Monday, December 31, 2012

VIDEO: Cody Lundin talks about new Dual Survival partner Joe Teti

I think this video gives more insight into why Dave Canterbury was asked to leave, after it was discovered that he wasn't actually an Army Ranger. Cody mentions that the show was meant to pair up his primitive skills with an ex-military special ops guy, and since Dave wasn't, it compromised the show's original philosophy.

Here's Discovery's promo video introducing Joe Teti:

The new season will air on Discovery Channel with a one hour special on Tuesday, January 1, 2013, airing at 8PM E/P. Directly following the special, the first episode of Dual Survival season three, “Mars on Earth” premieres at 9 PM E/P.

Find more info on

I'm definitely looking forward to checking out season 3 with Joe Teti.

Happy New Years everyone!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Wilderness Survival: An easy way to find Fatwood in the Rockies and Beyond....

Photo Credit: Rocky Mountain Bushcraft, ©2012

Fatwood (also known as pitchwood in the West), is Mother Nature's finest tinder. It is a resin-impregnated, orange to reddish colored wood found predominantly in Yellow Pine trees. When lit, fatwood burns ferociously as if it were soaked in gasoline. It will burn under the worst weather conditions, even while rain or snow is falling.

Fatwood is easily ignited with a firesteel, magnesium, or conventional fire-starting tools (lighters, matches, etc), so if you can find it, it's your best bet to get a good, hot fire going under damp conditions.

A piece of Lodgepole Pine fatwood burning with an intense flame

Many websites and forums offer tutorials on finding and identifying fatwood, but they tend to focus on looking for dead, "skeletonized" pine stumps in the forest. While dead stumps certainly offer good opportunities for finding fatwood, they can be difficult to find in some wilderness areas. Another challenge with finding fatwood in stumps is that not all stumps produce fatwood.

Stumps can also be hard to process into manageable pieces without heavier tools, and have been known to roll/chip/break the edges on survival knives and machetes. A more reliable, and often over-looked way to find fatwood is at the base of dead pine branches (pine knots).

Types of trees to look for

After spending the last few years wandering through forests of the Colorado Rockies and sampling hundreds of Ponderosa and Lodgepole Pines, I've discovered that these trees produce a lot more fatwood than you might think.

Ponderosa Pine and Lodgepole Pine trees cover vast areas of the Western States and Canada, so finding them is usually not very difficult if you're close to foothills or mountains. Ponderosa Pine produces the richest fatwood in its knots, but Lodgepoles also produce highly flammable, usable fatwood as well. Pinyon Pine in the Southern Rockies may also offer a good source. I am currently planning a bushcraft trip to Southern Colorado/Northern New Mexico to verify this and will report my findings in an update.

Harvesting the Fatwood

To find this type of fatwood, look for dead branches at the base of the previously mentioned types of pine trees and cut them off at the knot. It doesn't matter if the tree is dead or alive, as long as the branch itself is dead. Pruning the dead branches won't hurt the tree if you saw it clean, and it actually helps the tree resist becoming a "fuel ladder" during a ground-burning wildfire. Just make sure to use a saw when practicing this technique so that the trees still look nice once you're finished (I use a Coghlan's 7" folding Sierra Saw as shown in the photos).

Live Trees

Here's a typical candidate-- a Lodgepole Pine at an elevation of 9,000 feet in the Central Rockies:

Closeup of the lower section of the tree. The circled dead branch is the one I will try first, since it is low on the tree, and in my experience, the closer to the base, the more pitch laden it will be.

Using my Sierra Saw to saw off the dead branch reveals an excellent vein of rich, highly flammable fatwood:

(click to enlarge)

Here's a similar result after sawing off a dead branch from a Ponderosa Pine. Ponderosa's are so rich with pitch that cutting branches higher up on the tree can also produce good results.

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***One thing to note is that not all dead branches have fatwood at the base. You might have to saw off a few branches before you find one that has it, or you might hit a tree that has fatwood in every pine knot. The majority of trees will have at least some, so it is just a matter of searching.

