The irony should not be lost on us, that when we need a fire the most–in cold, wet weather–that building a fire is at its most difficult. But what if you had some aces up your sleeve that could help you get a fire going in the wettest weather?
Here are ten tips for starting a fire in less-than-optimal conditions:
1. Get the driest firewood, kindling and tinder available. Use the branches of standing dead trees and shrubs for your kindling and bulk firewood. Carve or shave off any wet outer bark to get to dry wood underneath, or simply split the pieces down to expose drier wood inside.
2. The flame should be sparked by a fire-making method that provides a steady and consistent flame. Use butane lighters instead of matches. Use a Zippo in a place of a spark rod.
3. Don’t let the fire lay and kindling get wet while you are setting them up. I’ve often used a spare jacket propped on a tripod of sticks to put a “roof” over my fire lay, until it’s time to light it up.
4. Consider what you are lighting. Don’t try to light a log with a lighter. Start out trying to light the smallest, thinnest twigs and finest, fluffiest tinder that you have gathered. Light the fire lay at the bottom, not at the top.
5. Bring fire-starting aids from home like dryer lint, Vaseline-coated cotton balls, wax-soaked cardboard or anything else that will burn in wet conditions.
6. Stay out of the strong wind. A little wind (1 to 5 mph) can fan the flames, but faster airflow will blow out the fledgling fire.
7. Find fire-starting aids in the woods. Learn to identify fatwood, paper birch bark, your more flammable local pinecones and other indigenous materials that will burn well.
8. Have back-ups ready to go. Carry two or three ways to make fire, in case you lose one. Have extra tinder ready to burn, if the first round fizzles out. Be prepared to raid your first aid kit for paper wrappers and other flammable goods. Even though the law frowns on it, I’ve seen my students burning dollar bills during our wet-weather fire building exercises. That’s dedication to your training!
9. Being stubborn can be a bad thing, if you keep trying the exact same methods and materials over and over and continually fail. Be tenacious instead by not giving up on your fire building, and be smart by recognizing when you need to try a different approach.
10. Practice ahead of time. If all my years of pyromania have taught me anything, they have taught me that real-time, real-world practice beats chitchatting and book reading. Try building a fire on a drizzly afternoon, or after a week of rain, to see if you can pull off lighting a wet-weather fire or not.
Consider that your homework assignment for the week. Good luck, and let us know how you do in the comments.