How To Properly Build a Dakota Smokeless Fire Hole / Pit & An Upside Down Fire!

How to make a Dakota fire Hole / Pit – stealth fire making

What if I told you that you could make a fire that only you could see.  Any passerby would be utterly oblivious to you and your fire.  You might want to build a fire like this so you can lay low from others during an SHTF situation. The Dakota fire pit is a tactical fire that is also frequently used by the United States military. The flame produces a low light signature, reduced smoke, and is easier to ignite under strong wind conditions.

We will go through the different steps you will need to go through to build your Dakota fire. Also what tools you will need to accomplish this.

Pinterest Pin – How to build a Dakota Fire Hole

What you will need to achieve a Dakota Fire Hole / Pit

  • Shovel – Or your bare hands but why would you want to do that?
  • Dry tinder and green branches.

Step 1 You will first need to dig a deep hole, about two to three feet deep and about 1.5 feet wide should do the trick.  Just remember that the bigger the fire you want to build, the more profound and broader the hole will have to be to accommodate a more significant fire.


Step 2 – For this second step, you will need to dig a second smaller hole about one foot away from the first hole. You don’t need to dig as deep for this one, but a depth of 1.5 feet is the best practice. This second hole will connect to the first hole via a tunnel. The purpose of this second hole and tunnel is to allow oxygen to flow into the fire; As the heat and flames are spewing up out of the bigger hole, it won’t let any oxygen to enter from above.

This secondary hole in our stealth Dakota fire hole will allow you to blow oxygen into the fire without running the risk of receiving facial burns. This method makes it much safer than blowing oxygen directly into the first hole.

Step 3 – The third step in building your Dakota fire pit is to join both holes together by way of a tunnel. Keep tunneling your way through until you reach the other side. Keep digging away at the edges until its big enough for you to be able to fit your entire arm though. The bigger the tunnel, the more oxygen that can enter, meaning a more sustainable fire.

Step 4 – Now that the tunnel is complete, its time to build a fire. The same practices of traditional fire making still apply. Build a raised wooden platform to keep your fire off that will burn down into a layer of embers over time.  Utilize dead dry materials and make the fire like you would make it on the surface.

You can even cook on your Dakota fire by merely placing some thick living green branches either over the top of the primary hole or by jamming them into the side of the walls.  Living green materials won’t turn over the fire so your cookware will be safe to sit upon it.

Dakota Fire Misconception

There’s a common misconception that these types of underground fires don’t produce any smoke. That misconception carries some truth, but it’s not strictly true. An underground fire does burn hotter and more intensely than one exposed to the colder atmosphere on the surface; that certainly does limit its smoke immittance.

Wet, resinous and green tinder will still produce smoke, that’s why you should utilize the dryest and deadest tinder as possible if you want to limit your visibility in an SHTF type of event.

Stealth Dakota Smokeless Fire Hole / Pit

The stealth Dakota smokeless fire hole / pit comes from a unique way of building a fire. We think of fire building as a bottom-up process whereby we will make a base fire and add material on top of it. For a smokeless fire, we need to flip things upside down and have our fuelwood on the bottom and our fire on the top.

Light the fire on the top with copious amounts of kindling regularly feeding it with small dry twigs and dry wood shavings directly on top of the fire. Burn the larger pieces of fuel below. The reason this produces no smoke is that the air flow from the second hole has to work its way out for all the fuelwood; which pushes all the smoke which comes from the moist resins and oils contained within the firewood.

The air pushes that smoke into the hot flames where it burns off because of the heat intensity of the underground flames. If those gases and vapors didn’t have to travel upwards through the flames like a traditional fire you would end up with a somewhat smokey fire.

How Can You Cook On A Dakota Fire Hole / Pit?

If you’re trying to cook on a Dakota fire hole, your cookware might fall into the fire due to the wooden support sticks breaking apart. That is an easy mistake to make that anyone, including myself, has made. There is an easy way to rectify and avoid this problem from happening again.

The first mistake you could make that would lead to your dinner falling into the fire is by using deadwood from the forest floor to build your platform. Deadwood from the forest floor tends to be too dry and too brittle to withstand the heat of the fire and the weight of the cookware simultaneously.

You’ll need to build your platform where you will place your cookware with thick green branches straight off a tree. As a general rule, if you can break or bend the tree branch with your hands then leave it on the ground. You should make your cooking platform from thick, unbreakable and green tree branches.

Lay the sticks horizontally across the fire and place your cookware on top. The thicker the branches you use, the longer you will be able to cook on them. Keep an eye on them and notice when they start to char on the bottom. When they begin to char, then you can start to look for more branches to use as a replacement. You should have enough time to boil water at least two to three times.

Alternative Cooking Method

An alternative cooking method for your Dakota fire pit would require you to have a bale handle.  Run a thick green branch through the handle and place your cookware over the fire. You can make a bale handle with brace wire if there isn’t one already attached to your pot.

The Dakota Fire Hole Conclusion

So basically, make sure your fuelwood is either under the flame, into the flame or hugging tightly to the sides of the blaze.  If your fuelwood is hanging high above your flame, the moisture and gasses will release in the form of smoke instead of burning off into the fire in the process of combustion.

