Building a Fire in Wet Conditions

One of the most essential survival skills is the ability to create fire, no matter what the circumstances. Fire is the spark of life in a survival situation. Today, we will demonstrate a fool proof technique on how to build a fire in extreme wet conditions.

Essential Tools:

  • Fire starter (lighter, matches, ferro rod, etc)
  • Twigs and some larger logs/branches
  • Tinder (Manmade or natural)
  • Knife/ax/saw or some sort of sharp for collecting materials
  • Knife sharpener

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Step 1: Collect your Materials

Try to find as much dry wood as possible. This might not be many, so grab everything you can. Always attempt to pull off of standing trees, rather than from branches on the ground. Wood on the ground tends to be much more saturated, deadened and wet than from standing branches. These are the particular types of wood you will be looking for:

  • pencil lead and pencil width twigs
  • larger branches (thicker than your forearm) and even larger, if you can find it

Use your axe/saw/knife to chop down these tree limbs and collect them in a circle around your intended fire building area.

Natural tinder is very difficult to come across in extreme wet conditions. Collect what you can, and line the sides of your fire building area with it. It can be dried once you get the fire going, and used later. Collect any dried materials you can find and keep them dry, even if it means a strand of dead grass at a time. Attempt to carve through the bark on standing trees to access fireknot and inner bark that may be dry.

I highly suggest having Man Made Tinder as part of your kit at all times. These tinders will potentially be life saving in a survival situation in extreme wet conditions. See our post on Man Made Tinder for ideas on types of tinder to use and keep on you.

Step 2: Prepare Your Materials

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This is the most important step for creating the initial flame in a wet environment.

2A. Chop your branch into forearm sized logs utilizing either your axe or saw. Ensure you do this to all of your larger branches. Twigs can just be snapped to the same length.

2B. This is how you keep the flame alive. Take a stack of your logs and split them at least four times (through the middle, then through the middle of both of those pieces, long ways).

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An easy way to do this is by using the baton method. Line your knife along the top of the log, sharp end against the log. Using the blunt end of your axe, or a rock, or whatever blunt object you can find, whack the center of your knife until it pierces and sinks into the center of the log. At this point, continue to bludgeon your knife (careful not to destroy the tip) either on the handle side or the tip side (or both, alternating), until your knife has sliced down the log and the log splits.

At this point, take each side of the split log and repeat the process until you have four pieces. Continue to do this if the piece is thicker than your axe handle.

You must split the wood in order to reach dry material to keep the fire alive. Do not skip this step.

Remember, create a pile of wood that could sustain the fire for hours. Keep a good pile of non-split logs as well. You will be able to dry and use these later.

 

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Step 3: Build Your Base and Light Your Tinder

Use rocks to create a fire pit, and line the middle with all the semi-dried tinder materials you have collected. Create a smaller inner pit utilizing some of the large logs you collected earlier that you did not split. These will not be lit yet, but they will be dried by the initial fire you will create, and eventually become the heart of the ongoing flame.

It might be frustrating to get this tinder lit, especially without man made. Hang in there. Once you get a small flame, blow on it to maintain and and have your thinnest twigs at the ready.

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Step 4: Add Materials to Flame

We will first add the thinnest possible twigs, which will dry quickly and keep the flame going. Use the “log cabin” arrangement technique and slowly add in thicker twigs. For a more detailed explanation of this method, see our Twig Fires post.

Next, add your split logs to the flame. Because these should be the driest source, they will light the most readily and create your full fire.

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Step 5: Keep the Flame Alive

Ensure you keep feeding the fire with these logs. Note, the wet logs are still lined outside the fire as a base. The split log fire will get hot enough to dry out these larger logs. These logs will become the long term basis for the fire. The flames will either engulf them after you continue to feed it split logs, or you can manually add them yourself after they sufficiently dry. Use various twigs and other easily lit materials to spread the fire as necessary over other drying logs.

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That is about all there is too it. Continue to line with logs you need dried and feed with the now dried materials you have. This method is foolproof for lighting a long lasting fire in a wet environment.

 

Want to light a fire with less maintenance? See our How-To in building an Upside Down Fire to learn how to create a slow burning fire that can last hours without touching it!

Upside Down Fire

The upside down fire is a self feeding fire that does not require nearly as much stoking and feeding as the traditional teepee campfire. It can burn upwards of 5 hours, uninterrupted, if you do it right. Here are the steps you need to create the upside down fire, along with Dan and I’s own attempt to build it.

Essential Tools:

  • Fire starter (lighter, matches, magnesium stick, etc)
  • Twigs
  • Tinder (Manmade or natural)
  • Knife/ax/saw or some sort of sharp for collecting materials
  • If you are cooking, a vessel or surface to hold your food in

 

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Step 1: Collect your Materials

Once more, we are building this fire using the “twig” method in order to represent a situation in which you may need fire without having store bought materials. Using a small ax and my khukuri knife, we cut down small tree limbs and collected three major types of twigs:

  • Thumb Size
  • Pencil Size
  • Pencil Lead Size

Remember– Try not to pull trees/sticks from the ground. Instead, look for standing deadwood that is dry, easy to break and lacks the moisture than any sticks laying on the ground would.

For tinder, we used a combination of dried grass an a featherstick.

 

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Step 2: Build Your Base

Start with the thickest twigs you have, and lay them flat in your pit, one after the other like you are laying down a log pile. Create a layer as large as you want your fire to be. Then use the next thickest, and cross hatch them in a new layer above your first. Continue this pattern until you get to the thinnest twigs, and finally place your tinder bundle on top.

