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How to Make a Self-Feeding Fire

If you have ever attempted to sustain a fire through the night, then you understand the value of a self-feeding fire. Sitting around a campfire and adding a log every so often makes you feel like a campfire will last a really long time left on its own.

Girl tending fire at night
Learning how to build a self-feeding fire can be essential for survival at night

Once you lay your head down to sleep you realize that after a couple of hours your fire is probably on its way out if not already out. Most fires require attention.

The benefit of the self-feeding fire is that it’s built in such a way that it can feed itself as the night goes on and you are snoring away!

Of course, you need to devise some kind of method of making new and unburned fuel at its disposal. The V fire is a great method for this, and we have written about this type of self-feeding fire, too.

We are going to explore another version of self-feeding fire.

The Upside Down Fire

The upside down fire is designed to self-feed over time. There are some personal tweaks that I use when I create the upside down fire that will give you even more success in fueling this fire all night.

SAFETY FIRST: Anytime you fall asleep with a fire going nearby there are inherent safety risks. If you are really roughing it then your very shelter could be made from wood, twigs, and leaves. All of these materials could easily catch fire if there is an accident with your fire while you sleep.

The stacked upside down fire could also fall in the opposite direction and burn half the forest down before you wake up to realize what you have done.

To avoid this, you can create a fire ring of concentric circles or a larger fire ring. To assure the burning cannot escape into the woods. You could also dig a trench around that fire, too!

Keep yourself and the natural resources safe, above all.

Build a fire ring to contain your fire
Build a fire ring to contain your fire

The Concept

The concept of the upside down fire is pretty simple. You lay the fire with the largest fuel at the bottom and stack smaller fuel as you build up. The fire is then started on top rather than underneath the fire and is started on top!

Using the heat from the fire and gravity, the fire will burn down into larger fuel over time. There is a lot of nuances in building this fire and we are going to address it all in the step-by-step process.

Gathering and Layering

  1. Gather your fuel, kindling and tinder. The key to a self-feeding fire is setting it up so that you are going to need all the fuel to keep a fire going for 4-6 hours. Remember soft wood is going to burn hot and fast (pine, cedar) while hardwoods will burn more consistently with a longer burn time (oak, hickory, maple) so consider this while you are gathering wood for the fire.
  2. You are going to need enough kindling to build a decent sized fire atop the self-feeding fire. Creating a healthy fire atop the self-feeding fire will assure you get a nice bed of coals to help the larger fire take off.
  3. Starting with your largest fuel stacked at the bottom. Depending on the size I line up 3-4 logs next to each other to create the base of your upside down fire.
  4. Between layers, I like to scatter a layer of kindling. This is a trick that I use for two reasons. With the heavy fuel lined up next to each other you get lots of pressure over time. This affects the flow of oxygen.
 pile of kindling, branches, in outdoor forest
Gather your fuel, kindling and tinder

A smoldering fire is not the worst thing, but larger cold fuel can put your upside down fire out while you are sleeping.

The kindling layer also adds another layer of easy fuel for your fire to burn as it takes on the larger fuel.

Building the Layers

  1. After the sprinkle of kindling over the first layer of fuel it is time to add your next layer. This layer should be lined up at a 90 degree angle to the other fuel. This will help with airflow in the fire, too. Large round logs nestle into each other if you stack them in all the same direction. This could choke out your fire, too.
  2. Add another layer of kindling to assure you have great airflow.
  3. Now you are going to add a layer of medium sized fuel. These logs should be split in half or quartered depending on the type and size of wood you are using. What is most important is that it is smaller than the largest layers below.
  4. Another layer of kindling between and then another layer of medium sized fuel.
  5. This layering process should continue until you have 2 layers of large fuel, 2 layers of medium fuel and 3 layers of small fuel. This is a great set up for an upside down fire.

You can have this self-feeding firebase set up at any point of the day. It is not something you have to wait till night or dusk to do. I encourage you to eat your warm breakfast and make your coffee with last night’s coals. Spread them out, soak them, and then start your wood processing

By the time you are finished with finding and processing wood for the next fire, your fire ring will be ready to receive it. Stack your upside down fire first thing and then move on with the rest of the day.

Starting the Upside Down Self Feeding Fire

The good thing about starting the upside down fire is that it starts like any other fire. You are going to build a smaller traditional fire on top of your upside down fire build and allow it to do its thing.

With this fire, I like to light it not long before bed. I will save my meal for later if I am cooking so that I maximize the burn time while I am sleeping.

  1. Using your tinder and kindling you will build a mall fire on the top layer of your upside down fire. Use whatever fire lay and starting method suits you best.
  2. Get a nice fire burning on top of your first layer and watch for the smaller fuel layer to begin to burn. Use more kindling to keep the fire burning until that bottom layer is lit.
  3. At this point you are simply going to allow the fire to burn naturally. You can coax the coal bed into the center of the upside down fire lay so that it keeps burning from the center out.
  4. By this point you are ready to call it a night and you should have a fire that is going to burn for many hours.

Don’t Wake Up in the Cold

Build a self-feeding fire to avoid waking up in the cold
Build a self-feeding fire to avoid waking up in the cold

Sleeping in the outdoors during the cold can be dangerous and an absolute nightmare. You can find yourself waking up shivering all through the night and then hating life the next morning.

A night of poor sleep can have you foggy and unaware for your next day. That is not how anyone wants to experience the wild. It is especially not how you want to get yourself out of a tough survival situation.

Give the self-feeding upside down fire a try in your own backyard or fireplace to see how it works and tweak it to your liking. The key is doing it beforehand. You should never leave your core body temperature up to something you have never tried.