Rarely does anything ever go exactly like you plan it to. People who are interested in learning about survival techniques will study the skills they need to build a shelter, purify water or build a fire. Fire is an intricate part of any survival scenario. You need it to stay warm, which is it especially important when it is cold out. It is also a necessary tool if you need to purify water or melt snow to drink.
That brings us to starting a fire in the cold. It adds a few problems. In almost every tutorial you will read and see on various survival blogs, the person instructing the fire starting is doing it in average weather. There is no rain or snow on the ground. The conditions are perfect. In a true survival situation, things are not going to be nearly as perfect.
You are going to need to know how to do things, like starting a fire, in less than perfect conditions. When the ground is covered in deep snow, you are going to struggle to find burning material as well as have a hard time finding the right spot.
There are a couple of options.
This is exactly what it sounds like. You will need to build your fire on a raft created with small logs. Collect logs that are all similar in size. Wet logs are perfect. They only need to be about a foot long and a few inches in diameter. The key to remember when building a survival fire is bigger is not better. A bigger fire requires more fuel. Fuel is going to be hard enough to come by in a situation where there is a lot of snow on the ground. Plan on keeping your fire small enough that it will provide you with some warmth and a way to purify water, but not big enough that it will need large logs to keep going.
Your fire raft doesn’t need to be held together. Line the logs up close together on top of the snow or ice. Place your tinder on top of the logs and build a fire tee pee with some dry twigs. You will absolutely need dry tinder to get started. Once you have your fire started, add more fuel. The fire will be on top of the wet logs. Yes, they may ignite and burn slowly, but that is okay. The snow under the logs will melt, creating a nice fire ring. If you can find rocks, place them around the melted patch. Make sure you dig a trench for any melting snow to drain away. Don’t sit or lay downhill from the fire. The melting snow will be headed right for you.
If the snow is deep or even somewhat shallow you can stomp down an area. This should only be done if you have waterproof shoes or can put a bag over your feet to prevent your feet and legs from getting wet. Being wet in a cold weather situation is dangerous.
You don’t have to see bare ground to build your fire. Stomp around to create a circle about 2 to 3 feet in diameter. Depending on the weather situation, you should end up with a thick layer of compact snow or possibly ice underneath. You can make the circle bigger if you need to stand/sit inside the stomped out fire ring. This is all dependent on why you need the fire to begin with.
You can put down a few small branches or twigs and set your tinder on top of that if you have created a slush after the stomping. Placing a medium sized rock in the center of the stomped down area is also a good option. Build your fire up from there. Use your foot or a branch to create a canal for the melting snow to drain away from your fire.
You can look for a spot under a tree where the snow will be very light or non-existent. Before you get started clearing your area, knock off any snow that is on the branches above the area you will be starting a fire. You don’t want the fire to heat the snow and cause it to fall and extinguish the fire below.
If you have a knife, cut off a bough and “sweep” the area where you will build your fire. Look for rocks if possible and create a fire ring. If you can’t find any rocks, it is okay. Build your fire in the center. Your fire area should be as far away from the trunk as possible. Even in the dead of winter, there is a chance the bark could ignite.
Use caution anytime you attempt to build a fire under or in the canopy of thick trees. If necessary, use the knife to cut off the lower branches. These branches are likely to have a lot of dry wood that could easily ignite. This is perfect wood to build your fire with. The tree will provide a nice canopy for your fire and protect it if is snowing, raining or the wind is blowing. If wind is a factor, determine which way it is coming from and build your fire on the opposite of the tree trunk. This will provide you with a slight wind break.
One of the benefits to a tree canopy fire is you can squeeze under it as well. The low boughs will help trap the heat of the fire in your sitting space as well as keep you out of the weather. It is absolutely important you keep your fire relatively small if you will be building it next to a giant tinder bundle.
If you ever find yourself lost or in need of a fire when the ground is covered in snow, these three methods can work for you. Always be prepared with some kind of fire starting tool and dry tinder.