SURVIVAL SKILLS

Can You Build A Fire In The Cold, Rain, Or Snow, Without Help?

build-a-fire-in-winter

Guest article, by ‘NRP’…

 
Here is the situation;

TSHTF big time, there is no one to help you and you need to get home, or to your BOL, or to safety somewhere else. You find yourself out in the middle of nowhere with only your GHB and maybe a few other items you have found on the way. Even worse, it’s mid-December, there’s snow on the ground, it’s still snowing/raining, and getting late in the day. It WILL be very cold and you need to hunker-down for the night. What do you do?

As odd as it might seem, there are millions and millions of people that have little to zero idea how to build a life-saving fire in a situation like this, even if their life is in danger.


 

As someone who is a Prepper/Prepared, one should know many ways to build that fire. It will provide the ability to stay warm, cook, to maintain a safe area from “the wild”, to boil water for safe drinking, etc..

Do you have in your GHB and EDC the means to light a fire?

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Prepper Acronyms and Terms
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What if it’s raining and your “stuff” gets wet? FYI, a wet Bic Lighter or Matches are fairly worthless when they are wet.

How about some items to help you get the wood burning? A Fire-Starter along with Vaseline Cotton-Balls for instance. How about some QuickLights or even some “Fatwood”?

Can you build a fire without all of the trinkets/gadgets you may have? Maybe someone took your GHB? What do you do now? Do you have a way to start a fire with what’s in your pocket?

As a challenge to yourself, take a little time this weekend and build a fire with what you normally have with you in your pockets (or modify what you keep in your pockets so that you CAN start a fire).

Please do this outside…. NO House Fires please… :) Then try it in the rain.

 
Related:
A Magnesium Fire Starter Or Swedish Fire Steel
How To Start A Fire With Wet Firewood
Tinder For Building A Fire

 
Let’s hear your ideas for surviving that freezing winter night and how you would “Build a Fire”.

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62 Comments

  1. Take a knife to your clothing/jeans and scrape up some dry fire starter after you’ve gathered dry materials, such as off the trees pictured.

  2. I find it amazing how humanity has come to its stage of development where the majority of people are more likely to start a fire by accident than they are of starting one on purpose when they need to.

    1. Heh. I was told in my youth that one of the key factors of being a human is the ability to create fire. They probably meant “on purpose”. XD

  3. I have found the best natural fire starter is birch bark – lights easy, burns long enough to get the kindling going, is usually dry when pealed off the tree, paper-like bark comes off easy without a knife…..

      1. I have used Red Pine bark that is thin and flaky off the dry section of the tree. I have used spruce, fir, and jack pine pitch and old dry pine cones ripped to shreds as added sparkler “snap” to get my fire going when my added wood sticks are damp or wet.

    1. My neighbor is a state Trooper and the emergency flares he gave me work in any weather conditions. I have several in all my family cars, and tend to carry them when SHTF…

  4. Good article NRP
    I will take your advice and practice my fire making skills this week.
    Ps. I use 0000 steel wool as a fire starter.

  5. Interesting proposition. I usually carry a Maxpedition “man purse” with me wherever I go.

    There’s enough goodies in there to survive pretty much anything with at least half a dozen ways to start a fire. I hadn’t really thought about what I would do without it. I guess I need to get some of those shoelaces with the built in firesteels.

    1. ” I usually carry a Maxpedition “man purse” with me wherever I go. ”

      We just received their “Fat Boy” this week — it is replacing the hubby’s old EDC that had a busted zipper and seam. Lots of pockets in that guy-purse. I’m going to fashion a regular purse with some of those features in mind. Pockets keep things tidy and secure.

      1. Yeah, the ‘Fatboy’ is the one I’m currently rockin’ and I love it. Every time I get a new man purse, it seems to get larger. My wife went to hand it to me the other day and was like “OMG! What the hell to you have in there?”

        Me: “Everything.”

  6. Great article NRP!

    This is so crucial for so many situations…
    Thanks for the reminder, I think I will make sure our various “bags”
    are better prepared on this front.

    An article like this is ‘see the TREE in the forest’.
    Sometimes we need to focus on the very essential life saving skills
    to survive…

    Kudos to you Ol’ Buddy NRP, thanks for sharing a great article! :)

    PS We got 2+ inches of rain in <24 hrs, a good day to practice.

