In this week’s blog, we will be looking at clothing to keep you warm in winter. There are a huge number of manufacturers out there, each offering a vast, and often confusing, array of garments for winter. With this in mind we will not be looking at specific clothing brands, but rather at one tried and tested principle behind keeping warm in the winter. Read on to learn more of skip to the section that interests you the most.

 

 

What is the layering system? 

Clothing for winter camping


The layering system is nothing new. From the days of itchy vests and seal skin clothing explorers of colder climates and mountainous reaches have been piling clothes on top of each other in an effort to keep warm. There is, however, a lot more to it than just putting on all your jumpers and hoping for the best. 

 

How the layering system works

The layering system is, in essence, comprised of a base layer next to the skin, insulating mid-layer or layers and then a protective outer layer which should be waterproof, windproof etc. While the minimum amount of layers that you want to be wearing is three you can add more mid-layers depending upon the situation. While clothing choice is personal and each one of us will have our preferred brands the principle remains the same regardless of who makes the clothing.

 

Base layers 

Clothing winter camping


A base layer is simply a layer that will sit next to the skin and should be as close fitting as possible. The purpose of a base layer is to wick, or take, the sweat away from the skin. For this reason, it should not be made of cotton – cotton retains moisture and will hold the sweat close to the skin. Typically, base layers are made from Merino wool or synthetic materials, both of which have certain anti-bacterial properties which will prevent one from smelling too much when they return from the wilds.

While it might be tempting to go for thicker base layers in the depths of winter it is important to balance warmth with a risk of overheating. For this reason, it is best to experiment and find the right base layer for you. Read on to learn about mid layers. 

 

What to look for in a mid layer 

A mid layer, or mid layers are essential for keeping one warm when walking or camping in winter. The mid layer acts as the main source of insulation between the base layer and the outer layer. By trapping the heat from your body within your clothes the mid layer keeps you warm. Typical mid layers are made of fleece, which retains its properties when wet, and synthetic materials. Occasionally, in very cold winter conditions a down (or synthetic) jacket can also be worn. A wind and mid layer may help to keep you at an ambient temperature until the rain and the snow really begin coming in, at which point your outer layer can be added. 

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What to look for in an outer layer

Clothes for winter camping

Your outer layer is the main source of protection against the elements. They need to be waterproof, windproof and ideally breathable, a combination of qualities that can be hard to come by.  Additionally, this outer layer should come with a hood, one that can be worn over a wooly hat, and provide protection from the elements for your head.  

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Choosing your trousers 

When it comes to winter camping and walking then choosing your trousers is as important as choosing your top layer. Follow the same principles as those you use for choosing your top layers, pick a good pair of thermals for your base layer, soft yet hard wearing walking trousers for a mid layer and tough, breathable waterproof trousers for your outer layer. Also consider wearing gaiters in winter in order to keep the snow, and general muck, out of your boots and off your trousers.  

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Headwear and gloves 

Headwear in winter can consist of a warm, wooly hat, or a balaclava in extreme conditions. In instances where there is likely to be a lot of snow, such as in the Scottish mountains, then you might also consider goggles. Gloves are also an essential consideration in winter. Remember to carry several pairs, should you lose one, and use a system of thin, warm gloves under thicker fleece gloves. Waterproof or water resistant gloves should be carried or waterproof mitts can be worn over a pair of warm fleece gloves.

 

Kit 

Below we have listed a few pieces of kit that are essential for going out into the woods during winter or at any time of the year.

Further Reading

Here are some other blogs that might be of interest, use the arrows to navigate between them.

 

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In this week’s blog, we’re going to be taking a look at camping in the winter. Specifically, we are going to be looking at camping in the winter in the lower areas of England, such as the Brecon Beacons and the South West. We won’t be looking at winter camping in the higher areas, such as the lakes or in Scotland where winter conditions approach the positively Arctic. This blog will focus on camping in a normal backpacking tent, e.g. not a heated tent. Read on to learn about camping in the winter. As always, feel free to read the whole blog or skip to the section that interests you the most.

 

Kit for winter camping

Winter camping considerations


When it comes to camping in the winter then a lot of the discussion revolves around the kit. The kit for winter camping runs along the same principles as the kit for camping in the summer. As long as the basic principles are followed then there is no need to spend a fortune on the kit.

