The key to surviving in the woods is being able to identify and use the resources that at your disposal. There are 126 species of pine trees worldwide and 39 of them are found in the United States, making them a fairly common resource. Pines are easy to identify, being evergreen, coniferous and resinous trees. Lets be honest, unless you just arrived from another planet, everyone knows what a pine tree looks like. Spending most of my life in the north woods, I have come to appreciate and rely on the pine tree as one of my most important resources for backwoods living. Lets look at some of the many survival uses for the pine tree…
The pine tree is one the best resources available for building shelters in the woods. One of the great things about pines is that if the weather isn’t severe, it can be used as shelter just as it stands. On more than one occasion, I have hunkered down at the base of a big white pine to escape a light rain or snow and rest my weary bones. With a built in soft bed of dried needles and a canopy of boughs, a big pine makes a wonderful shelter. Pine trees have all the necessary materials for building an excellent lean-to shelter the if need calls. Pine boughs placed properly on the lean-to will shed rain, snow, block the wind and hold in the heat from a fire. Pine boughs also make an excellent bed that gives you an insulated layer between you and the ground.
Fire Starting Material
I would guess that 95% of the fires I’ve started in the woods were started with dry pine needles, twigs and pine cones as the primary tinder. If I happen to be in an area where pines are scarce, I always have several plastic bags with needles and cones that I collect when traveling through pine country. These are my favorite “go to” tinder material.
Pine burns fast, creates a lot of sparks and doesn’t leave many coals. So, obviously you need to use your head when using it for firewood. If you need to bring a fire back from near death, some dry pine twigs will get the job done quickly. If you need a fast hot fire in your camp stove to heat something quick, pine twigs might be the ticket. If pine is all you have, it can be a good primary heat source but you need to stay on top of it, because of the sparks and fact that it won’t leave much a bed of coals. When we were in Alaska, we heated our cabin with nothing but spruce. It required getting up every couple of hours to tend the fire otherwise it would burn out.
The inner bark of pines can be eaten raw, boiled, or roasted. It is a good source of Vitamin A and C. It can also be dried and ground into a powder and used like flour. American Indians in the north east used pine as a source of food, in fact the Adirondack Indians got their name from a Mohawk Indian word meaning “tree eaters”. Young, green pine needles can be steeped as tea, again being a good source of Vitamin A and C, as well as being a nice warm drink. Needles should always be added to hot water and not boiled in the water. Boiled pine needles taste terrible!
First Aid Uses
Pine resin has traditionally been used as wound cover and some claim it has antiseptic qualities. The inner bark can be pulled off in strips and used as a make shift band aid (glued on the body with resin). Pine needle tea is believed by some to be a flue and cold remedy, probably because of its Vitamin C content.
Green pine branches and needles create a lot of smoke. If you need a signal fire, there is no better material in the woods. There is the obvious negative side to this, which you should keep mind. If you are the business of not being found, stay away from green pine in your camp fires!
Many flying insects are repelled by the smell of pine resin.
Glue and Water Repellent
Pine resin is very sticky and it repels water fairly well. In a pinch you can use it as a “bush glue”, taking advantage of its sticky nature. Since it is a natural water repellent (and did I mention sticky) it can be used to patch small holes in tarps and tents, and it can also be used to water proof things.
Concealment and Camouflage
Pine boughs can be cut and laid over the top of caches to conceal them. I have used them to conceal and shelter animal traps. Branches can also be fixed to your clothing to break up your silhouette and help you blend into your surroundings.
The pine tree is a plentiful and very useful resource for the self-reliant woodsman. It is easy to identify and has multiple survival uses. Whenever possible, take advantage of this wonderful resource. From shelter to food, from fire to first aid, attracting attention or concealing your cache, the good old evergreen is the resourceful woodsman’s best friend.