    Shepherdess

  7. Great article.

    Dryer lint in zip bags, light and compact. Multiple disposable lighters, two Sparkie fire starters, waterproof matches with strikers, waterproof container of matches. Also have cedar fire starter “pucks”, fire starter sticks, self-igniting triangle shaped fire starters, magnesium fire starter. Have tried them all and prefer the Sparkie with some tinder. Carry the collapsible Emberlit (steel) stove which can burn sticks. Need to add Vaseline cotton balls.

    This all works provided I have my GHB, if not, always carry a lighter, jackknife to get some tinder, clothing going. Hopefully never have to do this.

      1. Got the vas-balls everywhere. But we should think in terms of total surprise, because for all of us it probably will be. Comment #1

  8. Nope. I know the theory(s) but I’ve never tried it in the wet.

    In that kind of situation shelter is your first priority. Don’t want your fire/heat to blow away. Then there’s usually dry stuff (forest dandruff/tinder) under trees and so on even in the worst rain.

    If it’s been raining/snowing long enough to soak everything you probably should have stopped hours ago. Getting a fire started (and keeping it going) under those circumstances would be the hard part.

    Maybe I should stick a 12v battery in my bag JIC. :) That wouldn’t care if it was wet.

  9. Great thoughts NRP. All my vehicles and bags have fireproof matches, Magnesium, and lighters. They are each in their own Ziploc, and then all of them are put into a bigger Ziploc. I actually used one of my matches the other day. It wasn’t an emergency. Often, being prepared is more of a convenience.

    1. I’m sure most know what you meant to type, but I had a good laugh at “fireproof matches”.

  10. Here are some thoughts more aligned to after camp is set up.

    We do a lot of camping and often camp in the cold and rain. Make sure that your fire is protected from wind and rain. Make sure that dry wood/burning material is kept dry. As you find more material to burn, if it is wet, place it near the fire to dry. Do not let your fire go out.

    If the ground is wet, you will need to elevate your fire off the ground somehow. I typically use rocks first and then add a layer of bigger logs. I then build my starter fire on the top of the bigger logs. Good luck all!

  11. I take cardboard and roll it up and soak it in melted wax and put strike anywhere matches in the end. The wax keeps everything dry and makes it burn better.

  12. I am always carrying a lighter on me, also in my BOB I take to work, fishing, and traveling. I have a lighter, water proof matches, and my special fire starting kit— my flint and steel-magnifier-char cloth and frayed hemp rope in a tin box. Made countless fires since 1976 with it playing living history, rain or snow, or in bogs where the fire floats.

    But having winter camped before in Northern Minnesota, it is most important to have a shelter from the rain/snow, make a fire, and have large dogs to hug for body heat because they don’t mind little tooty-toots and snoring. ;-)

    1. Always carry 2 methods to start a fire, or else 2 sticks. Oh man, hope I don’t have ta.

      1. I was raised in the dark timber of Colorado in the 50’s & 60’s. I could start a forest fire in the dead of winter. Pray for me.

        1. I could have everybody running around naked, dying of hypothermia. Like
          I said pray for me!

          1. You know rain is another matter, but snow is water that ain’t going anywhere unless you want it to. Anybody thirsty. Watching the survival
            series in BC on historical channel is worth pondering. That was real.

            I love this site, and everybody who watches it. I mean it. God bless.

  13. We keep a number fire-starting items in our vehicles. We also pack things in our Get Home bags, and our EDCs. Of course, my EDC is my handmade purse. My key-chain also sports a mag slab fire starter. Having the tools and the ability to start fire is important! We have multiple ways to start fires and have several types of tinder we carry.

    1. I agree with you on “several methods” if you can use for an example a Altoids (sp) metal tin box filled with 2 small emergency candles, a bic lighter, a couple of survival matches,and I use a couple of cotton ear swabs smeared with Vaseline in a zip lock bag.(over the years I found I could use the swabs better then cotton balls because you can hold them while lit and direct the flame to be used for several different items)………..by having these options all in a metal container I have choice for a ‘fire starter’.

      1. Altoid cans are great for holding some fire-starting items. I put them into a zip-tight plastic baggie for a bit of added protection against moisture.

