How to Survive by Starting a Fire in Wet Weather

Dear Fellow Survivalist;

One of the key elements needed to help you survive when you’re caught out in the wilderness somewhere is fire. You look around at survival websites and the videos by survival instructors and it’s almost like a contest to see who can come up with the wildest way to start a fire. While some are humorous, they all have value, as you never know what you’ll have to work with. But the one thing they all seem to forget to talk about is starting a fire in wet weather.

fire in snowThis has got to be one of the biggest survival challenges there is. But the way things tend to work, the next time I’m stuck out in the woods somewhere, it will probably be a rainy night and I’ll still need a fire. It helps to know what to do, to make sure that you have a warm cheery fire to keep you company.

Keep it Dry

The first trick is having someplace relatively dry to start your fire. Now, I realize that sounds like a bit of a contradiction, but hear me out. You’re probably not going to find someplace truly dry, but you can find someplace that’s at least somewhat shielded from the rain. If nothing else, get under a tree, where the branches can offer you some protection.

The other part of this is having a way to keep your fire up out of the water and mud. The easiest way to do that is to build a hearth of stone. Many people dig a fire pit or create one by encircling a bare earth patch with stones. But either of these leave your fire sitting in the water. Raise it up, either by using stones or other pieces of wood. That way, your efforts won’t be smothered by water.

Finding Dry Fuel

The hardest part of starting a fire in wet weather is finding dry fuel to work with. The trick here is to find wood that is naturally sheltered from the rain. One of my favorite places to look for this is on the underside of deadfall trees. The bark, branches and even trunk on the underside is usually nice and dry.

Besides deadfalls, look for dry wood anywhere that you would go to seek shelter from the rain. Overhanging rocks, undercut cliff faces and even heavy copses of trees can provide that shelter, often leaving wood that is dry. If those places have been used as campgrounds by others, you might even find some nicely cut, dry wood to use.

Getting it Started

This is not the time to try your more exotic fire starting techniques. You really want to avoid anything that requires creating a hot coal or a spark to start dry grass smoldering and then blowing on it. Chances are, you won’t find any tinder that’s dry enough to use these techniques.

This is the one situation where you want to use an accelerant. Normally, when we use the term “accelerant” we’re talking about something used by an arsonist to get a fire started. You’re not an arsonist, but the same things they use will work for you. Namely, anything that is highly flammable, like gasoline.

I wouldn’t plan on carrying gasoline around in your survival kit or bug out bag though. Better than that, buy some of the commercially available fire starters. I’ve recently started using some of the various fire starting cubes that are out there. They start readily from a match, lighter or sparker, and they burn for several minutes, so they are ideal in this sort of situation.

You can also make your own accelerants that you can use in these situations. Two of my favorites are:

  • Petroleum Jelly and Cotton Balls – Work about a half teaspoon of petroleum jelly into a cotton ball, saturating all the cotton. This lights easily with a sparker or match and will burn for about three minutes. It’s rare when I encounter a situation where these don’t work well.
  • Black Powder and Nail Polish Remover – For this one, you’ll need the finest grade black powder and the kind of “oily nail polish remover” that has acetone in it. Put a tablespoon of the black powder in a bowl and cover it with the nail polish remover, leaving it to soak for a few minutes. Then, pour off the excess nail polish remover and knead the putty that forms, making a multi-layer ball out of it. The more layers, the better. This one burns hot enough not only to start the fire, but to dry out the wood. The only problem with it is that the nail polish remover evaporates out of it in storage, so you’ll need to replace them every few months.

Once your fire is burning, stack additional fuel nearby, so that the heat of the fire can drive the moisture out of it. As long as you keep wood drying, you’ll be able to keep your fire going and have that help to drive off the damp chill of the night.

So, make sure you’re ready and you have some means of starting a fire, even in the worst of circumstances. Mother nature doesn’t accept excuses for not being prepared and in fact tends to take advantage of them. So, until we meet again, keep your powder dry and your survival gear close at hand.

– Dr. Rich

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