The Second Day of Christmas – Fire and Heat
Continuing our review prepping staples over the Twelve Days of Christmas and continue with Fire and Heat. Everybody loves a nice fire at Christmas time – listening to the wood crackle while sipping a warm beverage and telling old stories about the family is a nice break from the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. We have gotten away from that tradition since most of our homes are heated by electric or gas heaters, usually tucked away in a utility closet or in the basement.
So what happens when the power goes out? Without an external source of heat, your shelter can get pretty cold particularly if your body heat is trying to warm up the space faster than heat is being lost through the sides and surface of your home or makeshift shelter.
One way to make a cold shelter more cozy is to reduce the amount of space that you are trying to heat. This might mean closing off some rooms in the house or putting up a blanket or tarp inside a room or inside your shelter to further reduce the space you are trying to keep warm and provide another layer of insulation between you and the outside of your shelter. Air is a great insulator, as long as the air is not drafted away by wind or circulation. Most of your insulation basically traps air in small pockets making it harder for heat to escape (via convection and conduction). And many tents include a liner that winterizes a tent by putting an extra layer between the interior and the exterior, again trapping a layer of air that is not swept away by gusts of wind and making it easier to keep the interior warm. Of course, a tent with liner gets heavier.
Another way to warm up a cold shelter is add more body heat. Fun fact – the 70s band Three Dog Night was named after an aborigine folktale that on cold nights they would sleep with a dingo (Australian dog) for extra warmth. One dog for cold nights, two dogs for colder nights and cuddling with three dogs meant that it was a freezing night. But you don’t need a dog, you can saddle up to your buddy and “spoon” to keep each other warm – spoiler alert, works better with someone you actually like or love.
But the point of today’s article is about using fire to stay warm.
To build a fire you need four things: a spark or ignitor, tinder, kindling, and fuel. Your personal fire kit should include several ignitors (matches, a lighter, a fire stick) to give you several methods of getting a spark (remember primary, secondary, and contingency). Matches are not so good in high wind and a lighter may not work in extreme cold conditions. A fire stick should always give you a spark, even when wet.
You can also include some tinder in your fire kit although you can make tinder from almost any materials. They sell some neat items on on line such as Wet Fire, Instafire, fatwood, or wicks soaked in a flammable material. You can also make some tinder at home from commonly found items such as cotton balls soaked in Vaseline or dryer lint. You can use an old pill bottle and fill it with your tinder and pack it in your fire kit. You can also use a tea candle for your kindling. Of course you can find tinder most anywhere as long as conditions are not wet. Dead leaves, moss, or grass will work. So will any paper. If you are on the move, you can pick up tinder as you see it and stuff it in your pocket. If you can’t find dry tinder on the trail, you can always feather a stick with your knife and use the shavings as tinder. You don’t need much – just enough to sustain a flame long enough to catch the kindling on fire. If you are using a lighter, you might be able to skip igniting tinder and start with the kindling.
Kindling is any material that will easily catch fire and burn a little longer to build up the fire so your fuel will burn. You really don’t need to carry kindling with you as part of your fire kit. Just gather some in the area where you are building your fire. Kindling includes twigs and smaller sticks, split wood, heavy paper or cardboard.
Fuel is something you definitely won’t want to carry with you (unless you have a pack sled or other means of hauling heavier materials). But depending on how you build your fire will determine how much fuel you need to make it through the night.
Ok, now you have the materials to start a good fire but if you don’t have a camping stove with you, you should spend some time constructing your fire to maximize the heat your get from it versus the fuel you use. You can dig a fire pit and place a vent hole upwind so the fire draws air from below. You should also place a reflective wall to direct the heat in the desired direction. Placing rocks along the sides will allow the rocks to act as a heat sink – they heat up and radiate heat even after the fire dies down. There are countless videos on the net about fire designs like Swedish Candle Fire, Finnish Gap Fire, or the Siberian Log Fire – they must be good since they have a “country-above-the-artic-circle” name.
Last comment – most of these camp fires assume you are not in an enclosed shelter. Let me stress that you cannot have open flame in an enclosure without ventilation. You need a fresh supply of air from outside and a vent or stove pipe for smoke to escape. The tradeoff in a shelter open to the fire is that once the fire goes out, the heat will rapidly dissipate. If you have an enclosed shelter, you can heat the air inside and the space will stay warm longer after the fire goes out. A roaring fire draws a lot of air and fuel burns quickly. A metal camp stove usually has a damper so you can control the air flow and keep the fire burning longer with less fuel (and the metal surface radiates more heat into the enclosure and if it has a flat top surface, you can easily cook on that).
So what if the power goes out or your propane tank or natural gas line run dry? Right now is a good time to be thinking about installing a wood burning stove in your home as an alternate source of heat. They can be decorative if you don’t use them but when you need it, it could be a life saver when old man winter comes a calling. And since it is Christmas, what could be more fun that the family gathering around a fire and having some hot coco, cider or even some cold egg nog?
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