Fire-Lighting Whilst injured

Bushcraft and Wilderness Survival Courses in Scotland


BCS Instructor Bradley Lotts has recently undergone surgery on his arm, which got him thinking……… easy is it to light a fire with one hand.


So, fire lighting is a very important part to our survival and it isn’t a one trick pony and can be used for several tasks including Warmth, signalling, light, Drying clothes, making tools, water pasturisation and cooking. For most of the people reading this article we have all managed at some stage, be it during a camping trip or personal development days to start a fire for whatever reason we might need one. Keeping the 7 P’s in mind we head of and collect all our resources to give us the best possible chance of getting our fire started. Collecting our tinder ensuring we have enough to give us a strong enough flame to catch our kindling and working our way up the thickness of the twigs until we get our fire sustained.  Easy?

Right okay so put yourself in a situation where you have been in an accident and you have managed to break either an arm or even worse a leg, suddenly that simple little task of collecting all your tinder and kindling could end up being a right pain in your ass. One big factor that is going to play havoc with your head is maybe not the thought of potentially having to crawl about the woods looking for dry usable material for your fire but your will to live; Can you muster up enough positive thinking to help you push through this extremely hard life or death situation? Which leads me on to a bit about survival Psychology

Survival Psychology

Cognition controls all our behaviour however when life is threatened this fundamental function of our existence can become impaired. Such impairment can be fatal and can lead to unnecessary death in a survival situation. There is theory known as 10-80-10 which suggest that 10% of people facing an emergency can control their fears and act rationally, 80% find themselves overcome with fear and emotion and lack motivation to respond while another 10% become hysterical and freeze. To ensure that you are part of the top 10% with a better chance of survival you must have situational and self-awareness.

To have both you must first have knowledge of the physiological processes your mind and body both undergo during an emergency.  

The Situation

You are out mountain biking when you hit a rock on the ground and fall off. When you sit yourself up you realise that you have broken your arm. You are in the middle of the woods far away from the main road, your phone has ran out of battery and you are unable to cycle back. You look at the time on your watch and realise that it will be getting dark very soon.

How your body responds

The sympathetic nervous system, which stimulates your fight-flight-freeze response, is activated to take control of your body. This results in the pituitary gland secreting 3 key hormones into your bloodstream – Adrenaline, Norepinephrine and Cortisol.

Adrenaline and norepinephrine are basically the same. Norepinephrine is pretty much a back up to adrenaline. Both have a major role in preparing your body for battle in numerous ways. They cause your heart rate and blood pressure to increase and your lungs to expand to take in more energy (known as bronchial dilation). Blood is channelled away from the digestive system and the skin towards major skeletal muscles for quick action and strength. They also trigger the production of glucose and the secretion of cortisol sets fatty acids free to be transformed into energy. These molecules are rapidly excreted into the bloodstream supplying a readily available boost of energy for muscles throughout the body, priming them for exertion.

Cortisol is released more slowly than adrenaline and norepinephrine and it helps to sustain the fight-or-flight response over an extended period. The digestive and immune responses are slowed in the anticipation of a fight.

The dangerous scenario

Over time the engaged sympathetic nervous system depletes the body’s energy reserves of glycogen and fat stores. If it goes on too long you could experience a crash which leaves you feeling cold and tired. The more primitive portion of the brain (the limbic system) takes control from the more developed frontal lobe. Thoughts become less logical and more visceral. This can lead to impulsive and irrational behaviour. If this is not controlled, then you can very quickly become the 80% who have no will to live or the bottom 10% who are too hysterical to even have a chance at coping.

We now understand how our brain is going to react in the situation so we have a fighting chance of overcoming the problem. So, we have collected all our materials for getting our fire started we now must work out a way of getting it done with one arm.

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The pictures above show how I managed to get a fire going using one arm this is defiantly not the only way to get a fire going with one arm but it worked well for me as you will see in the video. The picture on the right shows you a big tinder bundle which is going to give me a better chance of getting my fire going.

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Above On the left, you can see the layout I chose to give me the best possible chance of getting my fire started. The layout I chose was the lean-to fire lay which made the whole process a lot easier for me as I could easily control the oxygen intake to the fire by simply lifting and lying the kindling onto the log which gave it a 45-degree angle.  As you can see from the pictures above the angle of the wood allows a good supply of oxygen to flow into the tinder bundle. The smaller log of the two in the picture is a stabilizing log for me to rest my ferro rod on and hold in place with my foot so I can strike it using on hand.

I decided to use my ferro rod as it would be good practise……. a lighter would have been my first choice if I was in a real life threating situation. You should also carry at least two methods of starting a fire if you are going out in the hills or doing any outdoor activities, where the chances of you getting lost or hurt is high. There are other methods of starting a fire for example solar igntion, bow drill and flint and steel are all really good ways of starting a fire and it is good to practise these skills. If I was putting my life on the line I would put my ego aside and use the easiest method which is going to give me the best result and in my option that is a ferro rod and a lighter. I tried the bow drill with my broken wrist and found it nearly impossible and that was with a pre made set imagine having to try and make a set from scratch if you had a broken leg or arm, no thanks I will stick with my lighter, it is about survival not bushcrafting, two very different things. 

As you can see from the video above it doesn’t take me long to get my fire going using all the techniques mentioned above.