Brrrr! How to Build a Fire Outdoors in Wet Winter Weather

couple outdoors next to a fire in winter

Knowing how to start a fire in cold weather can mean a difference between life and death. Maintaining necessary body heat and having a heat source for food and beverages is crucial in any survival situation. 

Whether camping outdoors, practicing your survival skills, or in a true crisis, you must know how to warm yourself. But below-freezing temperatures and wet, snowy weather can make building a fire harder than usual. Learn everything you need to know about making a fire in the winter.

Winter Obstacles When Starting a Fire

It’s challenging to start a fire if everything is wet, it’s raining or snowing, and the wind is blowing hard. Natural fuels like leaves, sticks, and logs will be soaked. The ground is covered with snow, and the earth is wet and frozen. Moisture from the ground and wood can make lighting a fire difficult, if not impossible. 

But don’t despair. If you are well prepared and know how to approach the situation, you can light your fire in no time. 

How to Start a Fire Outside in the Winter

First things first, you will need to collect dry fuel. Next, you’ll need to pick an appropriate location. And finally, you’ll start the fire and heat yourself. 

Gathering Fire Fuel

For a successful fire, you need three types of material: tinder, kindling, and larger sticks and logs. Most of these will be covered in snow or soaked by rain. But there are ways to obtain dry fuel on the spot.

Finding dry tinder is the first step to building a fire. Tinder is the first step of starting a fire and is used to ignite the kindling. Look for pine needles, grass, and leaves under dense pine trees. Their ground-sweeping boughs can protect the area from moisture and snow. You may come across dry tinder and many small branches you can use as kindling.

If pine trees aren’t around, look for birch bark and cattail fluff, or try digging beneath the first ground layer for dry grass and leaves. If all else fails, splitting open a wet log with a hatchet will give you a dry inner surface you can shave with a knife. Wood shavings work well as tinder. You can also use homemade tinder like cotton balls soaked in petroleum jelly.

Kindling is the next step after tinder and is tasked with burning the bigger logs you’ll use for fuel. Use thin branches from dead trees for kindling and thick logs for primary fire fuel. It’s hard to tell a dead tree from a live, frozen tree in winter. But a simple branch test is all it takes. A dead tree branch will snap easily. However, a live tree keeps its elasticity, and you will often see green layers under the branch bark. Live trees don’t burn well. They have high moisture content, which causes too much smoke.

Remember to collect more fuel than you think you may need. You can’t know for sure how long you’ll need to keep the fire running. Tinder is especially important to collect. You can store extra tinder material inside your clothes to keep it dry and warm.

StarFire Camp Stove is an alternative to a campfire if you can’t find enough dry wood. It works great to cook meals and boil water in a pinch just by burning kindling or leaves. But if you need to heat water without flame, the Sun Kettle® XL Solar Cooker works well. Thanks to parabolic mirrors and solar-collection technology, it only requires the sun to work. Keep in mind that it may take a little longer to heat your water in the winter depending on outdoor temperatures and sky conditions. 

Finding a Suitable Location

Once you’ve gathered your materials, it’s time to find a location. The first thing to think about is safety. Is there something above you that can catch fire? Can something fall on you? Is there an increased risk of fire spreading in the area? Practice situational awareness before lighting the fire. Be extra mindful of where you choose to start it, and abide by local campfire laws and instructions. 

Fire needs protection from rain, snow, and strong winds. Some suitable locations are inside a cave (ensure sufficient airflow), under a tree (the canopy must be far above the fire), under an overhang, or against a large rock. 

Starting the Fire

Finally, it’s time to get to work building your fire. Prepare the ground by shoveling the snow away and building a platform from rocks or logs. Rocks are challenging to spot if the terrain is under heavy snow. But wet logs are an excellent alternative for a fire platform. The fire will dry them out and eventually consume them, which is good. You get some extra dry fuel and a platform at the same time.

Building the fire structure to maximize airflow for efficient fuel burning is crucial. One of the best ways to do this is to make a teepee shape using kindling and tinder underneath it. Once everything is ready, ignite the tinder at the base of the fire. Our windproof Freedom Flame arc lighter works great to light the tinder and kindling. It’s flexible, uses pulse arc technology, and charges via a USB port. 

Add larger pieces of wood over the burning kindling branches but not too quickly, or you’ll extinguish the flame. Continue adding small twigs as necessary until the fire catches the larger pieces. 

Keep your fire small. A large fire consumes too much fuel and is often unnecessary. A small fire can heat you just the same if you are close to it. Just be careful not to burn yourself or your equipment.

Stay Prepared for Any Crisis With 4Patriots

Worried about your ability to start a fire? 4Patriots has you covered. Shop our selection of survival gear today and find everything you might need in a crisis, including lighters, camp stoves, and solar cookers.