A fire burning in the woods at night

How to Start a Fire With Wet Wood: 7 Easy Steps

Nothing beats finishing the evening next to the warm glow of a campfire. Roasting marshmallows while enjoying the company of your favorite people while waiting in anticipation for that first bite of a s’more.

One of the most important skills that you learn in the outdoors is how to start a fire. There is an art to building a campfire and there is no “right” way as long as you get the fire started without setting the forest ablaze.

What happens if you are building a fire and it starts to rain?

Starting a fire in the rain sounds like a pointless endeavor, however, possessing the knowledge to start a fire in wet conditions is an important and challenging skill. We’re going to run through the 7 steps on how to start a fire with wet wood.

Items necessary to start a fire with wet wood

Starting a fire in the rain can be a nightmare if you have no idea where to begin. Let’s start with the tools necessary to get a healthy fire started even if you’re stuck in soggy conditions.

Tinder

Tinder is the key to starting any fire, and we’re not talking the dating app. Tinder is small, lightweight, and easy to ignite. It should be extremely combustible and burn long enough to catch a flame and start the kindling on fire.

Keep in mind that finding tinder in wet conditions is challenging, however, if you know the best places to look it’s not impossible. Look for dry branches and twigs that have fallen from the tree and stayed somewhat dry underneath the cover of trees.

Another idea is to bring your own tinder from home, there are a number of household items that you can bring beforehand to save yourself some time and energy hunting for natural alternatives.

Fritos

Yes, we’re talking about the salty potato chips, they are a great trick to get nearly any fire started. Simply dump them directly out of the bag and light them on fire and you got yourself the perfect synthetic tinder.

Wood shavings

If you are having a hard time finding tree bark that isn’t soaked split the wood that you have into quarters. You can then take you knife to the inside of the log and shave off small and dry slivers to use. The key here is making sure you get to the dry part of the log, tinder needs to be 100% dry.

Paper tinder

This is the most common type of tinder that you see at most campsites. Use old newspapers or paper bags from the grocery store and roll them up or tear them into small strips.

Balls with Vaseline

Cotton balls are another awesome way to get a fire started. Soaking them in Vaseline (petroleum jelly) which is flammable will make the cotton balls burn much longer giving you a better chance of getting the fire started on the first try.

Steel wool

Believe it or not, steel wool is flammable. The finer the steel wool the better it is going to burn, and you’ll have to bring it from home. Good luck finding a steel wool tree out in the wilderness.

Tree bark

If you are gathering all the materials the day of then bark is the best type of tinder available. You want to find old trees that have been dead for a while and peel the bark off. You’re then going to shave the inside of the bark down into extremely fine pieces that will be used as tinder.

Wet or damp wood

This is the most important type of material necessary to start a fire, obviously. The best firewood comes from downed trees that have been sitting for long enough to dry out completely at one point in time.

Soaking wet wood is not going to work, period. The trick is to find wood that is under the cover of other trees that looks like it has been down for a while. This is the most important and most difficult part at the same time.

Wood splitter

A knife will work but a hatchet is going to be the most efficient way to split logs. A hatchet or small ax is going to give you more leverage to chop wood making the act of splitting wood into usable pieces easy peasy.

Types of wood splitters:

  • Hatchet
  • Ax
  • Knife

Firestarter

We’re gonna start with a way to light your fire. You can have all the dry wood in the world, without a means to ignite the fire you’re gonna have to go the primitive route.

Ideas for fire starters:

  • Bic lighter
  • Waterproof matches
  • Magnesium rod
  • Paper
  • Dry tree bark

A kettle sitting over a campfire in the snow

7 steps to start a fire with wet wood

Now that we have all the parts and pieces in place, let’s get to building the fire.

1. Find or Make Kindling

Look for a dead tree that has branches and twigs that have remained somewhat dry. Again, you want to listen for the loud cracking sound when you snap the branches. It is an indication of a dead tree with dry wood.

If you’re not having any luck finding dry branches and twigs you can split a log and shave dry pieces from the inside. Even a piece of wood is wet on the outside, once you get down a few inches it is usually dry.

2. Find rocks

Rocks for the fire bed, which is the second most important part of starting a fire in a wet environment. The rocks are going to act as a bed for the fire.

Look for rocks that are about as big as a softball, they don’t have to be the shape of a softball, just large rocks. You shouldn’t have to go far to find rocks, if you have a river or lake start there. If not, just wander around and take in the scenery while you stumble across the foundation for your flame.

These rocks are going to be where you place your wood on top of to get the fire going. The rocks stay dry and keep the fire off the wet ground.

3. Collect firewood

You want to gather a good size pile of wood that you will be using to start the fire and keep it going. Look for wood of all sizes, you want to find both large and small logs.

Deadwood is your best option being that it has had time for the inside of the log to dry out. Fallen trees are a great place to find usable firewood and should make a loud cracking sound as you snap it, this way you know it’s been dead and dry for a while.

Avoid any rotten logs, the middle of rotten logs is mushy and unusable.

4. Build your fire bed

Place the rocks that you found in a circle and make the circle about 2 feet in diameter. You want the rocks to completely cover the are where your fire is, so fill in all the gaps. You are basically making a flat surface to build the structure for getting the fire started.

Woods stacked in a teepee on top of a bed of rocks on the beach

4. Stack the tinder in a teepee

This is the way we all learn to build a fire and for good reason, it works. Take the larger logs and lean them against each other at a 30° angle, give or take a few degrees.

Lean the larger split logs that you gathered in a way that you have a void in the middle, just like a teepee. It’s important to have airflow in the middle so the fire can breathe. It’s also where you put the kindling and tinder inside of to start the fire.

5. Place the kindling in the middle of the tinder

Next, you place the kindling in the middle of the logs. Just make a small pile inside that you can light, this is going to be the beginnings of your fire.

6. Ignite the kindling

Your kindling should go up in flames quickly and the smaller pieces of tinder that you split (which should be the driest) will start burning. Start with just a few pieces to get the fire started and slowly add more as they ignite.

7. Slowly add the split logs

This step is crucial, if you try and light multiple damp logs at one-time chances are your fire is going to fizzle out. We’re assuming that the wood you gathered is not completely dry, so the initial flames are meant to light the logs while simultaneously drying them out.

Now that you have the smaller logs burning, it’s time to add to the fire. Again, slowly building the fire is a key step in the process. After about 10-15 minutes your fire will be a decent size. Once it’s burning, keep adding logs as necessary.

Conclusion

Learning how to start a fire in wet wood in less than optimal conditions is not an easy task. Chances are that it will take more than a couple tries. As with anything in life worth learning, practice makes perfect.

Just like changing a tire, getting good at starting a fire in wet conditions gets easier with repetition in real-world conditions. With all the material in hand and the knowledge in your head, it’s simply a fact of getting out there and getting your hands dirty.

With a little time and patience, you will soon be a pro with little to no doubt in your mind that you can do this. Get outside and keep wandering!

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