Sleeping bag

A sleeping bag for winter in the parts of England that we are talking about needs to be rated down to the minus numbers. While certain people might sleep hot while others feel the cold there is, generally speaking, no need to splash out on anything rated below – 10. The down vs synthetic debate will rumble on, but generally speaking down is lighter weight for fill power whereas synthetic is better in damp conditions. When you’re considering purchasing a sleeping bag you should look for one that is rated along the lines of the EN13537 standards. When looking at the different ratings, you need to focus on the comfort rating, not the extreme or the limit rating. The ‘extreme’ rating is the “temperature at which the average woman can remain for six hours without risk of DEATH from hypothermia – but can still sustain cold injuries” (source: Alpkit). 

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Work with your sleeping bag

No matter what the rating of your sleeping bag you do need to work with your bag to help it to achieve the maximum possible rating. If possible, don’t compress it to its smallest size when putting it in your bag but instead put it in a larger bag in order to allow the sleeping bag to retain its loft. Keep the bag dry at all times and consider carrying it in a dry bag in order to protect it. Consider wearing thermals inside your bag to boost its rating and never wear your wet day clothes inside the bag.

Sleeping mat

A decent sleeping mat is essential for a good night’s sleep. Your sleeping mat keeps you insulated away from the cold, wet ground. The more insulated from the ground you are then the warmer you are likely to be. Sleeping mats that have large chambers filled with air are likely to be comfortable but may be colder in winter conditions, whereas closed cell mats, like the classic Karrimat, are likely to be warm but uncomfortable. Perhaps it is best to consider a combination of the two types of mats.

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Organisation 

 

When it comes to winter camping then a good level of organisation is key to enjoying yourself. Winter conditions in the parts of the UK that we are looking at are likely to be wet, snowy and generally quite grim.  With weather like that, it is important to keep organised, keep your wet and dry kit separate at all times. Store essential items that can be damaged by cold weather, such as phones or water filters, wrapped in something warm, like socks, or stored on or about your person. 

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Tent management

 

Winter camping involves a good deal of tent management. Consider opening ventilation flaps in all but the worst of weather in order to reduce condensation and prevent your sleeping bag getting damp. We will look at how to make the most of your stove in winter in a blog post later this month. If snowfall is heavy then you may need to get up in the night to clear snow off your tent, less it weighs on the fabric and damages it. 

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Recap 

When it comes to winter camping it is essential to upgrade your sleeping kit so that it is suitable for use in lower temperatures. Don’t just focus on the sleeping bag but also consider the quality of your sleeping mat and thermals. Organisation is also vitally important when it comes to winter camping. You need to keep your wet and dry kit separate and items that can be damaged by the cold wrapped up somewhere warm or on your person. Look after your tent, be careful of mounting snow on the side of the tent and try to pitch it with the end into the wind so as to reduce its impact on the tent. 

 

Kit 

Below we have listed a few pieces of kit that are essential for going out into the woods during winter or at any time of the year. 

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Further Reading 

Here are some other blogs that might be of interest, use the arrows to navigate between them. 

 

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As we move into autumn and then into winter here in the UK, the weather gets colder and, more often than not, wetter. In these conditions, it can become more difficult to find dry wood with which to light a fire. The true bushcraft practitioner, however, has no difficulty finding dry wood and kindling with which to light a fire in the winter. Read on to discover more tips on how to source dry wood in wet conditions. As always, feel free to read the whole blog or skip to the section that interests you the most

Don’t forget the basics

Fire lighting in damp autumn conditions
Before we look at finding dry wood in wet weather in more detail it is worth stressing that just because the weather conditions have changed there is no reason to forget the basics.  All the principles that normally apply to good fire lighting practice apply double in the winter. Take care of your tinder and use lots of dry and suitable kindling. When it comes to kindling the amount that you use in wet weather should be several times more than you would use in dry conditions. Don’t also forget to build a small platform of twigs on the floor in order to raise the fire off the damp floor.  

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Importance of keeping your kit dry

Fire lighting damp conditions


In wet or wintery conditions it is of vital importance to keep your kit dry at all times. This applies equally to sleeping bags, tents, and everything else that you might be carrying. When it comes to fire lighting it is important that you keep your tinder, whether you have gathered it as you have gone along or bought it from home, it is vital that it is kept dry. When gathering tinder and fuel as you go along one of the easiest ways to keep it dry is to put it in the pockets of your waterproof jacket or trouser pockets underneath your waterproof trousers. Care should be paid to keeping your fire lighting tools – such as matches or Swedish firesteel – dry. It is always worth carrying several methods of fire lighting in your kit, for example, a fire steel, matches and lighter. 

