When I first began studying in earnest to become a Registered Maine Guide, my mentor probed my knowledge of the outdoors and experience level. He knew I was an Army veteran with a lot of time logged in the field but noted that guiding clients in the big woods of Maine had its own set of rules and norms. The most important question he had for me was, “What are the three things a guide should always carry?” Here are the answers and why.
Never before has the outdoors enthusiast had at their disposal the vast array of electronic gadgets to aid navigation during outdoor pursuits. Smart phones, handheld GPS, Google maps and all of the applications and software available today may cause some to think a good old fashioned magnetic compass is antiquated technology. Nothing could be further from the truth.
While electronic navigation devices are certainly handy, some more powerful than the equipment I used while on active duty years ago, they are still prone to failure from time to time. Batteries die, screens crack, applications freeze and clear sight lines to satellites lost. You can drop your compass in the mud during a rain storm with heavily overcast skies without worry. You simply pick it up, wipe it off and keep going. I actually carry two – a Cammenga lensatic compass for navigating and a Silva with clear baseplate for plotting and map work.
A good knife’s versatility is frequently underrated. The style you choose is not as important as the tasks you should be able to perform with it. Choose a quality knife with either a locking or fixed blade capable of cutting small saplings, skinning and preparing game, notching poles, cutting rope and whittling tinder to name a few.
Some knives with heavy, fixed blades are even capable of acting as a wedge for splitting camp firewood.
With the right knife, you can cover our most basic human needs – food, fire and shelter. You will be able build a pole and bough shelter, fabricate bedding, create tinder, cut kindling for a fire and take, clean and cook game or fish in the event you are lost and need to overnight in the woods.
There are all sorts of modern fire starting tools available today. Many are friction or striker based. The key for these types of devices is to know how to properly use them. If you are the casual adventurer you may find the required learning curve bothersome.
Disposable lighters are a great tool to have on hand but remember they are fallible too. The striker wheel can break off, the flint can wear out and the casing may crack. A viable alternative is the trusty strike anywhere matchstick.
A handful of matchsticks sealed individually in wax for weather proofing will never let you down. A great storage option is to use two spent shotgun shells as your carrying container. Put the matchsticks in an empty 20 gauge shell and slide an empty 12 gauge shell over it from the other end.
Adding cotton balls treated with petroleum jelly in a second shell container or two will provide you with instant kindling that will burn for 2-3 minutes.
Your compass, knife and fire starter should easily fit on your belt or in the pockets of your jacket and pants. While they may not be the only things you carry as you venture outdoors, they should always be the first things you carry in our big Maine woods.