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Don’t let rain and snow douse your campfire

How to build a campfire when everything around you is soaked

We get it. It's not easy to look out of the window and see torrential rain pouring down and still find the motivation to head out camping in the backcountry. But if you're a true outdoorsman — which we know you are — then rather than seeing camping in the rain and snow as being a poor second to dry, clear nights, look at them as a chance to practice a whole different set of skills. After all, on dry nights it's easy to manage all of your camping gear, build a fire, and even build a shelter to sleep under.

What You Need

  • Tarp Shelter

  • Survival Hatchet

  • Survival Knife

  • Fire Starter

But when everything around you is soaked and you're headed off into the woods with nothing but your trusted dry bag, it's important to know you've got the skills to survive. Sure, you can just pitch your tent and wait out the rain — probably advisable if you're on a thru-hike or a long trek — but we're here to camp, not to shelter. Step one of any successful camping trip? The campfire. It's not easy when conditions are against you, but once you've got the skills to build a campfire in the dry, these tips below will turn out into a true outdoorsman — one that knows how to build a fire in any conditions.

A man sits on the far side of the campfire while smoke rises in front of him.

Make yourself a shelter

Before you start collecting your wood to build a fire, you need a shelter to keep you dry. This shelter will form your workspace, your wood storage, and your protection from the elements, so it's important to make it properly. The best option is to use a survival tarp, which should be in your camping bag anyway. There are plenty of options for tarp shelters, but we suggest one with plenty of height and a large front opening. While we don't recommend building your fire under the shelter itself — for obvious reasons — you can build it just outside the entrance. That way the smoke won't fill your tarp, but you can protect your fire from the rain, as well as enjoy the heat while you shelter yourself later on.

how to build a fire kindling wood
You can also create kindling by "shaving" down larger pieces of wood.

Collect or create your tinder and kindling

Chances are that in your outdoor survivalist bag, you've got your favorite fire starter. Well, we suggest adding a few firelighters to your setup too. These can either be shop-bought or made yourself by dipping some cotton wool or dryer lint into vaseline for extra burn time and heat. This preparation is key and is often the difference between having, or not having, a fire.

Once you've got your firelighters you need some kindling — and you need a lot. Dry wood is hard to find in the rain, so look up high for dead branches or trees still standing and break them down as small as possible. Ground logs are often saturated, but if it's fresh rainfall they may only be wet on the outside. Use your survival hatchet to split these logs down into smaller pieces, and you can even use your survival knife to get your pieces even smaller. If you need extra tinder to help your firelighters, you can shave your dry wood to get thin strips that burn easily.

Store the dry wood in your shelter. Remember that in wet conditions, you'll burn through more wood than usual, so collect as much wood as possible before you start your fire.

fire firewood camping wood
Siim Lukka

Raise the floor

You've collected all this dry wood and stored it in your shelter, ready to go, so why would you put them on a wet floor to get soaked again? By creating a platform using dry wood, you can raise your fire off the ground as you start it and prevent your hard-earned kindling from becoming soaking wet in seconds. The other advantage here is that you can create a floor with extra ventilation, allowing your fire to draw oxygen from below and burn more easily.

Remember though that your floor will eventually burn through when the fire is hot enough, so don't build it too high or you risk sending embers everywhere when this happens.

A man puts another log on the campfire wearing Ibex Nomad pants.

Be patient

Building a fire takes time and building a fire in the rain takes even more time. Make sure you're wearing waterproofs before you start, and be ready to take two or three attempts before your fire takes. Don't use all of your firelighters and kindling on the first attempt, either. Some should be saved for future attempts, but also to rekindle your fire if it looks like it's struggling.

You can help your fire along by blowing gently on the embers to increase oxygen flow, or if it's hot enough you can fan it — just make sure you don't fan it with anything flammable. Don't be tempted to place larger or wet wood on too early as it uses a lot more energy to burn. Instead, use that huge pile of kindling you worked so hard for until the fire is roaring and can start to dry out larger logs.

how to build a fire

Place wet logs around your fire to dry them out

Eventually, you're going to want to put some larger logs on to keep the fire burning long into the night. If all you can find around you are large, wet logs, then you should place these around your fire to dry out slowly as it builds. If you can, split them so they dry faster and use less energy from your fire.

If you're camping for a few days then it can be a good plan to dry as much as possible as early as possible. This requires you to be vigilant — turning logs over so they dry thoroughly, removing them before they start to burn, and stacking them under your shelter and replacing them with other wet logs until you've built up your log store.

These tips, when used with your in-depth knowledge of making a campfire, will help you to have a warm and enjoyable winter camp, whether you're using your campfire to cook on or just for warmth. Remember, the key to building a campfire in the rain is to be as prepared as possible before you start.

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