There is always a possibility of unexpected rain, wind, and downpour when you’re hiking or camping. Therefore you have to be well prepared to build a fire in conditions that are less than ideal. It’s quite easy to start a fire when the weather is dry and stable, but what to do when it’s wet, windy and rainy outside? It is quite difficult to start a fire in those conditions but it is not impossible. Just follow these useful tips and you’ll be sitting by a warm pleasant fire shortly.
FIND A GOOD LOCATION FOR YOUR FIRE
The basic and first thing necessary is carefully considering where exactly you’ll be building a fire. That have to be an appropriately dry and a windless spot. Choosing a proper location for your fire will help you to build it easily and maintain it successfully. There are three requirements for a good position: a wind shelter, a rain shelter and a shelter from groundwater.
- To protect your campfire from the wind, build it on the downwind side of the hill if possible. If that kind of shelter still is not a good protection, you can create a C-shaped windbreak around your fire. Place the opening of the windbreak on the downwind side.
- The best shelter from rain is a tree. Evergreens or conifers make a sort of natural tent or natural roofs, so are perfect as the shelter for yourself and as a location for a fire. You have to be careful since building a fire under a tree is risky, so make sure that there are no low-hanging branches directly above the fire.
- Protecting your fire from groundwater is probably the easiest requirement.
You can build the fire on a good sheet of bark, or you can place a few layers of wooden sticks on the ground.
The easiest way to do this is to build a fire pit with layers of rocks filling the center, instead of just forming the ring around the edges. This will separate your lowest coals from the wet ground below, and allow more air to reach them, helping your fire to burn effectively.
GATHER TINDER, KINDLING, AND FUEL
After you’ve picked a perfect spot for the fire, you have to find some dry wood. Even if everything is soaking wet, there is a dry wood somewhere, so you have to find some tinder, kindling, and fuel.
The tinder is something that catches fire quickly and ignites easily. There are many types of tinder, some of them you may carry in your backpack and others you can find in nature.
- pine-needles – they don’t absorb water easily, they can be dried and start a fire easily
- shavings – they are made by carefully shaving off a larger piece of wood, even if it’s wet. Split the wood in two or into quarters, and you’ll find a dry wood inside. Shave the thinnest shaving from these pieces.
- dried bark is found one the dry side of the tree. You can scrap some small parts from the underside of the bark
- dried moss and lichen
- pine cones
- dried leaves – when it’s raining it’s hard to find dry leaves.
- waxed paper from food, gums…
- cotton from the jacket, rope fibers…
- cotton balls soaked in vaseline or petrolatum jelly, chapstick (it’s mostly wax), alcohol…
The kindling is a piece of wood or easily ignited material, used for starting a fire. It can be easily lit using tinder. Kindling will help a larger wood to really catch. Also called regionally fatwood, lightwood. Different types of kindling:
- dead wood sticks – those are fallen branches on the ground. Split them with a knife into smaller pieces. Try to find dry and dead branches and not young and green ones.
- lower branches of trees – tops of trees are often wet when it’s raining, but the inner and the lower parts are possibly dry
- wet branches or damp wood sticks – when you can’t find dried ones, try to peel a dump core from the wet ones
Test if the branches are dry: bend them gently – if they’re dead and dry they will snap, and if they green or wet they will bend.
Those are the larger pieces of wood that will become the coals of your fire. The fuel doesn’t necessarily have to be as dry as your kindling because you’ll keep it closer to the fire so it can dry out. Gather enough wood to make sure you’ll maintain your fire once it’s lit.
LIGHT THE FIRE
Now that you have found a perfect place for fire, and some tinder, kindling and fuel, you have to create “a bed” for your fire. That means you have to separate your fire from the wet groundusing tree bark or constructing a bed from branches. Lay a half-dozen of your split sticks parallel to each other, and add another half-dozen perpendicularly on top and save an equal amount to use as a fuel.
Build up two or three layers of split sticks and put your tinder and smaller branches on top. Be sure to leave space for the air, otherwise, the wood won’t burn. When all is ready light a match and hold it under the tinder. It is important to light the tinder in more than one place. Now you can start laying the split sticks you saved on top. Put smaller first and then bigger pieces. Once the fire is going well you can slowly add damp wood until you get a raging fire.
OTHER USEFUL TIPS
- Put tarp between two trees above the fire, but make sure it’s high enough to not catch fire
- Always wrap firestarters in a waterproof material and then put it in a backpack. (Cotton balls with petrolatum, dryer lint mixed with paraffin, wax candle, black powder gunpowder used with nail polish remover..)
- Use wooden matches, not paper ones
- Always try to split some woods. They burn more easily when they’re split
- If you have a bag of potato chips handy, they can function as a fire-starter due to the fat content of the chips
- Before leaving, always make sure to clean up after yourself and make sure that a fire is completely extinguished
Chris is a travel writer based out of Vancouver. When Chris isn’t busy with his day job as a project manager for an insurance firm, he’s outdoors. Chris has previously written for MEC Blog and Outdoors Magazine.