dakota-fire-hole
SURVIVAL SKILLS

Advantages of the Dakota Fire Hole – Smokeless Fire Pit

Dakota Fire Hole

A Dakota Fire Hole is simply a method of building a fire that utilizes a number of advantages over other types of fires.

It will burn hot, it will use little wood, and will release very little smoke.

Some call it a smokeless fire pit.

First though, here is how to build a Dakota Fire Hole (pit)…

 

How to dig a Dakota Fire Hole

 

Dig The Pit

Dig a hole about a foot (or less) in diameter and about a foot deep.

It’s helpful to enlarge the bottom of the pit by several inches to accommodate longer pieces of firewood than the surface hole diameter. This will be the chamber of the fire pit.

It’s always nice to have a camp shovel
(Check it out here)


Airflow Tunnel

Next, dig the airflow tunnel. Dig the airway tunnel beginning about one foot away from the fire chamber hole.

The diameter of the airflow hole should be about six inches and will angle down towards and into the bottom of the main fire chamber.

Ideally this airflow hole should be upwind from the main fire hole.

 

Kindling / Twigs / Sticks

Fill the fire pit partway with kindling and light the fire. Gradually add sticks to build a stronger fire.

The fire creates a suction which is drawn into the airflow tunnel, resulting in a much hotter and efficient burning fire.

More: Tinder For Building A Fire
More: A Fire Starter Kit (List)

 

Advantages of the Dakota Fire Hole

– The fire burns very hot.

– Less firewood is needed than conventional fire methods.

– Food or water will cook / boil faster.

– The efficiency of the burn creates less smoke, which means less visibility.

– This method is particularly useful and manageable if it is very windy compared to other methods.

– The fire burns below the surface of the ground which shields the flame from being seen, especially at night.

 
Since the fire is below the surface, green sticks across the top of the hole, or other methods can be used to easily support cookware.

When finished, the evidence of a fire is easily removed when you fill the holes with dirt and cover the surface with natural surrounding material.

 

Tips

– To further diffuse any potential smoke (if that’s a concern), build the Dakota fire hole near the canopy of a tree to help avoid detection.

– Choose an area with favorable soil. Avoid rocky or rooted areas.

– Be wary of soil which may ooze with moisture or fill with water.

– Be sure the fire is out when you’re done! Be cautious that the fire is not smoldering roots (or peat) beneath the surface – which could potentially ignite afterwards.

 
Note: I originally posted this article several years ago (I dressed it up a bit for re-post). This technique of fire-building is worth a repeat.

More: Best Knife For Batoning Wood (Recommendation by Dave Canterbury)

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61 Comments

  1. Ken…. that’s interesting. I practice cooking over an open fire camping & etc. I try to cook by using as less firewood as possible and mostly hot coals. Saves fuel & is less likely to be seen. Also different wood types releases less smoke. A flame produces less smoke. I don’t want my neighbors to think any other than the grill burning, right?

    Recently, I installed a fire pit in my back yard, basically out of scrap materials like you would find around (manhole ring w/lid so I can cover it up when not in use?). OK, it works fairly well, but it needs air. I might try your airflow hole/tube/pipe, to give this an advantage I never thought of. Thanks.

    1. IMPROVED DAKOTA HOLE FIRE

      I was taught how to make Dakota Holes by the Royal Air Force.

      You can control the fire temperature by opening/closing the breathing vent.

      A smaller fire pit – say 7-8 inches will give the same heat with less fuel and it’s easier to put your kettle or cooking pot on. Just balance the kettle/pot on a few rocks around the edge to let the air/heat out.

      Use rocks in the bottom to avoid damp. Rocks can also support the tunnel roof, which can be dug as a trench with the sod replaced to make the tunnel.

      This is also a relatively safe fire if you’re in flammable area, as there’s no naked flame, few sparks, and infilling with the earth you dug out will usually extinguish the fire.

    2. Because your stove has no air-preheating or after-burning it is far less efficient than our 1-stick HELIXTOVE that is also smokeless & controllable, i have worked how yours can easily be converted with a little metal sheet. Also to prevent pots getting black, simply put them on an aluminum sheet above the flame. If you wish to know all this, simply contact me with your email address.

  2. When we used to live in a TiPi, we dug a trench out from the firepit, filled it full of empty cans end to end, and reburied it. It provided the draft for the fire and created less smoke.

