Building a campfire is an essential camping skill. Campfires help you cook your meals, keep you warm, scare away insects and provide nighttime entertainment. It is relatively easy to build a fire given the proper conditions. Dry firewood is easy to light. Often it is too easy, which is why forest droughts pose such a hazard. Unfortunately, there is a good chance that at some point, you will need to start a fire when everything is soaking wet. Starting a fire during a rain storm may be difficult, but it is not impossible if you know where to look for firewood.
The first thing you’ll need to gather is tinder. Tinder consists of highly flammable material that is best used to start a fire. Some backpackers prefer to seal newspaper, bark or other forms of tinder in a plastic bag and carry it with during trips. This sort of advanced preparation creates one less type of dry material to search for when starting a fire in the rain. Even if you didn’t pack tinder, be sure to check for brochures or old business cards in your backpack or wallet. These make excellent tinder. If you don’t have tinder on you, try looking for birch bark, which contains a type of oil that prevents it from accumulating moisture. Other options include dead branches near the bottom of trees or any dry grass located under tree cover.
The next thing to look for is kindling. Often confused with tinder, kindling is flammable, but not as flammable as tinder. It can be used to start a fire, but is best used to continue a fire once the tinder has been lit. The best places to find dry kindling are dead falls, which are fallen trees that have begun to decay. Strip the bark off the trunk of the dead falls and cut out chunks of the rotting material in the trunk. You can also strip bark off of branches from dead falls and use them in the fire. Collect as much kindling from dead falls as possible, as they tend to burn quickly. If you struggle to find dead falls, look for fallen branches or dead branches still attached to trees. You may also want to collect sap from pine trees, as it effectively accelerates the fire.
Tinder and kindling will start the fire, but you need firewood to keep it going. As with kindling, try to look for dead falls. Logs stripped of bark between one and two feet in diameter are ideal. If you are unable to find any completely dry wood, try gathering semi-dry firewood. Set the partially wet wood by the fire to dry out before using it.
Once you’ve obtained an adequate amount of firewood, be sure to store all tinder, kindling and firewood in a place where it won’t get wet. Keep the wood on higher ground or an elevate surface where puddles are not likely to collect. It may help to cover the firewood with large strips of bark, or, if available, a camping tarp.
There are many methods for constructing a campfire. One of the simplest and most effective of these is to use kindling to construct a teepee around the tinder. Once the fire is started, you can start to add larger pieces of kindling and eventually, firewood. Avoid adding kindling and firewood too quickly, as this will deprive the fire of oxygen and cause it to smother. If your fire does start to smother, try fanning it or blowing on it to increase the level of oxygen.
Igniting a fire is easy if you are equipped with a lighter, waterproof matches, or if your matches are still dry. It is important to pack book matches in a plastic bag so as to avoid exposing them to moisture. Fires can be started with flint, but this is nearly impossible during a rainstorm.