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Step 3: Light The Tinder

For the sake of this attempt, we simply used a lighter, but I would recommend using whatever fire making material or method you have readily available in your EVERY DAY CARRY or at the very least, your backpacking/hiking essentials.

It might take a bit to get the tinder lit long enough that it begins to feed itself, which can be frustrating, but once the twigs light, this fire is capable of burning for hours on end.

Being down by a river on a muggy day, it took upwards of an hour to get our tinder lit long enough. We ended up adding some scraps of napkins we had brought along with us as well. The air was thick with whistles and squeals of the materials as they dried out, but once it got going, we were able to cook over it and enjoy its warmth until bed time.

This method was fairly frustrating for us due to the wet environment, however, it is often a reliable and low maintenance fire building method convenient for when you have additional tasks and chores to do, or you wish to keep your fire burning overnight while you sleep.

 

 

Twig Fires

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So we’ve decided to expand the blog to amateur bushcraft as well! We will be sharing as we learn new survival skills. The first skill we worked on today is building successful fires using twigs instead of split wood. It’s a quicker and easier method to get a fire going, and if done right, can be a sustained source of warmth, purification of water sources, and cooking. The smoke, as most know, also can keep away skeeters and chiggers and other annoyances. Here are the tools we used:

On the left, we have my gear. Sheffield Rogue survival knife, and “Light My Fire” Swedish fire steel. On the right are Dan’s tools– magnesium fire stick with compass, and bushcraft knife. Pink shoes optional. We decided to have a little competition as to who could get the quicker or better fire going.

There’s a couple things you need to accomplish this aside from those pictured above: materials for fuel, kindling, a foundation, and a brace.

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The key here is to gather a large amount of twigs in the beginning that could sustain the fire for hours or even days. So I set ahead to collect my resources, while Dan decided to go ahead and shave feathers off twigs to create kindling.

As far as the material for fuel go, you want three different sizes (as I learned on Bushcraft USA): thumb width, pencil widith, and pencil lead width. We organized our twigs in generous handful sized piles.

Another important note is do NOT gather twigs from the ground. Often dew, and rainwater can collect in the ground, saturating materials and making them difficult to light. Instead, we opted for dead hanging branches from the surrounding trees. You can tell its dead when the inside has no green, and it easily snaps off. I was slapped in the face, poked in the eye, wrapped in webs and chased by a couple spiders, but eventually gained some good sized piles.

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As you can see above, Dan eventually got his little piles together. For the foundation, as pictured above, Dan chose a small bed of stones which he will put his kindling on top of. This helps keep any coals that form inside your twig fire instead of falling to the ground which if wet or snowy will put them out.

For a brace, Dan put two larger paralleled logs against his foundation. This helps keep the materials together and will help build that conical shape that allows oxygen to flow freely through the fire and prevents your twigs from smothering the coals.  Dan’s setup was very cute and tiny. If it was in Korea, it would have had little googly eyes on it.

Here is my setup:

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I mean, we know who’s the true grisled woodsman here (or so I thought…). I chose two logs for a foundation, and two logs (one not pictured) for a brace. So for kindling, we shaved down twigs to create thin, curly shavings also known as feather sticks. Once we got about a fist full of that, it was time to begin attempting to light with our fire starters. We aimed the fire steel end down into the kindling, and flicked to create sparks which eventually will catch. Once it catches, we shield with our hands and blow until a small flame blooms. Then we grabbed a bunch of the pencil lead sized twigs and leaned them across the braces, following by pencil sized in a perpendicular pattern, then thumb sized, then repeat as needed.

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Dan was able to get his going really quick and definitely won out in terms of speed. His fire made it to waste high! The only issue was he definitely skimped on materials for fuel, and in a survival situation, more is better.

I on the other hand had some major issues getting my kindling to light. I assume the issue was my feather pile just wasn’t big enough, or the stick I used was slightly saturated. I must have knocked over my pile thirty times. Note to self, make sure the ground below your foundation is stable and not wobbly. What I ended up doing, after a lot of frustration, getting butthurt and proclaiming how annoying fire starting is, was grabbing a handful of dry grass from a nearby clearing and using that instead. The grass caught a lot easier, and I piled my fuels in the same pattern as mentioned before. Finally… the red flower came to me.

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I had gathered quite a bit of materials thought so was able to get it raging while i relished in success before putting it out. Word of advice, have some water to douse when you try this. Also make sure to move your equipment out of the way of the fire after its lit. Definitely melted the plastic handle of my fire steel…

This was overall a really easy and gratifying method for creating fire with only a few survival tools, and the natural materials around you. Definitely pocketing this one for future camping trips. Brook seemed to have fun with it, as well!

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I look forward to documenting more of our exploration of bushcraft in the future and honing these useful survival skills. Hopefully these posts can help others learn as well. One more piece on equipment– it doesn’t take the most expensive or brand names to be successful. The trick is to get a knife whose weight and size you can get comfortable with whether you be bushwhacking, shaving or cutting. As for the fire steel, longer ones are easier to use but its still about mastery of what you have.

I’m a big knife, little stick type of person. Dan’s a little knife, big stick type of person. Do what works for you. Or what you can withstand frustrating yourself over until you finally learn to use it right. I wonder if this says something about our personalities…