Featured, Outdoors

How to Start a Fire in the Snow

Martin Banks

If you’re stranded out in the snow, the first thing you’ll want to do is to figure out how to stay warm.

You can live for three weeks without food and three days without water, but a cold night without shelter and a fire to keep warm could kill you in a fraction of the time.

Starting a fire in the snow can be challenging, but here are a few tips and tricks to help make it a little bit easier. 

1. Clear a Space

The first thing you need to do is clear space where you will build your fire. This needs to be clear of everything, including fallen leaves, branches and snow for at least 10 feet around where you’re going to build. The latter might be more challenging if it’s been snowing for a while. However, if you start your fire on top of a couple of inches of snow, it’s going to extinguish itself, defeating the purpose of building a fire in the first place.

Clear a space for your fire so you’ll be able to build it safely and keep it from spreading. The last thing you want to do is start a forest fire. 

2. Gather Dry Kindling and Wood

Step two, in a snow-covered setting, is going to be the most difficult. You’ll need to gather dry wood and kindling to start your fire — and finding dry anything when you’re surrounded by snow is going to be a challenge. Look for the dead lower limbs of large trees and anything that’s been sheltered from the snowfall, such as fallen limbs. Leaves and small sticks might be hard to find, but you can often break branches into small-enough pieces to serve as dry kindling.

Avoid green wood — wood that is taken from a still-living tree — because it will be more difficult or downright impossible to get to light because of its high moisture content. You can use green branches in a pinch or if you’re trying to generate a lot of smoke to signal your location, but avoid them if you’re just getting your blaze started. 

3. Start Your Fire

Depending on what you have on hand, this could be an easy step, or it could be an incredibly challenging one. If you’ve got a lighter, flint and steel or even a pocket knife, you can easily light your kindling and start adding larger sticks to build your campfire. If you’re stranded without any tools, you’ve got a few options. If you’re wearing shoes with shoelaces, you can break off a branch and use your lace to make a  friction drill, which — when paired with a flat piece of wood and some patience — can help get a fire blazing.  

If you wear glasses and it’s a sunny day, you may be able to focus a sunbeam through the lenses to start a fire, similar to what you probably did as a kid with a magnifying glass. We recommend practicing your chosen fire-starting method before you really need it. Still, most of these techniques are fairly simple and can be adopted by anyone with enough patience and perseverance. 

4. Stay Warm

Whether you’re stranded in the wilderness or are just out camping during the cold winter months, knowing how to make a fire in the snow can help keep you warm during your trip.

If you find yourself stranded out in the wilderness and in need of warmth, be patient and take care of yourself. Once you get your fire and shelter going, you’ll be able to weather most any storm. 

Martin Banks