There are occasions, often while being up on the mountains, when I light a fire for pure joy, just to lift my spirit. And since I'm such a big fan of fire I should be able to light one in almost any type of weather conditions, right? I thought so too but in my last mountaineering trip I had a little bit of a struggle...
It was dark, freezing cold, the snow was big and all the wood we could find was either wet or frozen. We even tried to light the fire using one of our camping mini-stove and still failed. So then we brainstormed and came up with a neat solution that worked first time like magic:
- Over prepare your fire starter fuel! Don't you ever think you've gathered too many twigs or that they are too thin. More is better and thinner is even better. Also, any other type of tinder will help - you can't find much in wintertime though - dry grass, leaves, pieces of dry tree bark.
- Find a small opening between trees. You want the smoke to go up and you don't want to set the forest on fire.
- Clear the snow or tread on it until you have a flat spot for your fire.
- Make a U shaped bed for your fire. You don't want to waste the fire's energy for melting the snow, at least in the beginning you don't want that as the fire is weak. Also by doing this, you will ensure a better ventilation for your fire as it will be slightly above the ground. Build the bed out of spruce branches, dried wood of various thicknesses.
- Take a few medium sticks and roll them into sheets of paper. Three or four will do.
- Put the kindling paper inside the U shaped bed and add the "paper sticks" across the bed.
- Add the bundle of thin twigs and tinder on top of the establishment.
- Light the paper under the paper sticks. Try to light it from both sides so you'll increase the chances of drinking hot soup later.
- You should now have a lively flame which asks for more wood. So add more wood to the fire. Increase the thickness of the wood as the fire grows stronger.
Conclusions: It's essential to prepare thoroughly all the details before kindling. If the wood is wet or frozen you need more paper for starting out your fire. More tinder plus very thin twigs are always smart things to have before building the fire.
These tips are not necessarily for a survival situation. I usually carry matches and paper when I go outdoors, trekking or hiking, for more than one day. I sincerely believe it's good to be prepared for bad situations - frost or falling into water or whatever - and carrying some extra gear and gadgets is one way of being prepared for the unexpected.
Keep yourself dry and warm!
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