Survival Fires: Why You Need to Learn to Build a Dakota Fire Hole

Roasting marshmallows, cooking up the fish you just caught, or staying warm on the family camping trip can all be accomplished with a basic teepee style fire. They burn hot, are easy to build, and are easy to light, which makes them the go-to fire for many people out camping. But there are drawbacks to using this method that should be noted when you are in the field, not by choice, but by necessity in a survival situation.

Why You Need a Dakota Fire Hole

The number one reason you want to avoid teepee fires, log cabin fires, and all of those basic types is light. If you are building a signal fire, that is great, but if you don’t want big orange flames screaming “Here I am!” then you need something better. Another problem with these fires is smoke. Light-colored smoke rising up in a dark sky will be almost as bad as the flames themselves. This can be limited by using dry wood with no leaves or moss and keeping the coals hot, but this will not get rid of all of the smoke. To combat these issues, you need to build a Dakota Fire Hole.

On top of the already mentioned benefits, this fire burns hotter, yet uses less fuel than above-ground fires, making it great for long term use at a BOL.

How to Build One

To build your fire hole, you will have to dig. Get out a shovel, your firewood and starters, and a good sturdy stick to help with the digging. This fire is best built under the boughs of a tree. If you are concerned with catching the tree on fire, you can move a few feet upwind of the tree, but it will not disperse the smoke as well.


Once you have your spot picked out and your tools ready, you start by making the actual fire pit by digging a hole about 12” deep. The opening of the hole should be about 4-6” wide, while the base should be 10-12” wide. The narrow opening will make the fire burn hotter and reduce the amount of light put out as well as reduce the smoke signature. The wide base will provide the room needed to build the actual fire.

The Airshaft

About a foot upwind of the fire pit, you will dig an airshaft. The airshaft should be about 6” wide and angled to intersect with the fire pit at its base. You now have your Dakota Fire Hole.

Starting the Fire

To get this fire started, you will build a kindling nest in the bottom of the fire pit. Make sure you have plenty of fuel wood close by. Once you have your nest built, you will start a small fire on the ground by your method of choice and use it to ignite the nest. Once this is burning hot, place your fuel on and you are good to go.

Some things to consider when using this method:

  • Avoid rocky areas and thick roots.
  • If you cut out a plug from the top of the fire pit and air shaft, you can refill them both with the excavated soil and place the caps on top to put out the fire and reduce your signature of having been there.
  • You can build a cooking surface over the fire pit by crossing green sticks over the hole or by using flat rock set part way over the hole.
  • By sleeping to the side of the fire hole, you will be kept warmer.

On the next camping trip, give this fire pit a try. It is fun to make and does a great job and keeping you warm while reducing your signature in the field. And always remember fire safety. Just because this fire is below ground does not mean you cannot start a fire too big to handle.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Seth Belt

Seth grew up in Southern Arizona before joining the U.S. Navy. While serving in the Navy, Seth was an anti-narcotics operator and an anti-submarine operator for 5 years. He was lucky enough to travel to many of the Central and South American countries, as well as visiting many South East Asian nations and islands. One of Seth’s greatest joys from his time in the Navy was teaching new Sailors firearms education and safety. After leaving the Navy in 2010, Seth returned to Arizona and had a rough time learning how to be a civilian again, often working jobs that could barely pay the bills. After going to school, Seth became an Emergency Medical Technician in the Phoenix Valley, where he now lives with his wife and son.His areas of knowledge cover military, firearms, and emergency medicine.

Shop US Patriot

Follow us on