Starting a Fire in Wet Weather

I’m sure that if I ever have to bug out, it will either be raining or snowing. Life just seems to work out that way. When things go wrong, they really go wrong. I mean, come on, if it wasn’t bag, I wouldn’t be bugging out anyway; and I surely won’t be going to the beach or someplace where my bug out will be more like a vacation than survival.

The added difficulty of bugging out in wet weather is something I’ve planned for. I’d much rather plan for it and not have it happen, then not plan for it and have it happen. In planning for it, I’ve included waterproof boots for my feet, a waterproof cover for my backpack and a rain poncho to keep the rain off of me. There’s a tarp in my bag to use as a ground sheet and my tent is designed to stay water tight, even in the rain.

Another important area of my wet weather preparations is in being able to start a fire. Trying to start a fire in wet weather has to be one of the most miserable projects there is, if you’re not prepared for it. However, with proper preparation, it’s really not all that hard to do.

Building the Fire Pit


As with any other fire out in the wild, you’ve got to start by having a good place to put your fire. When it’s wet, that’s a little more complicated than otherwise, as you want to keep your fuel dry. So you have to locate the fire pit carefully and build it to protect the fire from the rain.

The first step is to find someplace where the fire will be sheltered from the rain. Overhanging tree branches can do a pretty good job of this, if they are dense enough to stop the rain. You can also accomplish the same thing by rigging a tarp over the fire pit. Just make sure it’s high enough that you won’t have to worry about the tarp melting or catching fire.

You’re better off building your fire on slightly sloping ground, as that provides a way for the water to run off, rather than pooling where you are. Never build a fire in a low spot if it’s raining, or you might just find that your fire is in the middle of a puddle.

Typically, a fire pit in the wilderness is either at ground level or even dug slightly into the ground. That just invites water to pool in your fire, soaking your wood and putting the fire out. To prevent that, make a bed out of flat rocks or gravel for your fire to set on, with the typical ring of stones around it. That will help keep the fire out of the water. Any water that flows by, will be under the fire, where it can’t cause any problems.

Finding Dry Fuel

Finding usable fuel can be the hardest part of starting a fire in wet weather. Wet fuel just doesn’t burn very well. So, you’ve got to find someplace that’s sheltered from the rain, in order to find wood that isn’t soaked.

Usually the best place for that is a cave, if there happens to be one around. Don’t just think of caves that are big enough to walk into, look at any hollow in the rocks, as they might have some wood stashed inside. Another excellent place to look is the underside of deadfall trees. Often these get caught in the branches of other trees, holding them off the ground. The branches and bark on the underside of the tree will probably be dry, as well as anything else that’s under there.

Another great place to look is underneath pine trees. Pines are just about impervious to rain, leaving the space beneath them snug and dry. Since the branches of pine trees bend down, due to their weight, the branches touching the ground will actually come out of the trunk several feet above the ground. Unless they have already been taken, there will be other dead branches still attached to the trunk, which are under the lowest live one.

This may happen with other trees as well, especially trees with thick foliage. Look for branches that are dried and have no live leaves on them. If the foliage of the tree is dense enough to stop the rain, they may be dry enough to burn.

Getting the Fire Started

Laying a fire in wet weather is no different than laying it any other time. You’ll still need tinder, kindling and fuel for your fire. You might have trouble finding any dry tinder, which is why in olden times they carried a tinder box with them, in which they stored tinder that they found along the way.

If you don’t have any tinder, you’re going to have trouble starting a fire. That is, you’re going to have trouble unless you use an accelerant. Accelerants are anything that promotes combustion. When you start a charcoal grille, you probably use some sort of lighting fluid; that’s an accelerant. Starting a fire in wet weather, without having dry tinder available, is the one time that I think an accelerant is a good idea. I pack a couple different accelerants in my bug out bag, for that very situation.

I don’t recommend liquid accelerants for starting fires, because it’s too easy for them to leak out of the container and soak everything in your pack. Instead, I make some homemade accelerants to take with me.

Dryer Lint and Paraffin

You can make a descent accelerant for your fire out of dryer lint, paraffin and egg cartons. You want to use the type of egg cartons that are made of pressed cardboard chips, not the Styrofoam ones. Put a ball of dryer lint into each cup of the egg carton and drizzle melted paraffin onto it. It isn’t necessary to totally soak the dryer lint, but you want a good mass of paraffin at the bottom of the cup. The dryer lint will burn, but it also acts as a wick for the paraffin, making it burn longer. This type works well if you are using matches or a butane lighter, but it doesn’t work so well with sparking type igniters, like a metal match.

Cotton Balls and Petroleum Jelly

This is actually the one I use the most. All you have to do is to soak cotton balls in petroleum jelly. To do that, put a cotton ball into a bowl (I use a disposable one) and scoop some petroleum jelly out of the jar with the back side of a spoon (I use a disposable spoon too). Use the spoon to work the petroleum jelly into the cotton ball, making sure you get all sides of it. These will ignite quite well with sparking type fire starters. They can also be made out of “makeup removal rounds,” rather than cotton balls, but that raises the price slightly.

Black Powder and Nail Polish Remover

My emergency fire starter is made of black powder and nail polish remover. You want to use the finest granule black powder you can find and only “oily nail polish remover” which contains acetone. Check the label for the acetone, because it won’t work otherwise. To make it, put a couple of tablespoons of black powder in a bowl and cover it with the nail polish remover. Allow to sit a few minutes, so that the gunpowder can dissolve into a putty-like consistency. When soft, pour off the excess nail polish remover and start kneading the gunpowder like bread, folding it over and over, as you work it.

The idea is to make a lot of layers out of the putty. The layers are what control the burn rate and you don’t want this to burn too fast. A ball about the diameter of a quarter will burn for over three minutes, if it’s been kneaded enough. It burns hot enough to not only start a fire, but to dry out the wood as well. The only drawback to these is that unless you can store them in a totally airtight container, they will dry out. Once dry, they no longer work.

Commercial Accelerants

There are also a number of different commercially manufactured accelerants on the market, generally identified as “fire starters.” This can be a bit confusing, because a match is a fire starter as well. These commercial accelerants don’t actually start the fire; they start the fuel for the fire burning. Most are excellent, especially the ones advertised to work in wet weather.

Dave Steen

About The Author: Dave is a 58 year old survivalist; father of three; with over 40 years of survival experience. He started young, learning survival the hard way, in the school of hard knocks. Now, after years of study, he's gray-haired and slightly overweight. That hasn't dimmed his interest in survival though. If anything, Dave has a greater commitment to survival than ever, so that he can protect his family. Click Here To Read More About Dave

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