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Gathering as you go

Leave no trace after camp fire is finished

One of the easiest ways to find dry fuel for the fire while out in wet weather is to gather it as you go along. Rather than trying to find it all in one place at the end of your journey, gathering fuel as you go along not only saves you time when you reach your camp but it also enables you to look for fuel in different sites along your route, often when the weather conditions are more favourable.

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Making feather sticks 

One of the best sources of dry wood in wet weather is in feather sticks. While the outside of the wood might be wet the ability to make feather sticks will help you to access the dry wood on the inside. Provided that the wood is not saturated with water then feather sticks can be an excellent way of lighting a fire in damp conditions.  

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Learn more about making feather sticks in our video. Watch via our YouTube channel or in the blog below.

 

Kit 

Below we have listed a few pieces of kit that are essential for going out into the woods during winter or at any time of the year.

 

Further Reading 

Here are some other blogs that might be of interest, use the arrows to navigate between them.

 

LEARN FIRE LIGHTING, SHELTER BUILDING, AXE SKILLS AND MORE ON OUR WEEKEND BUSHCRAFT COURSE.

Autumn and winter in the UK can seem like a time of inactivity in the woods. For those who know where to look and what to look for there are plenty of things going on. In this blog, we’re going to take a short look at a few of the plants that make an appearance during autumn and winter in the UK.

Read on to learn more or click on the links below to skip to the section that interests you the most.

 

Lesser celandine

Plants for autumn and winter

Ficaria verna, commonly known as lesser celandine

Lesser celandine is related to the buttercup family. It’s yellow flowers, which resemble stars, bloom from late February into May. Look for lesser celandine carpeting the woodland floors as winter begins to relax its hold on the earth. It is one of the plants that is used to provide an indication of the passing of seasonal events, for this reason, the flowering of lesser celandine is seen as a sign of spring. The flowers of lesser celandine provide an important source of nectar for bumblebees and other insects that begin to emerge in early spring.

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Mistletoe 

Plants to identify in autumn and winter

Mistletoe

Mistletoe is so much more than just a plant for awkwardly kissing under at Christmas.  This parasitic plant typically grows on plants such as hawthorn, blackthorn, and rowan. The white berries of mistletoe appear in winter while the plant itself flowers in at some point between February and April. Many animals depend upon mistletoe throughout the winter and it forms a key part of the surrounding ecosystem.  The plant has associations with fertility and vitality in western medieval culture. 

 

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Primrose

 

Plants to identify in autumn and winter

Primrose

 

Primroses typically flower between late December and early May and are often found in woodland clearings. They are found throughout Europe, stretching in distribution from the tip of North Africa to Norway. The flowers and leaves of primroses are both edible and can be used in soups and stews. 

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Dog’s Mercury 

 

Plants for autumn and winter in the UK

Mercurialis perennis, commonly known as dog’s mercury

Dog’s Mercury is common throughout the UK, most often found carpeting the floor of ancient woodlands.  It often spreads to such an extent that it crowds out species such as Oxlip, shading woodland floors. Dog’s Mercury flowers in February through to April, although it bears leaves throughout the year. It is also, and most importantly, very highly poisonous. Eating Dog’s Mercury can lead to vomiting, the victim falling into a coma and then death.  

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Kit

 

Further Reading 

Here are some other blogs that might be of interest, use the arrows to navigate between them.

 

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When it comes to bushcraft in the UK there are several additional considerations that you need to be aware of before building a shelter in autumn. Not only will it be colder at night and in the morning, additionally, there will also be less green foliage around to use and it is likely to be damper. Read on to discover some key considerations when building a bushcraft shelter in autumn and winter.

Type of shelter 

shelter autumn


Shelter building can be a long and time-consuming task. It needs to be completed alongside other essentials camp tasks such as creating a fire, stockpiling firewood and sourcing water. In autumn and winter, with daylight hours being limited, it is important to build the shelter that uses energy and resources most economically. One of the shelters best suited to bushcraft in autumn and winter is the lean-to.  This type of shelter, along with the correct type of fire, can provide comfort in cold and even sub-zero temperatures.

