Den Mother: Smoke Signals
Build a signal fire that will actually catch someone’s attention.
How can I build a signal fire that will actually catch someone’s attention?
—Jackie Nguyen The, trick is to build a platform to maximize airflow under your fire. Scout out a hilltop clearing and clear the ground around your chosen site. Then find three sturdy sticks with forks at their ends and midpoints. Make a teepee so the tops interlock. (Failed woodshop? Tie them up with p-cord.) Nestle three more sticks into the middle forks to brace the structure (picture the lateral stretchers between chair legs), and lay green wood across the braces to make a shelf. Any searches will start 12 to 24 hours after you go missing, so wait at least a day to light. Drape evergreen branches or wet leaves over the flame to get it smoking. Plastic, duct tape, and peat moss will darken smoke to better catch searchers’ attention. Night falling? Ditch the greenery— a flame will be more visible than smoke, and leaves will block the glow. Does a bear can’s expiration date really matter?
—Scott McLeod You pay attention to the expiration date on your milk, right? Better do the same for your bear spray. Pressurized gasses seep out of their containers over time, so while expired spray might “work,” it’s not as effective as intended—and facing down a charging bear is no time to settle for “maybe good enough.” Check your canister for an expiration date (usually three to four years after the can’s manufacture), buy new when time’s up, and don’t bother testing at home: Most are vetted in the factory, and extra testing is a waste of ammo. Stuck with an expired can? It won’t spray as far or as long, so do your best to boost the odds: Keep the wind at your back and don’t pull the trigger until the bear is within range—about 20 feet away. Got a question for Den Mother? Email it to firstname.lastname@example.org.