How to Build a Fire in Snow or Mud

It’s bound to come up sooner or later–that moment when you go camping and find your site is nothing but snow or mud. It’s at that moment that you most need the visual and physical comfort of a campfire, but the conditions you need to make it in seem to preclude that possibility. (If you want to learn how to start a fire without matches, go here.)

Now is your chance to go down in the annals of true camping genius in the eyes of your fellow camping buddies. You need a piece of dry log, about thee feet in length and 1-1 1/2 feet in diameter. That’s all you need for one style of fire-making. A few twigs and shavings in addition to the log for the other.

Because now you’re going to build a gap fire.

The first one is traditionally referred to as a Raappaanan Tuli, or “log fire”. It is Finnish in origin–hence the name–and is ingenious in its execution. Here is what you do:

  • Take your log and split it length-wise into three sections. Set aside the center cut, which is narrower in width than the other two outside pieces.
  • Take one outside piece and, using an axe, make cuts into the wood all in the same direction perpendicular to the grain of wood, almost like you are hacking chips out of it, only you don’t remove the chips. Create these “scales” over the entire inner surface of the wood.
  • Repeat with the other outside piece.
  • Stand both outside sections facing each other, cut surface in, so that the scales point downwards. sections should be about three inches apart from one another.
  • Cut the center piece into thin kindling and shavings. Pile this in between the unended log halves. Adjust log halves so kindling is caught firmly between halves.
  • Light kindling. Once it catches the fire will lick up and catch the “wedges” you cut into the inside surface of the log halves and fire will burn slowly and hot inwards.

–The nice thing about the Finnish log fire is that you can place pots or kettles on the top surface and use it for cooking! I had the opportunity to try a similar style when I went camping.  I cut a log in half and chopped the cuts in either cut surface, then turned it upside down and lit a small fire using a couple of twigs at the bottom.  Even without the center piece of thin kindling the fire caught no problem at all:

Cut a piece of wood in half and use the axe to create “chips” in one direction only along the inside of both halves.


I did a poor job of creating “chips” along the inside edges, but the fire started anyway.

A couple of minutes later and the fire is going like crazy.

The Rakovalkea, or “gap fire”:

The Rakovalkea, or “gap fire”, uses a similar method of trapping fire between two pieces of wood:

  • Take two logs about three feet in length. Slice a thin piece off the outside of one so it will lay flat and not roll around on the ground.
  • Using an axe, cut a thin lengthwise “smile” out of the other side of the log, and one out of one side of the second log. On the first log that is laying flat on the ground, lay several twigs horizontally across the “smile”. Add shavings and thin kindling.
  • Lay the second log, “smile” side down, on the first log. If the ground is soft, you can wedge some long sticks into the ground against the two to hold the top log in place, or you can take a stick, prop the first log up with it, and nail the top of the prop stick into the top of the top log, holding it in place. Any means to add stability to it.
  • Light the shavings and kindling in the middle of the two logs. Fire will burn slow and hot.


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