How To Quickly Build A Fire In Winter Woods (When Your Life Depends On It)

You decided to set out for a simple winter walk, but now you have gotten lost, or even worse, you have twisted your ankle. It is getting cold out, and it won’t be long before it starts to get dark. You don’t have much in the way of survival gear with you, so what will you do?



Instead of just curling up and waiting in hopes that someone is going to come along, you need to get a fire going.

The winter months can be some of the most difficult when it comes to survival, especially when you  look at the weather conditions and the simple fact that there is a lack of available food. It is easy to see why so many people fall victim to the elements each year.

To survive, you need to be prepared and have some skills in your arsenal that will help you to push through. One of these crucial talents will be the ability to start a fire in just about any situation, regardless of the conditions.

When you find yourself outside and the temperatures are dropping fast, the lack of a fire could put you in a situation that turns deadly rather quickly. Not only could you run the risk of losing digits to frostbite, but there is the real possibility that you could fully succumb to hunger if you can’t hunt and cook wild game.

Starting a fire can be done just about anywhere, even if it is in the middle of the winter. In the winter when there is snow on the ground, you need to understand that any snow surrounding the fire will be melted, turning into water that can douse your hard-earned flames.

When you’re just taking a walk in the wilderness, you may not have brought much gear with you. At the bare minimum, you should have some matches or a lighter in your pocket just in case you need it. A couple sheets of paper will also be helpful.

There are some other handy items that you can make and bring along with you for starting a fire, and hopefully, you have at least one of them with you. Cotton balls with petroleum jelly, steel wool, firesteels and strikers, magnesium sticks, alcohol wipes, hand sanitizer, or a 9-volt battery.

Now, let’s take a closer look at each fire-building step.

How To Quickly Build A Fire In Winter Woods


1. Select Your Fire Site


When building a fire in the snow, you have to take the time to find the right location to start a fire.

Try to locate a spot with good shelter, where the fire will be protected from snowfall, water, and the wind. While it may be tempting to start a fire under a nearby tree, there could be issues if the tree has a good amount of snow burden. The last thing that you would want to have happen would be melting snow from branches and having it put out your fire.

If it seems as though the best place for starting your fire is under a tree, you’ll need to reach up and knock as much snow off of the branches as possible. Doing so will cut back the risk of the snow falling on your established fire, and you will not have to clean the area of the snow twice.

Now you can clear away the snow from the site where you want to build a fire, which can be done by brushing it away using a broken pine tree branch or a branch full of dead leaves, or tamping it down with your shoes. Scrape away as much snow as you can from where you plan to start your fire.

Keep in mind that compressed snow is still going to melt, so you need ample drainage from the water that will result. Building a fire on a small rise or hill can provide drainage.


2. Select Your Materials

You’ll need to gather a variety of materials from the woods around you to fuel your fire.


If you have pine trees nearby they are an excellent source of dead pine needles, which you can use as tinder to start your fire. Tinder is any light and fluffy material, like cotton balls, tissues, or paper. You should have a decent handful or two before you light your fire.

Cedar bark also makes a good tinder, but you’ll have to use a knife and scrape away at the bark until it’s shredded. If you’re near water, plants like cattails or dried tree leaves can also be used. You may have to sweep snow away from the ground to find pine needles, dry leaves, and tiny twigs for tinder.

Because your tinder is dry and puffy, it will easily take a spark, but it will also quickly burn out. You should be ready to add your kindling before you start the tinder burning.

There are also some items you can use as tinder extenders, such as petroleum jelly, wax, or chapstick. These items will help your tinder burn longer so you can add your kindling.

Survival tip: if your tinder is damp, using the gunpowder from larger bullets can help ignite it. The brass ammo casings on many rifle cartridges is a viable method for sparking tinder.


This will be the next level of materials you’ll need to find for your fire. Dead, broken tree branches, bark from dead tree stumps, and twigs can be used. These should range in diameter but be no bigger around than your finger. You’ll need to have a pile about the size of an average hanging flower pot. In fact, two piles that size would be good, too.

You can sweep snow from the ground to find kindling, or you can pull dead branches directly from a tree. The drier your kindling, the better it will catch. But, beware of rotten branches full of holes, as they will burn quickly but not create embers to help catch your long burning logs.

Piling kindling up in a jumbled way will allow more air to flow through your fire. Put them too tightly, and your fire won’t burn well. Remember, oxygen feeds a fire, so you need air flow. Add your kindling to your tinder slowly, allowing time for it to catch.

Long Burning Items

You’ll need to gather larger items to fuel your fire once you have it well-established. These include logs the same size you’d use for any fireplace or campfire. Dense woods like birch, oak, maple, or Douglas fir trees will give you a good sustained fire. You’ll need a large pile to sustain your fire through the night, and you won’t want to wander far from your chosen campsite in the dark.

If you don’t have any tools other than a pocket knife, you might have to wander quite a bit to collect large wood for your fire. Start by moving in a circle around your fire site, keeping it within eyesight, and gradually move in larger and larger circles. This method will help keep you from getting lost.