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Location and resources

Shelter autumn

Choosing a suitable location is a cornerstone of any successful bushcraft shelter building exercise, this is even truer in the autumn and winter when materials might be in short supply. A lean-to shelter can require a lot of resources; small trees will need to be felled and split into suitable lengths and more wood will need to be gathered for the fire. While there is the adage ‘wood will warm you twice, once when you collect it and again when you burn it’; you need to be careful not to exhaust yourself as this could have serious consequences, especially in colder weather where hypothermia is a risk. Look for a location that is rich in trees, such as pine or birch and close to a source of water. The dense tree cover of a UK woodland will keep your lean-to shelter relatively free from snowdrift.

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Tools

Shelter autumn

As we previously mentioned lean-to shelters are resource heavy, needing either the felling of several small trees of the cutting to size of fallen dead wood. For these purposes, you’re going to need both a reasonable size bushcraft axe and a hand-held saw, such as a Silky saw or a laplander.

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Fire 

Shelter autumn

 

The construction of a lean-to shelter in autumn and winter conditions also requires the construction of an appropriate fire.  For warmth in a lean-to shelter, it is hard to beat a long-log fire. The logs that you are using for this fire (once it has been started) should be of a fair size, akin to the thickness of a telegraph pole,  so that they will burn through all night. Finding logs of this size will most likely require the felling of standing dead wood. We will be showing you how to build a long log fire in more detail later in the year.

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Environmental considerations 

One of the often overlooked considerations of building a bushcraft shelter in the autumn, or at any time of the year, is the environmental impact of your shelter. Of course, in a genuine survival situation then this should slide down your list of considerations, however, bushcraft is not about survival. Rather, it is about living in harmony with nature in a relaxed and enjoyable manner. The proficient bushcraft person is at home in the woods, working without haste or panic and in harmony with their materials.

 

Use what is readily available

With the above in mind, you should consider the environmental impact of building your shelter. Do you need to fell trees or can you use what is to hand? Is there a natural feature which can help you in constructing your shelter? Is the location of your shelter close to any wild flowers or plants that it might damage? Look around you and see the woods as a whole, use what is easily available to help you to achieve your aims.

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Kit 

Below we have listed a few pieces of kit that are essential for going out into the woods during winter or at any time of the year.

Further Reading 

Here are some other blogs that might be of interest, use the arrows to navigate between them.

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There’s no doubt about it, winter is well on its way and summer a distant memory. Winter in the United Kingdom, as with everywhere else, brings with it wonderful changes in the natural world. One of the most dramatic changes occurs to trees. As leaves fall and they take on a totally different character making it much harder to identify deciduous trees in the winter. Keen students of bushcraft should be able to identify trees in winter as well as summer. This skill is a foundation of bushcraft on which all further skills are built; after all, you can’t make a bow drill if you can’t identify the most appropriate type of wood to use.

Read on to learn about five trees that you can practice identifying this winter

Common Ash

Bark of the ash tree

Bark of the ash tree.


Ash or Common Ash or, if you would prefer the Latin Fraxinus excelsior is a tree found throughout Europe.  It is native to the United Kingdom and, in the right conditions, can 
live for up to 400 years. Fully grown ash trees can reach a height of around 35 meters (around 115 feet).  Ash trees are dioecious, this means that male and female flowers normally grow on different trees, although in some cases male and female flowers can grow on the same tree, although on different branches.

Identifying Ash in the winter

In the winter months, after the leaves have fallen, ash trees can be identified by its bark which is either grey or a greyish-brown. With older trees, the bark can grow to feature deep ridges.  The tree’s distinctive black buds are also a key feature for identifying ash trees.

Bushcraft uses for ash

Ash has a great number of uses in UK bushcraft.  Dead, standing wood from the ash tree makes for great firewood, and it is also a favoured tree for making bows.

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Silver Birch

Silver Birch Bark trees


The Silver Birch or Betula pendula is native to Europe and the UK.  
The presence of silver birch trees can often help improve the soil quality, helping other surrounding plants to grow. This is because the roots of the tree go deep into the earth, drawing up otherwise inaccessible nutrients to the tree, these nutrients are then recycled on the surface when the leaves fall from the trees.

 

Identifying Silver Birch in the winter

Silver birch is one of the easiest trees to identify. Its white, or silver, bark remains that colour all year round, in addition, the tree can be identified in winter through its twigs which are rough to the touch.

