In this week’s blog post we will look at fire lighting in winter. We will look at the importance of being able to light a fire in winter, some useful bits of kit to take with you, the importance of using deadwood and how to create firesticks. Please feel free to read the whole blog post of skip to the section that interests you the most.
This blog looks at fire lighting in the UK winter, not the boreal forest, so we won’t be looking at fire lighting in mountains of snow.
The importance of being able to light a fire in the winter
Winter is the perfect time to perfect your fire lighting techniques. Not only will you really appreciate the benefits of a fire when the temperature outside is plummeting and the light is fading – you will also test yourself, wood will be damp and cold. But, before you start trying to light a fire in the winter, you need to ask yourself…
Should you attempt to light a fire at all?
Before you attempt to light a fire in winter time you need to consider the position of your group and your skills. While a fire in winter can be a real morale booster, failing to light one can also have the opposite effect. What is more, choosing to light a fire in winter when you’re exhausted, cold and wet can leave you more exposed to the elements. If you’ve any doubt about your ability to light a fire in these conditions then it can be best to wait in your shelter, tent or sleeping bag until you’ve warmed up enough to give fire lighting another go.
What to bring with you?
Perhaps the most useful bit of kit you can bring with you is an axe. A well looked after axe will serve you better than a knife in many situations. To keep your axe in tip top condition read our blog on looking after your axe. Another useful bit of kit that you can bring with you is a folding saw, such as the Laplander folding saw. In addition, a firesteel and some strike anywhere matches are always a good idea.
The importance of using deadwood
When lighting a fire in the winter, or at any time come to that, it is important to only use standing deadwood. Bushcraft is about harmony with nature, not damaging it. Besides, greenwood will be far too damp to burn effectively.
Getting ready to light your fire
With the above considerations in mind, it is now time to get ready to light your fire.
Choosing a location for your fire
Successful fire lighting in winter, as well as at any other time, depends on preparation. Preparation begins with location. Clear the ground of snow or ice and be careful not to light your fire under any branches laden with snow or ice.
Build your fire off the floor
Layer the floor where you intend to start your fire with sticks of about finger thickness. This will protect your fire from the floor and the floor from the fire. Be sure to dig through any snow and reach the ground before layering your fire – otherwise, if you light your fire on top of the snow then as it burns it will melt the snow and slowly sink into it.
When gathering materials for winter fire lighting always gather more than you need, much, much more. Remember that in order to find dry dead wood you may need to look outside of your immediate area. Gather thin sticks that break easily when you attempt to snap them – these should be about matchstick thin. From there gather more deadwood that should be about finger thickness. Once again these should be much more than you need – several armfuls.
One of the biggest issues facing you when trying to light a fire in the UK winter is the fact that the deadwood around you, especially those that are around arm thickness, could be sodden wet. In this situation , fire sticks are a (literal) life saver. Firesticks are, essentially, pieces of wood around the length of the distance from your middle finger to your elbow. The wood should be split, lengthwise, into four. Using your knife you can then shave ‘feathers’ into the wood, these go from long curls to very short scrapings.
Learn how to make firesticks by watching our video below:
Using birch bark
Birch bark is one of the best tinders out there. Due to its high oil content, it will burn for a long time and at a high temperature even when moderately wet. Remember though, only ever take birch bark from dead trees – never cut bark off a living tree.