So how do you process this fatwood into useable fire tinder? Check out the "Carving out a pitchwood stick" section below for the different ways to do this (all are very easy!). Before we get to that section though, I want to show you some more scenarios in which to find this type of fatwood.

Dead trees

Dead trees can be an excellent source of pine knot fatwood, or they can be rather "dry", depending on the tree. Dead Lodgepoles tend to be "dry" when compared to dead Ponderosa Pines, but even dead Lodgepoles can produce enough useable fatwood to make a fire. Below is a typical example. This is a dead Lodgepole that has been thoroughly dried out by the high altitude sun, but still has small veins of good fatwood in its knots:

Note the dark areas of fatwood in this sawed-off lower branch:

(click to enlarge)

I then used my Mora bushcraft knife to baton and carve out the piece to get to the richest area for use as tinder. See more about how to process these knots in the "Carving out a Pitchwood Stick to use as Tinder" section below.
(click to enlarge)

Small Branches on living or dead trees

Do not discount small branches as a source of quality fatwood! On this same dead, very dry Lodgepole, I found several branches that looked just like this one:

(click to enlarge)


Roots can be an excellent source of fatwood, but I tend to avoid them if possible. In Lodgepoles especially, most roots will be dried out into plain wood, plus, they are usually coated with tiny rocks or sand which will quickly dull or even destroy the edges on your cutting tools. However, if you're freezing to death and you've found a large source of fatwood in a tree root that will make for a big, hot, warming fire, then obviously your choice to proceed will be different.

Here's a dead Lodgepole with the roots exposed. A quick check of one of the roots with my axe reveals that it is solid fatwood. One way to check roots to see if they might have fatwood is to tap on the root with the poll of your axe or the back of your knife. If it seems as though you're tapping on something almost as hard as a rock, it is likely to contain fatwood.

 (click to enlarge)

I then used my Sierra Saw to cut this piece off, which helped to preserve my axe bit by not having to chop through it.

(click to enlarge)

This piece turned out be excellent fatwood, and was large enough that I could re-use it many times by shaving off just what I needed to make a fire.

(click to enlarge)

A sliver of the root fatwood ignited. Note the black, oily smoke coming from it. All true fatwood emits this kind of smoke when ignited, and it is a sure fire way to know if you've found the real thing when you're first starting out.

(click to enlarge)

Ok, you're lost in the wilderness without a larger folding saw, axe or hatchet- how do you harvest fatwood?

So you're lost, and all you have is a multi-tool or a fixed blade - how do you harvest fatwood? If you have a fixed blade knife, just baton off the branch as close to the base as possible. Here, I baton off a fatwood branch with a Mora Fireknife, using a dead branch that I found on the ground as a baton. Just cut a notch the same way you would chop one with an axe or hatchet and it's fairly easy to remove. This could even be done with a sharp rock and a baton if you lost your knife.

(click to enlarge)

If you have a multi-tool with a saw on it (like a Leatherman), just use it to saw off the branch at the base. You can then carve out a fatwood tinder stick with it as shown below.

(click to enlarge)

Carving out a Pitchwood (Fatwood) Stick to use as tinder

The easiest way to harvest the fatwood from the knot is carving out what I call a "pitchwood stick."

In an average branch, the fatwood will only run a few inches up from the knot, though occasionally you'll get lucky and it will run up the branch 6 inches or more. Just take your cutting tool and remove enough outside material to get to the rich fatwood inside. Here's one I did with a Leatherman Charge AL:
(click to enlarge)


Here's the Ponderosa fatwood branch that was batoned off with my Mora FireKnife and shaved into a pitchwood stick:

(click to enlarge)

Of course, if you have a fixed blade knife, you can just baton away the excess and then use your knife to carve away the finer pieces until you hit paydirt. Sometimes, like in the photo above, it's just quicker and easier to carve down into the pitch knot to get to your tinder.

