Finding Dry Firewood When It’s Wet

gathering dry wood from wet

I took my oldest two kids on a 3-day backpacking trip a few weeks ago. We hiked with some friends about a dozen miles on a trail that was rated “Strenuous.” At times there were some pretty steep inclines that we had to traverse, but overall it was a good, pleasant hike. It felt good to walk down the trail.

Spring Showers

It had rained just prior to our first day of hiking. The woods were wet with the spring showers that had coated the area. No worries; it wasn’t going to dampen our spirits. We left our vehicles in the parking area and set out along the trail.

We arrived at at first campsite at dust and set up camp. After the tents were raised and we were settled in, we began gathering firewood for a small campfire.

Finding dry tinder and kindling can be a challenge in wet weather. The outside of any exposed wood will likely be wet. Such was the case for us. Everything we could gather was very damp. Still, we wanted (fortunately we didn’t need) a campfire.

So, I demonstrated to my kids and friends how to use a knife and a baton to get dry kindling from wet wood.

Getting Dry Kindling from Wet Wood

Seasoned wood that has been exposed to rain will, of course, be wet to the touch. At least on the outside. If you can get to the wood on the inside, though, it will more than likely be dry enough to burn. The trick is to get to the wood on the inside without an ax or hatchet.

That’s where having a good knife comes in handy. I carry a Ka-Bar Becker BK2 Companion with me almost everywhere I go; it’s an essential component of my Bug Out Bag.

I carried it with me on this backpacking trip. It weighs a pound, but it’s worth the extra weight, even when carrying everything you need on your back.

Step 1: Find a good straight and relatively solid stick to use a baton. In the picture below (taken in my yard after the camping trip), my baton is in my right hand.

Step 2: Take the stick that you wish to split and stand it on it’s end. This stick must have a diameter that’s less than the length of your knife. For example, the BK2 has a blade length of 5 1/4 inches so I can reasonably expect to split wood that’s up to approximately 4 inches in diameter.

using your knife to baton firewood

Step 3: Place your knife across the top of the wood to be split. Now use the baton to hit the spine of your knife. Give it a good, firm whack to drive the knife blade into the end of the wood. Continue hitting the end of the knife, going down the length of the stick, until it splits.

Striking the end of your knife will split the stick

Step 4: Take one side of the split piece and split it again using the same method as before. Continue splitting the pieces into smaller and smaller pieces to make your kindling.

Split and split again to get smaller kindling

Step 5: Once you’ve split plenty to dry kindling, you can take a few of the smaller, thinner pieces and shave some even smaller slices from them help your spark grow from the tinder to the kindling.

Making smaller kindling from the inner pieces

With a little preparation and a good knife, you can readily extract dry kindling and fuel from the wet wood you’ve gathered.

On this hiking trip, having a campfire meant the difference between eating cold marshmallows and toasting them until they are warm and crunchy on the outside and gooey on the inside. In other instances, though, a campfire could mean the difference between surviving and hypothermia.

Have you used this technique before to collect dry firewood? 

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16 Comments on “Finding Dry Firewood When It’s Wet”

  1. George Says:

    Yes, i have done this very thing in order to get a fire going. one other trick find a spruce tree or pine tree that there hasn’t been a lot of people around and reach up into the center of the tree on the leeward side( the side away from the wind) and grab hands full of dead tinder material that will be fairly dry depending on how hard it rained. Another trick is to make a fuzz stick once you get a stick cut out that is dry by carving curled fringes all around the stick(hard to explain). i usually make 3-4 of these and can get a good fire going fast from these.


  2. Karen Says:

    Very good idea! Never would have thought of it… always something to learn!


    • Joe Says:

      Thanks, Karen. That’s true. There’s always more that can be learned and practiced.


      • George Says:

        isn’t that the truth. i am always learning something new. I see someone do something that have seen but not the way they are doing it. I am really enjoying these posts.


  3. anonymous aka nunya Says:

    Another good way to find dry wood when it is wet is to break off dead branches of a tree trunk. Even if the tree has fallen, the upright branches should be sufficiently dry to start a fire. I also read an idea to tie a length of paracord to either end of a wire saw or pocket chainsaw and sling one end over a branch which may be over your head and out of reach. Then saw away.


  4. Stuart Says:

    With each micro-climate we have here in Washington state, there is something known in the area as the “GO-TO” material during and weather. Westside of the mountains….dry side of a cedar and rash off its bark VERY sparingly with a spine of a knife. East side guys….pine is the tree that keeps on giving.


    • Ron Smith Says:

      I live in the deep south, camping and backpacking in north Georgia, Tennessee and the western North Carolina Mountains. Pine is a life-saver for fires no matter how wet the conditions. If lucky I have found a pine pitch (“Fatwood”, “Lighter Wood”) stump. In one area I kept a secret for many years I had a huge fatwood stump that I used to begin my fires, just taking “chunks” at a time off of it.
      This tree had been quite huge and had slowly died in the middle of the North Carolina wilderness in Transylvania County mountains. (Yes, no joke – Transylvania!) Abundant mountain streams in the area and a thick canopy kept the sun from reaching the Forest floor, so it was almost always wet.
      But even if you did not have a fatwood stump, Pine was still the answer to getting a fire started, being a softwood it was not a hot fire but you can always count on pine getting harder varieties, or larger pieces of wood burning eventually having a substantial or at least an adequate heat source for cooking or TO HEAT THE BONES!
      To George: Great for making “Fuzz sticks!”



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