HOW TO: Starting a Fire In The Rain

Note: This article may contain commentary or the author's opinion.

It’s one thing to get a fire going at a designated camp spot with kiln-dried firewood that you picked up at a gas station and light with a bunch of newspaper and a long grill lighter. It’s quite another thing to have a few select tools and have to get a fire going in soaked conditions as it’s actively raining and has been for a couple of days. Unfortunately survival situations are usually like that. Murphy’s Law abounds whenever you’re up against mother nature, and it’s up to you to have the skills to stay alive.

Know Your Trees

The first step to getting a fire going in terrible conditions is to know the species of trees around you and to know what you’re looking for. Most soft woods like poplar become waterlogged and rot before you get to them, and even then they don’t burn very well. While hard woods like oak might burn great once they’re seasoned they can take a very long time to dry out. What you’re looking for is a resinous tree like a pine or a spruce. Finding a dead standing one of these trees with the top still on it is a sure way to find great fuel even in the wettest conditions.

Split Your Logs

While it’s easy to want to just throw a whole log on a fire, that simply won’t do when it’s been pouring outside. One of the best ways to get to where things are dry is to get to where the water hasn’t gotten to yet. Thats’ why splitting your logs is best. Even if the outside of your logs are soaked the wood on the inside (the heartwood) should be dry as a bone if the tree has been dead and isn’t rotten. Also the heartwood of sticky resinous trees like spruce, pine, and fir are filled with the the flammable resin that makes them so sticky to begin with. Some areas of these trees like the roots are practically saturated with the stuff. This is called fatwood. Once you get a piece of fatwood to take a flame it’ll burn like a candle.

Dry Tinder With Your Body

Even if it’s been raining for days and all the dry grass and other tinder is completely soaked that doesn’t mean it has to stay that way. With a little bit of preparation you can gather some of this material and put it inside your rain coat to dry out while you find the area that you want to build your fire (theoretically out of the rain that’s making the fire building so hard in the first place). Make sure to tuck it on the outside of your shirt or sweater though so that you don’t sweat all over it. Just because it’s wet outside doesn’t mean you can’t be getting it wet against your skin as well. With enough time the tinder will be dry enough to set alight and get your medium sized split kindling going.

Build Your Fire On A Deck

Just because the ground may only seem damp doesn’t mean that you aren’t building your fire in the equivalent of a puddle. There’s a good reason that the underbrush is constantly in a state of decomposition and that’s because the forest floor is constantly wet, especially in areas with lots of yearly rainfall. One of the simplest ways around this is to build a small deck that acts as a layer between the wet of the forest floor and the area that you’re trying to build your fire on. There’s no sense in trying to set a puddle on fire.

Be Patient

While this may seem like useless advice, it really isn’t. Remember that getting a fire going in the rain and wet is harder and it’s simply going to take more time. Practicing these skills will make you more comfortable with it, but it’s simply just going to be more time and labor intensive. One of the hardest things to control is your mindset, but that’s often the one thing that means the difference between life and death.

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