Fire is an important ritual in the wilds, an important lifesaving ritual that must be mastered for survival. First, however you need shelter, particularly when it’s raining and cold, because fire comes hard, if at all the first night under wet conditions.
Fire is needed for warmth, signaling, boiling/purifying water, cooking foods, repelling insects and to help keep four legged predators at bay. Fire is also needed for morale, because fire has a positive psychological effect on humans, something that is sorely needed in a survival situation.
Imagine Its You Alone
Imagine you are one of the participants on History Channel’s new show Alone, the first show was “Alone: And So It Begins”. Of course it is easy to sit in our comfortable, dry, and warm homes and critique the actions of others, so we will not. What we will do, however, is figure out what we would do, if we found ourselves in a similar situation. It doesn’t matter what tools and materials they carried, or what survival training they may have, all that matters is what you have with you, and what you carry in your mind, your knowledge.
You will never have to worry about fire if you carry fire starting materials. Most of the survival articles you read online will stress the importance of tinder and fire starting materials, materials such as magnesium sticks, waterproof matches, flint and steel and Ferro Rods. There is no reason not to carry all the mentioned tools and materials. They would fit in practically any pocket, and along with the tools, you would carry dry tinder.
You cannot tote firewood around with you, so you would have to find it in your environment, but you cannot light a log with just a match or sparks from a Ferro rod. You have to build up to it by igniting smaller pieces in progression. Tinder is the beginning.
A bag of wood shavings, WetFire, and cotton balls dipped in petroleum jelly all make excellent tinder that can be easily carried in your pockets.
It’s wet its cold but you are under your tarp and your tinder is dry, so what are you doing. Are you shaving wood into curls? Wood may be wet on the outside but the inside will be dry if the wood is not rotted (punk wood). Are you splitting small pieces of pine into fat wood, and are you digging pine pitch out of some small pieces of pine.
Instead of picking up wood from the forest floor that has been soaking up moisture from the ground look instead for dead twigs and limbs still attached to trees. Air circulating around the wood will dry the attached branches and twigs much faster. Break them away and put under your shelter to dry out even more.
Dead grasses, dead leaves, and pine needles will dry quickly as well. Pine needles and birch bark will have oils in them that make igniting fire easier even in damp conditions. Pine needles shed water and will not absorb it nearly as much as wood will. Pine pitch is an ideal fire starting aid that will burn even in very damp/wet conditions.
Start your fire small and make a tepee, without inhibiting air circulation, with bigger pieces of damp wood around the fire so they can dry. You will need enough small dry pieces to sustain your fire to dry out the larger pieces. If it is raining you will need to build your fire under cover. Hollow out a spot under a fallen log or make a small covering, a mini lean-to, to shield your fire.
Do not over complicate things, start small, and build to big. There are no short cuts and there are never any guarantees. It all looks good on paper when planning your adventure, but once reality meets the plans things can go off the rails quickly, but nothing should be unexpected.
People when planning say they are planning for the unexpected, but instead they should be planning for the expected. Expect things to go south in a hurry, expect the wood will be wet, and anticipate your so-called waterproof matches will be damp and ruined, for example. If you expect it you can plan for it.
There is no reason that a healthy adult with some wilderness survival skills cannot survive for days or even weeks in the wilds. It truly is mind over matter and painting by the numbers if you will.
Shelter first, and then fire if possible before dark then water and food. Stumbling around looking for food in the first few hours is not sensible and shows a lack of skills and knowledge.
You will get hungry but ants, worms, grubs, and termites will give you enough energy to perform the tasks that have to be accomplished first, and then once established you begin to forage for real sustenance.