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Winter Firebuilding Techniques (Video)
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Ryan Jordan
(ryan) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Greater Yellowstone
Winter Firebuilding Techniques (Video) on 02/20/2013 01:50:35 MST Print View

Companion forum thread to:

Winter Firebuilding Techniques (Video)

Ken T.
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: All up in there
Re: Winter Firebuilding Techniques (Video) on 02/20/2013 06:33:59 MST Print View

Would love to see a video of firelighting in a downpour. Which is winter for here. Wet, really wet. When I really need that fire.

Hatchet and batoning on BPL. How time changes everything!

Dan Durston
(dandydan) - F

Firebuilding on 02/20/2013 08:26:24 MST Print View

Great video. Thank you.

(tordnado) - MLife

Locale: Europe
Nice video! on 02/20/2013 10:53:53 MST Print View

Nice to see a video!

Kurt Lammers
(lammers8) - M

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Fire directly on snow? on 02/20/2013 11:01:06 MST Print View

Thanks Ryan I really enjoyed that, nice to see more video @BPL for sure. Anyone have any tips for winter fire building directly on snow when clear ground isn't available and building a stout wood base isn't practical? A buddy and I recently discussed using aluminum foil as a platform / water barrier and I'm curious if anyone else has had any reliable success when acceptable tinder & wood is available, but the forest floor has a several foot snow base.

Bob Bankhead
(wandering_bob) - MLife

Locale: Oregon, USA
Fire directly on snow? on 02/20/2013 11:07:20 MST Print View

Lay down a thick layer of green Douglas fir branches. Knock the snow off first. Build your fire atop the green needles.

Like any platform fire, it will eventually sink into the snow, so the thicker the platform, the better.

Kurt Lammers
(lammers8) - M

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Fire directly on snow? on 02/20/2013 11:11:23 MST Print View

Thanks Bob! An elegantly simple method I hadn't considered, I'll look forward to trying that out soon.

Jonathan Martindell
Great topic! on 02/20/2013 11:21:42 MST Print View

I enjoyed the video and this topic. One thing I tried in a recent similar situation was to gather all the (unfortunately somewhat wet) wood we'd be burning and pile it up around the fire. It was outside the fire ring, probably 1-2' away from the fire so it wouldn't catch of course. But it did two things I believe - 1) it helped dry out the wood while the fire burned and 2) it provided a barrier for the heat to be directed back to us as we sat around on the other side of the fire.

I'm sure better wood selection and the processing in the video would have helped our cause too.

Jouni Mäkinen
Stone ring on 02/20/2013 11:23:25 MST Print View

Good video, the most important bit probably is to get the fire off the ground. You can also use moist or fresh wood for this platform, it doesn't matter that much in my experience.

However, please skip the stone fire ring the next time! I'm sorry to say this but here in Scandinavia it's a clear sign of an unexperienced firebuilder/tourist. The rocks won't stop the fire from spreading, clearing an area around (and sometimes below) the fire will. It's just unnecessary work that also will inhibit airflow from the sides so the fire won't burn as cleanly. And don't cut off the logs so short (or at all), just lay them all in the same direction parallel to the wind. Their natural bends will keep them separated from each other for a hot and clean burn with minimal calorific expenditure.

There are some exceptions however, like when the Saami people traditionally make a fire ring (that's actually a rectangle) inside their lavvus. The reason is that the ring is used as a kind of dinner table and to keep pots and pans at the ready. The rocks (some of which are actually given names) are selected with great care, only ones with flat tops are used if they can be found. The shorter sides (facing the door) also prop up one or two thick long-burning birch logs that are dragged straight in from outside. When the reindeer herd and Saami move on, the ring is left there to be used by the same family years later when they return for fresh grazing.

For a temporary outdoors fire however, the ring serves no real purpose and is just an eyesore since (at least here) people leave them everywhere because they think they've made a good fireplace for someone else or just think it's too much work to put the rocks back again. I don't think this was the case now of course since I know Ryan is a strong advocate of leaving no trace.

