Fire lays for winter activities are important and there are many methods of setting up a fire to stay warm through extremely cold temperatures. From all of these methods, only a few do a good job of providing all-night comfort during the long night at camp in the winter months. When it comes to making fires and winter camping, most of us nowadays are sleeping in tents and packing tent stoves or heaters with us. And, while I prefer a wall tent or hot-tent 100 percent of the time, I rarely use them! I engage most regularly in survival-camping so I can always refine my skills to become as comfortable as possible while using them in poor weather conditions. So, it's with survival-camping in mind that I share my thoughts on the two best winter campfires.
#1 Rakovalkea, Nuorssjo, or Nying in various Scandinavian languages all refer to the same thing, the slit bonfire or sandwich fire. This fire lay is referred to as the best fire lay by the Lapland people and is constructed by placing one log atop another, parallel, and bolstering them in place with sturdy posts driven into the ground. Traditionally, whole unsplit tree trunks provide the fuelwood. Tinder and kindling are placed between the logs in sufficient quantity (while avoiding the very ends) to raise the upper log and allow ventilation, thus creating the gap. The tinder is always lit at the center so the bolstering posts near the ends do not burn prematurely.
This fire lay has two excellent features. First, it burns slowly and steadily when lit; it does not require arduous maintenance, but burns for a very long time. A well constructed nying of two thick logs of 6ft in length can warm two lean-to shelters for a whole sleeping shift. The construction causes the logs themselves to protect the fire from the wind. Thus, exposure to smoke is unlikely for the sleepers; nevertheless, someone should always watch in case of an emergency. Second, it can be easily scaled to larger sizes limited only by the length of available tree trunks. In the Eastern Woodlands, smaller diameter trees are most often used as nighttime temperatures often do not reach near-zero very often. It's also common to split larger diameter trees in half to use a single tree to conserve resources. Having used this fire lay dozens of times, I can say that it is the best campfire for long-term, consistent heat throughout the night. You will be able to sleep longer without having to manage the fire, but it does not provide the best/largest amount of heat.
#2 The Long-Fire is just as it sounds, a fire that is long. This fire lay provides the best heat due to the larger coal base that is created. This fire, generally speaking, is built in a trench although I most often use two green logs above ground along the sides to contain it for the purpose of holding the coal bed together. This fire should be the length of your shelter or body and should be laid to take advantage of the prevailing wind.
Long trees and logs are dragged into the trench where they will develop into a long-lasting coal bed. You can simply keep adding fuel in shifts throughout the night to maintain flames when the temperatures are extremely cold. This coal bed heats the ground near the fire and the green logs or tench keep the wood in place, save for the rogue ember pop, which permits you to sleep close to this fire. I've spent several dozen winter nights sleeping next to a long fire with nothing but a wool blanket and this is by far the best heat-producing fire lay for winter. But, it will require maintenance every couple of hours overnight.
Another benefit to the long fire lay is that it easily converts into a cooking fire called the Hunters/ Trappers Fire Lay. You can take green logs and roll them over the pit of coals to create a cooking surface for your skillets and pots.
Try these skills out the next time you go winter camping and see for yourself which one you think is the best. If you have an opinion, leave us a comment below!