The Self-feeding V Fire Fallacy

You’ve probably seen this type of fire at least a few times on social media. If you know how it’s supposed to be a great all-night fire, skip to the next paragraph. If you don’t, I’m going to quickly explain what it’s all about. This is simply a type of fire that is supposedly self-feeding and, if done properly, is said to keep you warm all night by allowing the logs to slowly catch fire from one another as they burn out and slide down.

I’m not going to bore you with technicalities. If you want to see and hear more, just watch the video below. I guess we could say there are three main elements that determine whether or not a particular type of fire lay makes sense.



1. Is it safe?
2. Is it going to keep me warm on a cold night?
3. Is it easy to build and maintain?

Unfortunately, in this case the answer is no, no and no.

1. The way it is set up makes it very easy to set the frame as well as the entire firewood supply aflame within minutes. I don’t have to tell you what a giant flame torch like that means in the woods among trees. Yes, you can use green wood but even green wood will eventually dry out and catch on fire. It actually doesn’t take that long.

2. Another problem with green wood is smoke and rather low heat output. The V shape that is supposed to make the fire maintenance-free, inherently forces you to sit or lay in the coldest and smokiest spot possible. When preparing an all-night fire, we usually want it to be a bit longer than our bodies in order to keep us warm from head to toe. It’s easy to imagine what’s going to happen when all we have is just a tiny bit of a fire pointing toward our belly button, with most of the heat being reflected upward and wasted. If possible, a fire should be oriented parallel to the wind allowing it to pass freely between our bed and the fire and reflector if we have one. If we block the air flow to the right and left, we’re inevitably always sitting in the way of the smoke.

3. I personally don’t believe in maintenance-free fires and this one is no exception. There is simply too many factors that we have no control over, that can affect the way a fire burns. Wind strength and direction (which BTW can and often does change throughout the day or night), wood and air humidity, wood type and availability… Because we can’t forget that more often than not, we work with what we have, rather than what we’d like to have. But this V-shaped fire is especially tricky because it requires a special frame to support the wood supply. Building it takes extra time and effort, which doesn’t really pay off when it comes to the fire efficiency. Not to mention, the danger associated with the firewood supply being positioned almost directly above the flames. All it takes is a little stronger wind to blow the flames out of control while we’re asleep, which calls for extra vigilance at all times.

Warm and safe long fire

My opinion? If you really want to save yourself some time and trouble, stay away from such contraptions created to generate Facebook likes and YouTube views.


Survival Part 2 – The Survival Tin and Fire Misconception

Survival tin with fire content

It’s always a good idea to stick to basics like the 5 Cs of survivability by Dave Canterbury. It’s good to remember that hypothermia kills before dehydration, which kills before hunger. Also, I’d strongly recommend taking a map, a compass and learning some basic navigation skills before going on a solo hike. But relying solely on this kind of ‘wilderness insurance’ sometimes isn’t enough.

Many survival manuals will list fire as one of the most important things you should think of when lost or forced to stay in the field longer than you planned. I understand that and often practice starting fires in many different ways as well as building various fire types for different applications. But that doesn’t mean you can’t survive a short episode without a fire. In fact, sometimes you may have no choice.

Desert Death Valley Dolina Smierci  Swinica mountain
Areas such as deserts or high mountains will often have little or no firewood to keep you warm on cold nights

I’ve seen many examples of experienced survival and bushcraft instructors failing to make a fire, sometimes even with a ferro rod. It was either too wet or they didn’t have enough firewood, and it took them longer than most people would be willing to go without a fire in such conditions. Sometimes you’re simply unable to light a fire. At least as quickly as you need it.

Scotland   Sea
Moorland, sea shore and open sea survival can be equally challenging when it comes to keeping warm using fire

That’s why I don’t make lists. I try to learn to react and respond to changes as they happen. And that is also why I decided to take on the ’48h with a survival tin’ challenge created by a friend of mine from Bushcraft Poland. The challenge is simple – survive 48 hours with just your clothes, a small pocket size survival tin and a 3″ knife/multitool, covering at least 10 miles in the process.

Let’s imagine for a moment my car broke down far from civilization, I have no reception, no backpack and only a rough idea on how to get back by following the unpaved road I drove before I got stuck.

This is obviously just a funny little competition using an imaginary scenario. But it’s a good training and reality check at the same time. I’ve already heard people claiming that 48 h is way too short and you can go without water, food and sleep for two days straight. Great! I’d like to see you try 🙂 I’m not implying it would be impossible. I’m just pointing out that saying is not the same as doing and that not drinking, eating and sleeping at home may be ‘a little’ different from trying the same trick when lost out in the field.

Another problem with such approach is that in real life you can’t be sure when or even if you’re going to be rescued. Even having a beacon or a satellite phone does not guarantee good weather, suitable for helicopters or ground team to find you in time. In this light, sitting on your butt, waisting your time for two days may not be the best strategy. It wouldn’t be a bad idea in a desert, if you had no idea where to go but knew someone’s eventually coming for you. After all, in desert survival staying put is usually your best bet anyway.

In most other cases, a much better idea would be to have your survival tin full of fire starters and relying on fire for water purification, cooking, warmth and signaling. Good solution but I want to kick it up a notch and go without fire altogether, to see how difficult it would really be. We know it can happen, at least for some time, so why not find out how bad it can really get? That obviously means no proper food either. I ain’t eating raw meat if I don’t have to, and raw plants are not really gonna provide enough calories unless you’re willing to spend 8 hours a day on munching like a gorilla.

Survival tin no fire content

What about water? Well, I’ll pack my tin in a 2 litter plastic bag and use it to purify water with tablets. How am I gonna keep warm at night? By walking until it gets bright and warm again, and only resting by day. I can try and not eat but I’m not intending to go two days without sleeping. Combined with lack of food, this could get me in serious trouble causing hallucinations or nervous breakdown.

Apart from keeping me warm, walking at night will help conserving water and protect me from the heat. But I can only do that because I’m following a road and have a flashlight with a good supply of batteries. Trying to walk at night in thick forest with no visible trails and no sense of direction would be close to suicide.

I will also have a space blanket to use as an improvised shelter in case of rain. Nothing else I have at home fit’s the tin as nicely as that. Besides, the Mylar blanket can also provide some protection from cold weather should I need it.

So let’s find out how hard it is to fast for two days, catching only a few hour mid-day naps, drinking stinky water, while traveling at night.