Obviously you are going to want to try to find the driest fuel you possibly can find, but if you are being meticulous about the prior steps, you can get away with a little surface moisture on this front, especially with your larger fuel materials.
Tinder is your first form of fuel and we’ve already addressed that need. It’s the finest and fluffiest “fuel” in this process and absolutely critical to the ignition process.
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But after you have addressed your tinder needs and have established a protected site for your fire, you are going to need to start gathering kindling and larger fuel. Again, you can place your larger fuel logs around your fire to help dry them for when you are ready for them, but you are going to need a good bit of kindling to get to that point.
Your best option is to try to find low-hanging dead branches that make that nice, crisp “SNAP!” sound when you break them off like we described before. Again, avoid fallen branches lying on the ground as they are more likely to have picked up moisture from the ground or may even be rotted. As described earlier, dead branches that are still attached to trees have been exposed to more airflow and are drier, so choose those instead as much as possible.
If you have trouble finding suitable dry kindling materials, no problem! Just like you can do with tinder… make your own kindling!!
A terrific way to do this is to take a piece of wood a couple inches in diameter, split it in half, and then process it down even further into finger diameter strips. Then you can take a few of those and “feather” them by taking your knife and making long, thin curly shavings called “feathers” that will be bone dry and easily ignitable even with a tiny spark if you get them paper thin! Paper thin “feathers” make terrific tinder while slightly thicker “feathers” make awesome kindling!
You can make your own kindling by taking larger diameter fuel materials and process it down with your knife, making it smaller in diameter and exposing the dry interior of your larger fuel materials. Split larger branches down vertically into multiple smaller diameter segments for kindling.
Kindling size should range in thickness from to pencil lead thicknesses (ideal for transitioning immediately from your tinder) and gradually up to about finger diameter.
Remember, this is all about gently coaxing a slow transition upward in the diameter of your fuel. Once you get your tinder ignited, start with the very smallest kindling pieces at first. Get a few of these going from your tinder and, once they take, feed your fire one or two pieces at a time to keep it “happy”.
Take your time and don’t rush this. Better to keep feeding your fire the small stuff for a little longer than necessary just to be safe than to get too aggressive too quickly and feed your fire bigger “bites” than it is ready to “chew”. Easy does it. You don’t want your fire to “choke” on big stuff too soon!
Remember, this is not your standard fire build. The extreme elements are working against you, so take extra care and caution. Be more patient and gentle than you normally would with your fire build. The odds are NOT in your favor here!
After you do this for a bit and get the small stuff really established, eventually introduce a bit of larger of kindling to your fire (like pencil diameter) and then immediately sprinkle a few more smaller pieces of kindling around it to help the larger piece adjust to its new environment.
If you start seeing lots of smoke and little to no flame, back off adding fuel to your fire. Gently push your larger kindling to the far side of your fire and sprinkle on a bit of the smaller stuff again and coax it into flame. Get that small stuff going again with the larger piece of kindling right next to it.
Coax, don’t force. “Listen” to what your fire is “telling” you.
If you don’t have enough coals yet for a good source of heat that will ignite larger kindling, don’t be afraid to stick with the small stuff a bit longer. If you do have a decent bed of hot coals but are still getting lots of smoke from your fuel, either open up your fire a bit to allow more oxygen in, or try blowing on your coals to add oxygen. Don’t about forget oxygen! Oxygen can also help you coax less than optimally dry materials into combustion, just not too much too soon!
If you notice that your coal bed is diminishing as you blow on it and larger pieces simply refuse to combust, then that means your coal bed is not established enough. Remedy this gently pushing your larger kindling slightly to one side and coaxing more small stuff into flame until your fire is more established.
Once you have your fire established to the point that you can easily add finger diameter kindling to your fire at will without issue, you are well on your way!! Now you can consider starting to slowly add broom stick diameter kindling to your fire and, using the same methods and principles you used for the small stuff, gently work your way up to full size logs!! And now you are in business!!