Comments Subscribe to Personal Liberty News Feed Subscribe to Personal Liberty

Building A Fire In Wet Conditions

March 17, 2011 by  

Building A Fire In Wet Conditions

Many people dismiss fire building as a no-brainer—just get some wood and light it with a match.

Nothing could be farther from the truth and real backwoods experts know that fire building is an art and a craft.  In freezing cold conditions the ability to build a fire can save you from certain hypothermia if you are caught out in the wilds without adequate clothing or shelter to stay warm.

All fires depend on fuel in the form of combustible material and, in the woods, this usually means dry leaves, twigs, branches and other chunks of wood. If it’s raining out, how do you find dry wood?  It’s easier than you think if you know where to look.

Not every piece of wood in the forest gets soaked in a rainstorm. The most accessible dead branches you find lying around on the ground that work well in fair weather will be wet however, so you must look elsewhere.

Standing trees are much less likely to absorb water than those lying on the forest floor. Often you can find dry dead branches still attached to the lower trunks of pine and spruce trees, shielded from falling rain by the dense needles of the living branches. The outer layers of these limbs may be wet, however, so you will need a knife, machete or axe to cut it away and reach the dry wood inside.

A sharp cutting tool will give you the ability to split large pieces of wet wood to get at the dry interior, or even to cut down small standing dead trees that can then be split into useable fuel.

Even better than wood that is merely dry on the inside is the wood you can sometimes find in old stumps that are full of concentrated pine resin. Called “lighter knots” or “fat lighter” by country folk, this resin-rich wood will burn with a hot and bright flame even when wet, if you first cut it into little pieces of kindling to light it.

You can identify such fat lighter by the smell and color of the wood when you cut into it. It will smell like pine pitch or tar and is bright yellow or orange inside, often oozing sap. It can be found in any forest where there are conifers such as pine, spruce or cedar.

Once you find a source of ignitable fuel, try to locate your fire so that it is at least partially sheltered from more falling rain.  Don’t give up on a fire just because it’s raining. Remember there is always dry wood somewhere in a forest, but it takes a little effort and a sharp blade to get it. 

–Scott B. Williams

Scott B. Williams

has been exploring wild places and seeking adventure on both land and sea for most of his life. He has written about his experiences in several books, including On Island Time: Kayaking the Caribbean, and is the author of the survival books Bug Out: The Complete Plan for Escaping a Catastrophic Disaster Before It's Too Late, and the recently released Getting Out Alive: 13 Deadly Scenarios and How Others Survived. More of his thoughts on survival topics can be found on his blog: Bug Out Survival.

Facebook Conversations

Join the Discussion:
View Comments to “Building A Fire In Wet Conditions”

Comment Policy: We encourage an open discussion with a wide range of viewpoints, even extreme ones, but we will not tolerate racism, profanity or slanderous comments toward the author(s) or comment participants. Make your case passionately, but civilly. Please don't stoop to name calling. We use filters for spam protection. If your comment does not appear, it is likely because it violates the above policy or contains links or language typical of spam. We reserve the right to remove comments at our discretion.

Is there news related to personal liberty happening in your area? Contact us at

  • Yvan

    Thanks for the info Scott – This could save my life one day. Never too old to learn something. Also I can pass this to my children and grant children.

    • granny mae


      Another hint to lighting a fire is find some pine cones and use them for lighter kindling! They light easy and burn long enough to get some heaver wood started. We learned to use these years ago in our fireplace and my husband still uses them to start his fire in the stove in the garage on a cold day. He collects large pinecones and puts them in a big black garbage bag and keeps them tied up and just outside the garage. The easiest fire I have ever lit !

      • jim 28th reg.

        Brought fond memories Granny. Used pine cones in place of charcoal = pan cooking of course as didn’t wish to eat pine flavored burgers. (Nevered testedtransferred flaver from coalslike char) Got us bye when electric was out for extended period and cones readily available.

  • independant thinker

    Suprisingly (to some at least) I learned this and some other survival techniques from reading louis L”Amour books.

    • http://?? Joe H.

      I’ve read just about every L’amour book written. He is quite factual in his writing!

      • granny mae

        I love those books. They are some of my favorite also !

  • Bill

    Dead trees with bark still on them, most of the time the bark is wet, under it isn’t. some evergreen species needles will burn well still attached to the limb even green, but the dryer the better, something to think about when building a fire, some trees you don’t want the fire under, you might light up the needles all the way up like to the top of the tree! Magnesium bars, cut shaving off and light, they will start damp wood, paraffin wax mixed with saw dust, and other light-able fuels will start a fire. small pocket survival kits I carry hunting, small knife, magnesium fire starter bar, paraffin mixed with saw dust molded in quarter to nickel size bars can be shaved off with a knife, a small compass, small flashlight, spare battery, aluminumized blanket, sleeping bag or shelter, each a little larger and bulkier to carry, a folded square of aluminum foil, you can cook on this, make a wind stop for the fire or a hood to place over a fire in heaver rain to help keep dry and dry our wood faster, some folded up paper towels, tear in 1/4 peaces, and you have toilet paper in the wild, some nylon fishing line fishing line and a couple of hooks, lighter or metal match box and the super matches sporting good stores sell, sounds like a lot but can usually put in one pocket or butt pack, well worth the pound or two. a spare map of the area helps too. and I often carry the disposable cigarette lighter and outdoor matches, better double safe then sorry, a whistle and reflecting mirror are nice and often included on the better compass’s, as part of the sight system, those I have never carried except for mirror on compass but that is my larger better one I use with the maps too. I usually carry 3 compass’s on me the last the little ball with the safety pen on my coat. a small flat silva compass and a larger folding mirrored Silva compass

