Do you want to know how to start a campfire with wet wood? Wet firewood does not make it easy. But there are ways to adapt & overcome!
Depending on the weather and season, you might not always have nice dry wood lying around to start a fire. There are a few ‘tricks’ of the trade to get that fire going, even with damp wood or wet wood.
Here are some tips and instructions how to start a fire in an environment of wet wood. This will be sorted into five topics, each of which are important to starting that fire:
- Fire starter
- How to build it
First, you need a source of fire! Unless you’re into rubbing sticks together (it’s possible with a ‘bow drill’), just pack several fire starters (don’t rely on just one).
Good old Matches
Sulfur on the end of a stick. Good old fashioned matches. I like the ‘strike anywhere’ matches. Keep them in a water tight container. Check out this ‘Stormproof’ match kit on AMZ – super popular.
BIC | Zippo Lighter
Why make it difficult if you can simply fire it up with a BIC or Zippo lighter. I have both. I like the Zippo because the flame is bigger and you can set it down while the flame continues to burn. A BIC needs to be held/pressed to stay lit. A BIC will get wet easily while a Zippo snaps closed.
You’ve got to check these out. A Fire Steel Rod will produce copious amounts of sparks. Just scrape it with your knife. A sponsor on our site, FireSteel.com, is a preferred supplier to the US Military. I keep one of their fire steel rods in each kit.
Magnesium Fire Starter
Doan Magnesium Survival Fire Starter
The Genuine ‘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.
Don’t laugh! A road flare may be the easiest way to start a fire with wet wood! It’s easy to light with the friction cap. It will burn very hot! And it will burn for a fairly long time.
You will need to procure (or have with you) 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 with you in your fire kit. That said, there are many sources of tinder which will help you start a fire. I wrote an article specifically about tinder which you may want to check out:
Here’s a list of a few choices for tinder:
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. I wrote about it in the following article:
From a dead tree branch, use your knife to slice / chip small shavings into a pile. The inside of a dead branch may be surprisingly dry. You might also use the ‘feather stick’ method to expose dry wood inside the stick.
Cotton Balls & Petroleum Jelly
Mix some cotton balls with Vaseline and store them in a small container or Ziploc bag. Vaseline (petroleum jelly) is flammable and will enable the cotton ball to burn much longer. I keep some of this in my fire kit, which I wrote about in the following article:
I keep tea light candles and votive candles available for my fire starter kits. As long as it’s not real windy, you just light it and start building your fire stack above if you need to. Once the fire catches well, pull out the candle and save it.
Fine Steel Wool
Steel Wool, 0000 Super Fine
Yes, super fine steel wool works as a tinder for starting a fire. The finer it is (e.g. ‘0000’), the better.
Make this ahead of time. Cut small squares / strips of 100% cotton cloth. Place them into in a metal container which can seal air-tight. Put the container on a 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 up. Store in a weatherproof container.
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. Break off twigs that aren’t in contact with the ground. Pick branches that are close to the trunk and lowest to the ground because 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.
Use the Baton wood method to split a small log or branch to expose the dry core. Then split it again (exposing even more dry wood). Read this article about batoning wood:
BRANCHES & LOGS
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.
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.
BUILD THE FIRE
A Well Made Fire Bed
Because the ground is wet (also in snow), it’s best to make a bed to build the fire upon. Arrange branches or chunks of bark from a dead tree to build a raised bed to keep the new fire off the wet ground. Important!
Have Tinder & Kindling Piles Ready
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.
Don’t Rush it
There are a number of ways to build a fire. Keep it simple. Assemble it with a ‘chimney’ air flow structure in mind. First layer with the smallest, most combustible materials. Then tent over that with the next layer of kindling (slightly larger) in the shape of a tepee. Do not pack layers too tightly. Leave space for air flow.
Light your tinder bundle which is at the bottom/center. Get down to the fire’s level. Blow on it. Keep on blowing on it until layers get burning.
After you have started the fire with tinder, don’t rush to put more on the fire. Let it get going without smothering it.
Note: One of the most important aspects of starting a fire with wet wood is not to add too many big pieces of damp wood right away. Damp wood will burn – it just takes longer. Be patient and ‘one with the fire’.