Some advice on building a fire in the rain
A fire, however you start it, is a game-changer.
Aside from keeping your spirits up, a fire can ward off life-threatening hypothermia.
So it pays to know how to start a proper blaze.
That’s fairly easy under ideal conditions. But when you need a fire and it’s cold and wet, maybe even raining or snowing? Not so much.
Preparation and practice can tip the odds in your favor, though.
Carry something flammable
Having something on hand that burns readily is a great shortcut.
PET balls — cotton balls lathered with petroleum jelly — and char cloth will start with just a spark, so long as you keep them dry until needed. Cardboard egg cartons or paper towel tubes full of sawdust, dryer lint or the like won’t start from just a spark. But they readily take a flame.
Of course, you can buy commercial fire starters, too. All will burn for several minutes, giving you a little wiggle room for getting things right.
Or do like mountain men did: carry an old, abandoned bird nest, shreds of wild grape vines or pine pitch to serve as tinder.
Your best bet is to carry multiple forms of ignition. Butane lighters are relatively inexpensive, so throw a couple in your pack. If one isn’t working, another probably will.
A ferro, or ferrocerium rod, will throw sparks exceeding 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit and is another great option.
It’s not a bad idea to throw a few wind- and waterproof matches in your kit, as well.
Better safe than sorry, that’s the thinking.
Building a fire requires tinder, kindling and fuel, in that order. That’s smaller sticks on up to bigger ones.
The trick in the rain is to find any that are dry.
To do that, look first for dead wood that’s up off the ground. That might be broken, dead branches hung up in trees, or even bigger limbs that have one end on the ground and the other leaning against a tree or brush.
If that wood seems a bit damp, split it or take your knife and whittle away the outer bark. That will get you to the drier material beneath.
Finally, wherever you find it, be prepared to gather lots of wood.
Find shelter from above, below
What’s the best way to build a fire when it’s raining? Get out of the rain.
So when deciding where to build your fire, look for places like rock overhangs or tree cover — thick evergreens are good here — that are comparatively dry. They don’t have to block all of the rain or wind, though that would be nice.
Likewise, stop moisture from getting into your fire from below by building it atop a base.
You have seen the log rafts every movie-screen island castaway has made? Build one of those, then make your fire atop it.
Build a structure
You’re going to need lots of oxygen — from air flow — to get a fire started and keep it going. Piling sticks into a heap isn’t going to cut it.
Instead, build a log cabin or teepee above and around your fire starter. Having it a foot tall is not too high.
Your structure should start with small twigs, no bigger around than a pencil, closest to the fire source, then get progressively bigger.
Then, finally, light it down low, on the windward side, so that the flames from your fire starter ignite the wood around it.
Practice, practice, practice
Practice at home, be it in the fire circle in the backyard, the woods behind the house or somewhere else.
Look for wood and try to light it using the same fire starter and match, lighter or ferro rod you carry in your pack. Wear the same clothes you would when afield, to mimic how warm or cold you might be.
Practice will tell you what tools work for you and don’t, what counts as “dry” wood and what doesn’t and what skills you need to improve.