As propper fire building and wilderness etiquette, fill the two holes back up with dirt.  There’s no need for someone to be out walking and break their ankles in the process by tripping into your Dakota fire hole.

The Upside Down Fire

The upside down fire takes your conventional fire that burns from the bottom up and flips it around for a long-lasting fire with minimal maintenance.

When starting a fire from your home or in the wilderness, the most common technique most of us use is to light the fire from the bottom and burn its way up. However, there’s a much better way, its called the upside down fire.

Upside Down Fire In a Fireplace

To begin building your upside down fire in a fireplace, you start by laying out some firewood. And sorting them from the largest to the smallest piece of firewood.  Once you have everything in scope;

  1. Place three large pieces of wood side-by-side.
  2. Now place three medium pieces of wood on top of the larger ones like in the picture.
  3. Place three smaller pieces of firewood on top of the medium pieces.
  4. Shove some kindling wherever there are gaps on the top of your firewood tower. Crumble up some newspaper or a small firestarter and place it on top.
  5. Light that bad boy up and watch it burn! It should burn for considerably longer than your traditional fire.

Because the heat radiates in all directions not only are you going to prime your flue, but you’re also going to be heating the much more extensive pieces of wood below the kindling and getting them ready to combust.

As the kindling burns off, it falls to the lower layers of the stack, slowly working its way down until it finally reaches the bottom. After about fifteen to twenty minutes after lighting your kindling, you should have a rip-roaring fire that will keep you toasty for a while.

I grew up in a home where we had a fireplace. It was great in the winter time, and an upsidedown fire would burn for as much as three hours sometimes, but for the most part, it would last us for about two hours.

Large Upside Down Fire in the Wilderness

Building an Upside Down fire in the wilderness will be a low maintenance, self-sustaining cold and wet weather fire. The purpose of an Upside Down Fire in the wild is to expose large quantities of damp firewood to heat. We will use wood that we would tend to overlook and discard because of being too soggy or too wet after lying on the wet forest floor for any length of time.

This fire arrangement gives you the ability to dry out and burn those soggy pieces of wood over time. This will eventually become a massive and long-lasting fire that will persist through the night off the back of otherwise wet and unusable lumber.

  1. Start off by finding two dead and fallen trees amongst the forest floor; As large as you can roll or carry. Place them about a foot apart from each other. This is a standard practice that serves to keep your next layer of wood off the cold wet grown.
  2. Search for thick and substantial pieces of wood. It doesn’t matter if they’re wet or mossy and lay them on top of your first layer by switching direction.
  3. Build another layer, switching directions on each continuous overlay for stability. You can keep doing this and building layer after layer until you’re satisfied with the size of your wooden tower.
  4. Try to find smaller pieces as you’re moving up to decrease the size of the wood for each layer.
  5. Once establishing your large platform, all you need to do from that point is build your ordinary fire on top. Make sure that your top layer is made up of dry wood that’s found hanging above the ground or on the side of the trees.

A dry platform with dry kindling is standard wet weather practices that you would otherwise build from the ground up. Now it’s time to light this bad boy up! All you need to do now is relax and maintain your primary fire during the early stages as you usually would. Do this until the first thick layer of logs begins to burn.

The first burning layer will dry out the wet layer of logs below. The layer of logs will begin to burn which will, in turn, dry out and burn the wet layer below. This rotation will happen until the entire Upside Down Fire is up in flames.

The Benefits Of Burning An Upside Down Fire In The Wilderness

  1. Minimal to no smoke emitted – This is related to flue air being heated faster, much like a Dakota Fire Pit; And can be beneficial in the wilderness if there are high winds. With a large fire, there would undoubtedly be a lot of smoke if the fire is not built the right way.
  2. Much more heat – Once it’s about 3/4 through the layers of wood, in my example sequence above,  it will begin to give off a significant amount of heat. The upside-down fire produces and projects much more heat than a standard tipi fire. The fire from the top warms the air in the flue and creates a more efficient current of air for cross-ventilation. And there is a minimal amount of warmth wasted.
  3. No management – Once your upside-down fire is burning, assuming you don’t have gaps between logs, it will burn beautifully for three to seven hours. Lack of management is depending of course on the amount of wood that we use.
  4. No ashes – This amazes me. It all burns down to nothing. No waste at all as every fiber converts into heat. Beautiful, in fact.

Drawbacks of an Upside Down Fire

The only drawback for this type of fire is the amount of wood you will need for a substantial and proper upside down fire. If you’re in the forest rich with trees that have fallen on the ground, you’re in luck! But if you’re in a field with minimal amounts of firewood, then this type of fire would not work well for you. You also have to be in somewhat good physical shape to build a massive fire of this kind.

I hope you found this article helpful! Please leave a comment below if I missed anything in my fire building explanations. And don’t forget to share this with your friends!  And most importantly, don’t let fire tending turn into another full-time job. Enjoy the warmth and reap the rewards of a better method, as counter-intuitive as it might be.

Click HERE if you want to receive a FREE 15 in 1 Paracord Survival Grenade Kit!

Alfie Aesthetic from Youtube is where I received the content in this article from. He is awesome at explaining what he’s doing and how he’s doing it regarding anything wilderness related. Make sure to check out his youtube channel by clicking HERE.

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