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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!

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: concerns with hatchets on 02/20/2013 17:51:32 MST Print View

The hoodlum is a big knife. Knives are great for splitting, but they suck at chopping so you are going to want a saw with that. A large buck saw. You are talking about some serious wood processing tools.

sean neves
(Seanneves) - M

Locale: City of Salt
Great vid. on 02/20/2013 18:07:26 MST Print View

And especially sharp about the use of magnesium starter. Very useful advice on the river, when sometimes everything (and I mean everything) is wet. I've never brought a hatchet or saw. I step on stuff and break it. Winter I bring a fixed blade for sure.

Gerry Volpe

Locale: Vermont
Nice Video on 02/20/2013 20:29:42 MST Print View

I think this is a great addition to the mix at BPL. Fire building is a foundational wilderness skill. Increasing your comfort when in an area that is appropriate for fire or even saving your life in an emergency are well worth a little practice. I love shiny new toys as much as the next guy but the skills and experience you have are the most important and lightest things you carry.

Hamish McHamish
(El_Canyon) - M

Locale: USA
_ on 02/20/2013 20:57:53 MST Print View

Nice video. I'm glad to see it here on BPL.

One small quibble. The firestarter used was not a magnesium starter but a ferrocerium rod ( The ubiquitous but subpar magnesium firstarters have a ferro rod mounted on their side that actually generate the hot sparks. It is not the magnesium that sparks but the ferro. Ferro rods are also known as a "metal match".

Ferro rods are commonly referred to as "flints" but they are not really flint. Ferro is a manmade alloy while flint is a natural rock/mineral/whatever.

A ferro rod plus homemade tinder made from Vaseline-soaked cotton balls is an extremely effective firstarting toolkit.

Karl Kerschner
(Distelfink) - MLife
$23+ship for a similar hatchet of same wt. and length, made in USA on 02/20/2013 21:42:34 MST Print View

A less expensive alternative to the $160 GB Belt Axe is the $23+ shipping Vaughan Sub-zero, Sportsmans Axe distributed by using a slightly modified name. The quality is high for a mass produced product and the low price point.
The Sportsmans has almost the same exact head weight, overall weight and handle length as the GB Belt Axe.

The GB head is 4.125 x 2.5 in.; and the Vaughan Sportsmans head is 3.75 x 2.375 in. The Vaughan Sportsmans eye is far less vulnerable to distortion than is the GB eye.

The Vaughan Sportsmans head is not finished quite as well and the sheath is inadequate, but the fundamental shape, steel quality and tempering are there, using a 1080 low alloy carbon steel at HRC 54-55. Also the grain alignment of the handles are generally excellent.

If you still want to go upscale and buy a USA product, you might consider the Reeves Forge Belt Axe. It is a little heavier at 14 oz. but is of the highest quality. $185 if you are willing to wait 12 months or so to buy direct from Lee Reeves. The cost is considerably more through a distributor to get one right away.

I'm glad to see the introduction of a 3-edge-system brought to BPL. Cliff Jacobson and many others have been using it for a long time.

Edited by Distelfink on 02/20/2013 22:37:28 MST.

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
ferro rods on 02/20/2013 22:00:31 MST Print View

You can actually scrape off shavings from a ferro rod in the same way as a mag bar. You can get a nice little pile and a burst of flame.

Karl Kerschner
(Distelfink) - MLife
Re: Re: Winter Firebuilding Techniques (Video) on 02/20/2013 22:10:36 MST Print View

@ Brian UL, your point that small belt axes are much more dangerous than full size axes is very important. More skill is required.

Kochanski demonstrates using five or so wooden wedges of varying lengths to split a larger diameter round of wood, using a baton. He talks about reusing them until they wear out.

Luke Schmidt
(Cameron) - MLife

Locale: The WOODS
Wood Pile on 02/20/2013 22:23:42 MST Print View

Nice video

I make mine slightly different. I gather enough thin sticks to make a small log cabin. built it sort of like a bridge between two thicker pieces of fuel. I fill the "cabin" with either pine nettles or shavings of wood I've made and I light it from the bottom (usually with a cotton ball on the end of a stick).

