How to start a fire in the woods, even when it’s wet.
By Cliff Jacobson
ON A BONE-DRY DAY or when there’s plenty of dry paper or fire-starter, anyone can make a fire. If the weather deteriorates to a persistent rain, they might get smoke. But that’s no guarantee they’ll get fire. Here’s how you can make a fire when the woods are wet with rain.
This method isn’t fast, but it works with any kind of wood—even damp wood. You’ll need a:
First, collect your wood. Locate a dead, downed tree, out-of-sight of tents, trails, and waterways. Saw off an arm-thick limb. Touch the sawed end of the limb to your cheek (the center should feel dry). Don’t worry if there’s a ring of wet wood near the bark; you’ll discard it when you split the piece. Reject the wood if it smells damp or punky. The wood is good if it passes both cheek and smell tests.
Saw the limb into footlong sections and split each section into kindling. Note that the hatchet is used as a splitting wedge so there’s no chance of an accident (Figure 1). Hold the hatchet firmly with both hands and allow a friend with a log chunk to pound the hatchet head through.
Use that same procedure (with a lighter log) to split fine kindling with your knife. Then, use your knife to prepare your tinder. Cut a handful of wafer-thin shavings (Figure 2) from your dry splittings.
Assemble the tinder (a handful of dry wood shavings no thicker than a match), kindling (one-eighth to one-quarter-inch thick dry wood splittings), and fuel (quarter-split logs). Trim all bark and damp wood from your tinder and kindling, and separate your wood into piles—tinder, kindling, and fuel.
If it’s raining, work under a tarp so that all the materials stay dry.
Build It Right
FIGURE 1: Splitting wood is easier (and safer) with two people. Hold the hatchet with both hands and have a friend knock it through.
FIGURE 2: Now that you've reached the dry part of the wood splittings, slice off several wafer-thin shavings to use as tinder.
FIGURE 3: Once you have gathered the materials, build your fire from the ground up by following the four steps under "Build it Right"
Cliff Jacobson is a Distinguished Eagle Scout and the author of more than a dozen popular outdoors books.