Using your fatwood to start a fire

Once you have a pitchwood stick carved out, you can easily shave pieces off to start a fire. As mentioned at the beginning, fatwood ignites and burns as if it were soaked in gasoline. If all you have is a firesteel, there are two easy ways to ignite it. 

If you're experienced at using a firesteel, you can just shave off pieces and ignite them. If you're less experienced, or the conditions are especially harsh or wet, then scrape your pitchwood stick with a sharp object (even a sharp rock can work well) and make as large a tinder pile as possible. Here in the Rockies, dead Aspen tree bark makes an excellent platform for holding your tinder while you scrape it into a pile as shown:

(click to enlarge)

Igniting the tinder pile with a firesteel. NOTE! Never use the back of the saw blade on your multi-tool to scrape tinder or strike firesteels unless it is a lock-blade!

(click to enlarge)

Making a pitchwood tinder necklace

If you find a fatwood knot where the pitch runs at least 3"-4" up from the knot, and is at least as large around as your thumb, you can drill a hole through it and make your own pitchwood tinder necklace.

All photos: Rocky Mountain Bushcraft, ©2012

NEXT ARTICLE: How to make a Pine Knot Torch for emergency light

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About the author
Jason Schwartz is the founder and senior editor of Rocky Mountain Bushcraft. He is a former Red Cross certified Wilderness & Remote First Aid Instructor, and has taught bushcraft and wilderness survival techniques to the Boy Scouts of America, interned with the US Forest Service, and studied wilderness survival, forestry and wildland firefighting at Colorado Mountain College in Leadville, Colorado. Jason has also written for magazines such as The New Pioneer and Backpacker, including writing the "Tinder Finder" portion of Backpacker's "Complete Guide to Fire," which won a 2015 National Magazine Award (NMA). Email him at rockymountainbushcraft @ (without spaces)

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Photos of some gear testing trips last Spring

Ok, I'll be the first to admit that Rocky Mountain Bushcraft is a bit "photo-challenged" when it comes to photos of "yours truly" bushcrafting and testing gear. I'm a rather private person, so it's been a hard decision as to whether or not to post more photos showing my face. In the interest of sharing with readers, I am going to start releasing more personal photos of my mug while out bushcrafting. Comments are always welcomed, as what I love most about writing this blog is sharing my experiences with you. Happy holidays! -Jason

Testing the Fiskars X15 Chopping Axe last spring in the Roosevelt National Forest
(click to enlarge)

Different angle

Dave giving the X15 a try

Different trip where we hiked up a mountain to test gear and visited an old mining cave. Shown in the photos is Dave C and my stepson Alec, who's turned into quite an axeman since this photo was taken!

(click any photo to enlarge)

Stopping on the way up to make a temporary camp to build a fire and make breakfast

Alec prepping the fire pit

Dave breaking out his Gerber Camp Axe to chop up some kindling

Dave keeping an eye on Alec so that he doesn't try to sneak off and chop down a hapless tree with his Estwing hatchet!

Dave has fire prep duty

Inside the cave- yes, it's a real bat cave! 

Me (looking a bit "paunchy" after a long winter of eating too much good food!) and Alec standing in front of the cave entrance 

Monday, December 17, 2012

REVIEW: "Survivorman" Les Stroud Bushman Axe by Wetterlings- UPDATED

Earlier this year, "Survivorman" star Les Stroud teamed up with Wetterlings to create what he felt would be a perfectly proportioned, highly functional, yet lightweight wilderness axe. His philosophy was to create an axe that was versatile enough to be a strong chopper and splitter, yet light enough to be carried long distances without putting an undue burden on pack weight.

According to Les's website "The Bushman by Survivorman Les Stroud is unique as it is both an axe and a hammer. The wedge shaped head ensures extreme splitting power. The long, broad blade is good for felling or carving. The neck is a distinct hammer and good for driving pegs. A notch for your fingers makes it easy to be very detailed and get nice cuts when doing precision work. The handle is long enough to be a two-hand axe for wood splitting and felling."

