A mile from my van and with limited cell service, I confronted the essentials of life and ‘survived’ in the woods for four whole hours.
With the tagline “built to survive,” the Leatherman Signal is designed with survival tools. Aside from common multi-tool assets, like a blade and pliers, the tool also has a ferro rod to start fires when you lose your lighter or your matches get wet.
Altogether, the Signal has 19 different tools. The saw blade, whistle, hammer, pliers, and ferro rod are among the most useful in the wilderness.
Full disclosure: I am by no means a survival expert. I am an editor.
This month, I put my amateur ability to a test with this tool. I attempted to secure fire and shelter using only the Signal. My previous experience building fire with a ferro rod is nonexistent.
However, all gear testing aside, who am I kidding? This was my chance to be like “Survivorman” Les Stroud!
‘Surviving’ With The Leatherman Signal
7:00 AM – It’s cold, 10 degrees. I walked from my car seeking a good spot for camp, keeping an eye out for suitable tinder and kindling. Along the banks of a frozen pond, I spied some cattails and dried reeds. These became the foundation of my fire set up.
I gathered more small twigs, a board of dried bark, and walked towards a spot relatively devoid of wind. The bark sat as a dry platform for my attempt at fire.
I piled the kindling and ripped apart the cattail. The ferro rod detaches from the Leatherman and produces sparks when struck with the flat edge of a knife.
Here goes nothing.
Reality check: Making fire isn’t as easy as the YouTube videos make it look!
I managed to get embers going five times, and each time amidst a cloud of smoke, they all fizzled out. After an hour, my arms tired out.
The Signal had done its job. I had sparks and embers. But as a first-timer with a ferro rod, I needed practice. Lesson learned.
The takeaway? If I expected to build a fire with a ferro rod I needed to practice, practice, practice. Tinder must be bone dry, and I should have this dialed before relying on it in a life-and-death situation.
Shelter Building With The Signal
For shelter, I wanted to be protected from the elements, mainly wind and snow. I found an arched tree to form the spine of an A-frame shelter and began lining up wood.
With the tool, I gathered, sawed, and groomed branches that would form the shelter frame.
Aside from simply sawing through branches, I used the saw to score notches into the wood that made more accurate and quick snaps when kicked or bent over a knee. The tool’s hammer, when locked, can smash wood and ice.
I was much more successful building a shelter than a fire. I spent about a half-hour building a frame and had a nice start to a solid shelter.
With more time, or in an actual survival situation, I would have added insulation between the branches using pine boughs and other vegetation.
It would have been a cold but survivable shelter for the night.
Survival Lessons Learned
I walked back to my van, partially defeated, mostly enlightened. At least I smelled like campfire smoke. Perhaps my coworkers wouldn’t completely chastise me.
I imagined taking these precautions to wait for a rescue, or survive the night and leave in the morning. To be fair, it’s hard to truly imagine these scenarios given the safe situation I was in. But if I learned anything, it’s that having a survival tool like a Signal would give me a fighting chance.
Without it… well, at least the coyotes would be happy.
I’m no Survivorman yet. So next time, I’m doing it all naked.