        Funny but I don’t even have a Bic lighter — not anywhere! Never smoked, never got used to having a lighter. Matches have always been reliable and that’s my choice. Can work a bow drill too and now my granddaughter wants to learn. It’ll wear her out trying! lol

  14. Thanks NRP
    The secret isn’t practice, the secret is finding a way to make practice frequent. One guy I’ve read never uses paper to light his wood stove. If you can find a way to practice frequently…

  15. Good article NRP. If that picture is of you, I believe I have seen that picture before or you never age.

  16. The guy in the photo looks kinda miserable. Several regular posters have said it already but I would also build a shelter from the wind and wet prior to getting a fire started.

    Many good hints offered by posters here. I’ve always managed to have some thing dry around to start fires when needed. I use mostly Bic lighters but I still have a magnesium sparking block in my bob and truck. I also have a tinder bag which has lots of things dipped in wax (string and strips of cardboard).

    For the woods, I like my axe and pruning shears to gather wood. For jungle or cane breaks, I like the machete. Pocket knife goes without saying. I like to gather wood that is above the ground during the cold and wet. Until I gather a set of coals, I split the wet wood to expose the dry inside.

    For these reasons, I take note of location of standing trees and accumulated lumber off the ground as I travel. When a storm comes, you may have to head for the trees to rig up shelter, and start your small fire. I have done so in the past. Your world view changes after you get out of the storm and warmed up a bit.

  17. Thanks y-all for the comments so far.

    The Photo is one I nabbed off the net; but I do remember in my younger days being in places just like that Camping with my Father and two brothers (Mom would bow out on these trips, HAHAHA). We would hit the site and first thing, build a fire, and then set the shelters and sometimes build “snow caves”, I guess because the first thing my Dad wanted was a cup of HOT fresh brewed coffee LOL

    Some good suggestions, one that I learned as well, you can most often find some “less wet” tinder on the lowest dead branches of trees, or under a low Pine Tree with its branches touching the ground. Just watch out for the “critters”.

    Since I forwarded the Article (and Ken cleaned it up, Thanks Ken) I decided to make sure I was not being hypercritical and walked to the back shop here at work to test my own skills with nada but what I had in my pockets. Wellllll I did fairly well, fortunately I keep a good knife and a Mag in my Cargo Jeans, I will admit I was a little skeptical until I found an old Pallet that I could bust up and get some shavings from for the Mag to light…. I guess I got lucky… LOLOL

    NRP

  18. Good thought NRP, but you didn’t mention TP to start a fire. Don’t you always have some near by? Ha Ha, just kidding.

    In my much younger years I did try starting fire without the aid of matches or lighters (although Bic lighters weren’t around then anyway). The only success that I had back then was to use my glasses. Of course it was sunny. Since I wear glasses instead of contact lenses I should be all set if I have nothing else. I guess in foul weather the glasses would not work without the sun.

    Jump forward 50 years and now we heat with wood. So I get to practice everyday. Many days I do just use paper, but when I get bored, I practice with other items. One word of caution for those that will be relying on dryer lint. Not all lint is equal. I had some that just smoldered but never really caught, even when using paper to assist it. Personally I like tree bark. You can scrape and fluff it up to catch a spark.

    I also watched dual survival all the time and one time they were going through an area and found an old discarded lighter. There was no fuel in the lighter but the lighter continued to produce a spark. Needless to say, they used it to start a fire. So when your lighter goes dry, it can still be useful.

    1. @ Peanut Gallery

      OHHHH my gosh NO!!!! Never NEVER use TP to start a fire, heck use those $100 bills you have first… HAHAHA!

      I mean after TSHTF money will be absolutely MORE worthless than it is now and replacement TP would be very difficult to find, and who would want to use a nasty dirty Dollar Bill to clean their behind with??

      OMG I can’t believe I just posted that…. HAHAHAHA

      I also have a (actually two) wood burners in the house, and “practice” every evening in cold weather. A lot of times I just cheat and use “boy-scout juice” but normally I do the “real” fire thing. I like Fat-Wood the best, if one frays it a little ya can actually hit it with a few sparks from a Mag and there ya go….

      NRP

      PS; On dryer lint, best to use only “cotton” lint, seems to work the best. One can also rub a small amount of Vaseline into it beforehand, it works fantastic.

