Out on a hike and your shoelace breaks? Wild camping and your guy rope snaps? Worry not, as there’s more than likely a solution right under your foot…
If you’re near a conifer when disaster strikes and you’re in need of a length of string, you have a natural, very pliable and impressively strong ball of string in your midst; the humble spruce root. They are tough, hold a knot well, and are free for the digging. All you need is a bit of know-how.
Start by identifying your conifer. With one hand on the trunk, drag your heel through the soil in a circle until it catches on a root.
Clear soil away from along the length of the root. At some point the root will thin and become unsuitable for your use.
Pull as much up as you can and then cut it off at the tree end. Sometimes one root will lead onto another and you’ll be able to mine a rich seam.
The next step is to make a ‘wire stripper’. Take a thumb-thick stick,carve a chisel point on one end and cut a V-shaped notch into it.
Place the root on top of the notch and your thumb on top of the root. Drag the root across the notch, stripping off the bark.
You can coil it up for later use, or, if you’re planning to tie the root against a flat object, split it to give a firmer binding.
To split the root, cut through the end of it so there’s a 2cm long split in the end. Then, using your thumbs and fore fingers, open the split. By pivoting it on your middle fingers you can pull the split apart.
Sometimes the split will move to the side of the root, becoming uneven. If it pulls to the right, move the left side out closer to a 90° angle. Don’t pull the right side; just pull down on the left side until the split becomes central again.
Splitting the root is a balancing act, and continuous little corrections as you work your way down are better than one big one. Carry on this technique all the way down the root until you end up with two halves.