The best way to keep a fire burning all night
This guide shows you how to light a fire that is not only easy to make and keeps you warm for hours, but also burns all night.
From Martin Gebhardt. Check out my “About me” page.
👉 The key facts from this guide
- The correct construction technique and the appropriate wood are crucial to keep a fire burning all night.
- There are various methods to build a night fire, including the pyramid, the log cabin, the Swedish torch, the star fire, and the single or double ramp.
- The most important factors for a good fire are a steady supply of oxygen and enough fuel. Hardwood is optimal for operating a fire that burns for a long time and produces a hot ember.
- An unattended fire can be dangerous. Therefore, a fire should only be allowed to burn overnight in exceptional situations.
- The preparation of the fire site is essential to minimize the risk of forest fires. Everything that could cause a forest fire must be removed in a large area.
- A night fire can save sleep on a cold night without shelter and a lot of equipment.
Keeping a fire burning for a few hours is no easy task.
You constantly have to get more firewood, make sure it doesn't smoke and keep it safe.
But keeping a fire going all night is even more difficult.
How frustrating is it when you've worked hard for hours, only to see your fire go out?
The best way to prevent this is to learn how to make the perfect campfire that lasts - even after you've gone to bed.
I've provided a free guide that contains all the instructions you need to make your next campfire a thing of beauty.
Burn Fire, Burn – All Night Long
After a long day in the wilderness, you just want to lie down and go to sleep.
But the cold night keeps you awake, and you have to keep the fire going. You wake up repeatedly to add more wood. It must be possible to keep the fire burning all night, more or less.
And it is!
The right building technique and the right kind of wood make it possible. There is even more than one way to do it.
Some methods are a bit more complicated and time-consuming, but others can be easily implemented with the right kind of wood.
Don't worry, we're not going to just light the biggest fire the world has ever seen.
It will be a small, controlled fire, but still large enough to keep you warm. Some designs even allow for a grill surface, so you can cook your food with the fire pit.
In addition, animals will be kept away from your well-deserved meal.
Here you will learn how to make your long fire.
The basics for a nighttime fire
First: What conditions must be met for the fire to burn consistently and slowly?
The most important factors for a good fire are a steady supply of oxygen and enough fuel. If you intelligently combine these two elements, your fire can burn all night.
The oxygen supply should be regulated so that the fire gets just enough of it. It should not be too much; otherwise the fire will burn down too quickly. Too little means that the flames could go out.
To optimize regulation, you can build a stone circle or a wood circle. If you still have ashes from the previous day, you can add them to the fire. This also slows down the burning process. Make sure not to completely bury the wood, or else no air will reach it and the fire will suffocate.
The fuel is the next crucial factor for your long-lasting fire.
Softwoods are not suitable for this type of fire, as they do not burn long enough. You need hardwood and plenty of it.
Furthermore, due to flying sparks, you should avoid using softwoods as much as possible! You will be near the fire at night and inevitably vulnerable to sparks.
Here you will find the differences between different types of wood.
Be careful when procuring firewood and observe safety measures. Especially when felling entire trunks, you should be prepared to receive branches from above.
Reading tip: Learn here how to quickly and easily ignite a fire with a fire starter (Instructions + Video)
How much wood is enough for a night fire?
On relevant English survival blogs, I have often come across the "One half inch-rule" or the "One-inch Rule". These rules provide information on burn time based on the thickness of the wood.
The first rule only applies to wood less than 6 inches (ca. 15 cm) and states that a piece of wood with a diameter of 0.5 inches (ca. 1.27 cm) burns for about an hour. From 6 inches (ca. 15 cm) upwards, the "One-inch Rule" applies, describing a burn time of one hour per inch (about 2.5 cm) diameter.
The rules are based on ideal conditions, which are rare in the wild. Many variables play a role in burn time and make accurate prediction difficult. Nevertheless, you can consider the rules as a reference point and prepare accordingly.
Different setups for a night fire
I will outline for you various methods of building a fire, and you can simply be inspired by them. For each structure, you will need a lot of wood, which is why it is advisable to choose a method and really master it.
The Pyramid for a Night Fire
The Pyramid is also often referred to as an "Upside-Down Fire". Because everything we know about making fire is literally turned upside down.
Thick logs are placed parallel to the ground, and a layer of slightly thinner wood is placed vertically on top. This is repeated for the third layer.
Depending on how large you want your fire to be, you can stack several layers. On the top layer, you then place kindling and your tinder.
As you can already imagine, you light the fire from the top and it should burn downwards. As the thick logs are at the bottom, the fire should last for some time and provide warmth throughout the night. Additionally, the Pyramid produces plenty of charcoal!
The Blockhouse for a Night Fire
The structure of this fire resembles the Pyramid, but it is hollow.
You can consider it to be a small blockhouse. Here, too, thick logs are laid parallel, but the center is then left empty.
The hollow center can be filled with tinder and kindling and is intended to burn from the inside out.
The Swedish Fire for a Night Fire
The Swedish fire is a unique fire that is made from a single tree trunk. The trunk should be about 60 centimeters long and have a diameter of 20 to 30 centimeters.
