How to Start A Fire With Wet Wood

Jan 2, 2020 | campfire, Camping, Cold Weather, Fall Camping Tips, outdoors, Wet wood fire

Article by Campertunity guest blogger: Lisa Vargas, founder of Originally from a small cattle ranch in Madera, California, Lisa is an outdoor enthusiast who grew up fishing, hunting, and hiking.

It’s that time of year again when the weather gets cold and rainy. If you’ve ever tried to start a fire with wet wood, you know how difficult it can be, and maybe you’ve even failed at it a few times (I know I have). Having the ability to start a fire under rainy conditions, or just shortly after, can be a life-saver.

Today, I want to talk about several aspects of how to start a fire using wet wood and some of the things you need to do in order to be able to accomplish your goal. So let’s get started!

Materials You Need For Starting a Fire With Wet Wood

1. Tinder

There are different types of tinder for starting fires. Some popular pre-made tinder items can include cotton balls coated with petroleum jelly, fine-grade steel wool, and wood shavings.

If you don’t have any pre-made tinder on hand, you’ll need to forage for yourself. Make sure you look under tree branches, under logs, inside dead trees, and essentially anywhere that tinder may have a better chance of surviving the rain.

Other materials such as dead pine needles and leaves can prove useful in starting a fire when it’s wet. But, again, if they are wet then they won’t work either.

2. Kindling


In a rainy environment, it will be tough to find any kindling that’s dry. Forget about the logs you need to find at this point. If you don’t have any dry kindling, you won’t get to step three.

In this photo, you can see all the twigs laying on the ground. Controlled burns are constantly being done to get rid of downed trees and old brush from the floor.  


But those old, dried and dead branches you see laying on the ground in the photo have always made for great kindling when building campfires.

But when it’s wet, it makes it a little trickier, and we will have to add an extra step, as you will see below.

3. Logs

Fuel in the form of logs is what will eventually keep your fire burning hot and burnin long. Finding dry logs will be pretty much impossible if you’ve just experienced a downpour.

Imagine that you’re out in the rain and cold. You are probably ready to give up by now! But, whatever you do, don’t give up. You just have to think a little bit outside the box.

4. Fire Starter

If you know anything about building a fire and being prepared, you know that no matter what, you should always have a backup way to ignite a flame. This comes easily if you have a flint and steel, or a ferro rod, or something to that effect that can produce a spark.

Since we are living in the modern world, hopefully you have a Bic lighter or matches on hand. If not, the above mentioned methods work well, with a little practice.

Building a Fire Using Wet Wood: A Tutorial

Now that you know the materials that you will need, let’s walk through exactly what you need to do to build a fire with wet wood. Please take note that any kind of wood that you collect for making fire should be completely dead wood and not “green wood” which is still essentially a living tree.

Green wood smokes a lot and causes problems when you try to use it. In the wet wood scenario described below, everything is assumed to be dead wood that has been soaked by the rain.

Step 1: Pick Your Fire Site

This step is important for making your fire. You want to pick a spot that is clear of any brush, tinder, leaves, etc. You also want to make sure you have a nice fire bed to keep the fire off the wet ground.

 Make sure you have your other materials, such as your tinder bundle, your kindling, and your logs close to you at arm’s reach so you can grab it quickly when you ignite the spark.

Step 2: Light Your Tinder Bundle

The second step in building a fire with wet wood is to take your nicely shaped tinder bundle and light it. Because we are imagining a survival-type scenario, we are going to assume you don’t have any matches, which makes lighting your tinder bundle trickier.

Without any matches, you’re going to need another way to get that tinder bundle started without a direct flame. This is where using a char cloth comes in hand.

Using a char cloth is probably one of the oldest, most reliable fire starters since the 1600s. Make sure you always have some stored ahead of time in your backpack or vehicle.

Lighting a char cloth is a process in itself. It involves catching the spark on the char cloth, then once an ember forms, you transfer the burning ember to your tinder bundle. Blow on it a bit to allow oxygen inside and watch it light. You would apply the same principles here when starting a fire with wet wood.

Step 3: Choose Your Fire Structure and Add Kindling

Once your tinder bundle gets going, you’re going to slowly start adding kindling to that bundle. Again, the kindling you gathered will more likely be wet, so if you have gathered wet sticks, you are going to have to take a knife and scrape the outer layer of bark off to expose the inner layer. This should be done ahead of time so that you don’t take too long doing this task and accidentally let your tinder pile burn out.

You should also have in mind from the beginning the type of fire structure you will use to construct your fire once the tinder bundle gets going. There is no right or wrong way. It’s simply whether you feel most comfortable with or have had the most practice with. 

There are 3 traditional ways to structure your fire:

  • Log Cabin Fire Lay – Do you remember playing with Lincoln Logs as a kid? Well, this is essentially what the “log cabin” fire lay is.
  • Tepee Fire Lay – In this fire structure, you will simply arrange your kindling so that it looks like a tepee. The burning tinder pile will be carefully and quickly placed in the middle of the tepee fire, and then you will begin to build around it. 

  • Lean-To Fire Lay – A lean-to fire lay consists of a group of smaller kindling at the base and a group of kindling leaning towards a larger fire – resistance, such as another log or a rock.

Step 4: Throw More Fuel on Your Fire

By now, you’re probably wondering what you are supposed to do about the whole topic of this article – wet wood. It’s the final piece to getting our fire going strong and lasting as long as we need it to. You might have picked up on it earlier when we were talking about kindling.

As with wet kindling, you will need to gather some wet wood, typically the length of your forearm from your elbow to your hand. Then, you will use a hatchet or a knife (depending on how deep the wood is soaked) to cut away at the wet outer layer of bark to expose the dry inner layer. It is this dry inner layer that will ultimately become the fuel for your fire.

Also, use your hatchet and cut your bigger logs into various sized pieces. Again, by doing this, you’ll expose the inner dry layers of the log. Once done, continue to add to your fire until it gets to the size you want.

Last Minute Thoughts

And, there you have it! You now know how to make a fire using wet wood. As you can see, it’s similar to making fire under dry conditions, except you need to take an extra step to strip away the wet bark for kindling and chop away at the wet wood to reveal the inner core where the wood is still dry.

Now, I realize this all sounds good in theory, but trust me, it’s a lot harder than it sounds. The first time I tried it, I had a tough time. But, after every rain, you should be excited to get out and test your fire making skills!

Let me know if I missed any steps or left anything out. Your comments are always welcomed!

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