  3. I have a fire hole like this in my back yard, only much larger. I use it for stealth garbage burning. Cuts down on the number of times per year that I have to haul my trash trailer to the dump. When it fills up with ash above the air hole, I just bury it and dig a new one.

  4. This is basically the same idea that is behind the rocket stoves that you see for sale the difference being that you don’t need to pay for this one just dig a hole.

    1. Exactly. Try making one of these, get the fire going, then put a section of flue pipe over the exhaust side. With no leaks around the ground/flue pipe junction, you’ll hear why they’re called a rocket stove.

  5. This is a great article and diagram. We like to cook outdoors, and like Tammy above, we too burn a lot of our trash. During drought or fire bans, this might be VERY helpful! Thanks, Ken.

  6. I grew up with the chore of burning the garbage. We had an old barrel from some farm chemical that had holes cut in it randomly from top to bottom to add extra air as it burned. As the barrel filled up with ash, the different level of hole would be utilized for the air intake. Once the barrel was filled up with ash, my dad would set up a new barrel. We never stood in the smoke and we lived in the country without any garbage collection. It’s just what everyone did and still does today.

  7. Safety tip if you use this in a wild setting: In some areas, the duff and tree litter can be quite deep – many inches. And in other areas, with peat soil, you can set the soil on fire. Really. I’ve done it just with a campfire at ground level. Thankfully, I noticed the ground was smoking several feet away and we were near a lake so we hauled lots of water and soaked the ground. But every year in Alaska, several forest fires get started by campers who know they’ve extinguished the surface fire but were unaware they’d ignited high-carbon soils. It can smolder for days until a wind comes up and it breaks out as a surface fire.

  8. They teach you this in The Boy Scouts. If you can use a metal pipe or large bamboo for your air vent then cover it with dirt it will last a very long time. A little trick to building the pit. Make your hole bigger by three inches than what you want except for the bottom. Get red clay and moisten till almost runny. Put sticks in the edge of your pit, sticking out about 1 -2 inches. Pack clay so the sticks hold the clay and build a clay surface on your dirt. Make the clay cover the sticks and be about 2″ thick. It will take time to pack this clay on the sides.

    Take your time and if you do it right it will last a long time. A lot of people make the mistake of not putting a thick enough layer of clay. Let dry before firing. The clay will act as a buffer for the heat and reflects the heat up without much loss like if just soil. After use if their are cracks just fill them in with more clay. Eventually the clay will harden like ceramic. If you want to get fancy you can bring the clay up and over the top of your pit just to make it look nice. This trick has been used for centuries and still used today as cooking pits.

  9. On a portaging trip in Quetico, (Southeast Ontario) our group stopped in a storm and made camp on a small island that I’d guess to be a quarter acre. The island appeared to have burnt before, there was standing dead wood, and lots of shelled pine cones from squirrels. We built a fire, cooked, pitched tents, and had a cocktail or several.

    Soon, we found smoke popping up ALL OVER the island, the whole damned thing was like a squirrel version of Cu Chi, tunnels everywhere, and soon all of them had fire popping up out of them. Vivid memory of putting that crap out. Luckily we were surrounded by water and didn’t burn up a tent. Buzzkill to say the least.

  10. Build one in your backyard. Dig a complete hole, no tunnel. Use rounded concrete blocks to line your round fire pit, one with a hole drilled in it, big enough for the stove pipe you will insert through it. Assemble your stove pipe to where you want the inlet located. Then bury everything. Decorate the inflow as you like.

  11. I do a lot of cooking outdoors when I go to the Mekong delta. The Dakota fire pit is a great idea and I’m going to try it.

    1. I’ve used it many times and it has never let me down once. Of course I’ve always been on the move and never tried to set up any kind of permanent or semi-permanent pit. I’ve used it for everything from boiling water & cooking to warming up a shelter & drying clothes. I love the versatility and low visibility of it, especially at night…

  12. Make sure that the soil you build it in isn’t flammable. Sandy soil, or predominantly clay, is alright. It’s when you start getting a large percentage of organic material that there is a problem. Up here on the shield, a lot of ground is peat-land (we call it muskeg) and smoulders VERY easily for years before breaking through the surface as a forest fire.

    The other solution, make sure the fire is OUT. Filling in the air holes first, then cover the flames. Wait till no more steam rises, pour water (or urine, for that matter), on it, and if it doesn’t steam, you’re okay. If you use water, you can even stick your hand down into the hole to see if you can feel any warmth. If it’s cool to the touch, no concern about fire. I’ve used both extinguishing fluids for campfires, and the second has a distinct smell to the steam, but it is readily available, naturally occurring, and doesn’t harm the environment very much. Water may not be so available.

