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How to Make a Trench Fire

In the early stages of fire building, wind can be a downright nightmare to deal with. When a fire is established, wind can actually help the fire. It’s like blowing on a bed of coals only without air from your own lungs. In a survival situation, it’s important to know how to build a trench fire to help you better manage the wind.

Trench Fire
Trench Fire

I have built big blazes that were fed by the wind that I had to manage carefully for fear that the fire might get out of control.

However, early-stage fire craft is critical and a bit delicate. Your tinder may struggle to catch fire, or your kindling is simply blown out by high winds.

There is a good chance that if you are battling high winds then you are also battling cold temperatures, too. The wind whisks away your body heat and drops your core body temperature in a hurry.

There are several ways that you can build fire that is impervious to wind and pay back your efforts with the heat and utility of a blazing campfire. Here at Survival World, we have articles on how to build fire in the snow or how to build a self-feeding fire. All of which can save your life in a wilderness survival situation.

In this article, we are going to focus on building a trench fire and using it to keep the wind and cold at bay.

What is the Trench Fire?

The trench fire takes advantage of sheltering properties of the ground beneath our feet. As survivalists and outdoorsmen, we are often hyper focused on what we can build. We want to build shelter and build fire.

The ground underfoot is incredibly insulative. This means you can seek shelter from things like wind and cold. People have lived underground many times throughout history and wars were fought in trenches because of their utility in survival.

The trench fire is built on a declining plane that is dug down into the ground. This trench can be modified to make the fire even more effective

How to Build a Trench Fire

Black and white illustration of a trench fire
Black and white illustration of a trench fire

Choose a location for your trench fire that puts you near resources like wood and cover, if possible. The location of your fire means the location of your camp so keep that in mind when choosing the location for your trench fire.

  1. Start by digging 8-10inches into the ground. Make the windward end the deeper part of the trench.
  2. Dig a trench that is about 2 feet wide. If the trench is too wide, then it will not effectively house the fire and protect it from the wind.
  3. Now, start digging out the trench so that it works itself to an incline. This incline should eventually meet ground level. Make sure you have a flattish portion of the trench that is 3X3ft for building your fire. From there you can continue the incline.
  4. Line the bottom of the trench with rocks. You are going to build your fire on these rocks so make sure they are not wet porous rocks as they could explode from the heat. The rocks are used to keep your fire off the damp ground.
  5. You could also line the back and either side of the trench with rocks. All of the rock will help radiate heat from your fire.
  6. Build your fire in the deepest part of the trench. Use whatever fire lay you prefer.
  7. Do a once over on fuel to assure you can keep the fire going before you start work on building the night’s shelter.

Once your fire is established you will have a fully functioning trench fire. Now you can put it to use!

Cooking over the Trench Fire

Cooking corn over a fire
Cooking corn over a fire

Cooking over the trench fire is very easy because the sides of the fire are raised, and you can lay longer greenwood sticks across to rest a pan or other cooking pot on top of.

The best way to cook over your trench fire is to wait until your fire has been reduced to glowing coals. Cooking over open flames is possible but you get much better heat from glowing coals than flames that lick your food and the pots and pans.

Place your metal grate or your longer greenwood sticks over the trench. If your trench is too wide for your metal grate, then you can run longer sticks or branches just outside the heat of the fire and set them widely enough apart that they all you to rest your metal grate on them.

I will hold those sticks in place with rocks at either end. This way my dinner doesn’t fall into the fire if I or someone at my camp accidentally hits one of the sticks.

The trench fire is one of the easiest fires to cook with because it is already recessed in the ground, so you do not have to build anything complex to keep your meal above the flames.

Sheltering Near the Trench Fire

<a href=Survival shelter and fire in wilderness” class=”wp-image-4246″/>
Survival shelter and fire

By adding the slope and the rocks to your trench, you are creating a fire that can sustain in cold wind and will also heat the rocks and radiate the heat towards you.

You want to position your camp properly when you have a trench fire. The best place for you to sleep will be at the shallow end of the slow. Heat rises so it will come rising up the slow towards your tent or shelter.

The trench fire lends itself to a tent with an open door or even a lean-to style tarp shelter.

Once you get settled in you may want to check your shelter to assure it is not too close to the fire. The radiant heat could melt your tarp if it is too close.

Illustration of a trench fire
Radiate the heat towards you by rocks to your trench

Perfect for Harsh Conitions

The trench fire is a marvel and perfect for dealing with harsh conditions. With a trowel or even a wide flat stick, you can quickly dig the trench. Building fire in this trench will protect it from wind in the early stages.

If you are battling life-threatening cold and have no real shelter or skills to make a viable shelter, dig a larger trench that can house you and the fire. You can line the top of the trench with sticks and pine boughs for a mock roof.

Just make sure the trench fire itself does not have a pine roof over it.

Go here for more information about Campfires and Survival fires.