    • Bill

      put all the above in a zip top plastic bag and it stays together and dry, practice with the Magnesium bars they are not all created equal, get one that works. Use your head in placement of fishing hooks, one in your leg will be bad! If you have room and in a area to carry a machete is better and more useful then a camp ax. It is know how to use one, as any sharp cutting tool don’t cut your self, watch how you swing it, they can kill you. If hunting I carry 3 extra rounds for my rifle in the kit. If wearing the military 6 pocket pants one with pockets on the thighs my kit fits well in that pocket well with the aluminumized sleeping bag factory folded it gives protection from wet ground better then the blanket these are not real durable, look at there weight and size though. Wool clothing keep heat in better wet then other natural fabrics.
      Cheep propane is a tree picked up in a number of stores for 5 pound refillable propane bottles. ( like on your barbeque) one hose to the propane lantern, one to the cook stove and you got 2 connections left, you can camp for weeks on one bottle. use the small disposable ones for lanterns you wish to move easily, the propane bottle tree makes for a good kitchen area. you can buy loner hoses for like a propane tent heater, I have heard the Indians use to build a small fire and after the fire had burned to colas spread them out in a dug out area where they slept and lightly covered with dirt, must have had to be dry, and sleep on that, I heard of one who did this and set his sleeping bag on fire. guess buffalo hides did not burn as easily! personalty I prefer a couple of the chemical hand warmers thrown in the bottom of the bag where my feet are, those can be bought at most camping sporting good stores too, now just how pampered do you wish to make it??? ;)

      • DWD

        That’s what happens if you don’t put dirt or even enough dirt back in the hole. I have used that one and it works pretty well, the early morning hours can be a bit cold. BUT 6 to 8 inches of dirt is a minium. I would say 6 inches but some people estimate shorter inches than I do. If you are an average sized man, with average sized hands, 1 and a 1/2 had widths. If you are an average sized woman or teenager 2 handwiths. This IS A Minimum. Unless you pile up a 1 1/2 feet of dirt you are not going to use too much, but even then too much dirt will only cause you to be a little colder. Which is much better than being lit on fire.

        • DWD

          I have heard the Indians use to build a small fire and after the fire had burned to colas spread them out in a dug out area where they slept and lightly covered with dirt, must have had to be dry, and sleep on that, I heard of one who did this and set his sleeping bag on fire.

          I meant to quote this before i posted my comment. OOPS!

    • http://?? Joe H.

      Bill, shelter your fire as much as possible, but DON’T build it under a pine with snow attached to its branches. you get your fire going real well and saisd snow could fall into your fire and snuff it!!!

  • Sharon L Morgan

    Once while walking in heavy woods in the rain (Oregon Coast) my father asked me if I could start a fire. I said no. There was a huge old log about 3 or 4 feet through laying close to us. He reached up under the log, found some dry rotted duff and had it lit with a match in a matter of secounds.

  • Sharon L Morgan

    Another thing daddy always told me when I needed wood (I still burn wood) is to look for a dead standing tree. When cut up, it is dry.

    • Doctor Mom

      I’ve read–I think in one of these Alerts–of another fire-starter:
      cotton, impregnated with petrolatum (Vaseline)kept in an old film cartrige or small covered plastic water-proof vial. I carry one, but haven’t tried it yet. Keep meaning to!

      • http://?? Joe H.

        Doc. mom
        If you know anybody with diabetes that tests their blood, ask them for one of their vials the strips come in. The lid has silica in it to keep what ever you put in it dry, including matches!! I have three or four of them in my cars and in my tackle box!

        • DWD

          Another one that is easy to make and very useful especially if you have children. First, take a brown glass perscription cough syrup bottle with a childproof lid, and clean it inside and out. Then, glue the striker from a box of kitchen matches on the concave side of the bottle. Next, fill the bottle with strike anywhere matches, and put the child proof cap back on. becasue it was designed to keep liquid in it keeps it out just as well. It is watterproof, childproof, and cheap or free.
          I keep one in my truck; one in my wife’s car, and one in our camping trunk, which is always pre packed with esssentials for camping.

          • granny mae

            I have learned a lot from this site today ! Thanks folks for all the good info. God Bless

  • Kim

    I live in an area where the woods get awful wet and trying to start a fire is nearly impossible because moisture will immediately jump right into whatever I am using, limiting me on the amount of time I have to set my medium tinder afire before it becomes completely unusable. When out in the forest, I am constantly reminded of some evergreens which are dry beneath their branches and they are very inviting to sit or stand under when a downpour comes. But I never thought about the wood being dry and usable. What you have shared will save my life one of these days and I will be thankful. I know that hard times are coming and am preparing for them. When they do, there will come a point where I will have no way to obtain fire starting supplies and now that I know where I should look it will feel good when I can warm up. My sincerest thanks.

  • dan

    I do a lot of boating…and on every shore there seems to be old plastic oil bottles and such that will serve as ‘synthetic’ kindling for even damp driftwood.Mind the high tide line.

  • more cybermonday deals

    Attractive component of content. I just stumbled upon your website and in accession capital
    to claim that I get actually enjoyed account your weblog
    posts. Anyway I will be subscribing on your augment and even I
    success you get right of entry to constantly fast.


Sign Up For Personal Liberty Digest™!

PL Badge

Welcome to,
America's #1 Source for Libertarian News!

To join our group of freedom-loving individuals and to get alerts as well as late-breaking conservative news from Personal Liberty Digest™...

Privacy PolicyYou can opt out at any time. We protect your information like a mother hen. We will not sell or rent your email address to anyone for any reason.