how to build a camp fire

How To Start A Campfire With Wet Wood

In Bushcraft and Outdoors by Contributor10 Comments

how to build a camp fire

Survival is all about being prepared for any scenario that comes your way. You should have protections against wildlife; you should have the necessary equipment for building a shelter; you should have extensive knowledge in hunting, trapping, and fishing and many more important elements to stay alive.

But, if you are the especially motivated survivor, you will have prepared yourself for every possible climate, which not only includes acquiring appropriate clothing and footwear but learning the basics of fire making as well.

Firemaking is one of several bushcraft skills every survivor should have in their toolkit. Creating a source of heat during cold weather and all that it entails (snow, ice, frost) can make all the difference when sleeping through a potential blizzard.

Many survivors know how to make a fire when the wood is dry and easily ignited, but making a fire with wood that is drenched by rain or snow can be a challenge.

Being prepared for these scenarios means planning ahead, learning necessary skills and being eager to employ those skills during moments of intense pressure, like surviving in the woods. If you follow these important steps, starting a fire during wet seasons will be no problem.

Prepping Your Pack

One of the most important things you can do to prepare yourself for any kind of scenario is have a well-established pack. Your pack should include everything from warm-weather clothing to cold-weather clothing, heavy-duty boots to sandals, sleeping equipment to cooking equipment and so much more.

The things that most survivors tend to forget are those which have to be prepared before being packed. These things typically include fresh batteries, fuel replacements, and tinder. Tinder is probably the most common and most important thing survivors forget to pack.

Tinder refers to small, highly flammable materials that help ignite kindling when preparing your fire. Tinder can be difficult to find in wet-weather situations because many materials have been dampened, but it is something that can easily be prepared and packed. Some examples of tinder include cotton balls soaked in petroleum jelly, wax-coated wooden toothpicks, paper/wood chippings, dryer lint and other highly flammable, compact items.

Aside from tinder, another important element to remember for starting your fire is multiple styles of firestarter. This includes things like BIC lighters (being sure the fuel level is sufficient), fire steel rods, magnesium, matches, torches and other combustible products.

Tools for chopping wood and shaving branches will become necessary for wet-weather fire-making. You will need some kind of ax for splitting wood, a sharp knife for fraying kindling to make feather sticks, and an extra knife for scraping magnesium or fire steel.

Finding a Spot

The location at which you start your fire will make a huge difference in the amount of time your fire stays lit. Unfortunately for wet-weather survivors, finding a dry place to build a flame can be nearly impossible. Luckily, starting a fire when it’s wet can be made easier if you follow a few simple hacks.

In your pack, you should have some kind of shovel. If not, use a stick and begin digging away at the wet soil to expose the dryer soil below. Removing the top layers of damp earth will help create a basin for starting your fire and give your fire a dry place to burn longer.

I also like to build small grills to start my fire by placing two large, fairly wet logs about a foot from each other and laying soaked pine needles and other tree trimmings over it. The outer logs act as legs, while the needles create a grate-like mechanism. This method allows your fire to burn above the wet soil or snow.

A less labor-intensive option could be simply laying wet tree trimmings on the ground and slowly layering dry wood over the top. The dry wood will catch flame while the wet materials beneath supports the fire.

If you can find a spot that has some overhead cover — like the mouth of a cave, the base of a large evergreen, or inside a shelter you’ve built with your masterful skills — lighting a fire will become even easier. You will be more likely exposed to dryer earth and have a more feasible location for starting a fire and staying protected from the elements.

Another little hack that has worked extremely well for me in the past is splitting logs in half to burn. Damp logs typically have very dry cores, so splitting the logs lengthwise helps expose the more flammable parts of the log. If you have a survival fort complete with a log splitter, consider doing this in advance and storing the split logs in a dry place.

how to build a camp fire

Locating Solid Materials

Having proper materials is probably the most important aspect of building a fire. You have to be sure your materials are flammable or your fire will never light. The hard part is locating these materials in the event of a blizzard or rainstorm when everything available to you is soaked.

The best place to begin looking for dry materials in a wet world is under large evergreen and pine trees. At the base of these trees, there are typically dry, mostly dead, branches still clinging to the tree, above the moisture on the ground. Use your knife or axe to remove these dry branches. If they are still slightly moist, peel or cut away the outer layers of bark to expose the inner, dry wood.

Some dead trees have already fallen and made themselves easier to scavenge for flammable materials. Stay toward the top side of the tree, as the bottom side may be pretty wet. Use the dry bark, inner layers, and dead pine needles as tinder for your fire.

If you happen to be near trees that drop pinecones, look for ones that are fairly dry and surely dead. Pinecones are excellent kindling and actually burn quite hot, giving you a better opportunity to ignite the dry logs and make the fire blaze.

Setting Up Your Fire

There are about a hundred and one different ways to set up a fire, but in cold weather scenarios, there are a few specific tricks that help your fire burn hotter, longer. For instance, the formation of the tinder and kindling is vital for creating a flame in a wet environment.

I prefer to use the log cabin method, which is exactly what it sounds like. Similar to your Lincoln Logs from childhood, arrange the kindling strips in a log cabin fashion, minus the roof. The tinder will fit nicely inside the “home,” and the fire will have plenty of oxygen to gain momentum.

