Starting a fire in damp conditions in the Uintas

Eric O

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Apr 12, 2014
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Growing up in CA, starting a fire was never an issue, even when things were damp because pine needles were everywhere and sap was easily found and things lit up pretty easily with just a match.

There have been plenty times in the Uintas where things are fairly dry to damp conditions and I've had a somewhat difficult time starting a fire. I've always been able to start a fire, but not without more effort than I would like.

Given the materials found in the Uintas, what has been your go to way of starting a fire without an accelerant like gasoline or white gas?
 

Nick

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Yep, red needles. It takes a bit of time to find them sometimes, but I've always been able to track down enough to make it happen.
 

Eric O

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Funny you say red needles, each time I've been able to start a fire it's with them and yes, a few times it was very difficult to find them. So far they seem like the only material I've found up there that lights well.
 

Eric O

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My main concern is starting a fire up there in damp conditions when I start backpacking next year with my son. He's only going to be 4 years old and fire can really be not only a life saver, but also a great comfort. Plus, what little boy doesn't love starting a fire.

Any other suggestions of local materials that light well?
 

Wyatt Carson

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My main concern is starting a fire up there in damp conditions when I start backpacking next year with my son. He's only going to be 4 years old and fire can really be not only a life saver, but also a great comfort. Plus, what little boy doesn't love starting a fire.

Any other suggestions of local materials that light well?

Practice in those kind of bad conditions is the best thing you can do. I like to be prepared with a few things that help in the wet cold. When everything is sodden you are going to have to find dry wood somehow, get dead branches off a standing tree, maybe have to cut down to dry wood with a good knife.

It is good to have some things in your kit. I made a little fatwood sheath for my firesteel, only to use as a break glass in case of fire type thing. Fatwood and birch bark are wondrous things when it comes to getting a fire going. I use the firesteel otherwise several times a day for lighting my stove.



makes a nice little package;



I keep three cotton balls a tiny nalgene, good and dry in there. The little container of Badger Balm and the Repel Lemon Eucalyptus both make great accelerants.

We got caught in a raging three and a half day cold and very wet storm about 30 years ago. It was not in the forecast. We still got fire on the first day and kept it going but I prepared better after that. It is super easy to start a fire in the desert most times without a knife or any of the above accelerants and fuels, just gather any dry thing but the sodden wet makes it exceedingly difficult. That is why it is good to practice before you have to do it. If you can get a fire going well enough then it will be able to dry out wet wood and burn it eventually.

One thing I find essential is a small tarp. You can put that up, drag your wood and materials under that and work up your fire. It gives you good shelter that does not take all your energy to set up.
 

Hurakan

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Jun 18, 2013
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I just look under the healthy pine trees and you can usually find clumps of dead twigs and small branches that are pretty dry. Small twigs burn fast and hot, then just toss in some finger sized branches with some sap and keep adding twigs. I carry a light folding saw to get the dead branches off the tree as the ones on the ground are usually rotten or still wet.
 

Vegan.Hiker

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I'm sure this counts as accelerant, but crushing up some of my potato chips has helped me in damp conditions in the northeast. Also, what 4 year old boy doesn't love potato chips.
 

John Goering

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And why do you need a fire???? IMO, one of the most destructive things you can do in the backcountry. Haven't lit one up for at least 3 1/2 decades.

And yes, I can see where they are occasionally needed but that smacks more of being unprepared for conditions experienced. Or, just bad planning but maybe that's the same thing.
 

Hurakan

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I enjoy fires, if you keep them small and clean up afterwards its fine. I hardy ever use my stove anymore, few hot coals and I cook, boil and get rid most of my trash. Its the big fires for long periods that catch roots on fires, are hard to put out etc.
 

Eric O

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And why do you need a fire???? IMO, one of the most destructive things you can do in the backcountry. Haven't lit one up for at least 3 1/2 decades.

And yes, I can see where they are occasionally needed but that smacks more of being unprepared for conditions experienced. Or, just bad planning but maybe that's the same thing.


I typically plan to not have a fire but sometimes a fire is all that separates you from life and death. The ability to build a fire can be a lifesaver in many ways. The recent discovery of Geraldine Largay is a good example of the "why would I need a fire" mindset that boggles my mind. She would have lived if she knew how to make a fire (among many other missing skills). Knowing the best material to start a fire in a location I'll frequent is part of preparing for the unknown and with small children there is always the possibility of the unknown.
 

LarryBoy

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Fires are occasionally necessary. Far more often they are simply a luxury. I'm OK with fires if they in existing fire rings and there's plenty of dead and down wood to support the number of backcountry users. In reality, that often turns into people building fire rings everywhere and stripping the area of any and all wood. Especially in the West, fires are more often than not just a bad idea.
 

John Goering

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Fires are occasionally necessary. Far more often they are simply a luxury. I'm OK with fires if they in existing fire rings and there's plenty of dead and down wood to support the number of backcountry users. In reality, that often turns into people building fire rings everywhere and stripping the area of any and all wood. Especially in the West, fires are more often than not just a bad idea.

Fire rings don't go away without help and even then, the vegetation is effectively eliminated for a number of years. Definitely a bad idea but guess that gives some of us a job destroying those damn fire rings-even though the re-veg part remains un-reclaimed.

I veiw fire rings as just another desecration. Another blight to the landscape.


And absolutely completely unnecessary.
 

LarryBoy

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Fire rings don't go away without help and even then, the vegetation is effectively eliminated for a number of years. Definitely a bad idea but guess that gives some of us a job destroying those damn fire rings-even though the re-veg part remains un-reclaimed.

I veiw fire rings as just another desecration. Another blight to the landscape.


And absolutely completely unnecessary.
I think fire rings are a lot like trails - they're both undeniable signs of human presence in wild places, but one that I'm willing to live with - in limited numbers and along popular trails where the environment is compromised anyway. I think that humans are just geared to like campfires and as long as there are trails, we can't do much to stop them from having campfires. I personally haven't built a fire in years; like you're said, they're unnecessary, and I'd prefer to just crawl in my sleeping bag early and watch the stars come out.
 
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