“And all the while the dog sat and watched him, a certain yearning wistfulness in its eyes, for it looked upon him as the fire provider, and the fire was slow in coming. ” ~Jack London
Let’s say you go camping in the rain. We’ve all been there. You still want a fire, though right?
Some of us don’t bring pre-prepared tinder from home, so you need to be able to find it in the woods.
Most importantly, being able to find it in the wild, especially when faced with disagreeable climatic conditions, is a skill you’ll be glad you have if you spend enough time outside.
I’ve noticed that there’s one sort of tinder you can almost always find, at any time of year (although it’s easiest to find in the winter), and it stays dry, even in wet conditions.
It’s standing dry grass. There are multiple species and despite the fact that it might sound straightforward, offensively obvious, even, but it’s worth knowing.
So I’ll face the risk of being charged with providing obvious information if at least one of you reading this will find it helpful.
What to Look for
There’s more than one species of wild grass out there and truth be told, I actually don’t even know what any of these are.
But what you’re looking for is the same, nonetheless. It might sound counterproductive, but what you want to do is look for these grasses in low areas.
The ground might be muddy or flooded, which I suppose is why the grasses grow there. In the summer, if you can find green tufts of grass, look around the base for dried, standing, dead bits.
In the winter, the last year’s growth will die and dry out, and you can find it standing in low areas, swamps, and other early successional habitat. What’s ironic is the wettest areas sometimes hold the driest grasses.
If you’re in an upland area, just start looking for early successional habitat, where the trees aren’t so thick. This will allow more sunlight to reach the ground and these areas are usually choked with grasses.
Here’s an area that’s fairly sparsely populated by trees.
Notice there are some tufts of dry grass dotting the immediate vicinity?
That stuff is a jackpot if you’re looking for dry material to stand in place of tinder.
Interestingly enough, another great place to look for standing dry grasses is along pond banks and dams. Grasses grow thick there in the summer, and in the winter they dry out and provide excellent tinder.
Even in wet weather, the grass usually stays dry enough to ignite with a spark, and if not with a spark, with a lighter.
What you want to do is grab a large handful of it, as you can see below, and fold and crunch it up into a nest or a ball, as I have done below.
It’s There in All Weather (Just Make Sure You Take More Than You Think You Need)
One thing I want to point out is that you will need more of this than you will think, especially if you are looking in inclement conditions.
If you think you need a handful, take three of four. You won’t be hurting anything. The grass will be back in one season if not less.
One thing I feel the need to belabor, though, is that these grasses must be standing. Grasses that are too low to or are touching the ground will absorb moisture from it and will not light. Don’t even waste your time unless the grass is standing well clear of the ground.
Just to lend some credence to my asseveration, these dried grasses will light with a little help from a ferro rod. Just see the picture at the top of this post.
That’s all you need to make a fire in the woods, even if everything is wet.
Another Trick: Get It from Wood
One thing I’d like to leave you with is this. I can’t imagine a scenario in which you were sitting on a stack of wood and couldn’t access some dry grass, but I suppose it could happen.
And if it does, you can extract tinder right from the log. Just in case you were wondering how, all you need is a dry log and a knife with a square spine.
You can pull some shavings off the log that are fine enough to light with a spark. Plus, they’ll burn hotter and longer than other forms of tinder, making them far superior to dried grass.
If you’re interested in getting tinder from wood, please see the previous link to a post I published a while back.