How To Start a Campfire in Wet Weather - and Pictures of Lightning

So last night around midnight I came upstairs to the main floor to hear the rumblings of thunder and to experience the flashing of lightning all around the house. It was quite amazing - my favourite weather phenomenon is a good thunderstorm.

Strangely enough I had been thinking earlier yesterday about the challenge of making a fire in wet weather - following up on my last post about having a campfire made with flint, steel and charcloth. I guess I had been thinking about it because of my decision to go on my next canoe trip using only that method of starting a fire, and not bringing along safety matches or a ferrocerium firestarter.

It was pitch dark outside and from time to time the back field was illuminated with flashes of sheet lightening. In the distance of the image above you can see a soccer net. I was inside, and the rain drops on the window were picking up reflections of the flashes from the lightning.

The picture above was taken by illumination of a lightning strike nearby. Without that, the picture would have been simply pitch dark.

While it would be very difficult to get a fire going during a thunderstorm, here is what I would need to do in wet weather to get a decent chance for warmth, dryness, cooking and comfort by the side of a campfire.

Wet weather camp fire starting:
  1. Find a spot in the woods under tall fir trees that aren't rained on too much, if possible.
  2. Set up a tarp high enough over the area that you want a fire so that it won't be burned - you can always move it away afterwards.
  3. Take out the charcloth from your tinder box and keep it dry, and take out your steel & flint kit in a dry place - maybe in a pocket.
  4. If you aren't using the items above, just grab your matches or ferrocerium fire steel. The remaining steps are still relevant and useful.
  5. Try to find some dry, dead kindling - generally the dead pieces at the base of pine trees are dry and thin and ideal for starting a fire. Grabbing a few scoops of pine resin can help keep a fire blazing once it has started - just break this up and scatter on the platform (step 9 below). Using a good axe like a Gransfors Bruks Small Forest Axe and your Mora knife should help you gather the wood and cut it as needed.
  6. Locate birch bark and don't worry if it is wet. Just shake it dry, rolling it about to rough it up into smaller, broken up pieces - the birch oil that preserves the bark will allow the kindling to catch fire easily.
  7. If it is hard to find dry wood, find dead twigs that are away from the ground - either dead branches hung up in other trees, or dead standing saplings and trees.
  8. If you only have dead wood that has been lying on the wet ground, trim away the bark and shave off the surface wood. The middle of the branches contain dry wood that you can shave into feather sticks or simply fine, dry strips.
  9. Lay a platform down of dead dry sticks to keep the moisture and the cold from the ground from interfering from your building flames.
  10. Make a tinder nest from the inside bark from a cedar tree, or locate some dry material like lichen or even finely shaved and crumpled birch bark (see my last post with details on this)... Dry it against your skin if you have to, under your shirt etc...
  11. Get an ember going in a section of charcloth with your flint & steel kit or matches etc... and place it into the tinder bundle.
  12. Blow gently, while the bundle is positioned above your head, and quickly you should get flame.
  13. Then get the fine pencil-thin kindling and put a couple hefty handfuls laid across the flames and begin to gently pile on thicker kindling and sticks.
It's all very well to write about it, but later today or tomorrow I plan to go down into the woods and hopefully it will be raining and I will be able to document this process. If not - well, I'll do it soon enough. Being able to start a fire in adverse weather conditions is a key to success in the outdoors, and obviously survival situations don't tend to occur on the nicest days in the summer time - clear skies, light breeze and perfectly wonderful temperatures.

I did manage the catch one photograph of forked lightening last night, but unfortunately it is a bit blurry. Still - pretty cool, I think!



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