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Letters To The Editor

Regarding: Tips For Starting Fires In Cold Weather

I grew up in a home with wood heat, and lighting the fire in the morning was one of my chores from a young age. Plus I was raised being a hunter, fisherman, hiker and camper. So I have a little experience in this.

I’m going to tell how I build a fire indoors and then how I do it outdoors in the snow. They’re both similar with just a few differences.

I used to split enough tinder off of well-seasoned logs to last a week every Saturday or Sunday, and put it in a wood box that sat near the stove where any surface moisture would dry. Firewood I usually had to haul in daily. We kept the split wood and small rounds in the wood shed. The other wood was covered with a tarp and piled neatly against the side of the shed, cut to length and waiting for me to split it.

The two main things you need to start a fire is good air circulation and good tinder.

With a wood stove or fireplace, make sure the flues are all the way open first.

There are many ways to stack the wood: tee-pee style, criss-cross, chimney style, etc. I like to put down two fire logs with a good gap between them and then fill the gap with a crumpled piece of paper and some tinder.

The tinder has to either criss-cross itself or be leaning against the logs, because if you have it all aiming the same direction as the logs as soon as the paper burns it’ll fall down on itself and smother the fire.

Once you have the tinder set, you light the paper and then put a couple of one- or two-inch sticks across the gap in the flames (these often weren’t necessary, but they take little effort and a assure that the fire will take). As soon as the fire gets established you can throw a few more pieces of wood on and turn down the flues so the fire lasts.

For an outdoor fire I carry multiples of a few things (I don’t trust myself not to lose them).

First I carry Bic-style lighters, usually one in my pant pocket, one in my coat pocket, and one in my pack. I leave the matches at home, a butane lighter is far superior for outdoor use. It doesn’t care if it gets wet, doesn’t need a special surface to strike, doesn’t break when you’re trying to light it, provides many more lights than a box of matches, can be kept lit long enough to dry and light damp tinder, can be used as flint and steel if out of fuel, etc.

Second I carry tea light candles (I used to carry altar candles but they aren’t as easy to find or as inexpensive anymore). These take the place of paper or fluff in my fire as in the winter you often need to dry the tinder before it lights, and paper if available, doesn’t burn long enough.

I’ve used rolled cardboard dipped in wax, and cotton balls dipped in wax for the same purpose, but tea candles take much less effort to prepare and work as well. (I had a friend who carried a flask filled with old engine oil cut with diesel he used for this – too stinky and messy for me).

The first thing you need to prepare for a fire in snow country is the surface it’ll sit on. Either stomp down the snow, remove the snow (better), or find an area without snow.

Next you need some green limbs to build a platform out of. These will provide a surface for the fire to sit on out of the water that melts off the logs and the surrounding area. The platform doesn’t need to be anything amazing, a couple of evergreen bows work great, or any branches that will keep the fire raised above the ground – even more firewood will work.

Then you build the fire just as you would indoors, with the exception of replacing the paper with the tea light.

The direction you put the first two fire logs can make a difference also. If you have high winds you put the logs so they protect the tinder from the wind, if you just have a gentle breeze you might want to turn the opening toward the wind so the gap will act as a venture and feed oxygen to the fire.

There’s more to it than this, but only experience will teach you that.



I have canoed in the rain all day in March with the temps in the 40s. You want a fire for the evening. I had a great deal of luck looking deep into clumps of debris along the river. Even if it rains all day, you can still find dry material to start your fire. I also collect my dryer lint for fire starting. This works great.




  1. One of the best “tinder”, and easy to carry and use, is a Tampon. The inner absorbent material ignites easily with just sparks (flint and steel), burns hot and lasts long enough to dry and ignite small twigs. Just pull some out, “fluff” it up and light it. From the twigs, just keep adding larger branches until you have a good blaze going.
    BUTANE CAUTION: Caution with butane lighters – When the temperature of butane drops into the mid-30’s (F), the flow will diminish substantially. Butane WILL freeze (become a liquid) at the same temperature as water, 30-32 (F) degrees, and cease to flow. If you rely on a butane lighter, keep it close to your body to keep it warm
    PROPANE: You can empty a butane refillable lighter and refill it with propane and usually not have to worry about the temperature. Propane doesn’t liquefy until minus 44 (F) degrees. And if you are out in temperatures at minus 44 (F) degrees and not on a military mission, you might want to get a checkup from the neck up.

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