Category Archives: fire

dakota fire hole

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The dakota fire hole is an efficient, ‘low’ impact stove constructed of a main chamber, dug into the ground, and a secondary air hole. The fire, when hot, sucks the air in through the windward airhole to superheat the fire in the chamber causing an efficient burn in term of wood used, high temperatures and very little smoke. Because the flames and embers are below the ground it also makes for a fire that excels in stiff breezes and has a low visual imprint on the landscape. Great if you don’t want to be seen! When cooled and filled in with the turf used to excavate it it leaves very little visual clue too.

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The fire hole is very easy to make in non-saturated, non-combustible (ie NOT peat) and non-stony soil. Just a digging stick and your bare hands will suffice. This one here took 10 minutes to make and a couple of minutes to light.

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Dig a hole about 20-30cms wide and about 30cms deep Hollow out the chamber into a bottle shape to create more space for fuel.

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About 30 cms away and on the windward side of the main chamber dig a secondary, sloping air hole the intersects with the bottom/side of the main chamber. Make the hole about 15cm wide – or enough to get your arm down. The wind will help feed the fire oxygen to superheat it and create a more smokeless burn.

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Cut four bits of green wood for the edge of the main fire hole – this can be used to mount your billy can  – allowing for airflow and also to enable the feeding of fuel.

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Once finished then saturate hole, fill in and re-turf.


survival hall of fame: the birch polypore fungus

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Piptoporus betulinus, is also known as the birch polypore or razor strop fungus. It is one of the most common polyporous bracket fungi and grows almost exclusively on birch trees. It is therefore an inhabitant of northern forests around the world. And as such an ideal resource for those travelling in the wilderness.

Its bracket-like fruiting bodies can last for more than year and although it is classed as inedible (due to its toughness and bitterness) it is medicinal and has been used both externally as a ‘band-aid’ and topical application for inflamation and internally, as a tea, for a range of conditions including whipworm.

The surface and the layer beneath the surface has been widely used to put the fine finishing edge on a razor, a knife or an axe. In fact cutting these will dull your blade quite quickly.

This was the fungus that was carried by “Ötzi the Iceman” – the 5,000 year old mummy found in the Tyrol – and points to its long-standing use in fire-lighting. It can also be used as a ‘smudge’ (as in smudge stick or smudge pot) as it smoulders, giving off a pungent smoke that effectively repels insects.

Due to the host of uses this fungus surely deserves to a place in the Wilderness Guide’s Survival Hall of Fame.

As a plaster

The fungus has anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-septic, anti-inflammatory and absorbant properties that when used externally can make it a useful plaster for small cuts and abrasions.

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As a blade strop

Slice the fungus, dry it and either use as is or fix it to a board or backing. Here a piece is glued to the back of my bow-drill hearth-board.

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As a tinder

Either finely flaked, powdered or sliced it takes a spark from a modern firesteel.

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Or as an insect-repelling smudge

Either sliced finely of even used as a thick block BPF smoulders and gives off quite a bit of thick smoke which has proven very effective to repel insects from an area. It needs a still, windless environment to work well. I have also noticed that there is a tar-like residue left on the pot/dish after burning which points to it containing tar, which might have possibly been sequestered from the birch itself and its oil-rich bark.

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fire: the feather-stick

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Feather (or fuzz) sticks are useful when small tinder is scarce. All you need is some standing dead-wood that can be split and then shaved, with your knife, into curls. The finer the curls the better as these can easily take a spark from a modern firesteel or with the addition of a small piece of charcloth use a traditional flint and striker to ignite these curls.

click on the video below to see how this is done


fire of the day: the criss cross

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The criss-cross fire lay is a very important and flexible fire. It is quick to ignite, it provides a lot of heat, a decent amount of light and a good ember base for cooking. It can be built in advance almost in entirety before it is lit and the way the sticks are placed allows for high air flow and therefore it ‘takes’ very quickly: making it an ideal pre-prepared emergency signal fire.