Bushcraft uses for Silver Birch

Silver birch is one of the most useful trees when it comes to bushcraft. Most importantly, in winter, its bark can be used in fire lighting. To learn more about how the bark from the silver birch can be used in fire lighting watch our video below.

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Elder 

Bark of an Elder Tree


Elder, Sambucus nigra in Latin, is native to the UK and throughout much of Europe. Apparently, the name comes from the Anglo-Saxon word ‘aeld’ which means fire, due to the fact that the
hollow stems are used as bellows to blow air into the centre of a fire.  

 

Identifying elder in the winter

In winter elder can be identified through its green and distinctive smelling twigs and ragged buds which often have leaves showing through the bud scales.

 

Bushcraft uses for elder

Elder has several uses in UK bushcraft. It typically grows near rabbit warrens, providing a good indication of a source of food, the flowers can be used to make wine, cordial or tea. The berries, while mildly poisonous, can be eaten if they are cooked first.

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Hazel

Hazel Trees

 

Corylus avellana or hazel, is native to the United Kingdom. Hazel trees can live for up to eighty years and reach a height of 12 meters.  Hazel trees are associated with doormice, doormice fatten themselves up for winter by feasting on the hazelnuts and, in the spring, doormice eat caterpillars that are found on the leaves of the hazel tree.  Hazel trees are also associated with magic or myth and has been thought to ward of rheumatism, to encourage fertility and was considered the ‘tree of knowledge’ in Ireland.

 

Identifying hazel in the winter

Hazel Trees


Hazel is best identified in winter by the small nuts that are held in short leafy husks which cover about three-quarters of the nut. In autumn it is likely that the tree will bear small catkins, though these are not likely to be found in winter.

Bushcraft uses for hazel

Hazel is perhaps best known for its flexibility, this makes it an ideal material for shelter building. It is also a favoured wood for being used in bow drills. Hazelnuts, of course, are also an excellent source of nutrition, containing over 600 calories per 100 grams

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Beech

Beech Trees


The beech tree, or
Fagus sylvatica, is native to southern England and South Wales.  Beech trees are also found across Europe from southern Sweden to northern Sicily. They can live for hundreds of years, some coppiced trees can even live for around 1,000 years. The tree has a long-standing association with femininity and is considered the ‘queen’  of British trees. Historically, it was thought that beech trees have medicinal properties.

 

Identifying beech trees in the winter

Beech trees can be identified in winter by its sharply pointed leafy buds. See the image below for an example of these buds.

Bushcraft uses for beech trees

Beech trees are notorious for dropping their branches, often called widow makers, hence never camp under a beech tree! Dry beech leaves can be used for tinder and the wood can be burned, although it doesn’t burn as well as ash.

Kit

Below we have listed a few pieces of kit that are essential for going out into the woods during winter or at any time of the year.

Further Reading 

Here are some other blogs that might be of interest, use the arrows to navigate between them.

 

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In this blog, we’re going to have a look at some of the things that change in our woods in autumn. As all skilled bushcraft practitioners know being in tune with nature is the key to improving one’s skill set. Every time we go out into the woods it is important to look around and take it all in, this blog will help you do just this by providing you with some autumn characteristics of UK woodlands to look out for.

 

Animal behaviour 

autumn in the UK woods


Autumn doesn’t just bring with it a change of colour in the leaves, it also brings a change in animal behaviours. Here are a few to look out for.

  • Birds
    Falling temperatures and declining availability of foods cause some species of birds to migrate throughout the autumn.  Keep an eye out for birds such as Swallows which migrate from Europe to Africa in the winter, returning to their feeding grounds in spring.  There are other less long-distance migrants, altitudinal migrants – those that migrant short distances from north to south – include Skylarks, Meadow pipits and Snow buntings.
    For more information see the RSPB’s website here.
  • Hedgehogs, dormice, and bats
    Hedgehogs, dormice, and bats consume large quantities of fruit, nuts, and insects in the run-up to winter in order to increase their proportions of body fat and prepare for their hibernation.
  • Deer and Boar
    For larger animals, such as deer and boar, autumn can be a busy time of the year. These animals are all seeking mates, so while it is a good time of the year to see them it is best to keep your distance.

