Monday, September 22, 2014

Camp Fire vs. Survival Fire vs. Cooking Fire

Camp Fire vs. Survival Fire vs. Cooking Fire:
Over the years I have seen a great deal of confusion between a camp fire, cooking fire and a survival fire. Main Stream Survival Media (Survival TV Shows) have shown us camp fires and cooking fires and portrayed them as fires fit to be survival fires. Another major discrepancy I see on these shows is the amount of firewood gathered/collected to last an entire night. I always seem to calculate how long their wood pile will last in my head and I can never reach more than an hour or two of substantial fire. I have been a long time advocate of tarp based shelters for lightweight backpacking and minimalist survival as I believe you have to be mobile to survive and you simply will not have the calories to survive if you build a debris shelter each night in which you survive. This leaves a Militarily causality blanket or a survival blanket as one of the few lightweight shelter options that you can always keep on your person as part of your 5 C's of survivability EDC.

Need Help Getting Your Fire Started? Try a few of these methods:  Dryer Lint Tinder Bundle  (LINK); Gorilla Tape Tinder Bundle (LINK); Rub Cloth (LINK); Dragon Ball Fire Starters (LINK); Char Cloth (LINK); Solar Ignition (LINK); One Stick Fire (LINK); Fire Pad (LINK);

Survival Fire/Long Fire

Notice the length of an survival fire is at a minimum the length of your head to waist to ensure core body warmth and this fire should never be allowed to die down to just coals but should have at least 1' flames to ensure your warmth through even the coldest night. Ideally a survival fire should be the entire length of your body to ensure maximum warmth (if it were the dead of winter I would make the same fire full length of my body and have flames roughly the height of the shelter). Notice that pile of wood to the rear of the fire, that amount of wood is more than I have ever seen on any survival show and that was just one of my three piles of wood to get me from 3am until daylight. I had a larger pile just out of frame opposite of shelter to act as a quasi wind break if needed and one by my body to be within arms reach so I could easily fuel the fire throughout the night. Quick tip for survival fires to increase your warmth throughout the night: assuming you are laying directly on the ground or on a pine limb bed you can start your fire initially where your bed will be located as you gather firewood for the night. Then you cover the coal bed with a small layer of dirt (1-2") which will heat you from below as you get reflective heat from your shelter (in survival every advantage counts!). 

Cooking Fires:

1) There are several varieties of cooking fires and the one pictured above is one I use for boiling, remember boil over flame, cook over coals. The flame should nearly engulf the pot to ensure a quick boil, this fire would then be reduced to a very low flame that does not reach the bottom of the pot or merely a coal base to continue to cook soup after boiling. Firewood needed: mix of hard and soft wood to get a strong fire base going and enough to keep a strong flame for a minimum of 15 minutes (normal boil time for an 8 qt. pot).
2) Strong coal base (hardwoods burnt down) on the sides of the fire with a low and slow flame in the center (using dense hardwoods). This is my multipurpose cooking fire in which I use the center of the fire to slow cook soups (great for venison chilli) and the exterior coal base to cook breads or anything that requires slow cooking. Firewood needed: softwoods to get the fire going and 4-6 arm sized logs to build a strong coal base  and an additional two logs and a few smaller sticks (finger sized) to keep flame in the center if needed.
3) The Dakota Fire Pit/Hole: This cooking fire is extremely effective when you only have a very limited amount of firewood to deal with. With this fire one can easily cook an entire meal with on wrist sized stick that is roughly 6' long. A true one stick fire, to utilize the bark for a birds nest for fire starting, batoned sticks down to finger sized sticks and feed as needed to fuel your fire. This is a very efficient fire so don't allow the flame above the level of the ground to allow for the best cooking environment possible. 
4) Swedish Torch: See My Review of this Fire Method Here (LINK). As some of you may know I'm not a huge fan of this method with out a chain saw and I don't carry a chain saw with me into the woods so this method of cooking is rarely used by me. It is fairly effective once you get the fire going and is a sort of upside down fire that seems to work best for larger bush pots (after about 30 minutes anything bottle sized will simply tip over as there isn't enough support for such a small surface area). I personally chalk it up to a campground or base camp fire where you want to impress someone with a camp trick, but hundreds of people love this method, I guess I'm just a little too attached to my tripod cooking method when in the woods.

Camp Fire:

This is what I see the most of on survival TV shows a mid-sized fire with little to no reserve wood to continue the fire once the base burns down. This is the type of fire that you roast a marshmallow over or cook a hot dog on yet at the same time this fire can easily evolve into a long fire or into a cooking fire once a coal bed is established.  This fire basically consists of softwood and hard wood mixed together (think tepee of softwood with a log cabin of hard woods around it or an upside down fire) and is usually a fire lay that is roughly knee height. Reserve fire wood for this type of fire would be minimal hard wood to help extend the fire an hour or two in case conversations abound.


Today's survival media has provided us with a misguided sense of what a survival fire is and what it takes to maintain one. In all of the "survival" TV show's I have watched I have yet to see anyone truly explain a long fire/survival fire or the fire requirement of this type of fire without the ability to cut substantial fire wood (i.e. no available ave or substantial belt knife). So I thought I would create this post to right the wrongs I believe have been done to those who unfortunately learn from survival TV. So please remember a survival fire is a big fire that is at least as long as your torso and you can never have enough fire wood. Once you have a pile of sticks you pick up off the ground that is to your waist take a breath and then realize you need at least one or two more piles that size to make it through the night warm! So survival fire rules to live by: 1) big fire=survival fire; 2) you never have enough fire wood; 3) if you can cheat in a survival situation do it, Mother nature never fights fair! (i.e. hot coals buried under your bed); 4) If you can make a more substantial shelter to control your core temperature better by all means take that advantage.

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  1. Really enjoyed the article, thank you!
    Tim Pollock

  2. Any chance of seeing a video on this subject?

    1. As soon as I get a tripod expect to see more videos. Video has been more of an after thought for me but will be more of a priority this year!

  3. One of the big mystery's for a beginner is how much wood is enough.You here "get what you think you need then double it" etc
    Or gather a bundle as tall as your waist, ok what size?? and Id assume that doesn't apply to Pine which burns really fast.

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