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The principles of the fire are simple. Place two retaining logs either side to create a chamber for the tinder and fine kindling. This can be placed on a raised bed of sticks to keep it off the damp woodland floor and also improve airflow. Next arrange a small row of sticks over it, then at 90 degrees arrange another, possible slightly bigger sticks…and so on. When the fire is lit the fire climbs quickly through the small sticks which in turn light the larger ones. When the fire really takes hold then as it collapses it ‘self-feeds itself more fuel from above.

Of course you do not have to build it in advance but create a small fire then lay sticks cross-cross over the fire to build it up. The resulting embers provide one of the best cooking fires or can be raked out to convert to a long log fire for the night.

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If you use this fire as the basis of an emergency signal fire then construct the fire, possible even with an addition of a small pit underneath to further increase air-flow and ensure ultra-quick ignition. Leave a decent chamber for the tinder to be placed. Don’t worry about increasing the size of your sticks too much in the criss-cross layers above – you want the sticks to all catch quickly – so smaller ones may do that better than big logs. Over the pre-prepared fire-lay rig up a greenwood tripod and lash a simple mezzanine frame just above the top layer of the fuel. On this loose, airy platform place plenty of green leaves and herbage. This gives you the option to make it a smoke signal fire (green leaves create lots of smoke) AND keep the fuel dry underneath for when you want to light it.

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fire of the day: the hunter’s fire

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The Hunter’s Fire uses two parallel logs with the fire in between. The logs act not only as fuel, a windshield but also as a platform to place a pot above the flame. An adaptation of this fire is a ‘Hunter’s V’ which places the wood wider at one end and narrower at the other. The open end can be placed more into the wind and creates a narrowing channel that accelerates the airflow thereby increasing the heat/intensity at the narrow end. This is great for damp wood but also gives you a cooking platform that has variable heat from one end to the other.


fire of the day: the long log

long log fire

long log fire

This fire is a denizen of the cold places. It is a key piece of survival kit in the boreal north. It is mainly used as an effective form of heating at camp. Although you can happily cook over it (its length means that it is ideally suited to a high-bar pot suspension rig / double tripod) it excels in the amount of heat it kicks out sideways down its entire length. Having a long-log fire the length of a sleeping person ensures that heat is radiated down the entire length of the body. Pair this fire with a way of reflecting radiated heat back at you from the other side of the fire – such as using a log fire reflector wall and having the back wall of a shelter behind you can ensure that all heat is bounce back onto you, over you, behind you, and if you raise your sleeping platform, even underneath you. I have slept out, without a sleeping bag in -14 C using a long log fire in this way. As long as you remember to feed it at certain times during the night!

radiated heat bouncing back into the shelter

radiated heat bouncing back into the shelter

To make this fire you should start a regular, small fire and build up the ember base (for instance criss-crossing the firewood helps in this process). Build up a significant bed of embers then ‘rake’ it out into a length and place three lengths of wood onto the fire to encourage it to ignite and for the flame to move outwards along the logs. Sooner or later you will be able to put quite sizeable diameter logs of 6 foot length onto the fire – you don’t need many, two or three at a time. They should burn for hours. The longest long log fire I have ever used was for 8 people, sleeping both sides of the fire and was around 20 feet long – showing that you can keep the cutting and chopping of wood to a minimum.

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fire of the day: the star fire

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A star fire is a long lasting fire that provides good embers for cooking and heating water and also provides a platform to balance a cooking pot on obviating the need for a cooking suspension rig. It also uses less wood than some fires and therefore is useful in areas where firewood is in short supply (or high demand). Its low flames, often concealed in the heart of the fire make it more discreet, safe and controllable.

The beauty of it is that you can vary the fire by pushing the logs inwards or pulling them outwards. Also by doing it this way can sometimes avoid much cutting or sectioning of the wood as you feed the fuel into the fire lengthways as needs.

The process to make one is simple: build a normal fire using tinder, kindling and fuel then arrange four similar sized logs so they meet in the middle. Push the logs in as they burn. Occasional feeding of the fire with additional kindling and fuel to maintain the burning of the larger logs is often necessary.