It is invariable that when you go out to camp or are in the woods for some other reason, it will rain, and all the firewood will be wet. You will wonder, “Can I start a fire with wet wood?” The answer is, yes, you can start a wet wood fire. It will take a little extra work and time, but it will be worth the effort.
Being Prepared in Survival Situations
When you head out into the wilderness, the number one rule is to be as prepared as possible. Since you plan to have a campfire, you will undoubtedly have matches in your supplies unless you plan on just rubbing sticks together. But, what else might you bring to help get a fire going in poor weather?
Crucial Fire Starting Supplies
You can have a few items ready to go when you put together your wilderness supplies. Some of these you will already have. Others may not have occurred to you. If you have them, they can make your experience much more pleasant.
- Stick Matches. These are more sturdy and better than paper matches.
- Tinder. A bag or box of old paper, cardboard, sawdust, wood shavings, cotton balls, dryer lint, or any easy-to-light material. The more you have, the better.
- Kindling. A bundle of twigs or woodworking scraps will do. About the diameter of your index finger. A foot-long or more. Again, more is better.
- Store-bought fire starters or create your own fire starters out of wax and sawdust. These can be a huge time saver.
- Axe or Hatchet.
These items are small and light, so they will not be cumbersome for you to pack. A wet camp will be less likely to spoil your day if you have them.
How To Collect Your Firewood
You will want to collect a variety of wood for the fire. More small twigs and sticks are better for starting the fire. Look for standing dead trees or dead branches. A standing tree will be less wet than one lying on the ground. You will know a twig is dry enough to burn if it snaps when you bend it. If it flexes, it is still green wood and will not help your efforts. Freshly cut green wood is harder to burn and will create extra smoke.
Preparing Your Weet Wood for Fire
Stack the twigs and small sticks in one pile. Split any wood pieces that are bigger than your wrist with the axe or hatchet. The interior of larger pieces of wood will usually remain dry during rainy weather, and you want to avoid using damp wood. Split small logs and large tree branches down to pieces about an inch in diameter. Thin slices are best if possible.
Build a Fire Platform
Use stones, larger logs, or a combination to create a platform about two feet square. It only needs to be an inch or two off the ground. You will build your initial fire on the platform. The structure will keep the wood off the wet ground and provide ventilation so the fire can breathe. Any wood used to build the platform will eventually become part of the fire. Stones will retain heat, which will also be beneficial.
What To Use as Tinder Pile for a wet wood Fire
Make a tinder bundle in the center of the platform. The pile of tinder should be about the diameter of a dinner plate and a few inches high. Use pre-made tinder if you have it. Adding petroleum jelly to dryer lint or cotton balls will make them burn longer.
If you don’t have pre-made tinder, use paper, dry twigs, dry grass, dry leaves, or wood shavings from the interior of a log you have split. The key is to have material that will light quickly and burn hot. Smoldering tinder will not do.
Other materials that can act as tinder if you were caught by surprise:
- Dry bark
- Corn chips
- Dry food
- Toilet Paper or just the tube
- Paper or cardboard food packages
- Char cloth or other types of cloth
- Some form of fuel, use sparingly as they can get out of control.
- A small piece of cloth soaked in fuel
How To Stack the Kindling
Arrange the driest kindling you have in a teepee shape over the tinder. Fully surround the tinder. Try to make the kindling pile two layers thick. Be sure to leave an opening in the kindling pile so you can reach the tinder.
If you have wet kindling, you can use a knife to cut away the wet outer layer and expose the dry inner layer before use. Dry kindling will help your fire get going, and wet kindling will only make it harder.
Lighting Your wet wood Fire
Light the tinder pile, be careful not to knock over your kindling teepee. A long stick may be helpful for this step. It will help you get the flame under the tinder. Remember that the tip of a flame is what will catch other materials on fire. Dropping a match on top of the tinder pile may not make it catch fire. It is best if you get the flame under the tinder.
You can also use a fire starter such as a fire starter stick, flint, or a battery.
If you are using a fuel-soaked cloth, light it and then place it on top of the tinder.
Use the air to your advantage (Oxygen)
If your tinder does not catch, it may need a gentle breeze to help it along. Blowing gently on smoldering material will often provide the extra oxygen required to get a steady flame. Don’t get too close! Fine material can flare up suddenly.
Grow the fire slowly
As your kindling pile burns, slowly add new pieces of kindling. Keep adding one or two sticks until the fire burns steadily. Progressively add larger sticks. Do not place a large log on top of the fire until the flames are well established. A large, wet log too early in the process can smother the fire. Try to split any large logs before placing them on the fire to expose the dry interior.
We suggest doing a log cabin style stack. This is when you have a small log in the middle and then place two larger logs perpendicular to it. You then keep adding logs this way, alternating the small and large logs. This will help create airflow and make your fire last longer.
How to feed or fuel a wet wood fire
Place other wet wood near the fire. Do not put it any closer than you can sit. Being a few feet from the fire will dry wet wood surprisingly fast. This should provide a good supply of dried wood.
Enjoy the fruits of your labor
Sitting around the fire is one of the pleasures of a camping trip or hunting trip. A warm fire provides comfort against the cold and dark, even if it is made necessary by an unpleasant event. Rest assured that you now know how to start a fire with wet wood, a few tools, and a little effort. You can even build a better fire with dry wood.