Our bodies lose heat in five ways.
The purpose of a fire – reflected heat, quick or long cooking or merely aesthetics – dictates the appropriate style. Four common styles are tepee, reflector, log cabin and top down.
For a no-hassle fire, use the classic tepee method: In the middle of your foundation, sandwich a handful of loose tinder between two layers of kindling. Prop small and medium sticks, no bigger than your wrist, upright around the kindling, their tops meeting like the poles of a tepee. Leave a larger opening on the windward side to ensure enough air for the fire, and light the tinder. A teepee fire is suitable for quick cooking or as an entertainment fire.
A reflector fire has a flat surface behind it to direct the heat back out past the fire. This surface is erected behind the fire and pointed, for example, at the face of a tent, lean-to or other shelter. This back reflector can be made out of a few large slabs of bark, several logs laid against supports and stacked upon each other to form the surface.
Lay a few logs on top of one another against the sloping back. Form a platform at the base of the slope. By lighting a fire in the middle most of the heat will be reflected back to the front of the fire, making cooking easy. Be sure that you build it so the ‘grate’ or fireplace faces the wind.
A good reflector close to the fire will help reflect the heat back towards you. In addition it helps to draw the smoke upwards instead of getting in your eyes. You can use this to your advantage by also reflecting heat into your shelter.
Don’t make a fire up against a large boulder or tree stump. Build the fire away from the rock/stump and place a reflector on the opposite side. As this object reflects the heat onto your back, the reflector warms you to the front.
If there are no ‘natural reflectors’ simply build several reflectors of your own and place one behind you, then one on the other side of the fire.
Log Cabin Fire
A log cabin fire is made by stacking layers in alternating directions; be sure not to stack the wood too close to prohibit air movement. A log cabin fire is suitable for cooking food as it provides uniform heat.
Top Down Fire
The conventional approach is to light your tinder, put some fine kindling on that and some heavier kindling on top of that. Hopefully, it catches enough that you can begin to add bigger pieces until you have a respectable fire. Frequently you watch as the whole affair collapses into a smoldering mess.
The top down technique can be counter-intuitive. The secret to a successful top-down fire is making the pieces for each layer a little smaller than the one below. The fire grows progressively, gaining intensity, down through the layers to the biggest logs on the bottom. It’s a wonderful thing to watch.
The top-down technique takes a little longer in preparation, but the reward is less of a chance that the fire will collapse and smother itself; less smoke, less fussing with the fire after it is lit and a long burn time without having to reload.
Build a winter campfire using these components:
The Platform. Step 1 is paying attention to base the fire is going to sit on. Whether you are trying to promote Leave No Trace techniques and establishing a protection layer between the fire and the ground or shielding the fire from dampness or trying to keep it up out of the snow and direct it’s heat; a platform is all important.
The picture below depicts a good platform. It is built in the existing fire pit at the Tirrell Pond lean-to. It has a solid base of logs; getting it up out of the snow and a couple of reflective walls to channel the heat back to the fire and towards the lean-to. Len the Fire Master preaches “Get It Off The Ground”, especially if it is damp and/or cold.
Firestarter. Whether you use matches, butane lighters, flint and steel, or decide to rub two sticks together, you need a flame or spark and something to catch fire. There are commercial materials such as wetfire or esbit tablets, homemade starters such as cotton balls dipped in Vaseline (a favorite), or wax and shavings cupcakes, or natural materials such as birch bark.
Tinder. Tinder should be bone-dry, snappable twigs, about as long as your hand. You need two complete handfuls.
Kindling. Kindling should be as thick as your thumb, long as your forearm, breakable with two hands. You need at least two armfuls.
Fuel wood — anything thick and long enough that it can’t be broken by hand. It’s okay if it’s slightly damp. You need a knee-high stack.
Step 1: Light the tinder, turning the pile gently to get air underneath it.
Fire making tips.
1. Don’t build a fire under snow-laden branches (to avoid a flame-smothering avalanche).
2. Make a foundation for your fire with medium-size logs or thick bark, or dig down to the frozen earth. Without these precautions the fire will melt into the snow and suffocate.
3. Gather only dead wood from downed trees and branches to feed your fire. If the available fuel is snow-covered and damp, use more tinder and kindling, and start with a smaller fire. “If you keep at it,” explains Kostoss, “you can dry out any wood enough to burn.”
4. For a no-hassle fire, use the classic tepee method: In the middle of your foundation, sandwich a handful of loose tinder between two layers of kindling. Prop small and medium sticks, no bigger than your wrist, upright around the kindling, their tops meeting like the poles of a tepee. Leave a larger opening on the windward side to ensure enough air for the fire, and light the tinder.
Maintenance and feeding
Pre-heat and dry larger pieces of wood by laying them discretely alongside the fire before placing them in the fire to burn. If you keep at it you can dry out any wood enough to burn.
Finally, fires by committee are notoriously problematic. Everyone has a different thermostat and style. Our process is to appoint someone as “The FireMaster” and request the FireMaster for more or less heat.
If you want to keep your water bottle from freezing you can buy a commercial bottle insulator or you can use an old wool sock/mitten and slip that over your water bottle. Or you can make your own insulated water bottle cozy.
What you’ll need three items to build your cozy: Reflectix insulation (available at any hardware store), duct tape and velcro strips (6 inches).
You will need three tools: a measuring tape, heavy-duty scissors and a marker
Follow the same steps to make a pot cozy. You can tailor the cozy by wrapping the insulation’s exterior in tape to protect it from abrasion.