Anyone can build a fire in clear, still weather. But if the wind kicks up, the temperature drops and the rain starts falling, that fire may become more of a matter of survival than comfort. The skill to build a fire in any condition will get you through if you end up stranded in a remote location as the clouds close in.
Find the Right Spot
If you can safely move around, you should find a spot that offers some respite from the wind and the rain. Try to build your fire in a sheltered tree stand, under an overhang, against a rock wall or in an alcove of some kind. When you are incapacitated or cannot find an appropriate spot, dig a deep pit or make a lean-to that will help keep the weather out.
Prep Your Fuel
For a fire that lasts all night, you’ll need to gather a pile of logs measuring 5 to 6 feet long and about 3 feet high. Bring work gloves and an axe so you can chop large pieces of fuel from dead trees. Up to 25% of the logs you gather can be green since they will burn once the dry fuel creates enough heat.
If the weather is cold and windy but relatively dry, you can break off small branches and twigs (no thicker than your thumb) to use for kindling. When conditions are too wet, you’ll need to create your own kindling by splitting some of your smaller logs into even smaller pieces. Aim for a pile about the size of a watermelon.
Bring your own tinder to avoid searching for dry grass or moss in a rainstorm. For tried-and-true techniques that don’t take up much room pack a stick of resin-soaked pine, fire-starting packaged tinder cubes, paper towel chunks dipped in melted wax or cotton balls soaked in petroleum jelly.
Build Your Base
Once you’ve gathered your supplies, raid your kindling pile for small shavings of bark and wood along with pine needles. Make this material into a nest about the size of a softball, then place your tinder inside. Next, use the rest of the kindling to shield the tinder by surrounding it with a pyramid-shaped structure. Use smaller pieces of kindling for the inside of the pyramid and use the larger twigs and branches for the outside. According to engineers from Duke University, cone-shaped fires with a height that matches the base width tend to have the best longevity.
Get It Lit
While windproof matches are a popular survival supply, they won’t work well if they get wet. Instead, pack sparking steel that can stand up to the wind and a durable, reliable butane lighter. In fact, you may want to have several butane lighters in your pack in case of failure. Light up the tinder and get the fire going. Once it’s hot, add crossways branches about the width of your wrist, then build out the structure with larger pieces of fuel.
For best results, the fire should be about as long as your body and feature a rock or log wall at the back to shield the fire and hold in the heat. Add the green logs to a fully established fire to help it last throughout the night.
The best way to learn to build a bad-weather fire is lots of practice. Check the forecast each week and book some time in your backyard with the essentials. If you’ve never built a fire in the wind, cold and rain before, it will be even more challenging to do so in a survival situation. Each successful practice session will boost your confidence for the real deal.