The first thing you need to know about making a fire with wet wood is that you can’t start a fire with wet wood. What you can do, however, is find the least wet wood and use that to start a fire even in conditions you wouldn’t believe allow you to do that.
We’ll start with discussing what to bring with you to make your job as easy as possible. Of course, if you’re a seasoned camper, but new to camping in wet conditions, feel free to skip this section (although, being a seasoned camper, you probably won’t) and head straight for the subsequent – how to find the driest wood, prepare it and stack to maximize every bit of slack Mother Nature cut you.
The very first axiom of camping is “come prepared” (even if it’s a day hike!). With regard to the topic at hand, this means you should always have at least two ways of starting a fire. On that same note, here’s a nickel’s worth of free advice – always make sure every item can serve dual purpose, and make sure you always have a backup plan for the essentials – fire, water and insulation).
Now, for absolute novices, there are three things you need to start a fire (four, actually, if you mean to keep it going) – fire starter, tinder, kindling and logs, and it goes way beyond simply throwing it onto a pile and lighting up. So, for sake of being thorough, we’ll go through each of these, explain it and give some pointers on where to look for it when everything around you is soaking wet.
Before moving on to what constitutes good tinder, let’s just preface it by saying you’ll need lots and lots of extra tinder and kindling if you’re camping in wet conditions.
Tinder (no, not the app, but you see where the makers were going when naming it) is the first step to building a fire, and it’s by definition dry and highly flammable – think wood shavings, paper, things like that.
These all can get wet, and when so, they’re useless. That said, it’s not entirely impossible to use it, depending on how wet it is, but you’re pretty much guaranteed to spend more time trying to light it than taking the time to find or prepare dry stuff.
If you want something that can get wet and still take a spark, definitely go for magnesium shavings – just pack a handful of it into a watertight box or a Ziploc bag before leaving. Here are some other suggestions for tinder:
When you get the tinder going, you need something to take the fire and ignite the logs in turn. This is kindling
First thing’s first, you’ll need to find the driest possible area. Raise the fire bed or dig a trench to keep the air flowing (constant air supply is crucial for building a fire) and make sure to build your fire before igniting the tinder. There are two ways to do this – tepee or log cabin.
The former is much better if you’re using wet logs, as the hot air and smoke will dry the wood off as the tinder and kindling take flame. Also, the design will allow you to more easily add kindling and keep things going until logs are dry enough to take flame.
Put any surplus firewood you have collected around the fire, but not close enough to catch flame. This will have dual purpose – it will dry any wet wood, and will also act as a screen to protect the fire from wind. Moreover, if you arrange it in a semi-circle, it will direct the heat towards you.
Once you have a nice fire going, keep in mind that you mustn’t add too many big pieces at once, or you’ll choke it. This is a problem even with dry wood, as it restricts airflow, so you can imagine what wet wood will do.
Finally, always remember to put out the fire when breaking down the camp (the second axiom of camping).
So, do you think we covered everything here, or do you know of a better way to start a fire with wet wood? If so, leave us a comment and spread the word. Happy camping!
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