How to start your campfire when the weather won’t cooperate

Picture this: you’re on your way back to your campsite after an awesome day of exploration. You’ve kayaked all through the park’s network of lakes. You’ve conquered the lookout trail.

But now the sun’s starting to sink. The wind’s picked up and it’s getting chilly. You feel the first drop of rain.

It’s a full drizzle by time you reach your campsite. You’re tired and hungry.

But do you know how to start a campfire in windy, wet weather?

Whether it’s to warm you up, cook food, or dry your clothes from the rain, a campfire is the first thing you should focus on when you’ve settled on a camping spot to pitch your tent.

We chatted with our friends at ZIP Firestarters to gather some top tips for getting your campfire started in inclement weather.

1. Start with the right campsite setup

If you’re choosing your campsite, try and select a site that is sheltered from high winds. Pay attention to the placement of the firepit.

campsite with tent and tarps

Next, make sure to keep your firewood dry. Never throw your firewood down on wet or snowy ground. Instead, place your wood into the crotch of a tree where it will be kept high and dry. If it’s raining, do whatever you can to cover your wood.

Better yet, leave your wood in the trunk of your car or under a tarp or dining fly until it’s needed.

2. Build your fire in the right place

Use your campsite’s designated firepit. This will ensure the fire you light is safe and contained, especially if it’s windy. Never build a fire with flames higher than the rim of your firepit. Before placing your wood, clear a one metre space around your pit, and remove all pine needles, grasses, leaves and twigs.

If it’s raining, try to dry the base of the firepit. This should help keep your fire going and stop the wood from getting as damp.

Your campsite’s firepit automatically provides a bit of shelter from the elements, but you can maximize its protection by placing your fire in the most sheltered part of the circle (generally the side closest to the wind).

3. Stack your wood carefully

Work to keep your wood dry until you can get it lit. In windy or wet weather, it can take longer to get the fire going, so make sure you’ve got enough kindling.

Build a log cabin or tipi-style campfire (or a combo). Make sure you keep your flame sheltered while still giving it room to breathe.

woman adding wood to campfire

You can also try a lean-to structure, which lays several heavier logs on one side as a firebreak, protecting the rest of your fire from the wind.

4. Light your fire (and keep it lit)

If you’re using matches, make sure to store them in a waterproof container. A barbecue lighter is a great weather-resistant option to ignite your campfire in inclement weather.

If it’s windy, place your back to the wind to shield your fledgling flames. Bonus: this should also give you the best protection from blowing sparks.

Can’t get your fire to stay lit (or even get it started)?

ZIP Kickstart firelog

Bringing a ZIP firestarter from your local provider (or some of our park stores!) is a great option, especially in bad weather.

ZIP Kickstart Firestarters are designed to ignite even the most difficult / damp wood, a firestarter replaces the need for kindling and newspaper with one quick and easy log, and gets your fire going fast!

Cold air, dark night, bright stars, warm fire. Campfire under stars. ZIP logo

How to use a ZIP Kickstart Firestarter:

  • Place your ZIP Kickstart Firestarter in your firepit with the horizontal seam at the top. Do not remove the wrapper
  • Grasp the wrapper at both ends and pull outwards. Then pull the middle seam upwards. Place the wood over the top
  • Light the arrows at both ends of the wrapper with waterproof matches. This means that you should be able to light the wrapper easily and the match won’t go out
  • Once your ZIP Kickstart Firestarter is lit, it will burn for 45+ minutes which means it will start to dry out the wood you place on top

Firestarters are an especially good option if you’re a new or casual camper.

Watch a ZIP Powerstarter Firestarter at work here:

There are lots of options for firestarters. The full Kickstart logs are great for bad weather campfires, while the individual cubes are great for getting your fire going first time, every time!

The magic of campfires

There aren’t many things in life which beat the cozy glow of the wood as it crackles away before you after a long day of outdoor adventures.

father and son roasting marshmallows

A campfire can be both a beloved ritual to enjoy with friends and family, and a safety staple that keeps you dry and warm during your adventures.

Before you hit the road this camping season, be sure you know how to build a fire in all weathers, and that you’re packing the right tools to ignite it.

P.S. Make sure you follow basic fire safety rules, even in bad weather!

Ontario Parks thanks corporate partners like ZIP for their support.