Making a fire on the fly is tough already without snow and ice on the ground. I hope you never have to fend for yourself overnight in a winter storm, but in case you must—knowing how to start a fire in wet and adverse conditions can save your life. First, get the basic fire building skills down. To learn the best way to build and make a fire read, “Survivor Skill Set 101: Building a Fire.” You need tinder, kindling, fuel, and a way to make a spark. Tinder can be anything from small shavings, twigs, leaves or any other combustible material found in the wilderness to cotton balls soaked in alcohol, drier lint or wax. A cheap cigarette or Zippo-style lighter or waterproof matches will make a spark and start tinder. There are also plenty of flint and magnesium fire starters—some even include tinder—if you do not want to buy fuel lighters. Lighters and fire starters do not take up much space. You should always have one in your go-bag and car.
Since building a fire in wet weather is a bit more challenging, here are 10 tips to get a fire burning in the snow.
- Wood covered in light, fluffy snow can still light. To check, break a stick in half. If it snaps, it is dry enough to use for kindling.
- Pick an area shielded from the wind, but not under limbs and branches that could break or catch fire.
- Make a fire pit by digging a hole through the snow.
- If snow is very deep, pack down a solid area with your weatherproof boots or a heavy rock. Alternatively, scrape back the snow until you hit bare ground.
- Create a platform of thick limbs or large rocks so your fire does not lie directly on the snow.
- Pick tinder, kindling and wood that is sitting above the snow line and exposed to the sun.
- Put damp wood around to make your fire ring. The fire will help dry it out for use later in the night.
- Wear a moisture-wicking base layer if you will be outside. Chopping, cutting, and sawing will work up a sweat. Remember, sweating makes you colder. Learn more about this by reading “30 Days of Preparing for Severe Winter Weather Day 10: How to Prevent and Treat Hypothermia.”
- Carry a good blade and saw that will chop and cut wood.
- Collect plenty of fuel (bigger logs, branches and limbs) before you start your fire so you can keep it going throughout the night.