Rain happens, and when it happens, it soaks firewood, leaving it damp, soggy and hard to light. When you’re camping, even pre-bundled firewood from the camp store may be more than a little wet, so you need to know how to get it burning. With the right construction, plenty of tinder and kindling, and possibly some help from a chemical fire starter, you can get a healthy campfire going in the worst weather.
1. Start With Extra Tinder and Kindling
Tinder is the fast-burning and easily lit material that lets you start a small fire. Examples include crumpled paper, cotton balls, dryer lint and dry grass. Pack the tinder in the center of your fire, and surround it with kindling, working vertically. The kindling, very small and thin pieces of wood, will slowly catch from the tinder fire. Once you have that going, you can start working on your bigger fuel logs. When wood is wet, you need a lot more tinder and kindling than you do with dry wood. Plan to use up to four times as much to get a good fire going.
2. Build Up, Not Down
Most campsites come with a fire pit, but the problem with a pit is that it is a depression that collects water. In rainy weather, be sure to build a small hill for the base of your fire and insulate it with bark or other dry, slow-burning combustibles. This gives the ground a chance to dry without putting out your fire. Also, build the center of your fire in a teepee formation, and use an interlocking square formation for bigger logs. This encourages air flow and helps dry those big pieces so they will catch.
3. Check the Tree Cover
While camping under trees gives you more protection from the weather, a fire burning under a fir or pine in winter weather can lead to a sudden downpour as the snow melts off the boughs. Place your fire away from areas that can cause a localized downpour.
4. Pack Firestarters
You can get a good fire going with nothing but what you find in the woods, a sharp knife, a hatchet and some matches. When you’re wet and cold though, a shortcut to warmth is a good idea. Firestarters come in a lot of forms, from chemicals to briquettes and even road flares. When you know you’re heading into wet wood conditions, pack a helper to get your fire going quickly.
A good wet-wood fire takes patience and planning. If you’re careful to stack wood around the fire to dry, split the larger pieces to get at dry interior wood, and produce a small mountain of kindling, you can get the job done without too much trouble.