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How to Walk Across Hot Coals

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People have been scampering across hot coals for thousands of years. A bed of embers can exceed 1000°F, and the world’s hottest firewalk in 1997 actually topped 1750°F—the same temperature used for cremations. But with the right preparation, experts prance across them with barely a blister. Here’s how they do it.

1) Get Wood

A safe walk requires the right coals, usually cherry or maple wood. Hardwoods are excellent insulators, and they’ll protect feet from some of the heat—even when they’re aflame. (That’s why the wooden handle on a saucepan stays cool when you’re cooking.) Cherry or maple embers also glow a daunting red-orange, but they actually don’t burn as hot as other charcoals, like olive or locust woods.

2) Build a Runway

Once the fire has burnt down, rake the coals. This step makes the red-hot landing strip of doom look even more terrifying, but it will actually spread cold charcoal to the surface, adding insulation. Firewalkers also flatten the coals. Patting down a path keeps them from sinking into the sizzling embers, protecting the sensitive tops of your feet.

3) Break Out a Good Book

After making the fire, firewalkers need to kill time for about 20 minutes. Embers that still hold water can transfer heat to feet faster. Letting the coals dry means they won’t sear any soles. Then they sprinkle a thin layer of ash on top. Ash is a terrible heat conductor, and it can block some warmth radiating from the coals.

4) Just Add Water

After waiting for the bed to cool to a balmy 1000°F walkers dip their feet in some water. When liquid meets intense heat, it can form an insulating layer of steam. It’s called the leidenfrost effect, and it’s why you can snuff out a candle’s flame with two wet fingers. The moisture may act as a protective glove for feet.

5) Walk, Don’t Run

Once experts step onto the coals, they walk briskly and don’t stop. Their feet would sink into the ashpit if they run or hard-step. The lighter the stride, the less chance scorching cinders will wedge between their toes. Each step should last half a second or less.

6) Believe in Physics.

Coals may be hot, but they’re terrible at transferring heat. They have a “low thermal capacity.” That is, it takes them relatively long time to bake a walker. (It’s like sticking your hand in an oven set to 400°F. The air feels hot, but it won’t burn you instantly.) As long as they keep moving, each step will absorb very little heat from the embers.

Okay, we’ll admit that even after knowing how firewalking works, it still seems like a terrible thing to put your feet through. Don’t try it. Instead, why not kick up your heels and relax with a cold Dos Equis?

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How to Shave With a Straight Razor
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Our Be More Interesting series will teach you new skills to wow your friends. Today, Max Silvestri learns to shave with a straight razor. 

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How to Cross a River Without a Bridge
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Need to cross a roaring river? It’s always best to find a bridge, but if you absolutely must make it to the other side on your own, a few easy steps can keep you high and relatively dry.

1. Scout Around

Invest a little time in finding the best place to make your crossing. Avoid bends in the river, where water whips around the fastest. Once you find a suitable spot, walk downstream a few hundred feet to make sure there aren’t any hazards. It’s always good to know about the pesky 30-foot waterfall around the bend.

2. Don’t Be Narrow-Minded

They look tempting, but narrow crossings can be the most dangerous—they’re often the deepest part of the river. Look for the widest section instead. Keep an eye out for mild ripples—which are safe to cross—and avoid whitecaps, which can be treacherously slippery.

3. Ditch Your Duds

If the water will reach your knees, strip down to your skivvies - your pride isn’t worth getting hypothermia from wet clothes. Even if the river is shallow, remove your socks and put on a second pair of shoes if you have them. If you’re backpacking, unbuckle your front straps so you can quickly slip out of your pack if you fall.

4. Shuffle Up

Face upstream, lean into the current, and move across the river with shuffling sidesteps. You’re less likely to fall while sidestepping since you don’t lift your feet as high. If you’re with a group, link arms. The technique creates more contact points with the streambed and gives everyone a more solid footing.

5. Become a Bump on a Log

If the rapids are too fast, shuffling across may be a bad idea. Look for a log that spans the whole river instead. But don’t walk on it! Wet wood can be dangerously slippery. Instead, straddle the log and scoot along until you reach the other side.

6. Float Away

In situations where the river is deep but the current isn’t very swift, a football or soccer ball can be a handy improvised flotation device. Tether it to your wrist and grab on when you get tired of swimming. Or hug it with one arm as you sidestroke for extra buoyancy.
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Once you make it to the opposite shore, dry off and toast your successful crossing with a round of Dos Equis.

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