Staying Warm with a Fire that Lasts the Night
One of my biggest peeves is cold weather camping. Despite enjoying the pristine calm that settles on the woods when it's been snowing, staying warm is a constant challenge. Even with the right gear, you're still going to be up every hour or so, leaving the warm comfort of your shelter and sleeping bag to feed the fire. Again, and again. It really feels like you've just drifted off to sleep when the drop in temperate jars you awake, and you realize you're only just in time to add more kindling, and a few more logs to get your fire roaring again. I don't know about you, but this isn't fun. Last month one of the guys here at APE Survival filled me in on a little trick to add a little more time to your campfire's burn, and after testing it out last week I am thrilled to be able to share it with all of you. What we're going to learn today is how to "stack" the logs on your fire to get a longer burn time, and give you another couple of hours rest when you're out in the wild. Of course, depending on where you're camping there may be rules about leaving a fire unattended, so ensure you're not creating any problems for yourself when you try this technique out, and you're also doing it in a safe manner. Clear out anything flammable from the immediate vicinity of your fire pit, and don't forget to look up too. You don't want a snow drift dropping down on your head right after your fire has started roaring. Mark out a rough spot for your fire, and it's time to go gather your materials. The key to get this technique working for you is to find thick, decent hardwood logs as fuel. Seek out the thickest you can find, ensuring they're at least 5-6 inches in diameter. Cut the log into three pieces, with each piece at least 2-3 foot long. As a rough indicator, for every inch of thickness in your logs, you'll get about an hour worth of burn time. When I tried this it was a little windy, and it burnt through a little quicker than this, but not much. The trick is to find nice thick logs. Now as you look at the three logs you've just cut, we want them to lay (horizontally) on top of each other. Being round, this isn't going to work well without a little preparation, so take your axe and trim off a slice from each side so you've got a nice flat surface on each log. They'll stack far better this way. Back at your fire pit, create a ring of rocks to encircle your fire, but keep the circle wide enough so the logs you've cut can lay within. If there's lots of rocks around, I'd also recommend adding a second rock wall, on the opposite side of your campfire to the shelter, to retain and retract the heat your fire produces. It'll also help you to stay warm. I normally build my rock wall to around 2 foot high, I've found this is usually enough for it to serve its purpose. Depending too on the quality of wood I've been able to find, I'll have a backup supply of a few logs ready to throw on later in the night, and if it's been raining these will be stacked downwind of the fire to help dry them out before I need to put them on my fire. The next step is to construct four quick posts, which when driven into the ground as stakes will help your stacked logs to stay in place as they burn. I used green wood posts that were about an inch thick, to reduce any chance these would also catch fire and burn. You want your posts to be about two foot long, and while you eyeball your fire pit pick the perfect spot for your four posts. You want a post on either side, at either end of your logs. Hammer them into the ground with the back of your axe, ensuring they're as close to the outside edge of your fire pit as possible. Start a small fire in the center of your fire pit, using your firestarter and tinder, letting it build and grow for 15-20 minutes until you've got a decent roar going. You will need a relatively hot fire to burn through the big logs you're about to place on it, and if you're out camping these early stages are probably a great time to cook your dinner and get a good base of coals ready. Once your fire is established, add the first log, placing it inside the posts so it's held securely in place. Carefully stack the next two logs on top, adding smaller tinder in-between to help it catch. There will be a big blaze initially as the new fuel you've added starts to burn, but once it dies down you'll be rewarded with a series of fires burning between the logs. Using five inch logs, this one will keep burning for roughly five hours, of course depending on the type of wood you're using, the wind, rain and any other factors. My experiment with this saw the fire burn nice and hot for over four hours, more than enough time to get a decent rest. The one point to note with this technique is you want to be very careful to position yourself upwind from your fire. As the fire dies down it starts to smolder, and you want to ensure you're not breathing smoke all night. But the best part is it'll burn for a long time, keeping you warm without needing to add more fuel every hour throughout the night. That's a winner in my book.