Dakota Fire Hole – Learn How to Build the Most Efficient Fire

by | Sep 22, 2020 | Fire Building

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Throughout human history, there have been tons of different fire building techniques. However, none may be as effective and efficient as the Dakota fire hole. Also known as the Dakota fire pit, this fire building method was a favorite of Native Americans for its unique advantages when it came to cooking and stealth. 

Today, we’re going to teach you everything you need to know about building your own DIY Dakota fire hole. Including, how it works, the advantages, and disadvantages of this technique.

What is a Dakota Fire Hole?

The Dakota fire hole is an ancient technique in which you construct your fire completely underground using two separate holes and a connecting tunnel. The unique design helps keep your fire and location hidden, and also leverages natural air flow to create a cleaner flame that burns with more heat and efficiency.

In turn, you’ll be left with a flame that produces less smoke as well. Which again, is perfect for stealth situations, and keeping a lit fire in your shelter (with less pollutants).

How it Works

The design of the Dakota fire hole is actually quite genius.  It relies on a few basic principles that you are probably already familiar with.

To put it simply, when the fire is lit in its chamber, the heated air will begin to rise out of the hole. As the hot air begins to leave, it will create suction, which will draw in oxygen from the empty chamber through the connecting tunnel. 

Because of the Dakota fire pit’s design, the oxygen will meet your fire at its base.This results in an effective and efficient stream of oxygen fuels the combustion, allowing for a cleaner burn that results in less smoke and more concentrated heat.

Digging a Hole Instead

As an alternative to the Dakota fire pit, it is possible to just dig a hole for your fire instead. However, you’ll face more challenges, and your fire won’t burn nearly as effectively or efficiently. The main reason being lack of necessary oxygen needed to sustain a fire.

Another issue is starting the fire. When you are initially getting the tinder and kindling lit, it’s not uncommon to use a gentle breath to ignite the flames. Seeing as your fire is in the ground, as you attempt to blow on it, you may burn off an eyebrow or two.

DIY: How to Build a Dakota Fire Hole Yourself

Building a Dakota fire hole isn’t as difficult as it may sound. Sure, the initial effort may be harder than building a traditional campfire. But in our opinion, the advantages make it well worth your time. 

Before we get started, it’s a good idea to get all your materials ready. To build the Dakota fire pit, you’ll want to have the following:

  • Shovel or digging stick
  • Tinder
  • Kindling
  • Wood

There’s really not much of a difference when it comes to building a Dakota fire pit and traditional campfires. So, we recommend just using your preferred method. The only extra item you’ll need is something to properly dig your holes.

Step1: Planning it Out

Before you start digging, we strongly encourage you to take some time to plan out the perfect spot. Seeing as you’ll need to move some dirt around, you want to make it as easy on yourself as possible. Which generally means avoiding rocky terrain or heavily rooted locations.

As a quick note, you need to be extremely careful to avoid tree roots when building an underground campfire. Roots can catch fire, and even continue burning beneath the surface, reappearing far away. The dangers of root fires are both real and devestating.

Step 2: Dig the Fire Chamber

Once you’ve scoped out the perfect area for your fire, it’s time to start digging the first of your holes. Start your Dakota fire hole by digging the fire chamber first. This chamber should be completely vertical.

The ideal size for your fire chamber is about 1 foot deep and 1 foot wide. The depth and width of your hole really depend on the size of the fire you want to build, so you can make adjustments to size as needed. Just try to keep your ratio about 1:1 or 2:1 (for example: 1’ x 1’ or 1’ x 6”).

Step 3: Dig the Oxygen Chamber

Digging the oxygen chamber for your Dakota fire hole takes a bit more planning and precision than the fire chamber. That’s because you’ll want to create air flow with the maximum efficiency.

In order to improve air flow, your oxygen chamber should be dug diagonally, or at an angle. With the angle in mind, the oxygen chamber needs to meet the fire chamber at its base. So, your oxygen chamber should be as deep as your fire chamber, but slightly smaller in diameter.

Step 4: The Connecting Tunnel

Now that you have both your fire and oxygen chambers, it’s time to connect the two. If you were precise with your digging, this step should be fairly easy, since the bases of both your holes are only separated by a small wall in the ground.

Using your shovel, or digging stick, begin to chip away at the thin wall separating the two chambers. Once you break through, begin to carefully carve away at the tunnel so that it is large enough for a sufficient amount of air to flow through.

Step 5: Build Your Fire

To build your fire, begin by creating a platform that will serve as the base of your fire. Your platform will create separation between the ground and your flame, helping it burn better.

Once your platform is in place, you can really use whatever method you want to. Whether that be a tipi fire, log cabin, or whatever else you are comfortable with. The idea here is to just get the flame going, so that you can sit back and let the natural air flow do that hard work.

Safely Put Out Your Fire

One of our favorite things about the Dakota fire pit is how easy it is to put it out. Naturally, when you dig a couple of holes, you’ll have an abundance of dirt handy. While you can use water to put out your fire, you may as well save it. 

All you have to do is push the dirt back into the holes and you’re done. It’s really that simple. 

Filling the holes back up with dirt is actually the preferred way you should put out your Dakota fire pit. It leaves little to no trace that you were ever there, which is the ultimate goal whenever you spend time in the great outdoors. Also, you don’t want anyone tripping or falling because of the holes that you dug.

Weighing the Pros and Cons

There’s no denying that the Dakota fire hole is an absolute game changer, and extremely useful in certain situations. Although the advantages are difficult to ignore, there are also some disadvantages that you should take into consideration when deciding if it’s the right choice for you.

Now that you know how to build your own Dakota fire pit, let’s dive into when you should use it by going through all the pros and cons.

Advantages of Dakota Fire Pits

There are tons of advantages to building your own Dakota fire pit. Most notably, it’s the most efficient burning fire which helps in a number of ways. First, it requires less fuel to burn (less wood), while simultaneously burning hotter.

Due to the design, the heat from the fire doesn’t disperse as much as a regular campfire. Helping concentrate the heat for cooking food and boiling water. 

The underground design also protects the fire from windier conditions. Actually, with a Dakota fire hole, wind is actually welcome, because it will provide more fuel for the flames.

Lastly, because of how efficiently the fire burns, it produces far less smoke than other campfire techniques. Which is great for people who are trying to keep their location hidden, or even hoping to build a fire inside their shelter. 

Disadvantages of Dakota Fire Pits

We don’t think it would be fair to talk about Dakota fire holes without mentioning a few of the disadvantages you may face. For example, depending on the area and weather, it may not even be a feasible option.

For example, if it’s too rocky, or there are too many tree roots, you might not be able to dig. If it’s raining, you can pretty much forget about it too. Both the fire chamber and oxygen chamber will fill up with water, making it impossible to get a fire going.

The Dakota fire hole isn’t ideal if you’re trying to stay warm either. Yes, it burns hotter, but the heat is concentrated to the opening of the hole. Which is great for cooking, but for maintaining your body temperature, you’re better off with a traditional fire.

Final Thoughts

From efficiency to stealth, learning how to build a Dakota fire hole is a highly valuable skill. While it may take a bit more effort up front to get the fire going, it easily pays off on the back end. Especially when you take into account how much better it is for cooking and cleaning up.

Brian Segal

As an outdoor enthusiast, I was drawn to bushcraft at a young age. I constantly find myself trying to learn and improve on my survival skills, and enjoy writing about everything I discover to help pass along to others.

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