Starting a Fire in Wet Weather

When I think of bugging out, my imagination makes it seem like an extended camping trip. The weather is beautiful, the fish can’t wait to jump on my hook, there are berries in the woods and an occasional deer stops right in my sights, and starting a fire is just like second nature. Ahh, it almost makes me wish for an excuse to bug out.

Of course, reality is nothing like that idealistic view of bugging out. If I ever have to bug out, it will probably be in the midst of the worst storm I’ve ever seen, my car won’t start, so I’ll have to do it at night and the fish and game will all be hiding. If I could just get a fire started so I could make some coffee, things would be a whole lot better.

Starting a fire in any weather conditions is a skill that should be enhanced and practiced. After all, the times when you most need fire are also the times when starting a fire is most difficult to do.

Fire provides a lot of important things in survival situations. It gives you light when the sun goes down as well as provides protection as it tends to ward off wild animals hunting in the darkness. Fire also provides heat and most importantly, it serves as your source of energy for cooking food and boiling water.

Fire building is often considered by many to be simple child’s play. But what if you find yourself in a situation where you need to build a fire during or immediately following a torrential downpour? Would you still look and consider fire starting in this situation as a mere child’s play?

Starting a fire in those conditions is extremely difficult, even though it is even more necessary at a time like that, than in my idealistic dream of a bug out. Cold wet weather is prime time for hypothermia, so starting a fire is essential for survival. Unfortunately, wet weather makes it extremely hard to start a fire.

Building the Fire

Your mind is your greatest weapon in any survival situation that you will encounter and experience. In building your fire during wet weather, the first thing you need to do is to examine your surroundings. Look for materials that you can use to start a fire. Look for natural tinder’s such as fallen trees, dry leaves and even small sticks. Starting a fire most especially during wet weather is hard but not impossible.

To start with, you have to find a good place to build the fire. Always remember, that before building your fire, separate first your materials from the wet ground. Even if you have observed that the ground appears to be barely damp, all the materials that you will be using in starting your fire will soak up whatever moisture is there on the ground. You also need to look for a place where the fire will be protected from the rain. If you have a cave handy, that’s ideal. But those can be extremely hard to find. With no cave available, you’ll need to look for something overhanging, which will provide a place that is at least relatively dry. An overhanging bank, rocks or tree limbs can provide this.

Once you find some protection for the fire, you need to look at protecting it from water flowing along the ground as well. Ideally, there will be a large, flat rock that you can use to build your fire on. If not, then you’ll need to build a fire pit out of rocks, that can keep the fuel out of any water flowing on the ground.

You might also have to do something to protect the fire from the wind. A windbreak made of rocks, logs or a tarp, poised upwind of the fire, will help protect it from being blown out by the wind or sparks being blown away from the fire, where they can cause damage.

Also, never try to build a fire that is too large for your immediate needs. Remember, the larger the fire, the further away you have to sit from it. Having a smaller fire and sitting close to it will warm you faster and better.

Finding Fuel

It can be extremely difficult to find dry fuel to use when it is raining. The same types of places I just mentioned for building the fire, are all good locations to look for dry fuel. Another excellent location is to find a deadfall tree. Often, the branches on the underside of that deadfall will be dry, as well as the bark and anything that is under the shelter of the deadfall.

If you happen to be in a forest with pine trees, look under the pines. Pines are extremely good at shedding water. So, dead branches under the tree are often quite dry, even during a storm. You might also find dried pine needles under there, which while not ideal, will work for tinder.

In olden times, travelers carried a tinder box with them. This held their flint and steel, any matches that they had and tinder that they had encountered along the way. It was a way of ensuring that they would always have dry tinder available to start a fire with. We don’t do this today, but we have another option which we can use to get the fire lit.

Perhaps the best way to ensure that you will have no such problem starting a fire even during wet weather is by preparing your survival kit beforehand. Make sure that one or two fire starters are included in the kit. Remember, being prepared before the need arises is one of the best methods to ensure that you will have what you need if ever you are going to start a fire.

There are a lot of fire starters that you can load into your survival gear before bugging out. Here are some examples.

  • Candles
  • Cotton balls
  • Compressed wood encased in wax
  • Dryer lint
  • Esbit
  • Fuzz sticks
  • Paper
  • Steel wool #0000 ( Yes it burns!)
  • Dry grass
  • Leaves
  • Shaved bark
  • Dry pine needles
  • Dry grass

Getting it to Light

Lighting wet tinder or fuel is extremely difficult. The right sort of fire starter is needed. I prefer using matches, because butane lighters don’t work well when they are cold. The problem with matches, is that they are limited. There is a type of match, called the Storm proof match, which is excellent. It will literally light underwater and burn for a couple of minutes.

Along with the problem of a good fire starter, there’s the problem of igniting tinder or kindling that may not be totally dry. For that reason, I think it’s a good idea to use an accelerant. By definition, an accelerant is something that will ignite easily and spread the fire to other materials. While the word is normally used in reference to the crime of arson, it is perfect for what we need here.

I need to clarify something. When you do a search online for “fire starters” you get two categories of products showing up. The first is the thing that produces the first spark or flame, such as matches, Ferro rods and the Metal Match (which is made of magnesium). The second category are things that can’t provide that spark or flame, but ignite easily and help spread the fire to the tinder and kindling. While referred to as fire starters, they are actually accelerants.

One of the best commercial accelerants is the Wetfire cube. These come individually packaged in a box of 12. Each of them can be cut into parts, for use multiple times, or they can be used as a whole. The Wetfire cubes live up to their name and will catch fire, even while wet. They also work well to start a fire when the fuel is wet as well.

You can make your own accelerants out of cotton balls and petroleum jelly. Simply scoop up some petroleum jelly with the backside of a spoon and work it into a cotton ball, making sure that you get it into all sides. These can then be stored in a plastic bag until needed. The cotton ball acts as a wick for the petroleum jelly, which will burn for more than three minutes at a hot enough temperature to dry out damp kindling and get it burning.

If you have your car with you, then, you can always siphon a small amount of gasoline from the tank and throw it in your damp wood. Yes, doing this will not get you any style points but it will surely make your wood burn up in no time.

Another way to start your fire even during wet weather is by using the more popular fire starting spark tools like the Blast Match, Ferrecerium Rod, Magnesium Block, Misch Metal Rod, Strike Force, and the Swedish Firesteel.

Check out Eagle Six Gear’s outdoor survival tools here.

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