best way to build a campfire

What’s the best way to build a campfire? When building a fire in the outdoors, many of us will simply put sticks and logs together and light it up the best way we can. A few of us know some pretty cool ways to build fire, though. But the truth is, the majority of fire building methods we use today are for building campfires directly on the ground.

While these methods will definitely give you fire, they can be dangerous and difficult to manage. Since the firewood is suffocated due to poor airflow, they smoke heavily. Due to the bad airflow, they put out little heat and require a lot of fuel to maintain. Ground-based fires will throw sparks and burning embers into the air and the surrounding undergrowth. High winds exacerbate this problem. They also require a lot of effort to put out.


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

There’s a better way to build a campfire. Way better. It’s called a Dakota Fire Hole. This method of campfire building requires the digging of two holes, side-by-side. This is generally a simple task when soil conditions are adequate. The holes are then connected via a tunnel dug between them at the base of the holes. Your campfire is built in one of the holes, and the rising heat creates suction within the chambers that supplies fresh oxygen at the base of the fire, keeping it alive and healthy.

What is it that makes the Dakota Fire Hole the best way to build a campfire? First off, this method of building a campfire is so efficient and versatile that the U.S. Military teaches it to servicemen and women as a tactical fire lay for survival. Tactical in this instance means, ‘as related to the tactics of survival’. Wikipedia states that, “The Dakota fire pit is a tactical fire used by the United States military as the flame produces a low light signature, reduced smoke, and is easier to ignite under strong wind conditions.”


Due to the nature of this fire lay, it was heavily relied on during the Vietnam war, where American soldiers used it to conceal their cooking fires while behind enemy lines. The Dakota Fire Hole saved countless lives of pilots who were shot down and trapped in the hostile jungles, and it made sure our men and women came out alive.

OK, so maybe the fact that the military trusts the Dakota Fire Hole in survival situations isn’t enough for you. You need more convincing. Well then, here are thirteen more reasons why the Dakota Fire Hole is the best way to build a campfire.


Thanks to the unique design of the Dakota Fire Hole, your flame is nestled within an insulated chamber with a concentrated air intake at the base of the flame. As the heat rises out of the top of the chamber, it creates a suction effect that supplies everything needed to efficiently use the fuel you feed it. And using less firewood is a boon for any outdoor enthusiast. It means less time gathering and processing fuel for your fire.


There’s a reason the military declares this fire lay to be as close to tactical as a fire can get. It’s extremely versatile. You can quickly and easily cook or dry clothes over it. Remain hidden while using a Dakota Fire Hole and quickly dispose of it afterward. The fire pit can be used inside a primitive shelter. Additionally, it can be combined with other survival skills like making charcoal or primitive blacksmithing.


Since the Dakota Fire Hole is supplying its own oxygen through the air intake tunnel and the fire chamber is insulated by the surrounding soil, your fire will burn extremely hot. A hot flame works better, faster, and cleaner. This means less time cooking, less work for you, and more time to relax.


Another good reason why the Dakota Fire Hole is the best way to build a campfire is that you’ll rarely find the need for an accelerant, as long as you’re using dry firewood. This fire lay makes the perfect protective “nest” to build a fire. It’s well protected from the elements with plenty of room to breathe.

A quick and easy method of igniting a Dakota style fire is to fill the fire chamber with as many small sticks as you can fit, all standing on end. You can then place your tinder bundle on top of the sticks and light it with your preferred method. The fire will immediately start drawing oxygen from below and begin to grow with no extra effort.


The Dakota Fire Hole is ideal for camp cooking. When you’re working with small cookware, you can easily make the chamber opening sized to fit your tools. It’s incredibly easy to position your pots directly over the heat for maximum efficiency without having to reach through a big fire to get to them.

You can hang your pots from a tripod over the fire with little effort, or if you can find small stones, you can place a few around the fire chamber and rest your pots directly on them. A few small green sticks can be used if no stones are available. Many small backpacking grills are even available to grill meats and veggies over your Dakota Fire Hole.


The Dakota Fire Hole burns hot and efficient. It burns off most of the steam and gasses that produce smoke before they ever reach the surface. This is a dream come true for anyone who loves cooking over an open flame, but can’t stand getting the stinging smoke in their eyes.

The smoke-free capability of this fire lay is often considered to be the most desirable benefit of the Dakota Fire Hole. In fact, it’s one of the chief reasons for its high regard among the ranks of the United States military. This feature alone allowed our soldiers in Vietnam to conceal their position while using a cook-fire during the day. This is possibly the #1 example of why the Dakota Fire Hole is the best way to build a campfire.


When properly maintained, you can keep a small smoke-free fire going and producing usable heat while keeping the visible light well below ground. A well-built Dakota Fire Hole goes undetected day or night. At 20 yards with a mostly unobstructed line of sight, it’s undetectable. This is the second reason that the military holds this fire lay in high regard. This is also why many bushcrafters, wild campers, and stealth campers today have high regard for it.


With a properly built Dakota Fire Hole, your coals will remain underground, where they’re safe and controllable. With the intense heat and efficient burn, this type of fire produces minimal sparks or flying embers. Forest Rangers will love you forever if they see you using a Dakota Fire Hole in the woods. It means you’re being responsible. You might even get a hug from Smokey the Bear.


