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 How to Make a Firebed

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PostSubject: How to Make a Firebed   Tue Jan 11, 2011 9:30 pm

Firebed Requirements

Because making a firebed requires a fair amount of time and labor, it is important that you first scout out the best area in which to make it. You will be looking for a variety of features that will make a firebed easier to build as well as provide natural materials needed for its construction and for your comfort.

These include areas:

1.Sheltered and protected as much as possible from wind, rain, or snow.
2.With ground you can dig ten or twelve inches deep without having to deal with large rocks, tree roots, ice, or water.
3.Having abundant dry fuel with which to make a hot fire; hardwoods are preferable to softwoods.
4.Having dry fluffy materials for insulation including leaves, pine needles, grass, cattails, etc.
Let’s start with each point and work our way down.

Sheltered Areas

Dig the Trench

To make a firebed, dig a trench about 12 or 16 inches wide, six feet long, and one foot deep. If possible try to select an area to make a firebed that is naturally protected from the elements. Rock overhangs, areas beneath a thick tree canopy, or even under the roots of a fallen tree can provide significant shelter as compared to open, exposed areas. You will want to find a piece of level ground that is at least a few feet longer than your body and wide enough to accommodate you.

Diggable Ground

Because you must dig into the earth to make a firebed, the type of ground you select is important. You need to choose an area where:

•The water table is not close to the surface; if you strike water you will need to dig elsewhere.
•The soil can be dug with the implements you have on hand.
•Few tree roots or large rocks, which can be very difficult to dig up and extract.
•If there is snow, find a location where you do not have to dig far down to reach the ground.

Line Trench with Stones. If stones are available use them to line inside the trench. Though not absolutely necessary, these stones will help air circulate through the fire to produce hot coals. If you do not have a shovel with which to dig, you can usually find an alternative. Use your mess kit, a knife, a strong stick, or even your hands. In cold climates the soil will often freeze to a considerable depth. Depending upon conditions you may be able to find soft ground at the base of south facing slopes where the suns rays have warmed the earth sufficiently. Alternatively you could make a fire to thaw the ground prior to digging.

Fuel for a Fire

A good firebed requires a layer of hot, long lasting coals. For this reason the best fuel for making a firebed comes from hardwood trees and you should try to locate your firebed as close to a good supply of dry hardwoods as possible. Softwoods can also be used to make a firebed, though they will not produce the high quality coals that hardwoods typically do. Dry grass and other natural materials can also be used, though they will not make coals and you could be relying more on heating the ground itself.

Dry Insulative Materials

Especially if you are inadequately clothed or do not have proper cold weather sleeping gear you will need a good supply of dry, fluffy materials for use as insulation and padding. Often the forest floor is covered with this natural insulation including leaves, evergreen needles, and grass. Even in areas with deep snow cover, if you search diligently you can often find insulating materials. Look around the edges of large boulders, where the ground is often snow free and dry leaves accumulate (this could also be a good place to make a firebed). Try south facing slopes and patches of evergreen forest which are often have little snow beneath them. During the winter wet areas may provide an excellent insulating material in the form of cattail fluff and reeds. Often these plants are easy to access because the wet areas in which they grow are frozen over and most snow is blown away by wind.
A tarp, blanket, survival blanket, sheet of plastic or any like material can be used to great advantage when making a firebed.

Making the Firebed

You begin looking for a suitable location to build a survival firebed.

Even though most of the forest floor is in deep snow cover, you find a south facing slope where a patch of pines are growing. The pines have kept the snow from accumulating too much depth beneath them and the warm spring sun has melted off most of the snow. As an added bonus, the ground is sufficiently thawed to allow digging and there are plenty of pine needles on the ground for insulation. Nearby hardwoods will provide sufficient fuel wood.

The first thing you do is dig a trench about 12 to 16 inches wide by six feet long and a foot or so deep. Carefully pile off to the side all dirt you dug from the trench while separating out the larger rocks; you will need these later. Once your trench is of sufficient size, line the inside with fist sized rocks. Space them an inch or so apart as shown in the picture. The rocks are not absolutely necessary but they will help create air spaces so that the fire burns hotter and produces better coals. If you have not dug up a sufficient number of rocks you can often locate some nearby, though be careful not to obtain rocks that have been soaking in water – they may break with tremendous force when heated in a fire.

Then set up your tinder and kindling in the trench and using your firesteel light the fire. Using dry pine needles and a pine cone as tinder to help catch sparks from the firesteel and ignite the kindling. Both are excellent fire starting aids. Once you have a good fire with plenty of hot coals being formed, spread it out through the length and width of the trench. The idea is to keep a steady, coal producing fire that is six feet long and one foot wide to evenly heat the trench and the surrounding ground. You are not trying to build a bonfire, just a steady blaze with flames just a foot or two high.

Keep the long narrow fire burning for two or three hours, adding wood and spreading coals as necessary. Now would be an excellent time to cook food or boil water to make it safe to drink if you have the means to do so. It is also a good time to dry any damp clothing or bedding materials. After two or three hours let the fire burn down to coals and evenly spread them in the trench. Next shovel a layer of dirt onto the hot coals to a depth of about four inches and stamp it down so that the dirt is well compacted. Be sure to cover all the coals and especially the edges and corners. Once the hot coals of the firebed have been completely covered with dirt, make sure there are no areas of visible smoke and steam escaping from the trench.

Now here is where the waiting begins. It should take about an hour before you begin to feel the dirt covering the hot coals become warm to the touch. If it happens earlier it is likely you need to shovel another inch or two of dirt on top of what is already there. Otherwise your bed may become too hot for you to lie upon. While you are waiting for the dirt on top of the hot coals to become warm, gather into a pile any available dry, fluffy bedding material that you can find. In this case there are plenty of dry pine needles lying on the ground, and these make an excellent material for this purpose. When the dirt has become warm to the touch, but not too warm, your firebed is just about right. Only with practice will you be able to best reach this point in your survival firebed making skills since every situation is different. Cover the bed with a layer of the dry fluffy material so that you have a nice heated pad to lie upon. You will also want to place a large pile of natural insulation to place on top you as well so that heat from the firebed is retained. Depending upon how cold it is, you may want to gather enough for a couple of feet of thickness. A couple of good sized logs, placed parallel to the firebed, can help keep you warmer. These logs will serve as windbreaks, keep your loose insulative materials from sliding away, and help hold in the heat.

A common problem with the survival firebed is steaming. The dirt will typically contain moisture as will the natural materials you use for padding and insulation. When heat from the coals rises up through this, a sauna of sorts is made. For this reason the dryer the insulating materials the better. If you can place a sheet of waterproof material such as plastic, a tarp, or survival blanket underneath your body you won’t feel something like a prune come morning!

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How to Make a Firebed
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