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Fungi 

Mushrooms in autumn in the UK woods


Autumn is a great time of year to spot fungi. Remember though, never eat anything that you have not 100% positively identified as safe. The kingdom of fungi is an enormous one, with over 15,000 species in the UK alone. The Woodland Trust outlines several of the most common types of fungi found in the UK,
here on their blog

 

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Trees

Alder trees for bushcraft 

The UK woodland is a fantastic sight in autumn. The deciduous trees are losing their leaves and the woods are carpeted with an amazing array of colours. Identifying deciduous trees in autumn and winter is a key bushcraft skill that will help you with other bushcraft skills including friction fire lighting and shelter building.  The Woodland Trust has an introduction to identifying trees in the UK in autumn and winter in their blog here. 

 

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Kit 


Autumn is a fantastic time to get out into the woods and practice your bushcraft skills. We’ve listed some equipment below that might come in handy when practicing your autumn bushcraft.
Please note that aside from Bear Blades Wildway Bushcraft is not associated with any of the brands or pieces of equipment listed below – we don’t get anything extra if you choose to purchase one of these items!  

 

Further Reading 

Here are some other blog posts that might interest you. Use the arrows to navigate. 

As autumn draws in around us and thoughts turn to winter our bushcraft practices adapt and change with the seasons. Though we might not have as much snow this year as we did at the start of 2018 there still might be enough to practice one of the most essential winter bushcraft techniques; lighting a fire on snow. In this blog, we will briefly recap the basics of fire lighting and then discuss some techniques for lighting a fire on snow. Read on to learn more or skip to the section that interests you the most.

 

Fire lighting essentials

Lighting a fire on snow
We’ve covered the basics of fire lighting in detail here, but essentially it comes down to correctly gathering and preparing your materials, not rushing or skipping any stage of the process and ensuring that you have all of the materials that you will need before lighting your fire.


If you are interested in more advanced fire lighting techniques then why not join us on our one-day friction fire lighting course or our weekend bushcraft course.

 

Is it worth the effort?

Before starting to attempt to light a fire on snow it is worth asking yourself it is worth the effort. If you are already cold, tired and wet, in short, if it is coming close to a survival situation, then you need to be sure attempting to light a fire will not exhaust your remaining energy reserves. You will need to judge each situation on its own merits and make your own decisions based upon the situation and your confidence in your skills.

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Lighting a fire on snow

When it comes to lighting a fire on snow the key thing to remember is that it melts. This means that building a fire directly onto the snow itself will not only get your tinder wet but will also, should you manage to get it lit, melt the snow beneath it and disappear into it.

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Building a platform

One of the easiest ways to construct a fire on snow is to build a platform, either consisting of split logs or stones and place your tinder on top of it. This will give you a dry and firm base on which to light your fire.

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Digging down

If the snow is of a reasonably shallow depth, like the kind that we might experience in the south of the UK in winter, then it is a better idea to dig down. Removing the snow until you have reached the level of the earth and then constructing a base on this earth (so as to keep the moisture out) will not only insulate the fire but will also ensure that it doesn’t melt the snow.

Preparation for lighting a fire in the snow

Lighting a fire on snow

Successful fire lighting depends on good preparation, in any weather, however, this goes double when there is snow on the ground. Ensure that you have plenty of dry tinder with you, and ideally keep it in your clothes where it can’t get damp, and plenty of firewood to keep the fire going throughout the night.

LEARN FIRE LIGHTING, SHELTER BUILDING, AXE SKILLS AND MORE ON OUR WEEKEND BUSHCRAFT COURSE.

 

Kit 

Lighting a fire on snow

Here are some pieces of kit that you might find useful when lighting a fire. Please note that aside from Bear Blades Wildway Bushcraft is not associated with any of the brands or pieces of equipment listed below – we don’t get anything extra if you choose to purchase one of these items!

 

Further Reading

Here are some other blog posts that might interest you. Use the arrows to navigate.

Lighting a fire in damp conditions is a vital bushcraft skill. Fire is key for keeping warm, cooking food and a whole host of other bushcraft activities; as with all elements of bushcraft the real skill comes in being able to do it in less than ideal conditions. This week, we’re going to look at how to light a fire in damp conditions. This will include a recap of the basics of fire lighting, a look at some basic axe techniques and a video of how to make feather sticks – a very useful tool when it comes to lighting a fire in the rain.

Feel free to read the whole blog or skip to the sections that interest you by clicking on the links below.  

 

Fire lighting basics 

Light a fire in damp conditions


No matter what the conditions are, successfully lighting a fire relies on following some basic principles. In this section, we’re going to quickly recap some elemental fire lighting principals. Never rush these as getting the basics wrong will make it much harder for you to succeed in lighting a fire and therefore cause you to waste more energy than is needed. 

