Stupid Internet Bushcraft and Survival Stuff #2 – The Dakota Fire Pit
Ah, the Dakota Fire Pit, Many a new Bushcrafter has read about these and toiled in the dirt to make one, after an hour or two of digging through roots and rocks they finally get the damned thing finished and sit back and wonder what the point of it all was.
I was going to make one of these just so that I could take a photo to include in this post but I really cannot be bothered to waste my time and energy making another one of these damned things so have instead used photo’s sourced online via google. If these images are yours, contact me and I will provide credit.
The Dakota Fire Pit is a type of subterranean fire that consists of a hole in which the fire is lit and then a tunnel that leads to another hole through which the oxygen is fed. When built properly, with a small enough hole to create enough air pressure, the burning fire will suck air through the tunnel and the fire can be sited below ground level and still get a good supply of oxygen.
But why? What is the point?
Well, there is no point really, it is just a silly, gimmicky, cool thing that has no real practical application when all things are considered.
It is often quoted that the main benefit of this fire is that it has ¨stealth¨ properties in that, as the fire is under ground, there is not much light being produced. This basic misconception can be quite easily countered by the fact that the fire still produces smoke and that smoke travel´s much further than any light that a campfire can produce. Firelight, does not travel very far anyway, you can test this for yourself, next time you are out at night with a fire, walk away 20 or 30 meters and notice how dim the fire is from this short distance. If light stealth really is a concern, and I very much doubt that it is for the vast majority of people, then you can achieve the same low light conditions by siting your fire in some natural cover instead.
The ¨Stealth¨ argument just does not stand up to scrutiny. If stealth really is a concern, I would assume that you are trying to avoid detection which would likely mean that you are in some kind of Military escape and evasion scenario, in which case you would be better served with a small hexi stove which will be in your survival kit or by not having a fire at all at night and only making small cooking fires in the daylight hours. If detection is likely, do not light a fire full stop, the smoke will give you away long before the light from the fire does.
Other reasons to want a stealth fire would be if you are trespassing. In that case, your best bet is to use the wind to move the smoke away from the direction that the land owners are likely to be coming from. Using a Dakota Fire pit will not help you if the smoke gets blown over to where the farmer is working or living. Check the wind direction, if it´s blowing away from them then you should be ok. If you are close enough for them to see the fire light then you are way too close to even consider building a fire, they will see you moving about collecting wood and digging the hole.
People on the internet contend that there is no smoke with a Dakota Fire pit, this is false, of course there is smoke, as the old adage says, where there is smoke, there is fire. What can be achieved, is a low smoke fire if your fuel burns hot enough and this indeed possible if enough air is sucked down through that hole however, the very same effect can be achieved with literally any other fire. Low smoke is not a function of a Dakota Fire Pit, it is a function of the temperature of the fire.
Honestly, this fire has few things going for it and it´s prevalence on the internet is a source of amusement but also frustration as I watch people struggling for no good reason.
It is a lot of extra work to get a fire, that much is certain so the advantages better outweigh the disadvantages so let´s see.
- Having the fire down below ground level does mean that it is easy to place a pan on top of the hole for cooking, you don’t have to worry about knocking the pan or pot over (note: that this very same feature can be had from a ¨key hole¨ firepit which is made at a fraction of the work and time.
- If done well, you can control the airflow with a rock which helps to control the rate of burn
- Low light
- Looks good on youtube videos and blogs
- Controlling the heat is difficult
- Takes time to build
- Costs a lot of calories to build
- Feeding fuel into the fire is inconvenient when you are cooking
- Low light
- Only works in dry ground free of roots and rocks
- Not a warm fire, does not radiate warmth very well
- Has very few practical applications and is very specialist
- Is a complete waste of time
I think that the vast majority of people, Bushcrafters, Survival people and Military people can safely forget about this much vaunted technique and instead focus on the many other ways of dealing with very few good reasons for this type of fire.
Try a keyhole fire instead or just use a gas or hexi stove.