Walt W. was born and raised in Florida, but was visiting North Dakota when he set out on what was supposed to be a two-hour hike.
But his hike didn’t go as planned… and his survival skills were put to the test.
Walt said, “I love the wilderness, I love camping, I love being outdoors. A Florida boy doesn’t get to hike in the snow very often.”
You see, as Walt returned from his hike up the canyon, it started to snow.
In all, about eight inches of snow fell in a short amount of time. And soon the trail that Walt was following was unrecognizable.
Luckily, Walt was dressed for the conditions.
He also brought with him a water bottle, two pieces of apple pie, matches, a Bic lighter, and a notebook.
But he didn’t have a cell phone or any way to communicate.
As night began to fall, he realized he’d be spending the night in the elements.
Temperatures dropped to the 20’s. Walt found shelter in a small cave.
He started a tiny fire using notebook paper and his lighter.
The paper was wet but he was able to get a small enough fire going to create some hot coals that provided a small amount of warmth.
It was just enough heat to keep him from freezing.
The next morning Walt resumed his hike down. But he was moving through waist-deep snow.
To make matters worse, he had run out of water and food, and he was eating snow for hydration.
Eventually, Walt stumbled upon an unoccupied cabin.
He broke through the door and found dry clothes. He was able to turn the heat on for warmth.
The following afternoon, the Billings County Sheriff’s Department came to the cabin and found Walt.
A local pastor reported him missing after finding his car, wallet, and cell phone.
A search team of about 15 people had been looking for Walt.
He suffered from frostbite and weeks after the ordeal he hadn’t regained feeling in his fingers.
But he could have been dead that first frigid night if he hadn’t have been able to start a small fire.
He later said, “I didn’t think that the worst-case scenario could happen, and it certainly did.”
When you are facing a dangerous cold, fire is the key to survival.
But, building a fire in the snow or rain isn’t easy, and it’s obviously much different than building a summertime campfire.
However, with the right skills, you can build a fire even in the harshest conditions.
Here are a few ideas to help create a fire when staying warm is critical…
When building a fire in the snow or rain, the most important decision is exactly where you build the fire.
You want to choose a place that provides the most protection from the snow, rain, and wind.
For instance, in a cave or under a tree.
If you choose to build your fire under a tree, knock the snow or water off the branches before you start the fire.
If you can’t dig down through the snow you should create some sort of platform for your fire.
You can make it out of rocks or bark or logs or leaves or something that will buffer the fire from the melting snow and water beneath it, so it stays lit.
Create a fire pit:
Using rocks is one of the best ways to create a fire pit, and if needed, they can also keep the fire off the ground that might be soaked.
The base of the fire should be as dry as possible.
If rocks are not an option you can build the fire on the ground. Just be sure it’s not drenched with water or your fire will soon fizzle.
Fuel the fire:
It will likely be difficult to find dry wood.
But gather tinder, kindling, and some larger pieces of wood.
Think about what else you have to help start the fire. In Walt’s case, he had notebook paper.
Look for needle-bearing or dead trees. The smaller branches of these are more likely to burn compared to a beautiful green tree.
Look for twigs without any green on them.
Now, if the only thing you can find is wet, then get the wood into the sunlight to help dry it out.
Light it up:
Once you have your location and fuel, build at least a hand-sized mound of materials.
If the weather is really bad you might need to double the amount of tinder and fire-starting material.
A cone or tepee shape that is about a foot wide at the base should build a good size fire.
Don’t build it any more than a foot tall as this can be unstable.
Once you light the fire let it burn at its own pace. It might take longer than you expect for it to catch fire since the tinder is wet.
Be patient as the fire grows.
Once the fire is going you need to keep it going. Rain and snow will put it out if you don’t keep fuel in the fire.
If the fire goes out it will be more difficult to get it started again.
The skill of fire building is age-old. It’s not difficult but requires time and patience.
Like many survival skills, it’s something you should practice next time you go camping.
Test your skills during nasty weather. You will learn a lot by practicing when you’re safe, that could help you when your life depends on it.
Of course, in your bug out bag, have as many fire-starting items as possible such as a Bic Lighter, Swedish FireSteel, dryer lint, etc.