The Long log fire technique
An overview of the technique, building method and advantages/disadvantages.
This fire is most often used in snowing / freezing conditions. At nights with temperature drops to -95F / -35C. Best is to have an elevated bed and a shelter which will reflect the heat from the fire back at you. Sleeping in an elevated bed makes it possible to use the radiation from the fire to warm up the bottom of your bed.
This fire needs an average amount of wood per hour. It’s quite a lot of wood that you need to be able to keep the fire burning all night. This fire technique needs very little maintenance when it’s build right.
The name of this fire derives of the long logs that are used. The right logs are usually about the size of your body.
This technique keeps you warm during the night while you’re sleeping in a shelter without blanket or sleeping bag. When it’s burning it can’t be controlled like other fires. Therefore experience is needed.
Build technique and methods to start the fire
First check from which direction the wind is coming. Make sure this is not the direction in which you want to sleep beside the fire. In case of a shelter, the wind should also not come from behind the roof. If the wind is towards you, sparks can fly at you and harm you while you sleep. If the wind is coming from behind your shelter, the smoke will twirl into your shelter, this is unhealthy and can be dangerous.
The fireplace should be about 3f / 1m away from where you want to sleep.
Dig out the first ground layer in a wide area around the fireplace to be able to clean the fireplace up afterwards and have a secure fire-spot. Also read ‘Before making a fire‘ (opening in new tab) to read about ‘safety’, ‘order’ and ‘leaving no trace’.
Make two ridges out of non burning material (sand, stones (dry without cracks!)) with a small deviation in between. To make it even safer you can add a second ridge at a distance of 1,5ft / 50cm from the fireplace to prevent beams rolling away from the fireplace.
Now start collecting full dead trees. Try to mix trees with a soft and hard type of wood (for example, soft; conifers. Hard; oak, beech).Try to combine one soft type of wood with two hard types of wood. Take them to your camp and chop of the side branches. Keep the side branches apart to use as kindling later on. If you find a lot of soft types of wood, you’ll need 3 times more trees than you need when you’re using hard types of wood. Hard types of wood are burning steady and slow, soft types of wood will burn bright and hot but won’t last long.
Cut the trees into body size logs. Place the two widest logs of a hard type of wood on the ground of the fireplace. Fill the space in between the logs with logs out of a softer type of wood until you reach the same length of the first logs. Now place a big tinder bundle in the center of the fireplace on top of the logs. Make sure you can still reach it at all times while you build the construction up higher. Place two hard wood beams, slightly smaller in width as the previous, on top of the construction. Make sure that these will collapse inwards instead of outwards when the fire is burning. Again, fill the space between the beams up with soft wood beams but now also add the kindling, especially around the tinder bundle. Keep in mind that fire needs oxygen to burn so also keep space for that. Place one hard wood log on top and the construction is ready to be ignited.
If you have used all of the wood, go and collect double to three times more.
During the night you’ll automatically wake-up when the fire needs more wood (as you’ll get cold) so make sure there is enough wood to add during the night.
Start the fire by igniting the tinder bundle. If there’s enough kindling around, the fire will spread automatically. You can help the fire by adding some kindling to give the fire some first strength.
Leave no trace
With this huge fire it is quite hard to leave no trace. Still I think this is very important. You do not want to give others the idea of making such a big fire in the forest. Make sure in the morning that you burn up the remaining beams and coals. When the remaining coals have cooled down, dig a hole and throw the ash and coals in it. Close the hole with sand and fill also the fireplace with sand or hummus after you checked that the bottom is also cooled down. You can do this by throwing water over the fireplace. If it start boiling this means the place is not cooled down. When it is cooled down, the top-ground layer can be placed on top to leave no trace.
Pro’s and con’s
The long log fire is, like said, effective in keeping you warm during a full night in freezing temperatures and without a blanket or sleeping bag.
It keeps the animals away and needs very little maintenance when it is build right. When keeping in mind how long it burns, the initial expenditure of energy to create this fire is not very high.
By not being able to keep the fire controlled and the specific use while sleeping, makes this firetype a dangerous one. There is a hazard of starting a forest-fire and, by that, endangers the forest and yourself.
This technique is best reserved for professional bushcrafters and survivalists in extreme freezing situations without gear. Using this as an emergency solution against freezing.
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 a long log 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.