    Do NOT use any product containing alcohol, as it is flammable, and will feed the fire.

    1. LOL, there’s an old expression up here in the mountains with its origin in coon hunting. When all your efforts have been unavailing and circumstances preclude any further progress toward your goal you say, “Well, I guess it’s time to pee* on the fire and call the dogs.”

      * That’s what a preacher or deacon would say. Regular folks would just use the other “P” word.

  13. I am an aging Eagle Scout and this is the first time I have seen this. I cant wait to try it. Looks unbelievably simple, thank you for sharing this.

  14. I’ve never heard of this before . . . Have a feeling the wife will be finding a couple holes in the backyard tomorrow. How to explain?

    Great idea. Can’t wait to try!

  15. Thank you for this article. I read “Dakota fire” in many survival novels and even tho they were described, I couldn’t picture it in my mine.

    From the diagram at top, I think I got it.

    Also like the empty cans idea for the airflow.

    thanks :)

  16. Mostly lurker, and occasionally commenter –

    Growing up in windy west Texas, the Boy Scouts in our troop were always taught to use these in our dry, sandy soil. This cut down drastically on wildfires and angry ranchers. It also minimized the Tender-feet out in the middle of the night hacking at whatever wood was around with their brand-new hatchets. And yes, the army entrenching tool (that green folding Army shovel-thing, for non-military folks) is absolutely the best tool for digging them.

    I would hold off on the clay coating, as it is a lot of extra work and difficult to hide/undo if you are moving on. The smaller diameter is good, ours ran about 5 or six inches across for up to eight boys. As mentioned, any time you have soil that might dry out and catch fire, they are not really a good idea. Three large flat rocks make a good pot support; also google “dingle stick” which I have also used.

    By the way, the entrenching tool can also be used as a very good toilet seat (choose a Cheek), frying pan, better than improvised weapon, hatchet if you must, and a few other things as well. It is in the same group of useful things as the P-38, the military poncho, the ‘woobie’, and the Scout (or Swiss Army or demolition) knife as being things you shouldn’t go in the boonies without.

    I have one of the current issue black folding ones in its green case (with half a roll of squashed toilet paper, cardboard removed, and matches in a zip-lock bag) on the side of my old Alice ruck in the back of the truck. Yes, it’s comparatively heavy, and the Chinese fakes are worse than useless, but it is a very valuable tool. – Papa S.

  17. This is the original “rocket stove” you see on many prepper blogs. I recommend starting a very small fire in the cooking hole to start the draft then start the main fire. Also, don’t over load the main fire hole with wood. The fire needs oxygen so leave plenty of space for it to draw air.

    The idea to place it under a tree to dissipate the smoke/heat signature should be taken seriously when considering sound and light security.

  18. If the coming collapse and the resulting Martial Law would bring a surveillance of flying drones with thermal cameras, then the use of the Dakota Fire Hole will create less heat signature! !

    1. if it gets to that point it would be best not to start a fire at all. Heavy tree cover would help defeat thermal but i wouldn’t chance it with a fire if i was actively hunted… best to hide in your spider hole and wait them out.

      1. Nope, My OPSPEC doesn’t include hiding in a spider hole! I will not conform, be micro chipped or allow myself to be taken to a FEMA Camp! But thanks for your opinion!

        1. Being watched and Tommyboy does it seem ODD that EVERY Army in this whole world TRAINS their Soldiers (You know those folks who fight?) TO HIDE and Reduce their Thermal-Visual-radio signature AND BOTH of you seem to think that’s Stupid or Cowardly? Is a Ghillie Suit a cowards defense?

          I do not intend to go to a FEMA camp or get Micro chipped but I think that IF the SEALS use avoidance training and Literally GO Native (Grey Man Indeed) to do their missions MAYBE the keyboard warriors might want to do some research on becoming combat effective?

          Otherwise all those expensive Night Vision scopes on the 300 Winchester Magnums will be in the hands of not so Brave and Noble Warriors and used on me and my tribe.

          Please strive to become combat effective friends, As William Wallace said “All men DIE NOT all Men LIVE” We will all Die but strive to DO Something Useful for the REST of Us before you jump in front of a speeding train OK?

