Starting a Campfire with Wet Wood

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Nothing beats a good fire when you’re out camping in the bush. We all know this and like myself, most campers love to start a fire. Not only is a fire a great addition to the camping experience, it can also be a key tool in a survival situation. Now, starting a fire can be all too easy on the average camping trip but what about when the weather turns bad?

Starting a fire in wet conditions can be an absolute nightmare and sometimes it doesn’t even happen. But if you follow these simple steps you will be warm, safe and cosy in no time.

Top tips for starting a fire in wet weather:

  • Use wood from the inside of logs as that’s where it’s driest
  • Lots of extra kindling is the key
  • Use large logs or rocks to build a platform that will hold your fire off the wet ground
  • Lay wood beside your fire to help it dry out as you go
  • Always bring extra materials with you to get your fire started

Step 1. Collect both small twigs and larger logs for the fire

The first thing you need to do is gather a good heap of wood, ranging from small twigs to larger logs.  Finding lots of dead twigs and small branches is key. These are best snapped off dead fallen trees or even dead standing trees. You are looking for branches that make that loud cracking sound when snapped, as this means they are definitely dead. Then collect larger pieces of wood and logs, trying to avoid anything that has been laying on the ground for too long as these will be the most soaked, and may also have many creepy crawlies hidden under them.

A heap of wood, ranging from small twigs to larger logs

Collect small twigs and larger logs that are the driest you can find. Image: Ozpig Australia. 

Step 2. Make some dry kindling

Split a large log into quarters using an axe or hatchet. The inside of larger logs will be the driest wood you can find. Then using a hatchet or knife shave the dry wood and create yourself some kindling. Snap all the small twigs and then lay them in a heap next to where the fire is to be made.

Making some kindling

Making kindling from the driest part of the wood is the best way to get your fire started. Image: Mark Grigg. 

Step 3. Use logs or rocks to build a platform

Use large logs or even rocks to build yourself a platform that will hold your fire off the ground. This will keep it up out of the water, provide it with air flow and also eventually burn the wood underneath if you choose to use logs.

Building a platform

Lay down a platform of wood to act as a buffer between your fire and the wet ground. Image: Mark Grigg. 

Step 4. Build your fire in a Tee Pee shape

Build your fire into a Tee Pee shape using small twigs and branches, placing the kindling underneath. This also allows for good airflow, dries more pieces of wood when burning, and helps your fire light quicker.  You can also choose to lay one large log down, leaning the rest against that and lighting your fire underneath. This will support your fire and dry large wood quickly.

Building a Teepee Shape

The rocks will stop water getting in. Next up, start building a teepee shape as it will maximise air flow. Image: Mark Grigg. 

Step 5. Light your kindling to start the fire

You are now ready to light your kindling. If you have any paper, cloth or other material to help ignite your fire you should place it in with your kindling now. Use a lighter or matches to light the dry kindling or paper. You may need to gently blow on the fire to help it along. Once the kindling is lit, it will burn and start to dry and catch onto the small twigs you have placed on top.

A few extra materials you can keep on hand to get your fire started are:

  • Flavoured corn chips
  • Dry spaghetti
  • Steel wool
  • Cloth or clothing
  • Paper or toilet paper
  • Or, best of all some sort of fuel based fire-lighters that can be purchased from most camping shops.

Fire lit in wet conditions

It may be damp, dark and gloomy, but you can still get a fire going with wet wood! Image: Mark Grigg. 

Step 6. Add wood carefully, working up by size

You now have yourself a small fire. Continue to add wood, working up by size. It’s important to keep adding plenty of wood to the fire to help it dry quickly and keep a light, remembering not to overload or smother it. Lay the rest of your wood close to the fire allowing it to dry before burning. Continue to do this throughout the evening and your fire will stay warm and bright. This method will help you to light a fire, and it may not be easy, but it will work!

Step 7. Don’t forget – put out the fire!

As important as it is to light your fire, it is as equally important to put it out when you have finished with it before you leave. You can do this by extinguishing it with water or as a last resort, you can bury the fire with dirt or sand. Burying the fire is not a preferred method, as the next people to come along may burn themselves, so it should be clearly marked to avoid anyone sustaining an injury.

Small campfire with wet wood out in the bush

Now that the battle is over, and you have yourself a toasty fire, make sure you extinguish it properly! Image: Mark Grigg. 

So, there you have it! That’s how you start a fire with wet wood

Keep in mind when planning a camping, fishing or hiking trip into the great unknown that although Mother Nature is a beautiful thing, she can also be nasty as well. So, it’s important to pack for all conditions, prepare for the worst, and don’t let your weekend trip turn into a survival situation.

I can recall a very cold winter’s night camping when I tried to start a fire with very wet wood on ground that was sodden with rain. Without the knowledge that I had now – I first tried by piling wood in a heap, and then tried to light it with paper and cardboard underneath. That failed, so I then added diesel to the wood, which helped to dry it out – but it wasn’t enough to start a fire. It was lucky that we had very warm sleeping bags, and that we weren’t relying on a fire to cook our meals – so we managed to get through the night.

A few extra items in your kit could be very valuable if this ever happens to you, such as an emergency blanket, a small portable gas stove, and thermals to keep you warm to be prepared for the worst. I hope you take this new knowledge with you on your next adventure and that it will keep you warm and comfortable – or even save your life.

Do you have any tips for getting a fire started in wet conditions? Let us know in the comments below.