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Survival: Lost with…Only a Bottle of Whiskey

Put that hooch to good use with these tips for starting a fire, treating water, and even signaling for help.

Start a Fire
To make wood more flammable, whiskey-soak it to the core, then wait a few minutes so the vapors disperse, reducing the risk of a fireball. In damp conditions, resinous woods (pine, spruce, fir, mesquite)—which have a lower ignition point—work best; avoid oaks and maples.

Nester also suggests filling a small can (like a tuna or Altoids can) with whiskey and lighting it. Or you can build a sand fire by scooping a cupful of dirt into a mound; it must be a dry substrate like sand, or clay formed into a small clay pinch pot. Then pour in a quart of whiskey. It should burn 10 to 30 minutes; as the flame dies, use a stirring stick to bring fuel back to the surface and add a few minutes of life. Although your sand fire won’t be hot enough to boil water, it can provide warmth, heat food, or help light a signal fire. For the latter, feed in twigs, then transfer the burning twigs to a fire pit. (Beware of wildfire hazard in dry backcountry areas.)

If you don’t have a lighter, pour out the whiskey, fill the bottle with water, and start a fire magnifying-glass style. With the sun at its zenith (11 a.m. to 2 p.m.), focus the sun’s beams onto some rotten, punky wood, dry cow pies, or elk droppings until you get a glowing ember. Nestle this in grass or dry bark, then blow it into a flame. If the bottle has broken, try a shard: Add one or two beads of liquid, then lie flat with your forearms supported, focusing the beam as per above, with the water-droplet side facing the sun. You must let the pinpoint of light concentrate for 20 to 30 seconds on the tinder before it will ignite, so keep still and be patient.

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