Brian UL

Locale: New England
Re: Winter Firebuilding Techniques (Video) on 02/20/2013 11:36:21 MST Print View

Solid video
I would argue though, that the hatchet isn't necessary. Besides the extra weight, hatchets are pretty dangerous because a missed swing is more likely to go into your leg or even worse your inner thigh ( and you will bleed out in minutes) compared to traditional full sized axes that can do serious work ( not needed on a back packing trip) and a missed swing will go into the ground.
Besides the safety issue thats easily mitigated by being aware, it is possible to simply baton the size of the wood shown in the video with a typical 3-5' knife.
Another technique is to slice off a wedge with your knife and than use the wooden wedge to split the larger diameter wood with a baton. That will take a little skill but maybe worth it.
For anyone wanting to know more I would wholeheartedly recommend :

I feel very lucky to have meet Kochanski.

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: Winter Firebuilding Techniques (Video) on 02/20/2013 11:53:15 MST Print View

Here is a quote from another forum:

"Let's say the snow is way too deep to dig out.
How do you float your fire?
Especially when its a warming fire that you will need all night?
Personally, I stamp down the area, then do 3 layers of alternating pine boughs and snow, much larger than the actual fire area, then a pedestal of at least 2 layers of whole green logs, also larger than the expected fire size."

If you want to not leave a trace, you can often find fallen over trees from winter storms and cut the green branches off them.

I think that a folding saw and a hatchet is excessive. The whole point of a hatchet or axe is that you can crosscut and split with it. If you are already carrying a saw for crosscutting, a sturdy knife is going to be great for splitting.

The utility of a fire is very underestimated on this forum. I almost always cook over a fire so I don't carry any weight in fuel or a stove. I can cook things that take longer to cook and would waste a ton of fuel, things like baking or raw pasta. With a nice fire, you don't need to carry a bunch of warm camp clothing. Just a light mid layer is good, you don't need a huge puffy. With those two things considered, the weight of a folding saw and fixed blade is justified.

Also, I have spent more nights that I want to admit curled up next to a fire. I spent an entire week doing that every night because my sleep system ended up not being warm enough. I have seen so many trip reports where people shivered all night or bailed because they were too cold. Stoking a fire is a bit tedious, but it feels so nice to be warmed by something other than your own body heat. It's VERY effective. Throw some big logs on the fire and you should get a few hours before having to throw on more. I'm not saying you should do this intentionally, but having the ability to do it could save you from some unexpectedly cold nights.

john hansford
(jhansford) - MLife
Re: Winter Firebuilding Techniques (Video) on 02/20/2013 12:20:51 MST Print View

Some nice tips and refresher.

Travis Leanna
(T.L.) - MLife

Locale: Wisconsin
Re: Re: Winter Firebuilding Techniques (Video) on 02/20/2013 12:28:28 MST Print View

>With a nice fire, you don't need to carry a bunch of warm camp clothing. Just a light mid layer is good, you don't need a huge puffy.

Not taking adequate clothing, especially in the winter, is irresponsible. Same goes for adequate sleeping insulation. Winter ain't no joke, and it's not a time to be dependent on a fire for warmth.

Edited by T.L. on 02/20/2013 12:33:42 MST.

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: Re: Re: Winter Firebuilding Techniques (Video) on 02/20/2013 13:02:25 MST Print View

If you have a good sleeping bag, I don't consider that irresponsible. I'm just talking about doing things around camp. In the winter with snow it's more serious and difficult. In dry weather a fire is super easy to throw together for a bit of warmth. If you want to carry 2lbs of extra clothing for warmth or lay in your sleeping bag for hours during a long winter evening, then go ahead.

Edited by justin_baker on 02/20/2013 13:03:28 MST.

Travis Leanna
(T.L.) - MLife

Locale: Wisconsin
Re: Re: Re: Re: Winter Firebuilding Techniques (Video) on 02/20/2013 13:22:35 MST Print View

Oh, I'm not saying fires aren't great and useful. I love a good fire. But when it's 5 degrees out and 18 inches of snow on the ground, there's no way I'm not taking a puffy (15 ounces), fire or not.