  19. I spent a summer teaching cub/ Boy Scouts how to start fires. I wonder how many of them could remember if they needed to. I gave them a bunch of misc. items and had them tell me if they would start a fire or not. My favorite was a 9 volt battery and Steel wool. We made egg carton dryer lint fire starters. All kinds of fun things, and we did it rain or shine. Great memories, thanks.

    1. @ Raised this way

      “Great memories”

      Ohhhh my gosh yes, My Father was a Master Scout Leader (I never quite got that far), I still remember the trips into the snow filled woods camping with all the “city kids” hehehe but ya know, everyone had a LOT of fun, and was a great learning experience for us all.

      Odd you mentioned the old ways, I still have somewhere my Dad’s old, very old, East India Trading Co. Coffee Can he built into a “kit” it has a wooden “birds-nest”, a little cotton, a spot of chard cotton cloth and a true Flint-Steel made with a piece of file and a hunk of Flint.

      Makes me smile, and a slight tear to the eye, just remembering those days for sure.

      Kinda miss the old fart…. Hehehe

      NRP

  20. One other thing to consider depending on the situation is that a fire may disclose your location to unwanted people.

    1. @ ChameleOn

      Agreed 100%, and something that should always be considered, but I felt that not a factor in this particular scenario.

      Great advice though, and should always be considered; Thanks.

      NRP

    2. @Chamele0n
      That’s where one of Ken’s previous articles comes in, the Dakota Fire Pit.

  21. NRP’s post are always spot on. You do not have a skill if not practiced and perfected. On a lighter side would a Samsung 7 be an option for starting a fire?

    1. That would probably work well.

      All I have to do is wake up on Monday morning and there is a 8000 to 18000 acre forest fire burning within a few miles of my house. Mondays are really getting stressful.

      On a more serious note, a battery from almost any device can be used to assist in starting a fire.

  22. While handy and workable, many folks talk of Vaseline soaked cotton balls for their fire starting kits, they can be greasy, leaving you to clean your hands after handling and before continuing the task. I personally melt down the wax from used up candles and soak cotton balls in it, let them solidify individually before placing 10-12 in an empty prescription bottle. They light very easily, burn cleanly for approximately 3-4 minutes, long enough to catch fire to small twigs for tinder.

    1. @ Dennis

      I agree with the Cotton Balls, the trick is to only use a very little Vaseline on each Cotton Ball, If ya make it to gooey it’s also a lot harder the get the “spark” to ignite the cotton. If the Cotton is greasy the fibers of cotton won’t ignite very well.

      I Nuke a very small amount of Vaseline till melted (in a glass bowl), than put several Cotton Balls in and work them well to distribute it evenly, ya may need to reheat them a little to get the Vaseline even, after they cool you should be able to pull them apart and cotton fibers will pop out some, then pack them in a small container and toss em in the GHB.

      NRP

    2. @all; along with the vaseline on the cotton balls, dont forget that having another product in your GHB or BOB that has multiple uses: Hand sanitizer that has a high concentration of alcohol. Works great on cotton balls and doesn’t have the “ick” factor of cleaning it off your hands like plain vaseline. Just scrub your hands together and wave them in the breeze! Not that vaseline should be scraped off, as it will aid in protecting your skin as it is uncomfortable having dry/cracked hands in the cold/wet that comes with being outside in the winter. JMHO. Loclyokel

  23. Great article, and food for thought! I stopped carrying a lighter on my person when I quit smoking, so I may need to rethink that omission(the lighter not the smokes). I do carry a knife and have glasses, so I might could get a fire going on a sunny day. So many scenarios I had not considered.

  24. NRP. Used to fly in the Alaska bush, always kept highway flares in my crash bag, cut them down to about 2″ and sealed them in seal-a-meal with 2 little birthday candles and a kids crayon to write with or burn, had ten of those packets felt that was enough for ten days to walk out to some place if I had to.

  25. There have been times when I carried a few miniature bottles of Yukon Jack when out camping. You know you’re cold when you use good liquor for firestarter.

    1. @ Walker

      Yukon Jack is 100proof here in the US, only 80 elsewhere, So everyone needs to remember that any Alcohol that’s not at least 100proof or 50% will not burn…

      NRP

  26. In 1976 I had to attend Arctic Survival School at Eilson Air Force Base in Alaska one of the requirements was to be able to make a fire in 30 seconds with only flint & steel at 20 below zero F.

