In the wilderness, if you can’t build a fire, you can’t sterilize water or cook food. If it gets cold, you can’t stay warm. Fire keeps many animals away, as well as insects. Once we lit our fire, the mosquitoes at the campsite pictured above left us alone.
If you were lucky enough to be a Boy Scout or Girl Scout, you probably received information about different types of wood being necessary for building a fire: tinder, kindling, and fuel. If you need to know more about those, you can read that here.
Even for experienced campers, though, building a fire can be a challenge. Sometimes, we don’t have the materials we need. Strike that. Often, we don’t have the materials we need.
It’s not as easy as throwing a log (fuel) into a pit and lighting it.
Tinder, the tiny, easy to light wood and other materials like moss, is lacking in most sites, particularly if the campground prohibits the use of sticks and wood from their grounds. This is pretty common for us, since we’ve camped at state parks.
Gerald and I like to watch survival shows and one of our favorite parts is learning where they will find water, what kind of shelter they will make, and if they will be successful building a fire.
Our favorite was Cody Lundin from the series Dual Survival, because Cody liked to go everywhere barefoot–even in the snow!–and because he could light a fire in the most difficult of situations.
If you want to learn from Cody himself how to build fires, you can join him for $395. Sound like too much? He can make fire from poo, Fritos, toothpaste, duct tape, etc. He also makes a mean bow drill.
Cody can build fires in the rain. Oh yeah.
Gerald and I had trouble doing that when we were camping at Fort Pickens Campground, part of Gulf Shores National Seashore on the island of Santa Rosa in Florida. We had a fire ring, a place to light the fire. We collected tinder, kindling, and had a cord of firewood for fuel. But, it had rained for a few days prior. The ground was soaking wet.
No problem, we thought. If we had a lot of tinder and kindling, by the time that burned up a bit, the ground would be dry.
Yes, and no. It took a long time and Gerald deserted the fire pit, thinking we had failed to maintain the fire and had lost it.He came in and told me it wouldn’t stay lit.
Aww, Cody would have been ashamed of us.
Strangely, it fired back up and was almost completely burned out by the time we noticed it.
What happened and how to light a fire on wet ground?
Next time, I will try this fire building formation to dry out the ground beneath it. Just lay some branches across the ground like a wooden float. Then, layer your tinder (pencil-sized wood) and kindling (thumb-sized wood) over that. When the fire gets going, you can slowly add some fuel (logs).
You can learn more about lighting a fire on a wet site here from Paul Scheiter. His method is simple, illustrated by pictures, and most likely one of the most effective.
I’ve also seen a platform built from people adding wood in a cross hatch pattern, first one way, then another. Get that fire off the wet ground.
There are many tricks to building and maintaining fires, and I’ll share more in the future. Also, Gerald and I are big on fire safety and I’ll share more on that too.
The fire above was actually taken at Fort Pickens National Park in Florida. It was taken before the rain came.