When you are in the wilderness fat is one of those precious commodities many folks just do not think about. When many people think of trying to live or survive in the wilderness they think of fire, shelter, water, food, safety and tools. Typically folks think about the lack of comfort; hard ground, cold or hot, wetness, bugs, being hungry and or thirsty and so forth. While these are all concerns and things one must face at some point in an outdoor living or survival situation, there is something many people do not think about until they experience it. Drying out!
Even in humid climates, if you are outdoors 24/7 the elements get to your body, particularly your skin. Our skin of course produces oil as a form of waterproofing like the leaves of plants. Point-in-fact, the oil our skin produces is our body’s only form of natural waterproofing. What happens when we do not produce enough oil or the elements rub or degrade the oil away? Well we obviously do not drown because water starts pouring into our bodies through the skin. But what does happen is the same thing that happens to leather or dead wood when it dries out, it cracks.
You see the waterproofing of our skin works to keep moisture out, but also work to keep the skin playable so the liquids in our body do not seep out through our pores. The body’s natural oils are the answer to this potential issue. If the oils dry up or get worn off our skin faster than our skin can produce it, the skin dries cracks and bleeds.
When leather or wood products lose their natural oil finish they dry out, become brittle and crack. The sun’s ultraviolet rays are always degrading the oils on our skin and in our hair. The more you are exposed to them, the more oil your body needs to produce. Wind also dries up the body’s oil. Cold air and hot air do the same. Dirt, wood, many rocks and minerals and other natural materials that we come in direct contact with continually suck oil off our skin, leaving it chapped. Many artificial clothing materials today really do a lot of damage to the skin by continually drying it out.
If you are in the wilderness living or trying to survive you will find yourself face-to-face with this skin drying issue very quickly. If you are utilizing natural skills by making wooden containers, cooking or even more advanced skills like preparing leather for clothing, or making certain types of medicines, finding oil that will not go rancid quickly becomes important. Since we really cannot find suitable oil in North America naturally that will not go rancid, we need to understand how to make what is called refined oil. In the wilderness this is a very important skill to know.
We can obtain oil from many sources in the wilderness. In this case oil and fat are considered the same thing. Nuts are an obvious and fairly easy source, IF it is autumn and nuts are in season and the animals leave you any. Some plants contain high levels of natural oils, but again you need to study up and know which ones, where to find them, how to identify them and so on. Pretty much all animals contain fat, from fish to mammals, reptiles and birds. If you are living in the wilderness, especially in a northern climate, you will require meat to survive. Fat becomes available through this process.
Once you have your fat or oil you need to refine it or it will go rancid. You really do not want to treat your clothing or skin with rancid oil. Refining it removes the impurities found in the oil or fat, allowing the oil/fat to last far longer without rotting because the impurities inside it are decaying. It is actually a very simple process. All you need is fat/oil, fire, water and two containers.
Get your fire going so you have a nice cooking coal base. Pour some water into one container and add the fat/oil. Bring the water to a boil and allow the water to boil down. As the water boils down it will remove the impurities from the fat and the pure refined fat will float on the water’s surface. The impurities sink. Carefully skim the refined oil off the surface (pretty ease since the layer is usually thick) and place it in another dry container. Continue to add water to the fat, bring it to a boil and skim the refined fat as it boils down until you have no more fat left.
Now you have refined fat that can be used in cooking, medicines, on your skin, on your clothing and wooden tools and as lubricants for various wilderness skills dealing with wood, rocks and the such.
In the wilderness this is also the very primitive but successful way to create essential oils from plants. For instance if you throw a handful of pine needles in water and let it come to a boil, remove it from the heat and cover it, let it steep for as long as you wish, you will see the essential oil floating on the top of the water. Skim it off and you have pine essential oil for medicine or a powerful cleaning agent