Another common style for lighting fires in moisture is the teepee style. Lean the kindling sticks against each other much like a teepee. The tinder will sit inside the kindling and ignite the larger sticks to make adding larger logs easier. The teepee shapes also allows heat to rise naturally and gives the fire a better chance of burning tall.

Igniting Your Fire

The inner pyro in all of us gets excited when it comes time to actually light the fire. This step is fairly self-explanatory but there are a couple of tips and tricks to make this process faster and safer.

  • Light your fire from the windward side, or the side that wind is blowing into. The breeze will help shift the heat from the flame across the structure and will help fuel the fire with oxygen once it gets going.
  • Light the tinder and kindling structure from the bottom. Heat rises, so starting from the bottom gives your fire a better chance of igniting. Trying to light your fire from the top, like a candle, will not do much good in your attempts to stay warm.

Keeping Your Fire Going

Feeding your fire is a surprisingly meaningful duty. The amount of time you plan to have your fire going relies heavily on the amount of wood you collected in the earlier steps. Without dry logs to continue to feed your flame, your fire will surely burn out and you will surely freeze.

Always be sure you have enough dry wood set aside for the amount of time you are in need of heat. If you plan to stay a whole night by the fire, have a large stack of logs waiting to be burned. If you are not alone, be sure to assign fire buddies: one person to take a sleep break and one person to watch the fire.

An obvious, but important reminder: only throw dry logs on the fire. Often, wet weather fires aren’t burning hot enough to truly burn through damp logs. Damp logs end up smothering the flame, making you start your process over — which is no fun.

Stay Alive and Live Free

My favorite part of starting a fire is being done starting your fire, focusing on keeping it burning, and enjoying the sights around you. Once you have a solid fire built, be sure to rest, relax, catch up on sleep, or roam the nearby wilderness in search of new landscapes to photograph.

Being a survivor is more than just working to live. Once you have done your duties for the day, take in the world and the sights that surround you. Enjoy your experiences in nature and open your heart to the possibility of a world bigger than yourself.

Comments

  1. M.D., You covered all the salient basics. It’s good to be reminded from time to time. Thanks for a good article.

  2. This may sound like cheating but….

    When I was a teen in the Boy Scouts in Oregon, I had a way of starting our fires that worked every time, no matter how wet it was. I used a 15-minute highway flare! Stacked the wood into a typical pyramid, lit and stuck the flare under the wood, and we had fire every time. I did get caught, but it took 6 months.

    They were not that heavy or expensive.

    1. Oh you rebel LOL… Hubby uses a small propane BernzOmatic, thats how it spelled in a blue canister it’s 14.1 oz and that’s how we start our fires in the fireplace. He has a larger propane thats a yellow canister, that he keeps on his van for various uses on his job… Sometimes cheating is okay….

  3. I like to find some pine pitch and use that as a base to start my fire. The dried pitch will work just as well as the soft and sticky stuff. Put it on a bit of wood or bark and it will burn like a candle.

  4. MD, good read man, it will help folks focus on priorities in an emergency. Should an event occur, I think it prudent to use the most expedient means at your disposal to get set up for survival. Knowledge is power and separates victims from survivors. The knowledge stored in your grey matter gives you confidence for those times your first line supplies go missing, get “borrowed”, damaged or destroyed. Our basic plan is to be ready for emergency situations that 1. happen when we are at home, 2. when away from home travelling or 3. when the kids are at school. When you have a quick method to do things such as build a fire, do it, save your time and energy for other important tasks. That is NOT cheating, it is working smart. Wrong time to demonstrate your skill with bow, drill and fireboard unless it is a necessity.

  5. Don’t forget the sisal twine. Pulled apart it makes a great tinder bundle. Starts up very easily from a fire steel.

  6. Good article.

    We camped one summer on the Salmon River, in Idaho, during a three day on and off drizzle which left everything pretty soggy.

    Even on the third morning I was able to find dry pine needles and tiny branches -less than matchstick diameter- under the ponderosa pine.

    As I gather the starter material I segregate it by size, a pile of needles, then a pile of the tiniest branches, and so on. This lets me grab each as appropriate while feeding the beginning of the fire.

    Most of our logs were wet, so I batoned each at least twice to provide two dry inside surfaces which intersected at a dry edge. That gives a good thin dry spot for catching fire.

    We use petroleum soaked cotton balls and one of those is perfect. A big one burns about two minutes, which is plenty.

    Start with some needles, then a cotton ball, and a Swedish fire steel for the spark, then add needles, and so on.

    It may help to fuzz out the cotton ball first to produce thin spikes. They catch easier.

    A steel works FAR better than matches in wet weather. Match heads tend to disintegrate when struck. Also, newspaper is lousy in wet weather as it smolders without producing any heat. A good tinder and a steel are the way to go.

    Or use a Bic! Whatever works.

    One useful tool with wet materials is a battery operated air mattress pump. It blows a lot of air and really gets a fire going. They usually operate on four D batteries. Very handy for pumping mattresses and for starting fires.

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