 

  • Start with tinder

    Successful fire lighting begins with finding appropriate tinder. Whether this is natural tinders such as birch bark, or tinder that you have brought with you, such as balls of cotton wool. In damp conditions, you will need more tinder than you would in dry conditions.  If it is going to be damp it is better, if at all possible, to plan in advance and bring your tinder with you. After all, you don’t want to have to spend time looking for tinder when you are already cold and wet.

  • Kindling

    Now that you have more tinder than you think you might need, it is time for kindling. Kindling is small twigs or sticks no more than pencil thickness. It very important that kindling is dry, we will look at how to find dry kindling in damp conditions later in this blog. After gathering kindling of pencil thickness,  collect sticks that are around as thing as a thumb. If wood this size is not readily available it can be made by splitting thicker pieces of wood into smaller individual pieces.

     

  • Larger pieces of wood

    After the thumb-thick pieces of wood, it is time for larger pieces of firewood. You need to several pieces of firewood of steadily increasing size and thickness. Split wood will burn faster than wood that has not been split. We will look at axe techniques for splitting wood later in this blog.

  • Preparing the ground

    Before lighting your fire it is important to prepare the ground. In damp conditions, it is a good idea to raise your tinder off the ground. This is best done by clearing away any fallen foliage, down to the bare earth and then laying a platform of small, pencil-thick sticks. You can then use this platform to build your fire on.

LEARN FIRE LIGHTING, SHELTER BUILDING, AXE SKILLS AND MORE ON OUR WEEKEND BUSHCRAFT COURSE. 

 

Sourcing wood in wet conditions

Fire lighting in damp conditions


Keeping in mind the basic steps for fire lighting, the first step (after having checked that you’ve brought your tinder) is sourcing dry wood for kindling – or for making into tinder if necessary.
Remember, when you’re looking for wood, dead, standing wood is the best for fire lighting. With that in mind here are some tips and techniques for finding wood in damp conditions. 

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  • Gather as you go


    One of the most common mistakes is in waiting until you are at your campsite before starting to gather fuel for your fire. Rather than waiting until you’ve arrived at your destination gather materials as you walk into camp.

  • Look for dry patches and don’t pick wood from the ground


    Look for patches of dry ground around trees, such as patches that have been sheltered by the tree’s canopy. If dry, dead, standing wood is not available then look for twigs on the ground under the shelter of the tree. Dry, dead twigs will snap cleanly if pressure is applied to them if the twig does not break cleanly or simply bends then discard it and continue your search.

     

  • Look for the wood inside


    While the outside of the wood, be it a branch or twig, might be wet the chances are that the inside of the wood is dry. Provided that the wood is not soaked through then whittling away the outside of the wood can give you access to the dry wood inside. For larger pieces of wood, you will need to split it either by batoning or by using an axe.  We will look at the finer points of both techniques further on in this blog. 

LEARN FIRE LIGHTING, SHELTER BUILDING, AXE SKILLS AND MORE ON OUR WEEKEND BUSHCRAFT COURSE. 

 

Techniques for batoning

Batoning is a technique for splitting smaller pieces of wood with a knife. It involves placing the knife on one end of the piece of wood and the other end of the wood on the ground. The back of the blade should then be struck with another piece of wood to force it into the piece of wood that you are trying to split. With the blade of the knife now embedded horizontally into the piece of wood you should now strike the front part of the protruding blade. Strike this part of the knife regularly with equal force each time until the wood is split.

Considerations when batoning

When batoning it is important that you use a fixed blade, e.g. not a folding blade, knife. The knife should ideally be full tang, or narrowing tang otherwise you risk breaking the blade on the knife and causing yourself injury. Batoning should only be attempted on pieces of wood that have a diameter that is smaller than the length of the blade of the knife. For larger pieces of wood an axe should be used.

Axe techniques for splitting wood

Weekend bushcraft course

Larger pieces of wood will need to be split with an axe. Remember to ensure that you are stood or knelt in such a way that, should the axe slip, it will not strike your legs (or any other part of your body).

Splitting smaller rounds

Smaller rounds of wood can be most easily split by holding the axe and the round of wood horizontally together so that the head of the axe is in contact with the top of the round. The axe and round of wood should then be brought down together hard on a raised surface – such as a tree stump.