As a Canadian outdoorsman and longtime axe-user, Les is one of a small circle of wilderness survival experts that I respect when it comes to axes, so I was curious to see how his new Bushman axe would measure up. We would like to say a special thanks to Matt Huff at Sport Hansa and Julia Kalthoff at Wetterlings for offering us the opportunity to be the first to review the Bushman Axe.


Overall length: 22" (our sample measured 21.75")
Head weight: 1.6 pounds
Overall Weight (without sheath): 37.6 ounces
Overall Weight (with sheath): 39.4 ounces
Steel type: Hand forged Swedish high carbon steel (composition unknown)
Cutting Surface: 3 3/8th inches
Handle type: American Hickory
Country of Origin: Made in Sweden
Warranty: None
Retail Price: $149.00


The Bushman Axe features a hand forged, high carbon Swedish steel head which weighs in at 1.6 lbs. The handle is 22" long and made from American Hickory. 

The Bushman Axe sports a new, thinner Gransfors' style leather sheath, as do all 2012 Wetterlings axes. Overall the sheath seems sturdy enough, but the button is not as robust or secure as those on older Wetterlings' sheaths or current Gransfors' sheaths. On some of my other 2012 Wetterlings test axes, I've noticed that the button unsnaps inside my pack or car trunk a little too easily. If you're reading this Wetterlings, please return to the old style snap!

Head Profile

The Bushman axe has a rather interesting and unconventional head design. It's almost like a cross between a Cold Steel Trail Hawk and a Hudson Bay Axe.

This profile design is very wedge shaped and thick in front of the eye towards the cutting bit, similar to a dedicated splitting axe. Wetterlings has also stopped using metal wedges in their small axes recently. According to Julia Kalthoff, CEO of Wetterlings, she wanted Wetterlings axes to conform to vintage axe manuals, which state that properly hung axes don't need metal wedges to secure the haft to the head. This sentiment is also backed up by axe expert Bernie Weisgerber in his book "An Axe to Grind."

When compared to other popular axes in the same category, this thicker profile really stands out. In the first photo, the Bushman is shown in between Wetterlings' popular Large Hunting and Forester's Fine axes:

From left to right: Wetterlings 2012 Swedish Forest Axe, Les Stroud Bushman Axe, Gransfors Bruks Scandinavian Forest Axe

Another interesting change is the new circular Wetterlings logo stamped into the head:
(click to enlarge)

The hammer poll:

Handle Grain/Quality/Alignment

The handle is mostly straight with a slight curve in the grip area, and is slightly thicker than most Gransfors Bruks axe handles. 

Before receiving the Bushman axe, I thought from the preview photos that the handle would be the biggest negative, since I generally don't like straight handles on smaller axes. I was surprised to find that after using the Bushman, I was really impressed with the handle. It's comfortable and feels good whether chopping or choking up on it to do fine work.

The grain direction is excellent, and the tightness of the grain about average:

The alignment is excellent:

Comparison Photos

The Bushman Axe (right) next to a Wetterlings Large Hunting Axe (left):

Comparison with a Wetterlings 2.2lb 2012 Swedish Forest Axe, 1.4lb Forester's Fine Axe, and a 1.75lb Gransfors Bruks Scandinavian Forest Axe:

(click to enlarge)


The Bushman axe balances well along the handle, but the head is very unbalanced due to the small hammer poll. Since Les wanted to emphasize splitting, this is an obvious trade-off in order to make the cheeks thick enough to split well.

Field Testing

Out of the box, the Bushman axe was very sharp, but just shy of shaving-sharp. A few swipes on a ceramic sharpening rod quickly brought it up to speed.

For the field test, I wanted to focus on the four main features Les Stroud extols in this axe- 1) Chopping ability 2) Splitting ability 3) Usefullness for fine work, and 4) Portability

I didn't perform an official test with the hammer poll, but used it off camera at my test location to pound wooden stakes into the ground, and it functioned as advertised.


