Birch Bark is one of the best tree barks for fire tinder and it will light even when it’s damp. Why? Because the natural oil in birch bark is very flammable.
To build a successful fire, preparation is critical. Most all of the work is done prior to sparking or lighting the fire.
Other than having an ignition source, the most important part of a successful fire is what happens during the first seconds of flame. Your tinder bundle is critical for success.
There are a wide variety of tinder materials (natural and man-made) that will enable a successful fire. One such natural tinder source that is very prevalent in my region is birch bark, and one of the great things about birch bark is its ability to catch flame even when it’s damp.
If you are in a region where there are birch trees, it’s a good idea to practice starting a fire with its bark so that you get a bit of hands-on experience knowing what to do (and how to do it).
You can use the bark from fallen birch trees or fallen birch branches lying on the ground, or you can peel some of the bark from a live tree using your knife to slice and peel. It is fairly common for live birch trees to exhibit peeling bark sheds on the tree itself.
How much bark? You will need a piece to shave into tinder and you will also want procure extra birch bark to add to the tinder bundle for additional fuel once it’s lit.
The under-layer of the bark will be driest during damp conditions. With your knife, scrape the inside or non-white side of the birch bark to create shavings – ideal for a spark.
Note: The entire bark, regardless of which side, will light up nicely when flame is applied.
Tip: If the birch bark is curled, it’s easier to work with while scraping if you first bend it to take out the curl, making it flatter.
Tip: Scrape with the grain of the bark to make fine tinder shavings, otherwise the bark may just tear up if scraping across the grain.
1. Ignite the birch bark shavings with a source such as a FireSteel.
2. Add more birch bark to the flaming tinder bundle.
3. Then add kindling, small pieces to large until fire is established.
Tip: Lighters and matches likely won’t function when wet. To mitigate that problem, on your person, carry a knife and a device for making sparks (e.g. FireSteel) whenever you’re in an environment where hypothermia conditions might set in due to one’s activities or potentially hazardous situation.
Example: Canoeing on river or lake, especially when its cool or cold outside.
If you’ve capsized and lost your kit, it will be extremely important to have the means to start a fire on your person.
Related article: Tinder For Building A Fire