How To Start A Fire With Wet Firewood

October 23, 2015, by Ken Jorgustin


Depending on the weather and season, you might not always have nice dry wood lying around to start a fire with.

Here are some tips and instructions how to start a fire in an environment of wet wood:



You will need to procure (or have) some dry tinder.

The tinder should be the lightest, driest, and most combustible materials in your fire bundle, and its purpose is to catch the flame and burn long enough to ignite larger pieces of kindling.

The simplest way to get dry tinder is to already have some of it tucked away in your pack. There are many sources of tinder which will help you start a fire. They include,

Cotton Balls & Petroleum Jelly
Mix some cotton balls with some Vaseline and store them in a container. Vaseline (petroleum jelly) is flammable and will enable the cotton ball to burn much longer.

All sorts of paper including newspaper, paper bags, etc., except glossy papers from magazines which do not burn well.

Fine Steel Wool
Yes it works… the fine steel wool which you might be using to scour your pots and pans is flammable. The finer it is (e.g. 0000), the better.

Char Cloth
Make this ahead of time. Cut small squares / strips of 100% cotton cloth and insert in a metal container which can seal air-tight (e.g. metal water bottle). Place container on fire or hot coals for about 5 minutes. Remove and let cool off. Unseal the lid and check that the cloth has turned black. These pieces will accept a spark nicely and flame. Store in a weatherproof container.

Tree Bark
First look for fallen trees in the area but avoid rotten bark. The inside of most bark will remain fairly dry even in wet weather. Shave it. Peel bark from a limb. Cedar is particularly good. Birch bark is uniquely thin and easy to peel off and burn.

Wood Shavings
From a dead tree branch, use your knife to slice / chip off small shavings into a pile. The inside of a dead branch may be surprisingly dry…



Kindling is the next size up from tinder. Small twigs and small branches. In wet or damp weather, it may be a challenge to find some that’s dry enough to burn. But it can be done.

Look for a dead tree that hasn’t fallen over yet. If there’s a dead tree nearby, break off twigs that aren’t in contact with the ground. Pick branches that are close to the trunk and lowest to the ground, as they’re typically the driest. When you break the wood into small pieces – if you hear that nice dry ‘snap’, then you know you’ve got some dry wood 😉

Slightly larger logs or branches (especially dead / seasoned) may have dry wood inside that you can get out by chipping off the wet surface with a hatchet, but don’t even bother with soggy, rotten wood. You might stand a moderate branch or log on its end and split it (to expose the inside dry surface). Then split it again (exposing even more dry wood). Etc..



The tinder and kindling will enable you to get your fire going, but won’t sustain much heat and will burn quickly. You will also need larger (dry) wood, as in ‘logs’.

Similar to finding dry kindling, you may also find dry log wood by looking for dead trees which haven’t fallen yet. You may be able to simply knock it over with your hands or force your weight upon it with your shoulder – and drag the wood over to the fire area.

In the woods, you will also likely find fallen dead trees, but they may be wetter.

You could either burn the larger log-size wood ‘as is’ (burn it in half and then push the logs back into the fire), or you might be able to break them into pieces by wedging one end into a tree ‘V’ and pushing on the other end to snap it, etc…

Note: If you have procured enough kindling and dry twigs and small branches, a bigger hotter fire will enable a better chance to get larger (perhaps damp) logs to burn.



Now that you have your wood ready to burn, you need a source of fire! A fire starter can be a huge asset in minimizing your frustration and making sure that you get the fire going as quickly as possible. Fire starters are small, relatively inexpensive and really shorten the time it takes to get a fire going, so it makes sense to pack one.

BIC Lighter
Why make it difficult if you can simply fire it up with a BIC lighter… I have lots of BIC lighters for my preps – at home, in my various kits, in my vehicle…

A Fire Steel Rod from our long-time sponsor/vendor at will produce ‘tons’ of sparks. They are a preferred supplier to the US Military. An essential prep.

Magnesium Fire Starter
The Doan magnesium fire starter (Made in the USA) enables you to scrape off a small pile of magnesium shavings (e.g. with your knife) and then ignite it with its built-in sparking insert. Tom (a long-time vendor/sponsor here at MSB) over at sells this fire starter, as well as many other types of fire starters.

Bow Drill
Ha Ha… I threw that in to be funny 😉 Good luck starting a fire with your DIY bow drill in wet weather…



Because the ground is wet (also in snow), it’s best to make a bed for the fire to get started on, such as a an arrangement of branches or chunks of bark from a dead tree. It will keep the moisture in the ground from ruining everything and provide more stability to build the fire on.

Fire making is fairly simple in that you’ll start by lighting your tinder bundle and then adding pieces of kindling – while working your way up to larger pieces.

Set your pile of kindling next to where you’re building the fire, because once you get it lit, you don’t want to be wandering around looking for more wood to throw on. The kindling might be up to the approximate size of your thumb.

After you have started the fire with tinder, don’t rush to put more tinder on. Keep it close enough to get heated by the flame. Gently add more tinder as the fire gets some legs.

As you get more and more tinder added, keep the kindling close enough that it gets heated by the flames to further assist drying. Slowly add in some of your kindling as the fire builds. Now you’re off and running.

Note: One of the most important aspects of starting a fire with wet wood is not to add too many big pieces right away. With dry wood, it’s not a big deal, but you need to be very patient and methodical.

Let’s hear from you… What are your ideas or recommendations for starting a fire in wet weather? Ideas for dry tinder, kindling, and/or tips and tricks?