Splitting larger pieces of wood

Choose a stump about knee height and place the larger piece of wood on this stump at the furthest stable distance away from your body. Position your legs away from the stump so that should your swing miss the axe will not hit your body. Raise the axe to around chest height, ensuring that you have a good two-handed grip on it, then bring the axe down, in a smooth and slow motion, into the wood that you want to split. Remember to let the weight of the axe do the majority of the work.

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LEARN FIRE LIGHTING, SHELTER BUILDING, AXE SKILLS AND MORE ON OUR WEEKEND BUSHCRAFT COURSE. 

 

Carving feather sticks

Feather sticks are a great way of lighting a fire when it is damp. The can be made from small rounds of wood that have been split either by axe or by batoning. Watch the video below to learn how to make feather sticks.

Watch: Carving Feather Sticks

 

Kit

Here are some pieces of kit that you might find useful when lighting a fire in damp conditions. Please note that aside from Bear Blades Wildway Bushcraft is not associated with any of the brands or pieces of equipment listed below – we don’t get anything extra if you choose to purchase one of these items!

 

Further Reading

Here are some other blog posts that might interest you. Use the arrows to navigate.

 

LEARN FIRE LIGHTING, SHELTER BUILDING, AXE SKILLS AND MORE ON OUR WEEKEND BUSHCRAFT COURSE. 

Practicing bushcraft in the UK can be a fantastic activity to introduce to your children and wider family. Not only is it an enjoyable and practical skill for children to learn it can also have wider learning applications, teaching skills such as a greater respect for nature and each other as well as giving them the ability to make decisions independently.

Here are our top tips for introducing your family to bushcraft, as always feel free to read the whole blog or skip to the section that interests you the most. Remember, the best way to perfect these skills is on a bushcraft course. Find out more about our family bushcraft course here.

 

Start small

Family bushcraft course


When it comes to introducing your family to bushcraft it is best to start small. Don’t try and load everything that you know on to children or, if you are also starting your bushcraft journey, don’t expect others journeys to take the same path as yours.  It is best to start small, pick a skill that can be easily practiced and work on it together. Skills such as tree and plant identification (although remember never to eat anything you’ve not 100% identified), knots or animal prints. 

 

Shelter building

Shelter building family bushcraft
Children love dens and teaching them how to build shelters is a great way of introducing them to bushcraft. Depending on the age of the children you might not want to introduce them to the knife or axe skills required for shelter building. What you can do though, however, is pre-cut the wood and then practice shelter building with them. Or, if you are not confident using an axe or knife, why not just try making shelters with the materials that you have to hand, or just get used to sleeping out under a tarp with your family.

 

INTRODUCE YOUR FAMILY TO BUSHCRAFT WITH OUR  FAMILY BUSHCRAFT COURSE 

 

Fire lighting 

Fire lighting family bushcraft course

When it comes to fire lighting one of the best things that you can teach children is to respect the fire. Teaching respect of the fire when getting into bushcraft as a family will mean that, as your children become more involved with different aspects of fire lighting they are less likely to mess about and hurt themselves. Other than that a good method of fire lighting that can be taught is with a steel striker and a ball of cotton wool used as tinder. For more information on fire lighting tips and tricks have a look at our blog post here

 

INTRODUCE YOUR FAMILY TO BUSHCRAFT WITH OUR  FAMILY BUSHCRAFT COURSE 

 

Tool use

family bushcraft course

If you and your family are starting your bushcraft journey, or if you are already on your journey and you want to teach your family, then tool use is a great place to start. Teaching the correct way to use a knife and, if children are old enough, and axe can be a great way of increasing independence and teaching responsibility. It should go without saying though that it’s best not to let children use knives and axes unsupervised.

What to expect on our family bushcraft course

Family bushcraft course

Our family bushcraft course costs £100 per adult or £80 for those under 18. The course is aimed at the whole family and is designed to allow children to explore and learn new skills in a safe but fun environment. As a family, you will learn to build your own shelter, track woodland animals, make fires, cook over an open fire, find safe walking drinking water and lots more.

It’s what you make of it

Our family bushcraft weekend can be as adventurous as you make it. You can choose to sleep in a hammock, under a tarp, or in the shelter that you made as a family.  Of course, if you would rather you’re welcome to bring your own tent.

 

Kit mentions 

Here is some kit that you might find useful when learning bushcraft with your family.