The skill of building a fire is often mistaken as being not too important as compared to obtaining clean food and water. However, if you are in extreme weather conditions where the surrounding temperature is really cold, making a survival fire to keep you and your family warm should be given priority especially when the grid fails.
So, what is a ‘fire lay’ anyway? it is basically a structure that is made from wooden sticks with a variety of thickness to facilitate the ignition and sustenance of a fire. The issue that this post aims to address is – which type of fire lay would be right for different situations? Here are 5 useful fire lays you need to know for your survival.
Benefits of Building a Survival Fire
Before getting into ‘How’ you can build a survival fire, it would only be proper to address the ‘Why’. Hence, I have briefly placed a few bullet points to explain the benefits.
– To prevent potential diseases. – If your surroundings is below zero degrees Fahrenheit and there are wind chills that makes the temperature dip to -18 Fahrenheit, you should stay indoors and limit outside exposure to a maximum of 30 minutes. Getting sufficient warmth helps reduce risk of getting hypothermia and frostbites.
– Cook food and water. – A fire is great for cooking food and water too, ensuring the food and water that you consume is clean. As you will find out later, the ‘Teepee Fire’ would be the best for this job because it focuses the heat onto one area.
– Obtain great visibility of your surroundings. – Even when it gets dark, your fire can act as a light to help you get a good visibility of your surroundings. This can help you keep a look out for surrounding threats at night. If you do not want to catch too much attention with your fire, you can build a ‘Dakota Fire Hole’ to significantly reduce the visibility of your fire.
The three basic ingredients of building a fire is spark, fuel and air. It is important to balance these 3 basic ingredients in order to build a fire that can light up easily and sustain itself. For the wood, it has to be dry enough, where you should be able to break the stick with one bent.
Also, you can rely on modern tools to start your fire, such as using InstaFire and WetFire cubes, or creating sparks with Ferro rods. But of course, that would help to the extent of getting a fire only, you would still need to maintain the fire. It means you still need to master the skill of arranging the wood, ensuring that there would be enough air flow to get to the fire.
You will need a huge amount of tinder too, where I would usually suggest getting a tinder bulk half the size of a basketball. Here are some steps you can follow:
Steps to Build a Fire
To make this article comprehensive, I would like to cover the steps for building a fire briefly. The first step is to build a sustainable fire platform. It acts as a foundation for your survival fire, where it ensures that your fire is kept above the freezing cold ground. You can get dry logs or rocks to make your foundation.
Next, you can choose to place ‘backer logs’ on top of the fire platform to ensure that your fire do not spread to unwanted places. Also, it is great for blocking surrounding wind from interfering with your fire. It is best to arrange the logs in a way which promotes airflow to ensure that maximum oxygen is supplied to the fire.
Finally, you need to ensure that the platform and tinder bulk are suitable for lighting. The rule is to have huge piles of kindling, so that you have your rate on starting the fire. Depending on how long you need the fire, you need to prepare huge amount of ‘fuel’ to sustain the fire. You can start a fire by using flint and steel or the ‘fire plough’ method.
Types of Fire Lays
Now, let us delve into the different types of fire lays and the pros and cons for each of them.
(1) Teepee Fire
The Teepee fire lay is first on the list due to its popularity, because it is really simple to build. The general characteristics of it is that it ignites quickly and it burns quickly.
So, what is a ‘teepee’? It is basically a cone-shaped tent which was popular amongst the American Indians. This kind of fire lay is named ‘Teepee Fire’ because it is similar to the shape of a ‘teepee’, which is a cone-shaped tent. In other words, the ‘architecture’ of this fire lay justifies its name, where you arrange the sticks according to a teepee configuration. You should arrange the smaller sticks first, then only move towards placing your larger sticks.
This design focuses the heat of the fire directly above it, which makes it ideal for cooking. If you put a pot on top of the fire, it would most likely cook fast.
Do note that other more complex fire lays such as the Log Cabin-style fire lay would require you to build a small teepee fire beforehand, to help you ignite the fire. After burning up the wood and tinder, the remains can be used as fuel for the fire.
Here is a step-by-step guide you can follow:
(i) After building your fire platform, place your tinder bundle on it.
(ii) Next, you can form a teepee with the kindling. To ease the process, you can make the structure more stable by burying four kindling twigs by firmly placing them on the ground first, so you can arrange a ‘teepee’ above it.
(iii) After putting sufficient tinder, you can place small kindling twigs against the downside of the tinder. Remember to leave a small opening from the top, in the middle so that you can easily ignite a fire.
(iv) After arranging the small kindling twigs, you can start placing pencil-sized sticks, and lean them against those small kindling twigs. Remember to ensure great air flow as well.
(v) Finally, you can place another four pencil-sized wood into the ground so that it can form a larger teepee structure which is covering the small structure.
(vi) When you are done building it, you can put more fuelwood on the support structure to ensure that it could burn easily.
(2) Lean-To Fire Lay
The lean-to fire is great because it is quick to assemble and it can produce fire effectively under various environments. You can carry out the steps quickly because you have a support stick ensuring all of your branches do not fall, saving the hassle for the need to assemble the sticks.