You now need to split the trunk lengthwise into 4 to 6 segments. You will need suitable equipment for this. A normal handsaw could make this difficult, so I recommend a chainsaw or an axe/splitting hammer.
Now, ideally, you should tie the trunk back together with wire or rope. Alternatively, you can embed the trunk into the ground to provide stability. It is important that there is enough space between the segments. Brushwood and kindling are placed in the gaps to ignite the fire.
The whole thing now burns from the inside out. A pot can even be used for cooking on top.
The star fire for a night fire
This method was used by indigenous peoples in North America, and the fire does not burn through the night without your intervention.
With the star fire, you arrange equally long logs like a star. In the center is the kindling nest with brushwood, and above that are the ends of the logs. Now you light the center and can slowly push the surrounding logs.
You don't have to leave the comfort of your sleeping bag and can stay lying down comfortably.
Single or double ramp for a night fire
Now we come to the most complex structure, which also requires the most preparation. However, this innovation promises the best result if you consider everything: Your fire can burn for up to 14 hours with the double ramp.
As the name suggests, you need one to two ramps. These must point towards each other and form a "V". Your fire pit is located in the valley of the V.
The ramps are filled with logs and serve as a kind of self-replenishing system. The fire burns at the bottom and as soon as the wood in it is completely burned, a new log moves up. The first two logs should be separated with dead wood so that the fire can breathe well at the beginning. Then add twigs and tinder and light it.
It is important that the length of the fire pit is the same as that of the logs. If this is not the case, the wood will only partially burn and no new fuel can move up.
Here's a great video on this:
Parallel fire for a night fire
After the most complicated method, here comes the easiest:
Two thick logs are placed next to each other and the gap is filled with twigs and tinder. The center is ignited, and the two logs burn from the inside out. With the right choice of wood and appropriate thickness, the fire can also burn all night.
In addition, the logs can also be pushed into a lying "V". At the top, you can now place a cooking pot or pan to prepare your delicious dinner.
What you need to consider when making a night fire
First, you need fire-resistant equipment. You want to be close to the fire to absorb as much heat as possible.
However, even with hardwood there is a risk of sparks, which can create holes in your clothes, sleeping bag, or sleeping pad. A high-quality blanket is recommended, or a special cover for your sleeping bag can help.
Next, you should prepare the fire area accordingly: everything that could cause a forest fire must be removed: branches, grass, leaves, etc. must be removed over a wide radius to minimize the risk.
This applies to every fire, but I emphasize it here again. I make the bold claim that you may not react as well to risky situations while sleeping. Therefore, you must work even more thoroughly beforehand.
If you can dig a pit, that's great. Alternatively, a stone circle can be helpful. Here you can read more about the perfect bushcraft fire area.
Finally, I want to emphasize that such a fire consumes a lot of wood and should only be used in survival situations.
However, theory alone does not make an expert, and especially with single and double ramps, you need experience. Therefore, I recommend focusing on one method and practicing it.
I know that trying out such techniques is a lot of fun, but unfortunately, wood is a finite resource and should be treated accordingly.
Tips for a fire that burns all night
1. Put dry stones in the fire
You might be wondering why. Stones don't burn. You're absolutely right, but stones also heat up and radiate heat back. So if your fire unexpectedly goes out at night, you can enjoy warm stones.
2. Heat reflector
Choose your fire pit near a rock wall, or build your own reflector with wood or stones. This way, less heat is lost to the surroundings and more is kept for you.
3. Have water ready
If the fire gets out of control, it's always good to be prepared! So have water or another extinguishing agent, like a pile of sand, ready.
4. Dig a pit
The fire is more sheltered from the wind and the surroundings are safer. If you don't have a shovel, build yourself a digging stick.
A little ash on the fire prolongs the burning time.
Should I leave a campfire burning overnight?
The question is valid because a fire always presents a danger.
As with any fire, a fire must also be tended in the fire pit overnight. And an important principle is that you should never take your eyes off the fire.
For this simple reason, you should never leave a fire burning overnight - unless you are in an exceptional situation.
Aside from being irresponsible, an unattended fire pit is dangerous. Even the slightest gust of wind can throw embers or ash far away, close to a house or onto other flammable materials.
My pro-tip for people who feel cold in their sleeping bag: put hot water bottles in your sleeping bag. You can also use your drinking bottles, so you have lukewarm water to drink in the morning (and not ice-cold).
Furthermore, hot stones wrapped in a towel are a treat in your sleeping bag. But be careful, you can also get burned.
Conclusion about night fires
In a cold night without shelter and a lot of equipment, a night fire can save your sleep.
Pay attention to your surroundings and prepare everything well. If the flames are too high, you should reduce the fire even further before going to sleep. This way you avoid unpleasant surprises during the night.
If you consider everything mentioned, you can also comfortably fall asleep and, above all, sleep through the night even in cold weather without shelter.
How about you? Have you ever operated a fire all night?
Sources for the guide
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