With your fire below ground and deep within a chamber, you have little to worry about on windy days. Your fire will remain alive and well-fed with oxygen, still easy to use and maintain. This too means less fire hazard as there are no loose embers to blow away. This only increases your chance of getting some love from the bear.


One of the reasons that Forest Rangers might think this is the best way to build a campfire: it acts much like a fire ring. It keeps your fire in a controlled environment that greatly minimizes the risk of wildfire when used responsibly.


Thanks to the fact that you just dug two holes in the ground, you don’t need to waste water dousing the flames. You’ve got a pile of loose dirt right next to the fire! This makes it incredibly quick and easy to extinguish your flame and move on when the need arises. Now you can push the soil back into the holes over the fire and tamp down the soil. You can now replace the divots if any were removed, and you’re done.


The Dakota Fire Hole is the only fire lay that fully complies with the Leave-No-Trace principle of backwoods camping. Leave-No-Trace has become the mantra of wild campers, bushcrafters, stealth campers, conservationists, and ethical outdoors enthusiasts the world over. It even has an organization dedicated to preserving the values it represents. It means that you leave no trace of yourself being on the land that you used.

A responsible outdoors enthusiast that uses a Dakota Fire Hole will always come home feeling good. You’ll leave camp knowing that you left mother nature with no trace of being a human’s home for a night.


With all these wonderful benefits, calling this the best way to build a campfire should be a no-brainer. Unfortunately, this world isn’t perfect for the Dakota Fire Hole. There’s a problem inherent in nature when it comes to building one. It’s been very difficult to overcome, which has unfortunately given the Dakota Fire Hole a less-than-ideal designation.

This is because you need to have ideal soil conditions in order to build one. It takes its name from the Dakota tribe of the Great Plains, where the Dakota Fire Hole was first developed. On the plains, the topsoil is deep, fertile, and loamy. It is extremely easy to dig a pit of any size or shape with little trouble.

However, these soil conditions are not present in many areas of the world. In many places, the soil is sandy or rocky. Often, there are large tree roots matting just beneath the topsoil. You may even find the ground is boggy or frozen to several inches deep. These many different soil conditions are difficult or impossible to build a Dakota Fire Hole in. And they exist in many parts of the world. Due to this, many people have relegated the use of this fire lay to when they find “the ideal campsite”.


StealthFyre is the solution to this age-old problem. The crew at Guerrilla Tactical Outdoors spent 5 years refining a concept that began years ago. We found ourselves struggling to build a Dakota Fire Hole in the rugged mountains of Western Montana one day, so we set out with a plan to solve this problem.

The Origin
The Original prototype of StealthFyre Origin, deployed as a Dakota Fire Hole.

First, we designed a simple stove to serve as a support for the structure in any soil condition. We chose our first three deployment locations with much forethought. We wanted to test this stove out in some trying situations. The first location by a mountain creek had loamy soil filled with tree roots. The second was in rocky soil next to a river, and the third was on a sand bar. While the rocky soil was definitely not a pleasant experience, we succeeded on all three occasions and proved the concept works.

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

Back in the design room, we spent several more years refining the stove to add features. We refined the panel designs to allow the capability to stack panels or connect them in a perpendicular fashion. This allowed the ability to build sealed stoves with chimneys and add baffles within the fire chambers. You can even stack different designs on top of one another for more complex and efficient stoves. It also allowed us to design several accessories.


What we ended up designing was a modular wood burning stove that not only solves the issue of less-than-ideal soil conditions when building a Dakota Fire Hole, but it also has the ability to transform into various other types of stove, like an above ground rocket stove, a barbecue, a meat smoker, or a potbelly stove with a chimney.

What all this means is that StealthFyre has solved the only problem inherent in the Dakota Fire Hole, making it by far the best way to build a campfire. In the process, we produced one of the most exciting new designs in camp stove technology for the 21st century.

Imagine a stove that allows you to build the magnificent Dakota Fire Hole in nearly any soil condition. Now imagine being able to assemble a nearly endless variety of stoves that will suit your needs in the woods.

StealthFyre is the world’s first modular camping stove that allows you the freedom to do what you do best. This is because the modular panels act more like building blocks for stove creation, rather than proprietary parts for a single stove. Whether you’re a daytime hiker or living off the land, StealthFyre is the last stove you’ll ever need. One stove. Endless possibilities. Serious fun.

Are You Ready To Join The Revolution?

All of our stoves are made in the United States on a small scale, and that means the utmost quality. Each kit is made of durable 304 Stainless Steel sheet. Cut, not punched. StealthFyre is not a mass produced product by a massive corporation. It’s the innovative ambitions of an American family wanting to make this wonderful new idea available to the world.

When you purchase your new StealthFyre Modular Survival Stove, you’ll be doing more than getting a great deal on one of the coolest new outdoor products this side of the 21st century. You’ll be doing even more than supporting a small American business. You’ll be helping to bring a revolutionary new era in outdoors adventures to the entire world.