The only downside is that you have to orient the fire according to the direction of the wind for decent results. Otherwise, you will not have a good amount of air flow to get the fire going.
Here is an easy guide to follow:
(i) First, you need to place a pile of tinder on the ground. Next, would be driving a long, combustible wooden stick into the ground at a 30 degrees angle over the tinder bulk you just made. The heavier part of the stick should be stuck into the ground, while the other lighter end should be pointing at the direction of the wind.
(ii) Add more tinder bundle under the main stick, ensuring that there is sufficient support to hold the stick up.
(iii) Start leaning pieces of kindling against the lean-to stick over the tinder. Of course, start placing the shorter sticks first and then make your way to the longer sticks.
(iv) Light the kindling and build the fire from the smaller pieces of wood, making the fire strong enough to take-on those larger branches.
Here is a comprehensive youtube video on how you can build a lean-to fire.
(3) Log Cabin-Style Fire Lay
Warning! Only attempt the Log cabin-style fire lay only if you are experienced, and have tried out fire lays listed above, that is the teepee fire lay or the lean to fire lay. This is considered as a complex fire lay, but it is popular because of the ‘campfire’ feel it gives. Not to mention it being long-burning because of the number of wood you are required to put.
Only when constructed properly, the log-cabin fire lay will grow your fire really quickly. It is a really effective fire lay method because it is extremely open and airy, ensuring sufficient oxygen is supplied for combustion.
Also, for the log-cabin style, if not done properly, it will be difficult to put tinder and fuel in the middle for sustaining the fire. The amount of wood you need to make a fire like this is huge, where you need to gather larger logs.
Here is a guide on how you make a log cabin style fire lay:
(i) You need to begin with a tinder pile for placing the kindling. My suggestion is to first build a small teepee fire (following steps (i) to (iii) for building the teepee fire)
(ii) You need to place the first 2 pieces of kindling in parallel to each other. Similarly, you have to place 2 logs in parallel, making sure the kindling is in the middle. It would have been better if you have a fire platform, by using flat stones or dry logs to ensure better balance.
(iii) Next, put 2 medium-size wood in the two opposite sides of the bigger logs you placed below, where you can start stacking up branches in the middle. Remember to leave some spaces in between so that you can light up the tinder easily afterwards.
(iv) Stack smaller pieces of wood until it has a cabin shape. You can do this for two or three layers, but you need to make sure that you place sufficient tinder in the middle for each layer. Start the fire after you are done arranging them!
Here is an awesome video on how you can start a log-cabin fire:
(4) A-Frame Fire Lay
The A-Frame construction is great when you are caught in a rain or when it is really windy. The way the fire lay is made is meant to prevent wind from blowing into the fire, keeping the tinder
Here are some guidelines on how you can build it:
(i) We need to start off by building the frame, where we make the letter “A” out of a large kindling while the bulk of tinder is placed in the center of the fire pit.
(ii) The A-Frame is built by sticking a larger stick facing the wind. You can use two pencil sized stick to support the main support stick, making it look like an ‘A’.
(ii) The fire wood needs to be placed inside the ring, so you need to ensure that the middle ‘ring’ is sufficiently big while the twigs are small enough to fit it in.
(iii) Remember to have room for oxygen to get underneath the big bundle, where you can dig a small hole underneath the tinder bulk.
(iv) Start arranging pencil-sized sticks at both sides, all the way down to the ground from the top of the stick, to the bottom of the stick. Place more sticks on the areas where the heat is most concentrated, which is the area where the stick is stuck into the ground.
(v) After arranging them steadily, you can start lighting them up!
You can see how to make the A-Frame fire lay in action below.
(5) Dakota Fire Hole
This is another popular fire lay, but it is difficult to build. Most people learn how to make the Dakota fire hole because it looks awesome (similar to the log-cabin fire lay).
When do you need this type of fire lay? Basically, this is built when you need to hide your location, reducing your visibility but still obtaining the warmth of fire. However, this style cannot effective keep you warm when you are out in the cold.
It takes a lot of effort to build a Dakota Fire Hole because you need to dig a hole underneath the ground, basically two holes which are connected to each other. The pros of it is that it would not be affected by the surrounding that much since the fire is burning underground.
Here is a guideline on how you can start with this fire lay:
(i) You need to start off by digging the two holes. The main hole which you put the fire should be 18 inches to 20 inches (46cm to 51cm) wide, and 12 inches (30cm) deep.
(ii) Next, for the smaller hole it should be large enough to give oxygen to the fire and it should be situated at a place where the wind would blow first.
(iii) After digging both holes, you need to dig a tunnel which is about your arm’s length to connect both holes underground. A boot knife or a shovel is great for this, not to mention that they are tools you can easily carry.
(iv) Start by getting a fire platform ready underneath the ground, placing logs or stones so that you can put your kindling above the cold ground.
(v) Follow the above steps for building a teepee fire and built it in the larger hole. Make sure that the smaller hole has good oxygen flow, promoting the combustion.
