This Could Go All Wrong

“Unorthodox survival methods” sounds like it’s deliberately bypassing the orthodoxy, which is also known as “what works.”

That one actually tempted me, but I’m going to wait until they offer to teach me how to make a rocket launcher using just poop. From scramjet to scatjet in one step!

What might be the method? I suppose if you peed into a bottle you might be able to make a focusing lens and use solar energy to light something. But water would work as well. I can’t think of much that the urea in pee would do, so I’m assuming it’s water for all intents and purposes.

I’m thinking the trick may be to hang around outside a drug testing center and offer to trade your pee for a lighter.

One of the things that annoys me about survivalism is that it usually ignores the threat model. If you’re dealing with a viral plague, pee may not be as good as thing to start fires with as rubbing sticks together. To take a more extreme example: what if your survival situation is that you’re in the middle of a firestorm and your problem is not “starting a fire”? Learning to start a fire is useful, no doubt, but not always and not always at the right time. My dad convinced me to read Jack London’s To Build a Fire [wc] when I was a kid, and rather than encouraging me to be more fearlessly independent, it convinced me that “camping outdoors” was a dumb idea to be avoided. That book made me take camping off my list of entertaining pastimes; thanks dad!

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This is an unorthodox way to start a fire, no pee needed: @4:56

If “heat” means that the molecules in a piece of metal are moving around, then any external thing that makes them move faster means you’re heating it up. So if Alec Steele takes a smallish piece of metal and whacks it with a hammer a lot, then it heats up. If you whack it enough, fast enough, it becomes red hot and can hit kindling temperature in another material. Friction is a more popular way of heating things up. Peeing on things is less popular because it’s less effective.


  1. says

    I like the forging trick Alec is demonstrating in the video. I have read about it, I heard first hand account, but I never actually saw it.

    I have to try it myself someday. I have managed to whack a piece of steel to blistering hot, but not to red hot.

  2. komarov says

    Hm, perhaps if you use your tactical combo-extractor/centrifuge to get the water out and isolate trace amount of phosphorus, then add the water to the phosphorous…

    Or maybe you’re supposed to pour the urine into your portable stratego-tactical bioreactor to refine it into fuel. I’m not sure where the fire comes from but maybe having refined fuel makes it a little easier. Just leave the jerrycan out on a hilltop during a thunderstorm and wait.

    Odd thought: Does biofuel or any carbon-neutral powersource actually qualify as “manly” enough for tactical gear? I get the impression that might be at odds with the target group but I may be wrong there.

  3. Bruce says

    I agree with #2 Komarov. I think the ad never said your pee does tactical things THIS week. To build a fire, first, get a lighter and start a fire. Then boil down and distill a few gallons of your pee into its nonaqueous fractions. One of these is phosphorus. Now get the other items needed and use the phosphorus to make a matchstick. Now you are ready in any dry tactical situation to light your match and start a fire. It just takes a month and other chemicals, and a lighter. That is all. Nothing in the ad said it wasn’t this.

  4. flex says

    Human urine contains nitrate, which can naturally form potassium nitrate, one of the key components of gunpowder. If the urine naturally breaks down with certain types of organic matter, like straw, it will form potassium nitrate crystals.

    As I understand it, during the late middle ages it was common for European villages to require their male occupants to piss against a specific wall, over a layer of straw, in the village. And every few months this soil was sifted to get the potassium nitrate crystals in order to make gunpowder. Pig urine also contains potassium nitrate, and pigsties were also used as sources of potassium nitrate.

    So you can get one component of an explosive compound from your pee, but as Bruce and Komarov wrote, it takes a lot of time to get enough of the compound to be useful for even a small fire-cracker.

  5. Pierce R. Butler says

    During La Révolution, the French scraped clean every pissoir, horse stable, cow pen, and goat yard within the borders and occupied zones, collecting niter to supply their sudden urgent need for beaucoup gunpowder.

    IIRC, Tom Robbins’s Still Life with Woodpecker includes a recipe for explosives compounded of Froot Loops®, bat guano, and other household ingredients. How much we may attribute his own above-average and continuing survival to such esoteric knowledge remains undetermined.

  6. lochaber says

    That clip was pretty amusing. I think that’s the same general principal behind a fire piston.

    I read quite a few survival books as a kid, and would often wander out into the fields and forests and try different things out. I’ve also done a bit of camping/backpacking. I can understand people not liking it, for me, it was mostly to get away from people.

    I’ve not tried it myself, but have seen a couple videos where people put a small amount of water in a clear bag, and then twist up the bag to force the little pocket of water into a semi-spherical shape, and then use that as a lens to concentrate sunlight into starting a fire. I imagine the same thing could be done with urine?

    I went through a couple of episodes of that new “You vs. Wild” bit on Netflix, and am pretty annoyed by it. Too many silly risks and sensationalist nonsense.

  7. says

    I’m thinking the trick may be to hang around outside a drug testing center and offer to trade your pee for a lighter.

    I’m reminded of the answer to “how do you tell how high a building is using a barometer?” of going to the landlord and saying, “if you tell me how high your building is, I’ll give you this nifty barometer.”

  8. says

    Dave W@#8:
    I’m reminded of the answer to “how do you tell how high a building is using a barometer?”

    There was a story about Neils Bohr answering a test question with a half dozen responses like that. You can tie a string to it, lower it, measure the string. You can tie a string to it and swing it then compute the height somehow from the timing of the arc. You can measure the barometer and then hold it so it forms the side of a triangle so it’s visually the height of the building, then use basic trigonometry, etc. It was pretty funny.

  9. dangerousbeans says

    i just have an enby enclave (like a man cave but for non-binary people) for when i want to get away from people. that way there are no people and i don’t get rained on :P
    plus i can make knives at the same time

    i just cannot see a situation where i need to start a fire and only have my pee. maybe if i’m on a motorcycle ride, and someone emp’s the east coast of australia, and i crash my bike and it falls off a cliff?

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