I've found a sturdy pocket knife to be invaluable in starting fires in the east even in summer. Things tend to be moister then out west and finding good tinder is tough. Often its quicker to split sticks up.

Ken mentioned fires in a downpour. I did that once using generous amounts of alcohol. I built a big pyramid of fuel on top of everything so the fire was somewhat covered as it was starting. A friend of mine had his campers hold a piece of cardboard over a fire while he started it. I suppose you could have someone hold a sleeping pad over the fireplace while you lit things up (I wouldn't us a Neo Air though).

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Fire in the rain. on 02/20/2013 23:00:45 MST Print View

Here is a GREAT video of Terry Barney making a fire in the rain using only a non locking folding knife and a firesteel.

Joshua Billings
(Joshua) - MLife

Locale: Santa Cruz,Ca
Esbit on 02/20/2013 23:06:42 MST Print View

Totally cheating. Love it. Nice hatchet, too.

Ken T.
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: All up in there
Re: Fire in the rain. on 02/20/2013 23:13:41 MST Print View

Good find Justin. Thanks.

jerry adams
(retiredjerry) - MLife

Locale: Oregon and Washington
Re: Fire in the rain. on 02/21/2013 08:02:23 MST Print View

That just makes no sense - if it's raining, get in tent

And that video is worth less - let's see him keep the fire going for several hours.

Maybe if you could rig up a tarp or find a sheltered spot to keep the rain off you and the fire.

I usually make a fire, but it's just for entertainment.

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: Re: Fire in the rain. on 02/21/2013 12:20:26 MST Print View

That video is worthless? Really?

In the beginning of the video he shows that he is under a tarp. Being able to get a nice fire going in the cold and wet while laying under a tarp is amazing. It can warm you up after a cold day and help to dry out some of your clothing. After being soaking wet and cold all day, it can be hard to warm yourself up with just your body heat.

Yeah, he could keep that fire going for hours but it was just a demonstration. If you put wet wood on the fire carefully, the heat will dry it out to where it can catch. The rain wont put a fire out unless it's a torrential downpour. Even with a torrential downpour, if you place the fire under heavy tree cover it will block enough of the rain.

Jim Colten
(jcolten) - M

Locale: MN
Re: Fire in the rain. on 02/21/2013 12:43:33 MST Print View

Rain or no rain, This how you start a fire!

Of course, LOX isn't UL.

Edited by jcolten on 02/21/2013 12:44:16 MST.

Confused Newbie

Locale: Northern CO
Nice video on 02/21/2013 12:53:34 MST Print View

Thanks for the post Ryan. I'd love to see more videos, especially about winter or shoulder season backpacking.

(asterias) - MLife

Locale: quebec
nice video on 02/21/2013 14:04:35 MST Print View

You are doing a good job for bpl thx you so much!

jerry adams
(retiredjerry) - MLife

Locale: Oregon and Washington
Re: Re: Re: Fire in the rain. on 02/21/2013 14:42:38 MST Print View

"That video is worthless? Really?"

No, I said worth less, not worthless : ) And there are some good ideas in both videos I have filed away in my memory bank, thanks.

A lot of times when I build a fire in marginal conditions, I can get it to burn for a while, but then it sort of fizzles out. You need an hour and at least 10 times as much wood before you really know you've got it going.

If a fire is big enough, like a bonfire, it won't make any difference if it's raining.

And if it's raining hard, there's no way you'll dry out as fast as new water is getting you wet.

If you can find a sheltered spot, like under a tarp, but not melt the tarp from the fire, then you could make a fire and get warm and dry. A tree maybe, but after a while most trees start dripping.

So much easier to wear as little as possible that gets wet, set up your tent, take off wet jacket and put on dry clothing and get into dry sleeping bag.

