established trails when on our own (with a buddy – more on this in a future post). We did, on occasion, refer to our compasses. A compass helped to get our bearings when camp staff would give us directions such as “go about 50 yards south of the administration building and you’ll find it.” With the help of a compass, we could look skyward and get an idea of the direction from which weather was moving in.


Item 10 on the Boy Scout version of the Ten Essentials list is the map and compass. In this post, we will look at the former, leaving the latter for a future post. On The Mountaineers classic list, the map earns its own spot as item 1 and on their updated list, item 1 is navigation and includes both map and compass.

At dictionary.com, a map is defined as “a representation, usually on a flat surface, as of the features of an area of the earth or a portion of the heavens, showing them in their respective forms, sizes, and relationships according to some convention of representation.” Per the Online Etymology Dictionary, “map” originates in the 1520s as a shortened form of late 14th Century Middle English “mapemounde” or “map of the world” and Middle French “mappe” which is a shortening of Old French “mapemonde.” The English and French terms come from Medieval Latin “mappa mundi” or “map of the world.”

It is true that part of the Family Trivium household spent last week at camp with a minimally representative map of the camp, but nonetheless, we had a map, stuck to established trails, and, as far as we know, out of about 200 youth and half as many adults/staff, not one person became lost.

Mr. Family Trivium has always been enamored with maps. Perhaps it was his childhood spent in Scouting. Perhaps it was reading so much National Geographic, with all of their beautiful cartographic inserts. Perhaps it was his many classes on geography.

On the other hand, he may have taken so much geography because of how maps so eloquently describe place. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then perhaps a map is worth a million. Through universally understandable symbols, maps instantly break language barriers and communicate place to all observers.

There just might be a map-loving geographer in each of us. Take kids to the zoo or a theme park. Get one map for each of them, because it you don’t, they’ll surely fight over it. It’s an innate human desire to have some idea where we’re going.


In our last post, we talked sunglasses – sun protection for your eyes. In the Boy Scout list and both of The Mountaineers lists of Ten Essentials , sun protection covers sunglasses and the topic of this post: sunscreen – sun protection for your skin.

According to Dictionary.com, sunscreen is defined as “a substance formulated to prevent sunburn, skin cancers, and other conditions caused by excessive exposure to the sun, usually by absorbing and reflecting ultraviolet radiation.” The first usage of the word, as a compounding of “sun” and “screen” dates to 1738, but to 1954 as a lotion according the Online Etymology Dictionary.

We do quite a bit of our outings with long sleeves and long pants – in the winter to combat the cold and wind, in the summer to combat bugs and plants with various irritants. Despite this fact, we still always carry at least a small tube of sunscreen. Even mostly covered by clothing, on a cloudy day, with low sun angles, there is still the potential for sun exposure on the face, neck, and ears. If it’s warm enough the hands, and perhaps arms are exposed as well. If there is snow cover and it’s sunny, there is a real double-dose of sun exposure as it is reflected back up at you from below.


Item 9 on the Boy Scout list and item 2 on the The Mountaineers updated list of Ten Essentials is Sun protection. The Mountaineers classic list provides item 3 as simply Sunglasses and sunscreen. Sun protection  is a broad category and today, we look at the first of many items in it.

Dictionary.com defines sunglasses as “eyeglasses with colored or tinted lenses that protect the eyes from the glare of sunlight.” A compounding of “sun” and “glasses,” the word originated between 1800 and 1810.

While, it seems like the best days to be out in the wild are the sunniest, there will be times when the sky is dark and cloudy, which can still be beautiful. There will be dark nights sitting around the campfire. These are times when sunglasses are unneeded. For these times, as part of our FamilyTrivium sun protection system, each of us incorporates a sunglasses case. With a Velcro belt loop and clip, the affordable, but flexible Outdoor Products model is available for a couple of dollars at Walmart stores in our area. These protect our sunglasses from being damaged by other items in our packs.

When it comes to sunglasses, a pair of $5 polarized fishing sunglasses from Walmart are better than none. The ones with copper colored lenses are actually pretty good for driving in a variety of weather conditions. The smoke colored lenses are preferable in the bright sun and can help you spot things (fish) below the surface of the water that you might not see otherwise. Perhaps the boldest allure of inexpensive sunglasses is for those that tend to loose them. That said, there’ nothing wrong with a nice pair of sunglasses if they’re within your budget.

Fire Starter

As an alternative to matches, a “fire starter” shows up on the list of Ten Essentials. It shows up as part of item 8 on the Boy Scout list, and would fit under item 6 (Fire) on the updated Mountaineers list. On the classic Mountaineers list it garners its own position as item 7 (“Firestarter”). The most familiar form of a fire starter is probably some variation of the flint and steel.

Over at The Art of Manliness, Darren Bush has an article on how to start a fire using flint and steel, first giving an explanation of the components of the system. The flint can be from a family of rocks with a hardness rating of about 8 on Mohs scale, with chert being an example. The typical steel component is made from high-carbon tool steel. Being slightly softer than the flint, a small curl of the steel peels off and ignites from the pressure induced by the motion when the two components are struck together. The ignited steel, visible as a spark, can be directed to a piece of tinder as part of the fire building process (more on this later).

According to Bush, what is called a flint in a disposable lighter is actually a compound of cerium and iron (also known as ferrocerrium), which is actually the part that becomes a spark in this device.

While no one in the FamilyTrivium household smokes, we do carry a disposable lighters as part of our Ten Essentials kits – at least the adults do. Even if the lighter runs out of fuel, it retains its ability to spark and can still ignite tinder, though other sparking device work better. As a backup, Mr. FamilyTrivium carries a ferrocerrium rod which puts off a wicked spark when used in combination with his favorite EDC knife: the Opinel No6 Carbon.


In our post on water, as part of the Ten Essentials, we mentioned keeping an extra supply at the trailhead, and we took for granted that you knew what a trailhead is. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary dates the word to 1948 and defines it simply as “the point at which a trail begins.”

Aside from the hiking that our family so enjoys, a trailhead may also indicate an access point intended for bicycles, horses, or off-road vehicles according to Wikipedia. It is likely to be adjacent to a parking area, and may have restrooms and a kiosk with maps, sign posts and informational brochures. In our experience, some trailheads will also have a drop box for collection of usage fees via the “honor system.” Some trailheads are simply a sign, with the trail name, alongside a road.

More than this, though, the trailhead is where your adventures into the wilderness begin, and end. Often appearing like a small slot into which you might slide into a forest, prairie, or wetlands, you sometimes feel like the Pevensie children slipping through C. S. Lewis’ wardrobe into a fantastical world, leaving behind the concerns and turmoils of your life back in civilization. Admittedly, our outings are never quite as exciting as the Pevensies’ journeys to Narnia.

The weekend has started, so we encourage you to go out and find a trailhead close to you. If you don’t know where to find one, National Geographic’s partner AllTrails offers a fairly comprehensive searchable listing of trails for a variety of outdoor activities.

If you’d like to tell us about your favorite trailhead, or resources for finding one, we’d like to hear about it in the comments.