          Load up a Grey Man Backpack with your Bug Out Kit, Sub something long, heavy and awkward (to simulate that big rifle) that will not get you arrested and DO that “Hike to the place NOBODY Knows about” a few times as to build up real world health.

          OH and please do not be Surprised to see a couple of kids in your hidden bug out place once an awhile because NOWHERE is there a BUG OUT place that No Human has not visited in the past year.

          At my keyboard I can feel Bulletproof until I look at the scars on my belly. But I had Medevac and excellent medical support. We the People WILL NOT so THINK and Train accordingly. The restoration of the Republic demands effective people.

          Pray for the Republic

          1. NHM
            Did it ever occur to u that some of us dont give a sidewaysshit about becoming combat effective? That we arent all interested in being part of a collective tribe of rambos?
            If it gets that bad, count me out!
            😎🤙🏻

          2. Oh and forgot,,,
            “Restore the republic” ????
            Good luck with that
            Ill be happy to just stay out the way.

          3. Tommyboy the US Calvary had a song about when the Squaws come for you with gleaming knives save a bullet for yourself and go to fiddlers green.

            It WILL get that Bad Tommyboy, plan for it.

          4. Tommyboy you are smarter and stronger than you seem to think. There IS a lot you can do beyond simply surviving one more hour. Anybody with the brains and grit to be a successful farmer can be effective. Who do you think stood at Lexington? FARMERS who would not be pushed around. Some of those farmers were OLD guys with barely enough teeth to eat that Hardtack.

            You are much stronger than you think if you avoid suicidal thoughts. I have faith in you buddy.

          5. This is all off topic,,,
            That said,
            The biggest thing here is I would have to be interested in saving the republic or fighting,,,
            I have less than 0 interest in doing either.
            Ill leave that for guys like you and your “tribe”
            Ive got popcorn
            Cheers!

          6. You definitely read me wrong about hiding my heat signature from thermal cameras! Please read my original comment AGAIN!!

  19. I have seen this before but never tried it out. Have made a large number of rocket stoves for friends and family out of #10 cans. We cook outside most of the time on a gas grill. A few years ago I build a cob stove and then the fun began. On Friday or Saturday evenings we have family and friends over for pizza night and beer. First go in the pizza’s than as my wife has made fresh dough for the pizza’s loafs of bread are cooked. Next is a crock of beans that are cleaned,soaked and spiced to our taste. The stove is closed off and the next day you have beans and fresh bread. The stove works great and uses very little wood to fire. It’s tough having to survive on fresh hearth cooked pizza.

    1. Southernman Cob Stoves ROCK. Did you build a roof over it to keep rain from destroying it?

      Wish I could see pictures as the last one I saw looked like an old fashioned beehive.

      Wood Fired Pizza nothing better!

      1. Yes on a roof over the second one, O bother! It looks like a bee hive but put it up on a metal stand I manufactured. You can find some great youtube on them by James Townsend&Sons. In Colonel American towns bakers would build them on a cart. Make rounds so the lady of the house could get her bread dough baked.

        1. Southernman a cob wood fired oven on a cart? Wow. Pretty massive structure.

          Assuming the oven is hot how long do you bake your bread?

          I know when I visited Eastern Europe folks still take their unbaked loves to the Bakers for the oven use. They cut in the dough their family mark as to get the right ones back afterwards.

          Anybody know if American Indians ever made bread? Even the Dakota Hole could heat up a flat stone to easily make “Fry Bread”.

          Bread the staff of life!

          1. – NH Michael –
            The two tribes I am most familiar with (Kiowa and Navaho) most definitely do. The Kiowa lady (full-blood, grew up on the reservation and was mother to one of my best friends) who taught me how to use a Dutch oven most definitely did, as I would rather have her bread than cake.
            – Papa S.

  20. Question, So you cover the hole at the top completely and a rock or other cover gets hot enough to cook on?

    1. Mrs. USMCBG the picture is not clear but you cannot cover the cooking hole as it would back up or smother the fire. Typically three rocks hold up your cooking vessel or just cover part of the hole.

      The smokeless part is due to excellent airflow and thus a hot burning fire INSIDE the hole so less smoke and most of the flame signature is hidden. Thermal sights can see the thermal plume however.

        1. Your welcome! Ever build a cinderblock rocket stove? Pretty nice for us older folks as you can build it tall enough not to have to kneel to tend the fire and cook.

          Enjoy the weekend!