Once your kindling is producing embers, you can slowly add logs to your fire. Again, don’t stack your logs in a precise fashion. Randomly tossing logs on your fire increases the amount of air feeding your flames.

Logs like this will eventually turn to charcoal, which is where you’ll the benefit of the most heat. You should gather all your fuel into a pile before you even think about lighting the fire. And you’ll have to continue adding logs to keep your fire burning until daybreak.

3. Fire Pit Building


If you can locate stones to set in on the fire floor, you will have an excellent fire base with the ability to channel melted snow away from the fire itself.

Just make sure to build up the stone floor by one or two inches and work to keep a small gap between them, so the water has room to get through. This also helps to add air from the bottom to feed your fire.

When building your fire in the snow, you must also have a decent heat reflector so that you can keep warm. The face of a cliff, a hill or depression, or a large stone can be used for this, as well as a big tree trunk (one that’s tall, with no low branches to heat up or interfere in your fire).

Set up a spot for piling your firewood near the pit so you can reach it easily when you work on feeding the flames. This spot can also have a stone bottom to keep the firewood from getting wet, or you can pile a few sticks in a crosswise pattern so that the wood can rest on top and stay out of the snow.

Putting any damp wood near the fire will help it the snow melt and the wood dry quicker so that it can be used to keep your fire going.


3. Building A Good Fire


Once you’ve established where the base of your fire is and collected your fuel, you’re ready to light your fire. Adding rocks around the circumference will help contain your fire. Put your tinder inside the area you’ve cleared.

Then, you should build a sort of teepee with your kindling, allowing as much space between the sticks as you can. There needs to be lots of room for you to reach your tinder underneath the kindling. Light your tinder and gently blow on it to help your fire reach your kindling. Always remember, fire needs air to burn.

Once your kindling is well-established and starting to produce embers, you can build a teepee using your larger logs. As they burn, they’ll fall inward toward your fire. This technique is one of the most efficient for building a fire. It also allows green or wet wood to burn hotter.

If your tinder and kindling is dry, starting a fire shouldn’t be tough. However, you may have to add much more heat than normal for your tinder material to come up to the right burning temperature to sustain.


Making The Most Out Of A Fire


It is always going to be important that both your fire and shelter are within proximity so that you can stay as warm as possible.

If you have access to rocks around you, think about lining them up around the edge of the fire. You can use them as a way to warm your coat, transferring the heat to your body when you put the coat back on.

Keep in mind that the coals of your fire are always going to be crucial, as they are what will bring you the most heat. Be sure that you are adding fuel to the fire so that it can burn effectively and create charcoal.

This will translate into the most heat, which can be more important than tall flames coming up from the fire. You can also use the coals from your fire or heated rocks as a way to warm some of the ground underneath where you are planning to sleep. Just move them using a branch or stick to wherever you want to sleep and then put them back into the fire pit once the ground is warm enough.

When you’re in dire need of warmth, you must act quickly to get a fire up and going. Remember these tips for building a survival fire and you’ll be on your way to lighting the fire that keeps you alive in the wild.

NOTES:  You focus a lot on picking the location for a fire, but not as much on actually starting it.  How much tinder should you have?  How much wood? How are you going to harvest this wood without tools?  Where should you look for tinder if you don’t have any (very difficult in winter and wet environments)


It all sounds easy when writing it, but actually executing a fire is an art.

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And believe it or not, this is not all…

Table Of Contents:
Making Your Own Beverages: Beer to Stronger Stuff
Ginger Beer: Making Soda the Old Fashioned Way
How North American Indians and Early Pioneers Made Pemmican
Spycraft: Military Correspondence During The 1700’s to 1900’s
Wild West Guns for SHTF and a Guide to Rolling Your Own Ammo
How Our Forefathers Built Their Sawmills, Grain Mills,and Stamping Mills
How Our Ancestors Made Herbal Poultice to Heal Their Wounds
What Our Ancestors Were Foraging For? or How to Wildcraft Your Table
How Our Ancestors Navigated Without Using a GPS System
How Our Forefathers Made Knives
How Our Forefathers Made Snow shoes for Survival
How North California Native Americans Built Their Semi-subterranean Roundhouses
Our Ancestors’Guide to Root Cellars
Good Old Fashioned Cooking on an Open Flame
Learning from Our Ancestors How to Preserve Water
Learning from Our Ancestors How to Take Care of Our Hygiene When There Isn’t Anything to Buy
How and Why I Prefer to Make Soap with Modern Ingredients
Temporarily Installing a Wood-Burning Stove during Emergencies
Making Traditional and Survival Bark Bread…….
Trapping in Winter for Beaver and Muskrat Just like Our Forefathers Did
How to Make a Smokehouse and Smoke Fish
Survival Lessons From The Donner Party

Get your paperback copy HERE




The 3 Pioneer Survival Lessons We Should Learn

The Most Effective Home Defense Strategies

Old School Hacks for Off-Grid Living

The Medical Emergency Crash Course

The Smart, Easy Way to Food Independence

How to Survive the Coming 100 Years Long Drought

Will Ellis is a life-long prepper and survivalist. He writes online at Gun News Daily.

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