How to Start a Fire in the Rain | Techniques for Wet Wood

how to start a fire in the rain with wet wood

Campfires are an essential tool for camping, providing light, heat, and a means of cooking in the wild where otherwise that luxury wouldn’t be available. They are easy to set up, but nothing can put a damper on a starting campfire more than rain. Rain soaks water into your fuel, making it sometimes impossible to light a fire if you don’t know what you’re doing.

To start a fire in the rain, you must set up somewhere dry, like underneath a canopy or tarp, create a barrier between the fuel and the wet ground, and choose a layout that allows for excess airflow.

Materials Needed to Start a Fire With Wet Wood

To start a fire with wet wood you’re going to need the right materials. These materials include:

1. Fuel

Fuel gets a fire started. It’s what a fire uses to maintain itself after the first spark. The three types of fuel are:

  • Tinder–Tinder starts the fire. Typical tinder includes dry leaves/grass, dry pine needles, cotton, and other small, flammable items that burn fast.
  • Kindling–Kindling burns slower than tinder and is used to keep the fire going after it’s started or added on when flames die down. Typical kindling includes small twigs, which are larger than tinder but not as thick as firewood.
  • Firewood–Firewood is the primary fuel for flames. It is around forearm length in size.
    • Note: Freshly chopped wood is usually not suitable for campfires because of the moisture inside, which can cause it to catch flame slowly and produce excessive smoke.

If you’re in a campground, check their rules and regulations. Rules on firewood and kindling collection vary between campgrounds. For example, some campgrounds:

  • Don’t allow the cutting of live trees or any damage to living plant life–Live trees and plants are usually home to a large, but tiny-sized ecosystem. Too much damage to too many trees can upset the campground’s life balance.
  • Don’t allow outside firewood–Firewood that originates from 50 miles or further from the campground can bring with it invasive insect species. Because of this, most campsites won’t allow any outside firewood to be brought into their grounds.
  • Don’t allow the collection/burning of “dead and down” kindling or firewood–“Dead and down” meaning fallen trees or branches that are unlikely to host bird and insect species.
  • Only allow gathering of “dead and down” fuel in certain areas.

Most campgrounds sell firewood, kindling, and tinder, so remember to check local stores and campground rules before preparing for your camping journey.

2. Firestarters

To start a fire, one needs firestarters, but some firestarters, like matches, won’t work well if they’re wet. Listed below are some firestarters that should work even if wet.

  • Stormproof matches
  • Butane lighters
  • Fire pistons
  • Flint and steel
  • Magnesium fire starters

3. Coverings & Covering Paraphernalia

Where there’s rain, there’s usually wind. Where there’s wind, there’s usually enough force to extinguish a fire. Thus, one should bring these coverings along while camping:

  • Fire retardant tarps–To keep the campfire and the area dry. Usually, to set up a tarp you would also need:
    • Around 30 feet of tarp ridgeline
    • Ground Stakes
    • A knife
    • Long sticks
  • Plastic bag–To keep the kindling and tinder dry. Another plastic bag also might be ideal for the firestarters to be kept in.
  • Fire reflectors–To help shield the fire from wind.

4. Hand Tools

Unless you’re planning on buying the fuel, you should bring these along:

  • Handaxe
  • Hand saw
  • Knife
  • A shovel

The hand ax, hand saw, and knife are great for fuel collection and the shovel can help find dry ground in otherwise wet, damp earth.

Where to Build a Fire In the Rain

The best spot for a campfire in the rain usually comprises three things:

  1. Somewhere free of forest debris or nearby flammable objects the fire can spread to.
  2. Somewhere dry.
  3. Somewhere with overhead coverage.

On the off chance that you don’t have a tarp, setting a campfire under a tree canopy or cliff overhang can work just as well. On the off chance that there is no dry ground, then any place where you can clear the debris fast that isn’t right up against a tree is fine as well, but the ideal situation would hit all three points.

How to Start a Fire in the Rain

Once you find the right spot and you’ve set up the tarp and have all the materials on hand, it’s time to build the campfire. Now, these steps depend on the material you have on hand but otherwise should help, even if all you have is a knife in your back pocket.

1. Dig or Build

If the ground is wet, then you have two options: use a shovel to dig the ground until it’s dry or build a barrier between the wet ground and the kindling and tinder. If you don’t have some overhead coverage at this point preventing the rain from striking against your campfire site, then building might be the best way to go because, depending on the rain, digging up the ground might just make things muddier and not drier.

To build a barrier, make a bed of sticks. Place twigs horizontally around the size of fire you want to make and then place twigs vertically onto those twigs. This can help prevent the moisture from the ground from soaking into the kindling and tinder.

2. Place Tinder and Kindling

On the dry, dug-out earth or the bed of twigs, place your tinder. Then arrange the kindling around the tinder so the tinder can still be lit from underneath.

Reminder: During rain, you would want around three times the usual amount of kindling, where the usual amount of kindling would mean around an armful. This would mean you would want three armfuls to start a fire, with some of that kindling being used to feed the fire as it wanes.

3. Build the Campfire Layout

Damp wood is harder to light up than regular wood, so to compensate for that you would need a firewood layout that allows a lot of airflow. One such layout is called the teepee layout. Put the kindling in the shape of a teepee and then put the firewood in a teepee shape around that. If it’s rainy, leave more space between firewood for maximum airflow. If it’s windier, then pack the teepee more tightly.

4. Light the Tinder

Light the tinder and try to guide the embers into a proper fire. Remember, embers need oxygen, so fan it or blow on it a tiny amount. Add kindling if you think it will help and poke around so it catches on.

From there, one should have a campfire. Once a tiny fire is going, one can pop a fire reflector around it to ensure the wind doesn’t blow it out or add kindling and firewood to sustain it, but that is it.

In Conclusion

Starting a fire in the rain is only a matter of having the right materials, the right setting, and the right technique. Though it can be avoided altogether by checking the rain religiously before heading out camping, life can sometimes throw wrenches into our plans. Even if it’s unlikely, stormproof matches, a fire retardant tarp, and a hand saw or ax should be all you need to make a fire in the rain. Though the more items you have, the more prepared you are.

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