Tom Deal

Locale: Northern Idaho
Re: Fire in the rain on 02/21/2013 17:43:33 MST Print View

Thanks Ryan you did a great Job! Here is my 2 cents for what its worth. I have several vids on youtube demonstrating different types of fire lays for different situations Also a few on finding natural tinder that works well I have been successful in rain snow and windy conditions.I would give the link but I thought we were not supposed to do that here.Search Tomsbackwoods if anybody cares to watch.
My experience has led me to not using small saws. For me my small axe can split chop cut everything I need under 5 inches in diameter.A light scoring around the outside of the piece and some pressure will usually break the wood with no need for a saw.Splitting is just as easy with some practice.I use a break down buck saw with a 24 inch blade for bigger wood. Batoning is a great example for getting to the dry heart wood.I use this method when I don't have an axe.
Making fire is a great skill.I practice in the rain for the fun of it and I think everybody should know at least a few ways to make fire in an emergency.
Thanks for your effort Ryan and great tutorial!

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: _ on 02/21/2013 18:10:57 MST Print View

"Nice video. I'm glad to see it here on BPL.

One small quibble. I don't really see the need for an ax. It is the heaviest and by far the most potentially dangerous implement of the three used in the video, especially in a survival situation where you may be shaky and stressed. You can do limbing very easily with a pruning saw, without worrying about limbing yourself in the process, and save a lot of weight and bucks in the process. Other than that, an excellent tutorial well executed. Thank you, RJ!

Randy Cain
(bagboy) - MLife

Locale: Palmdale, CA
Thanks, Ryan!! on 02/21/2013 21:43:55 MST Print View

"Thanks for the post Ryan. I'd love to see more videos, especially about winter or shoulder season backpacking."

My thoughts exactly!!! Keep 'em coming!

Hamish McHamish
(El_Canyon) - M

Locale: USA
Re: Re: Fire in the rain. on 02/21/2013 22:10:52 MST Print View

Jerry said:

>And that video is worth less - let's see him keep the fire going for several hours.

Lighten up, Francis.

The technique demonstrated is fully applicable to getting a fire going when everything is soaked but it's not still raining.

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: Re: Re: Fire in the rain. on 02/21/2013 23:37:22 MST Print View

James, he was referring to the video I posted, not the video in the main article.

Hamish McHamish
(El_Canyon) - M

Locale: USA
Re: Re: Re: Re: Fire in the rain. on 02/22/2013 18:14:04 MST Print View

>James, he was referring to the video I posted, not the video in the main article.

I know. That's why I posted what I posted.

Justin C
(paintballr4life) - MLife

Locale: East Coast
Video on 02/23/2013 17:06:20 MST Print View

Great video, thanks!

Peter S
(prse) - MLife

Locale: Denmark
Great on 02/25/2013 07:50:45 MST Print View

I enjoy watching your videos, you keep it fun and professional.

Mike Oxford
(moxford) - MLife

Locale: Silicon Valley, CA
Slightly let-down on 02/26/2013 18:13:45 MST Print View

I was expecting "making a fire out of really wet stuff in slightly (or seriously) inclement conditions."

This felt more like "go find some dry wood out of the snow and then bring it back to the snow.
Use a hatchet and knife and saw and Esbit ...

It's not bad advice, but it's something I would have expected from one of the more mainstream sites and not BPL.


samuel smillie
(sam_smillie) - F

Locale: central canada
Right idea but... on 02/26/2013 18:40:28 MST Print View

I would echo what others have said.

I like that a video on technique was provided and I think firebuilding is as good a topic as any. That being said, there are a lot of excellent video series on firebuilding easily available on youtube. It would have been nice if bpl had assessed what was already available to members for free and found a way to present something that would be uniquely beneficial to the membership.

Such as:

-best tarp configurations for cooking with fire under/appropriate positioning of gear, sleeping system, fire and person under said tarp set up.
-strategies for firestarting in winter with only a knife/only UL knife typically carried by bpl members
-strategies for firestarting in damp conditions without the use of carried-in kindling/firestarters ie, no cotton balls, esbit, paper etc, only natural indigenous materials

Fred Gerber
(capnyos) - MLife

Locale: Ohio
Winter fires on 02/19/2014 20:11:45 MST Print View

I'm a K-9 guy. I'll take my buddy along. He's great with

Fred Gerber
(capnyos) - MLife

Locale: Ohio
Winter fires on 02/19/2014 20:14:40 MST Print View

I'm a K-9 guy. I'll take my buddy along. He's great with me in a sleep system. I'm a believer in cotton balls and vasilene. We take very little along, but do take a good knife and cotton balls.