Here is one of the best video I found on how you can make a Dakota Fire Hole.
(6) Platform Fire
The Platform Fire can be said to be a smaller version of the Log-Cabin fire lay. The shape is similar to the Log-Cabin Fire Lay, but the logs are layered only on the outside edges, with each level of logs being shorter than the ones placed below.
This would be great if you are going to use coals to fuel your fire. The Platform fire is great especially when you are caught in snow, because of the fuel it can eventually take on and it is less affected by the cold ground.
Here is how you build it:
(i) For the Platform Fire, you need to build a solid platform, ideally using dry logs. The platform will help keep your coal or tinder from going out, ensuring that you get the most out of your resources to fuel your fire.
(ii) Next, start building a tinder bulk on top of the dry platform. Start lighting the ‘tinder bulk’ after arranging it, you can start the fire using a fire starter or any other methods.
(iii) You need to get the fire to gain momentum, ensuring that it is big enough. One ‘hack’ which you can use is to build a small ‘Teepee Fire’ on top of the platform and get it going.
(iv) Start building a log-cabin base around your fire. How do you build a log-cabin base? You can start by putting two big logs in parallel to the fire. Later, start adding 2 medium sized wood in the two opposite sides of the larger logs which you placed.
(v) Slowly add more fuel to your fire, until you are able to put larger pieces of fuel and still get the fire going!
The best video I can find to illustrate this is shown in the video below, however it is not an accurate illustration of it. To get a better mental picture, you can click on this link.
(7) The Reflector Fire
This fire lay is great if you have a wall erected near you (otherwise, you can build a makeshift wall using dry logs). It is great for reflecting back heat to ensure that heat is gathered on one side of the fire, which is great for cooking. It’s great for maximizing the fire’s heat!
This fire-lay would also be good when you need warmth overnight, because the reflector wall can act as a shelter against external elements on one side, minimizing the need to manage the fire.
Here is a guide on how you can build it:
(i) Get a great location by finding places where the reflector wall is placed on the upwind side of the fire so that there can be less interference from surrounding wind.
(ii) Start finding a natural wall to build the fire against, such as a rock. If such ‘wall’ is not available, you can build one by putting four straight sticks on the ground, with the aim of piling large sticks and ensuring that they will not fall. Find sticks to lay across the stakes until you have a wall.
(iii) You can start laying the fire, with any kind of fire lay suggested above. My suggestion is to build a ‘Teepee Fire’ because it is easy to start. A ‘Platform Fire’ would be great too because it is capable of ‘eating’ up more fuel when the fire is huge.
(iv) Finally, light the ‘tinder bulk’ and get the fire going!
You can check out this youtube guide on how to make a fire reflector.
(8) Indian Star Fire
The name is derived because it is a traditional fire used by Indians in the Wild West. The Indian Star Fire is fuel-efficient, which is great if you do not have enough tinder and fuel to keep the fire going.
This fire lay also allows you to easily control the amount of wood consumption, rendering it fuel-efficient. You can easily maintain the temperature of the fire, keeping it at a certain pace. If you like the fire to be hotter, add more wood into it. If you want it to be cooler, you can choose to remove branches to reduce combustion.
So, how do you build it?
(i) You just need a flat ground which is away from trees or other flammable materials surrounding it.
(ii) Start by digging a hole about 6 inches (15cm wide) and 2 inches (5cm) deep which acts as the center of the fire lay. This is to ensure that the ends of the wood overhang a bit to allow an increased amount of airflow to promote combustion.
(iii) Start arranging logs around the center hole you dug, where there should be 4 or more logs placed pointing inwards to the center hole.
(iv) Add tinder in the center hole, ensuring that the tinder bulk is large enough and the air flow is still sufficiently good.
(v) My suggestion is to first light the tinder and make the fire gain momentum. After that, it is only proper to add kindling on top of the tinder to ensure that they are easily combustible. The kindling basically acts as a supply for the fire.
(vi) Finally, ensure that your fire keeps momentum! Keep on adding kindling until the fire is sufficiently huge. Remember that this type of fire lay is ‘superior’ because you can easily adjust your fuel. Make some minor adjustments if necessary to keep your fire going with minimal fuel.
Here is an excellent video to illustrate how it is done.
I have done my best to cover comprehensively on each of the fire lays, of course you can use modern tools to start the fire too. Remember to keep a fire kit around with you, you wouldn’t know when you will be caught up in a situation where you need the warmth of fire to be kept alive!
Remember that a fire can give you a multitude of benefits, including keeping you warm which is vital for survival. Also, a fire helps you to dry out wet clothes, where wet clothes is something you must avoid at all cost because it is not beneficial for maintaining your body temperature.
Other benefits include allowing you to cook water and food, not only disinfecting them but also making them taste awesome! You can use the fire to signal too, but this requires you to make your fire as visible as possible where you should start the fire on widely spaced areas.
This is a necessary bug-out skill, and it is what separate the men from the boys. You need skill to start a fire, and you can’t hack your way through it like how you can get clean food and water. If you have any ideas you would like to share concerning survival fires, fell free to comment below!