  21. I was going to build a cinder block rocket stove back at the cabin. This Dakota Fire stove looks pretty dang cool. Maybe build both???
    (I would assume that this stove will have to be covered when not in use as to keep out rain/accumulating water).

    Gawd…too many projects. Not enough time.

    1. Joe c my buddy go to the Mother Earth webpage for their excellent 2 burner 6 cinderblock rocket stove. Cost locally less than 12 dollars for the cinderblocks. Hardest part is picking them up from Lowes and stacking them, GOT GLOVES? :-)

      Dakota Fire Pit GOT SHOVEL or trowel and Gloves? Personally I like something to kneel on and a trowel and it takes less than an hour including clearing away burnable duff. PLEASE clear away flammables, really sucks when a Pine Trees roots start a wildfire a few days later.

      Oddly enough Nobody mentioned how NICE a section of 6-8 inch diameter stove pipe IN the Fire Pit is to get your Dakota off to a roaring start quickly. Wind shifts and your airflow tunnel my be down wind but a bit of stovepipe will get that draft issue fixed ASAP. You could stand with a Blanket to funnel the breeze into the airflow tunnel to start it but that gets smoke in the blanket holders eyes. Isn’t there a Song about that? :-)

      A little Beer helps (not before doing all the needed driving friend) and then you can try out Batoning some firewood and test your alternative fire starting ideas.

      Go for it Joe c, I look forward to your first pot of Red (Chili) cooked over those cooking devices.

    2. JC
      Save yer energy,
      Just build a nice bread/pizza oven and a grill, depending on where your cabin is you most likely have natural clay soil available and can just use that and stones from your area to build it, put a roof over it to protect it from rain and your good to go

  22. Dakota fire pit, one thing that occured to me after reading this and pondering for a bit was that this is real similar to how some folks in the long ago would make smokers, not sure what book exactly but one of the older books i have on processing and preserving game had a bunch of different drawings that were real similar to a dakota except for the addition of a covering in witch to hang meat to smoke. Went with an old guy i knew in Colorado back in the 90s to a Mountain man rendezvous near Taos, good fun, and remember seeing folks smoking meat like that, created a much more subtle smoky flavor, the one we were checking out basicly had a teepee of canvas and not sure what else built over the out hole with fish and some venison straps and strips from quarters hanging in it, pretty cool actually,

  23. Tommyboy
    Hey thanks, friend….😎
    Another project on the to do list…..
    A smoke house, large enough for a quartered whitetail.
    Clay and stones. We raise plenty!

    1. GJ the Dakota Fire Hole requires a fairly clayey soil to maintain the air tunnel. Sometimes folks use a couple of tin cans with tops and bottoms removed as a tunnel support-air pipe or a slit is dug with a flat rock as a lid BUT BEWARE of River Rocks as the water trapped inside can explode when heated. Not fun.

      Beware of loamy dirt when you create a fire hole. You can start an underground smoldering fire that will be trouble sometimes days later. Always dig to clear all flammable material as even “Wet” loam will dry out and become burnable.

      All that work and you have to kneel to cook. I prefer a #10 can rocket stove myself, little to no smoke and cools pretty fast for packing out.

      Hope this helps

  24. I have done this several times. I love it for all of the above listed reasons, then when done you cover it up. No sign you were there. Works awesome.

  25. I realize the article was ORIGINALLY about a Dakota Hole fire system. How it got into theories and beliefs about when TSHTF, I don’t get. Political opinions are usually for other forums, like FaceBook. Oh, wait!! I did that and I’m in FaceBook “jail” for 30 days. But, back to the Dakota Hole: I make it with a “dam” around the air hole and the vent hole. Just an inch ring to keep rain from running into either. The air hole can be sheltered with branches or almost any material to keep rain from coming straight into the hole.

    1. That’s a great suggestion regarding the intake air hole – keeping water out by ridging up a sort of ‘dam’. Thanks.

  26. I commented before that I’ve used this method for years and I love the versatility and low visibility/footprint, especially at night. One of the best things about it is that you can customize it just about any way you want to make it suit your needs. I personally sometime like to dig out the bottom of the main pit to allow for more heating of surrounding ground in my shelter on cold nights. The ground will stay warm enough to provide heat inside my shelter long after the fire dies. Granted, it’s not like a traditional fire that you have to feed constantly and the ground won’t keep everything nice & toasty but it’s a hell of a lot better than waking up freezing half to death..

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