What happens when you're not in camp next to a fire? Stop for a break and all of a sudden that mid layer just isn't warm enough. Or what if you want to leisurely explore your camp surroundings? Again, in many winter places, a mid layer just isn't warm enough. Or, god forbid, something happens to your sleeping bag and insulation was greatly compromised? Yeah, that's a long shot, but you'd still have your puffy to rely on. Or what if your sleeping bag was supposed to be warm enough, but the weather decided to be much colder than the forecast? You'd have a puffy to wear inside your bag.

If your winters are above freezing and dry, then great! Santa Rosa looks like a nice balmy place.

My point is, there are many, many places where it would be irresponsible and foolish to not bring the proper clothing. Lives depend on it.

Edited by T.L. on 02/20/2013 13:24:53 MST.

Bob Bankhead
(wandering_bob) - MLife

Locale: Oregon, USA
@Ryan re:Winter Firebuilding Techniques (Video) on 02/20/2013 13:44:36 MST Print View


I would have rather done this off-list, but since it is not possible to PM you, let me suggest that you consider re-editing your video regarding the use of the hatchet for limbing. It is never wise - and contrary to BSA teachings as well (say good-bye to ye olde Totin' Chip) - to stand on the same side of the branch that you are limbing. It's too easy for the hatchet to glance off or miss completely....and your toes are right in the way. It's even more dangerous with an axe, which has a lot more force and mass behind every swing.


Also another point regarding batoning, which was correctly illustrated in your film: don't baton with a folding knife. The hinge on most folders is too fragile to take the repeated shocks. You might get away with it for a short time, but eventually you'll break it, greatly reducing the functionality of your knife. Not a good thing in a survival situation. Whenever possible, baton only with a fixed blade knife; preferrably one with a full tang.

Edited by wandering_bob on 02/20/2013 14:01:41 MST.

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Winter Firebuilding Techniques (Video) on 02/20/2013 14:51:10 MST Print View

Yeah, I totally agree. You need to have really good clothing on any trip. Your clothing can make or break a trip. What I meant was you can get away with less insulation around camp if you use a good campfire. You still need to be able to leave camp and walk around without freezing your butt off. For most 3 season conditions, I have found that a mid layer and a windshirt and a campfire works great, no need for a puffy unless you don't have a campfire.
In a lot of places I have been to in California, it gets really warm during the day and cold at night. Last weekend I went on a trip where it was 75 degrees during the day and 25 at night. In that situation I carried very little camp clothing, just some long underwear and a light sweater, and was perfectly fine with a fire.

Travis Leanna
(T.L.) - MLife

Locale: Wisconsin
Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Winter Firebuilding Techniques (Video) on 02/20/2013 16:17:16 MST Print View

Yep, 99% of the time I can go without a puffy in 3 seasons. (abnormally cold spells the exception). I also don't make use of fires as much as I could...

Andrew Zajac

Locale: South West
concerns with hatchets on 02/20/2013 16:34:30 MST Print View

Never thought I would be posting about this in BPL, but I would like to respond to the concerns about hatchets. Would a long knife be better? something like the buck hoodlum (14.6oz) or the Mora C223 (6.57oz). Although, the mora gives me some concern over the thinness of the blade. The buck weighs in pretty close to the hatchet and potentially weighs less as a system as you wouldn't need to bring the smaller knife as well.

Erik Basil

Locale: Atzlan
Re: concerns with hatchets on 02/20/2013 17:05:12 MST Print View

I noted the use of the hatchet and foot-placement, too.

I forgot all about that, after I chased the link for the hatchet and nearly died: $160 dollar hatchet?? I was upset about the Estwing with leather handle, but this is nuts! $160.00??!

Most places we go in California, open fires and/or scavenging for wood are forbidden, so these are skills for which it's much harder find a setting in which to teach. Heck, I have this great titanium wood burner stove I can't even really use, and our hatchet and axe only go to summer camp. Estwing will do me, ha ha!