    We were instructed to take a piece of birch tree bark and the sharp blade of our knife and scrape the outside bark into a powder. When a spark hits it, it flairs like gunpowder and you add small pieces of bark and then place in your pile of kindling.

    When I flew up here I also had several 5 minute highway flares plus a large heavy plastic bag to put aviation fuel in and then place it into a spruce tree. When you hear or see rescue aircraft light the flare and poke a hole into the bag of aviation fuel and get out of the way. The resulting flare would be seen for miles. You must realize this was Arctic Survival Training in snow and cold and designed to keep you alive until rescue showed up.

  27. We’re cheaters always taking the easy way out. We keep bic lighters, cotton balls and a plastic visine eye drop bottle full of ultra pure paraffin lamp oil inside a zip lock bag in a small pouch on our load bearing vests. We use lamp oil in deer camp as well for fires and hurricane lamps.

    We have a ton of this stuff in storage for our oil lamps. A few of these lamps will also knock the chill off of a small room or heat up a tent when the chimneys get hot.

    Happy Saturday Preppers….

  28. I’m a bit of a bushcrafter by hobby. I enjoy learning and practicing the basic skills of wilderness survival. I generally keep a small fire kit in every bag I own, from my EDC to my car kit to my basic hiking kit. I’m a firm believer in having 5 ways to start a fire and knowing how to use each one. This also reminds me of my first experiences and the learning processes.

    I have found, that as in life, so in fire making. What it really comes down to in fire making is preparation. Your tinder has to be as close to perfect as possible, and you absolutely must have enough tinder ready and waiting to deal with whatever weather effects you have. A small amount of bark or hand powdered dry grass will take a spark and flare up immediately, and then your fuel is gone. This applies to everything from Flint and steel to a bic lighter. Making fire in wet conditions often means spending more time preparing tinder than anything else. Make sure your stages of tinder are ready and waiting. You need to keep that small flame fed.

    My small kits usually include a firesteel,a small piece of flint or chert, a small magnifier or fresnel lens, a couple matches and striker and a mini bic. And especially in a small kit I include some manufactured tinders like wetfire, cotton balls/petroleum jelly or the Dave Canterbury inferno tinder. You can get all of these in fairly small sizes and just put together a pocket or belt kit that lets you start a fire in almost any circumstance.

    Larger kits for hiking and camping include larger versions of all the above. Big Firesteel, large pack of matches, a full size bic lighter. For tinder I include fatwood, birch as it is common in my area and I carry a small leather pouch that I can pick up and store found tinder as I travel.

    Either way, I have found by keeping kits with me, I often find ways to practice on a more regular basis. Everything from starting a campfire to lighting an outdoor fireplace at a family members to a wood stove at a friends.

  29. A 9-volt battery and some FINE steel wool . Touch the battery to the wool and it will ignite instantly and burn exceedingly hot. Medium and course doesn’t ignite too well. The steel wool also can be ignited using a spark from a steel fire stick , a spark from a lighter, etc. You can also salvage the flints from spent BIC lighters and crush ’em up and it too will burn hot ( but very quick, have your tinder ready).

  30. I forgot to add to my previous comment this note: Take some unused candles and melt them down ( I use a tin can) and pour the hot wax over some wood chips like you would find at a pet store for bedding. A paper egg carton works well to make some small pucks, and they can be shaved down to size. Next time you’re at a garage sale and see some large scented candles, scoop ’em up and make some pucks to help fuel a fire. You can also instead of wood chips use strips of paper or cotton twine (NOT POLYESTER OR NYLON) soaked in the wax and cut up in little pieces. Of course you still need to get a flame going. Hope this was helpful.

  31. N R P
    My son and I have a challenge a couple times a year to see who can get a fire going first. We try with 3 matches each then if we can’t get a fire going in a couple minutes we’re allowed to use our kit we try in rain & snow
    He is the go to guy in his scout troop for fires
    Great article
    A square of aluminum foil in your kit makes a good base when trying to start a fire in snow

    1. D B Cooper;
      Thanks for reading.

      I still to this day am thankful for my time spent with the Scouts.

      3 match contest…. love it 😁

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