A Short History of The Legendary Dakota Fire Hole

The Seven Council Fires
A map of the ancestral lands of the great Sioux Nations.

The Dakota Fire Hole takes its name from a group of Native American tribes collectively known as the Očhéthi Šakówiŋ. Or in English, “Seven Council Fires”. Today we know them as the Dakota, Lakota, and Nakota Sioux Nations.

We believe the people populating the American plains developed this technology. They probably did so to combat the incessant wind and prevent prairie fires while following the Bison herds. These nomadic people spent much of their time on the move. They followed the ever-restless herds of American Bison across the rolling plains. Most assuredly, they required a reliable method of maintaining fire without creating disaster or alerting their prey. Little did they know, they designed one of the most versatile survival stoves and fire lay ever imagined.

The Dakota Fire Hole is an extremely hot burning, nearly smokeless fire lay. The fire remains hidden below ground. And it needs very little fuel to produce superb results. Perfect for stealth camping, survival, and outdoor cooking.

The Dakota Fire Hole Is An Ingenious Design

The Dakota Fire Hole can do all of this because of its unique, common-sense design. It’s nothing more than two shallow pits dug into the dirt, and then connected via a small tunnel between the two. When you build a fire inside of one pit, the heat rises, creating a draw on the tunnel. This draw pulls in cold, fresh air from the other pit and into the base of the fire. 

With a constant supply of fresh air and a well-insulated combustion chamber, the heat from the fire has nowhere to go but up. This self-perpetuating flow of air provides enough oxygen to burn nearly 100% of the organic material you feed it. That translates to a nearly 100% smoke-free fire when burning dry fuel.

A Modern Adaption of the Dakota Fire Hole

The Dakota Fire Hole
An image excerpt from the U.S. Military Field Manual FM 21-76

This survival stove type of fire lay has proven so useful that the American Military has been teaching it to our soldiers since the beginning of the Vietnam war. The many benefits that come with this unique fire proved to be the perfect thing for our brave young soldiers caught behind enemy lines.

The Dakota Fire Hole requires very little fuel to produce useful heat. It produces little to no smoke. And the bright, attention-getting flame can remain hidden below ground, where it gives off less light for onlookers to detect. This is why the Dakota Fire Hole became the go-to method of cooking and drying out clothing for the unfortunate souls trying to remain hidden in the jungles from the Viet-Cong.

To this day, it remains a favorite of survivalists and wild campers the world over. This is mostly because it closely resembles a rocket stove in form and function, but can be built in nature, virtually anywhere you have proper soil conditions.

Only on the Plains…

Rainbow on the plains
Picture of a rainbow after a storm over the Yellowstone River, south of Fairview, MT.

In spite of the overwhelming benefits that come from using such a unique and efficient fire lay, it has a rather significant disadvantage…

Soil conditions. The Sioux Nation lived in a blessed land of rolling hills and grassy plains. One could dig for several feet in any given area and find rich, firm soil. It was, of course, the ideal location for such a magnificent primitive technology to evolve. Such innovation wouldn’t have happened along the rivers that flow through the mountain valleys or under the dense overgrowth of the world’s jungles.

It can be nearly impossible to construct a Dakota Fire Hole in rocky, sandy, frozen, boggy, or heavily forested soil conditions. Because that technically makes up a very large portion of the planet, this has become known as it’s one glaring drawback to being declared the best fire lay you can build.

From the inventor of the Stealthfyre Stove:

StealthFyre Modular Survival Stoves
A compilation of potbelly stoves mounted to Dakota Fire Holes.

“I grew up on the plains of Montana and North Dakota. I was introduced to the Dakota Fire Hole around the time I was a Boy Scout, and fell in love with its usefulness and efficiency, but especially in the lack of smoke in my face while I was cooking over the fire.

Then I moved west into the Rocky Mountains and quickly found my favorite fire wasn’t so wonderful anymore. That made me sad…And then it made me think. What if I could have a structure to add to this fire pit to keep it together in any soil condition? I would have the ability to build it in this rocky soil, and nearly anywhere else for that matter.” 

Fire. Re-invented.

StealthFyre Modular Survival Stoves
A compilation of several Dakota Fire Holes made with StealthFyre.

So, we set to work designing that very structure. After many years and many renditions, we finally settled on what can very honestly be explained as an accidental discovery. Our original device had hinges and was only intended to give structure to a Dakota Fire Hole. When we decided to scrap the hinged design and go with something that would be easier to manufacture, something amazing happened. 

By removing the hinges and replacing them with a unique tab and slot design, we not only solved an age-old problem with the legendary Dakota Fire Hole, we also discovered a method of making a modular survival stove device geared towards fire harnessing tasks of all sorts.

We’ve effectively created one stove system that can be assembled in nearly endless fashions. This gives you the much-needed freedom to use your fire as you see fit. Our modular survival or camp stove is perfect for the camp cooking equipment kit that you use for hiking, overlanding, or any other outdoor adventure.

There really is nothing else like it in the world.  

We’ve re-invented the Dakota Fire Hole.

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