The Army fire technique
An overview of the technique, building method and advantages/disadvantages.
An army fire needs mainanance every 5 to 20 minutes depending on the size of the pit.
The pit is dug into the side of a tranch and therefore easy to ignite under strong wind conditions and hard to see from a distance.
The name ‘army fire’ derives of its usability in war situations. It is easy to make when you are lying in a tranch and need a fire to cook on (and all esbit is out of stock). You can dig it in the side of the tranch and as this is, together with the dakota fire technique, the most smokeless and less visible fire there is, it suits the use in the army.
Because of the adjustment to the fireplace it is easy to add new fuel to the fire without the need of lifting pots. Also embers can be taken out of the fire and can easily be replaced to cook on. This makes regulating the heat very easy.
The technique works pretty much like a rocket stove. Oxygen is drawn into the fire from underneath and provides an effective, smokeless and hot combustion.
Build technique and methods to start the fire
This technique can only be used in a tranch or strong deviation of earth, or clay. Make sure you read ‘Before making a fire‘ (opening in new tab) to take care of ‘safety’, ‘order’ and ‘leaving no trace’ before making this fire.
The best way is to start by drilling a stick into the ground at 2ft / 60cm from the side of the tranch you want to make the fire. This stick has to be drilled at least 1,5ft / 45cm deep, depending on how deep you want your fireplace to be. Now dig a hole in the side of the tranch at 1,5ft / 45cm or a bit lower under the ground level towards the stick. This hole should be at least 1ft / 30cm wide and must be 2ft / 60cm deep until you reach the stick. Now get rid of the stick and make the hole which is created bigger. It should be about the same size as your fireplace or a bit smaller. The chimney, which is now created, will create drag and therefore creates an effective and hot combustion. On top of the chimney you can lay two fresh thick green branches to place a pot on. If you want to use several cookingpots, just make the opening and chimney a bit broader by digging. Watch out that it is not getting to wide as it then can collapse. A solution to prevent this can be to dig a new hole next to the previous one and connect them only with the fireplace. Using two different chimneys and two different feeding gaps.
To light this fire, use the teepee or criss-cross technique (link). Add fuel every 5 to 20 minutes depending on the size of your army fire.
Keep the fire burning by sliding small to medium sized branches into the firepit. This can be done through the chimney or through the feeding gap.
If the fire is not creating a drag (once the fire is fully burning), the chimney is to big. Make it smaller or make the fire(place) bigger. If the fire is smoking ( once the fire is fully burning) and you’re not using green or wrong wood, make the feeding gap and / or the chimney a bit bigger to allow oxygen in.
Leave no trace
To fit this fire into the ‘Leave no trace principal‘ just keep the earth / clay near your camp. After the fire has burned down and the coals have cooled, fill up the holes you’ve created with the earth / clay and you are ready to go.
Pro’s and con’s
This fire technique needs a low to average amount of wood. This type of fire is made to regulate the heat of the fire and to constantly be able to adjust the height of the flame. It can burn for 5 to 20 minutes maintenance-free depending on the size of the fire. The army fire is very useful if you want to stay low-profile while cooking. This fire makes it possible to expand the pit and cook on it with several pots. It is not effective in keeping you warm or to get a lot of light from. It still provides more light than the dakota fire. It also won’t be effective in keeping animals away. It does require a large initial expenditure of energy to create the firepit. This technique is best reserved for low-profile bushcrafting, survival or primitive camping.
It depends on your situation which fire technique is best for you.
You have to pay attention to the possibility of a root fire when using an army fire in a wooded area. This is a fire that burns underground along the root system of a tree. Root fires can also travel underground and resurface some distance from their point of origin. This is especially the case in dry conditions.