Prior to the test below, I used the Bushman off-camera several times to get a feel for it. My impression was that it was a rather vicious chopper for its size, so I decided to pit it against a slightly larger Gransfors Bruks Scandinavian Forest Axe. After pitting the two against each other, my suspicions were confirmed.  As you can see in the photos below, the Bushman chopped about 95% as well as the Gransfors.

(click to enlarge)


To test the Bushman's splitting ability, I grabbed a healthy-sized Ponderosa Pine log that had been cut by fire crews during an older forest fire in the area, and split it in two. It was fire-hardened, so this was no easy feat.

(click to enlarge)

First swing:

Third swing:

Success! The Bushman splits almost as well as a real splitting axe.

The rest of the pieces were easily split with just one swing:

Fine carving

The Bushman axe proved to be an excellent fine carving axe. The edge profile made controlled cuts such as feathering easy, and the head and handle profile made the axe very comfortable and controllable while performing this task.
(click to enlarge)


The Bushman Axe was small enough to fit inside my Kelty Redtail 30 DaypackGiven its excellent field performance, this means access to a lot of "firepower" should the need arise out in the backcountry, even when traveling light.


The Les Stroud Bushman Axe represents what I believe to be a good compromise in a wilderness axe. What it gives up in absolute balance, it makes up for with excellent splitting ability. Purists may not like this "pickaxe" balance aspect, but I think it's a reasonable trade-off considering how well it splits. I don't think the average axe user will be bothered by the head/poll balance issue very much, since the haft balance is actually very good.

The Bushman axe also turned out to be an excellent chopper and fine carver, almost out of proportion for its size. The handle was surprisingly comfortable and secure in the hand, proving that Les knows a thing or two about what it takes to make a good backcountry axe handle.

Cons? Yes..... As mentioned in the features section above, the button snap on the newer style sheath is wimpy and needs to go. It unsnaps too easily if brushed up against other gear inside a pack or car trunk. The forging, as evidenced in the photos above, is still a bit sloppy and not up to Gransfors Bruks standards, important considering that this axe is actually more expensive than a Gransfors Bruks Scandinavian Forest Axe, which leads me to my third issue -- price. At $149.00 retail, the Bushman Axe is really pushing the bounds of affordability, especially considering that it doesn't come with a warranty like Gransfors' axes. For this price, it should come with a warranty, be shaving sharp out of the box, have a sturdier snap on the sheath, and better symmetry on the forging. 

Even with the issues mentioned, I still think the Bushman Axe is a first-rate wilderness tool that deserves strong consideration for inclusion in your axe collection. Not to mention the "cool factor" of owning an axe personally designed by the "Survivorman" himself.

The Bushman Axe is available at Sport Hansa USA

Dec 22nd, 2012 UPDATE: Wetterlings has informed us that they offer lifetime warranties on all their axes. Wetterlings has no written policy on their site or on the literature that comes with the axes, so if you have a problem, my best guess is to contact the Wetterlings dealer that sold the axe to you.

February 9th, 2013 UPDATE: Les Stroud Bushman Axe Issues\Conversation with Julia Kalthoff

April 22nd, 2013 UPDATE: After resharpening the rolled/dented edge on the Bushman Axe and chopping with it several times, it appears to have held up well. I plan to test a newer model to see if the issues have been fully resolved, but until then, recommend this axe with the reservation that it may need to re-sharpened or re-profiled, if an issue should develop.

About the author
Jason Schwartz is the founder and senior editor of Rocky Mountain Bushcraft, a blog that features articles, news stories, outdoor tips and product reviews written from a bushcraft and wilderness survival perspective. Schwartz is a former Red Cross certified Wilderness & Remote First Aid Instructor and has taught bushcraft and wilderness survival techniques to the Boy Scouts of America. He has also written for the The New Pioneer and Backpacker, including writing the "Tinder Finder" portion of Backpacker's "Complete Guide to Fire," which won a 2015 National Magazine Award (NMA). Email him at rockymountainbushcraft @ (without spaces)