How to Build a Dakota Fire Hole

Nothing beats having a fire at camp but….there are times that this simple task seems impossible.  Before I get into that, let me tell you a little story.  As an avid scout camper, I have camped in all kinds of weather.  While snow can be an issue, the biggest obstacle to fire building and keeping that I have ever encountered is wind. This is especially true when you are trying to start a fire and this was the case when I was in Florida with my son’s Boy Scout troop. 

After a long day in the car, we finally arrived at our campsite.  Yes, it was beautiful and I felt like a pioneer when we set up our camp right next to the ocean.  While the view was indescribable in its beauty, the wind was simply a pain.  We gathered our wood, built our fire ring and began to prepare our tinder.  Once the tinder was arranged, we pulled out our flint and began to spark it.  Every time the spark would hit the tinder, the wind would blow out the spark.  After about an hour of trying to get a fire going, we decided it was too warm and prepared to fix a meal that did not require heat. next day, we learned our lesson and prior to starting a fire we built a Dakota fire hole.  While it may sound a little weird, this simple fire building technique can save you and your fire in a windy environment.

To begin the process of building a Dakota fire hole, one will need to scout out the area and select the best spot for a fire.  Next, you will need to start digging a hole in this area.  This hole will be referred to as the fire chamber.  The fire chamber will need to be one foot deep and one foot wide.  When digging the hole, do not haphazardly throw your soil out.  Place the soil in a pile near the fire.  This will save you time when it comes to putting the fire out.

Once the hole is dug, do not stop there.  Take your shovel and widen the bottom of the hole.  Doing this simple step will allow you to put larger logs in the fire chamber.

The next step of this process is to dig a tunnel that will go into the bottom of the fire chamber.  To do this, take your finger and hold it up in the air first.  This will tell you in which direction the wind is blowing.  To maximize the Dakota fire hole, you will need to dig the tunnel on the upwind side of the hole.  Once that is determined, mark off one foot from the fire chamber hole and begin to dig.  You want the hole to be between five and six inches in diameter and angled toward the bottom of the fire chamber.

After that is done, now you are ready to build a fire but how does this Dakota fire hole work.  The fire chamber itself is where the fire is built.  As the fire burns and heat rises, fresh air is drawn into the hole through the tunnel.  This process will continue as long as there is a fire in the fire chamber. 

Building a fire in the Dakota fire hole is easy and starts with tinder.  Once the tinder is lit, a small draft of air will start blowing across the bottom of the fire chamber.  As the fire continues to grow, add more wood.  If you want to cook in the hole, simply place a rack inside the hole and cook as usual.  No rack, do not worry.  You can create one with “green wood” bent into a shape that will hold your cooking utensils.

After you are done with your fire, do not forget to put the fire out and fill up the hole with the removed soil.