To survive, we need to stay warm when it’s cold, and even in hot weather, we still need a way to cook food on cloudy days when the solar cooker just won’t work. In areas where trees are sparse, people might have to start breaking apart furniture and pulling up floorboards within days of a major power outage.
Start with fuel-efficiency
Our family has a very fuel-efficient rocket stove to cook when we’re camping. The Silverfire Survivor Stove is, in my opinion, the best on the market. It only takes a few twigs to cook an entire meal. A highly efficient rocket stove is one prep I highly recommend. We’ve used the Silverfire, StoveTec, and the EcoZoom. Of the 3, I still prefer the Silverfire (a little more expensive), but the other 2 are certainly adequate. Read this review of the Silverfire to learn more.
Using an open fire for cooking and heating is another option, whether in a fireplace or a contained, outdoor fire, but, again, think efficiency. What types of wood will produce the most heat with the least amount of waste? If you can get your hands on it, these woods have the highest heat value:
- American beech
- Red Oak
- Shagbark hickory
- Sugar maple
- White ash
- White oak
- Yellow birch
With these varieties, you use less wood, but get a higher level of heat output. Again, these varieties don’t grow everywhere, so you will need to do some research into the type of firewood in your area — which varieties are available and, of those, which will burn best with the highest level of efficiency.
The USDA Forest Products Laboratory produced this handy chart with more information about the fuel efficiency levels of different woods. You want the highest amount of heat per cord and one that doesn’t give off a lot of smoke.
How much to keep on hand? Plenty!
Again, back in Phoenix, I liked to have a supply of firewood, in spite of the fact that we didn’t even have a fireplace, and the grill out back was connected to our gas line! I just wanted to know if there was another source of fuel should the power go out and all other fuel sources become scarce.
If you live in a similar area and circumstances, it might sound crazy to insist on having some firewood, but maybe it’s smarter than you think! Most people will never think about having a stash of firewood for survival.
Someday a cord of wood just might make the difference between your family’s survival and a daily struggle to stay warm and eat hot meals. How much wood provides the right amount of safety margin? There’s no one right answer, but I’d suggest starting with a half cord.
Chopped wood is measured, and purchased, by the cord, which is an official unit of measurement. The length, height, and width of the chopped wood is measured. A “cord” is 128 cubic feet. One cord is a heck of a lot of wood. Years ago, I lived in the far northern plateaus of Arizona, and wood-burning stove provided all my heat. Less than half a cord of wood was plenty to see me through the winter. Of course, I was living alone in a 750 square foot house!
Look on Craigslist for firewood sources. Once you know the types of wood that are available and are the best woods for burning, then it’s just a matter of shopping around. Don’t order wood sight unseen, since it takes many months for it to season properly. Check out pieces of the firewood you are planning to buy. The pieces should have cracks on the end and the seasoned pieces should weigh less than fresh, green wood. When you hit 2 pieces of the firewood together, you should get a hollow sound. If the sound is more dull and solid, the wood isn’t seasoned enough.
The “right” firewood for survival
In order to burn well, wood must be dry and seasoned. Even if you have live trees on your property or in a nearby city park, I can guarantee that wood from those trees will be very difficult to burn, give off a lot of smoke, and not be an efficient fuel until it is seasoned. It takes several months for this to happen. This is why rural families spend so much of their spring and summer days chopping and stacking firewood for the winter.
Even if you don’t ordinarily have a need for firewood, start thinking about the fuel you will use if the lights ever go out long term. You may want to start buying small quantities of firewood and even invest in a splitting wedge or specialized wood splitting axe or maul. A supply of firewood might be a smart, life-saving idea. Just be very aware of fire prevention, as explained in this article written by a former fire marshal.