While no one knows who invented the ingenious Dakota fire hole, it has proven to be an easy, efficient way to create a hot, underground campfire. This ancient technique for building clean-burning and easily concealable fires has been widely used in the past by Native Americans. Native Americans used this underground fire method so that they could hide their fires from their enemies. These small pits work well in windy condition, they use less wood, and they burn hotter than above-ground fires. Plus, the layout provides a great platform for cooking.
The Dakota fire hole consists of a 12-16”-deep hole that is wide enough to accommodate a small fire. Then an angled, sloping tunnel is dug next to the base of the pit that connects the two. With a roaring fire in the hole, the air around it is heated. As the hot air rises out of the hole, it creates a vacuum that draws cool air through the tunnel (the “chimney”). Let’s explore how to make a Dakota fire hole.
The Many Advantages of the Dakota Fire Hole
The Dakota fire hole is a great camping tool because there are so many advantages to using it.
• The design of the vacuum-like air intake system creates a fire that burns at a very high temperature. High-temperature fires are more efficient at converting fuel into heat.
• A Dakota fire hole is a breeze to cook your favorite campfire meals on. Essentially an underground grill, you can set a grate on top of the hole and set burgers, chicken, veggies, and more on top of it for a delicious meal.
• With the fire hold below ground, the flames are below ground too, making it easy to conceal in the woods (if you desire).
• Another bonus of having the fire underground is that it’s protected from the wind. So if you find yourself in a windy area and in need of a hot fire, the Dakota fire hole is a great option.
Finding a Spot to Build a Dakota Fire Hole
The main thing to look for when looking for a great spot for your Dakota fire hole is that the area is flat and free of rocks and roots for easy digging. Look for soft soil that is easy to dig in with your shovel or strong stick. You also want to avoid an area that could get flooded with water (which would extinguish your fire).
Making a Dakota Fire Hole
If you plan to make a Dakota fire hole while in the great outdoors, pack a folding shovel with you so you’re prepared for digging. However if you find yourself in the woods and needing to make a fire hole (maybe because you’re in a windy area), then a strong, thick stick could work as an impromptu digging tool.
Creating a Fire Pit Chamber
Once you’ve identified a great location for your fire pit, dig a 10-12 inch (in diameter) hole in the ground. Save the soil that you’ve removed because you’ll place this back on top of the fire at a later step. Dig straight down about one foot. This part of the fire hole will be the main chamber that contains the fire. The effect is a jug-shaped hole at the base of which you place your firewood. The neck part of the “jug” will act as a chimney that increases the draft and concentrates the heat of the fire into the small opening.
Making the Dakota Fire Hole Airway, aka the “Chimney”
Determine where to build the airway based on the general direction of the wind. The wind should hit the fire hole airway before it hits the fire pit chamber. To make the airway that feeds air to the fire, dig a 6-inch diameter air tunnel about one foot away from the edge of the fire pit (toward the direction of the wind). Dig at an angle so that it encounters the base of the fire pit. Just like when you dug the fire pit, be sure to save the soil and vegetation that you dig up for later. Fill the fire pit chamber with dry combustible kindling materials and light the fire. Once the flame is going strong, drop it into the fire pit so that it catches the kindling on fire. Gradually add sticks so that you can maintain a strong, hot fire.
Understanding How a Dakota Fire Hole Works
As the fire burns, the hot air that is created goes up through the fire hole “chimney,” the airway. This creates a suction action that draws air down through the tunnel and into the base of the fire, the chamber. The draft is increased even more by constructing the tunnel on the side from which the prevailing wind is coming. The flames in a Dakota fire hole are continuously fanned and the fire burns hotter and more efficiently than a fire that is simply made on top of the ground. A Dakota fire is a HOT fire! And hot fires create less smoke. This type of fire requires less wood and is great for cooking over.
Cooking over a Dakota Fire Hole
Make sure you pack your frying pans, Dutch ovens, and cooking grates for easy cooking over the Dakota fire hole. With its intense heat, you can cook all your favorite meals above the fire hole. Try this delicious Grilled Lemon Chicken with Feta Rice recipe or this yummy Cobbler the next time you make a Dakota fire hole.
As a responsible outdoorsman or outdoors woman, it’s up to you to leave the area as unaffected as possible and to extinguish your Dakota fire hole. Fill in the fire hole with the original dirt you removed and saved when you were making the hole. Then place the vegetation on top of it so it looks good as new.
Knowing how to make a Dakota fire hole is a great camping skill that will prove to come in handy someday. While producing very little smoke and reaching very high temperatures, this type of fire is a popular one and will serve you well in the great outdoors.