When I saw the first Hunger Games movie I was fascinated by the role campfires play in your success or demise in a survival situation. At the end of the movie one girl gets killed because the career tributes find her by the light of her night time fire. You also see the main character, Katniss Everdeen, quickly make a small daytime fire and extinguishing it quickly, using leaves to cover any tracks she might have left. It left me with one big question:
Why didn't she build a concealed Dakota Firepit?
Her survival skills with a bow were second to none. She could climb, tie knots and use diversions but..no (concealed) Dakota Firepit. Well I think the words concealment and survival go hand in hand. Speaking naturally, being able to disguise your movements and tracks is essential. All animals have some form of concealment strategy, whether they realize they are doing it or not. So we should too. One of the best tools to accomplish this is the Dakota Fire pit or Dakota Fire hole.
Dakota Firehole: Hotter Below Ground
Most of us have used this or a version of the Dakota Firehole. As a review it is just an underground fire pit with an air hole passage connecting to it. It burns hotter because the heat, fuel and air is concentrated in a smaller space and the heat does not dissipate as quickly. Simply put it follows similar principles to a Kamado oven which traps heat and air in a small controlled space.
This is good if you need to achieve a hotter temperature faster than traditional campfires. As long as the fuel and ground is dry, the funnel of air should cause it to combust and burn very quickly at high temperature. You will still need a way to start the fire (duh) but it is so much more efficient than a normal fire.
The Basic Concept 101
To make a Dakota fire pit, remove a plug of soil about one foot by one foot. Then, starting from the edge of the pit dig a 4-6 inch wide tunnel at an angle so that it ties into base of the pit. This tunnel needs to angle up until it breaks the surface with a vent about 18-24 inches away. If noting else you can use your hand to make the tunnel, digging with your fingers and working your arm into the ventway.
Make sure you dig the vent towards the windward direction. This will ensure that the pit is kept stoked by incoming wind while the same breeze dissiaptes the smoke from the hole itself. Once you leave, be sure you extinguish the fire and plug the holes back up with the dirt and grass you removed from the pit, tunnel and vent in the first place.
Efficiency is often overlooked when building fires, concealed or otherwise. Think about it though, you may not have a lot of kindling, time, or fire starting equipment. This would make a normal campfire costly in terms of energy expenditures. Efficiency and the use of resources is just as important to survival as concealment. In nature animals are designed to conserve their energy as well as use their natural camouflage. But the concealed Dakota Fire pit has benefits beyond that. It is a great place to keep your embers.
The Fringe Benefit: Ember Storage
The embers are useful since the hot wood charcoals left from the previous fire can be used to start future fires. The pit is a good place to leave them IF you are in a survival situation. Even covered with dirt the embers will retain heat for a period of time. Unless you are in a position where you cannot risk giving away your position, this is a great way to save energy and have fire starting implements ready to use.