Dirt simply speaking... the ultimate purpose of a fire ring is to keep the surrounding land safe from going up in flames. Aside from that primary objective, the perfect fire ring for camping should also be functional for cooking, accessible for warmth and relaxation, as well as provide ambient light around your camp to minimize stubbed toes, sprained ankles and of course critter encounters. Everyones tough until that awkward moment they see a raccoon by the tent… and for a few split seconds… mistake it for a pouncing 800 pound grizzly bear.
While one camper might be satisfied with a simple ring of stones, another may wish to use their fire ring structure to ward off lions, smoke meat or perhaps even bake some bread. That being said we merely wish to share our most common design, our fast and functional ‘go-to’ fire pit if you will. So, without further ado… meet, BIG HUG.
The ‘ DO’s ’ of a good fire ring aren’t nearly as vital as the ‘ DON'TS ’. So let’s took a quick gander at those. The don’ts are as follows:
DO NOT use rocks that have been in a very near a river bed, even if that river is currently dry. Rocks retain moisture in their core. When heated they can literally become hand grenades as the water inside expands. People have died without this lil’ tid bit of knowledge.
DO NOT think for a second that there won’t be wigglies under the rocks you are collecting. Scorpions, snakes, Black Widow Spider… SO many such things adore life under rocks. Know the regional wigglies and act accordingly when collecting your hearth stones.
DO NOT think that, while humans are for the most part kind and intelligent, that all of them are. Existing fire pits are often chock full of broken glass, other sharp items and many have coals that are still glowing hot because the previous camper did not drown it properly.
The BIG HUG build…
If such is the case for your camp site, it’s always a good idea to use an existing fire ring— however don’t limit yourself to what it’s builder did. Use the same coal area if possible but don’t fret to change the layout of the ring as you see fit to achieve your objectives. ( Note scorpions love warm rocks so don’t think that they will have vacated the area. I’ve made this mistake. It was a brutal sting. ) We built this Big Hug on an existing coal bed tucked away in Sedona Arizona in the Red Rock Mountain Secret Wilderness off of Forest Road 525.
The idea behind the BIG HUG design is most optimally serve the cooking, relaxing and lighting objectives mentioned in the first paragraph.
First... determine the prevailing wind direction in order to best orient your high back wall. You’ll want the high back wall pointing into the wind. ( Note that if you are in a large canyon, when the sun goes down the heat will rise to the rim causing the cold air to funnel down the canyon— thereby changing the wind direction from canyon top to canyon bottom regardless of the prevailing local wind— in most calm conditions anyway. ) Next, use your largest stones to create this head wall.
Ideally you will be building this BIG HUG with the tall head wall facing the wind and then tapering it to the flatter front end of the ring that should also —again ideally— have your main camp activity area behind it. So effectively all the fire light will be reflecting off the back head wall onto the main camping area behind the front flatter cooking area. Beyond the head wall is not necessarily no mans land, nor does the ring have to be at the edge of camp. It just works best for lighting if the main camp activities are at the opposite end of the head wall where your fire ring walls are much shorter.
(In all hearth building… take your time if you can. Think of the stones shapes. Consider how they might interlock for the best seal and structure— i.e.Put your damn phone down and have some fun.)
Second… build out your side walls factoring how large of a hug you would like as you taper the height down towards the front— i.e. away from the back tall head wall towards the front flat cooking area.
Third… when you reach the cooking area the idea is to have created an oblong shape … ( I’ll explain why in a second ) …that tapers from the tall head wall into literal flat rocks if possible. This flat rock area will serve as your cooking counter tops and hot plates so to speak. The oblong shape allows for two distinct areas of your fire space. The first is the main fire pit that is back by the taller head wall. This is where you roast that mutha and make some coal. The second area is your coal pull— a bay of sorts that you can rake coal into from the main fire space coal bed for cooking.
Fourth… Create a partial hearth stone divider separating the main fire pit and the coal bay. About 2/3 main fire pit and 1/3 coal bay should suffice. This partial divider retains the main fire pit area wood and main coal source. The split in the middle allows you to rake coals into the coal bay area as needed. Ideally your flat rock counter tops will be roughly the same height as the 2-3 inch layer of coal that you rake in from the main pit. This allows you to slide your pans off the coal onto the flat rocks as you cook and prepare meals.
Viola… the BIG HUG. She reflects light and heat off the tall back wall, as well as cuts the prevailing wind. She is an ample fire ring for torching up lumber for heat and coal. She provides you with a warm, but not too warm kitchen, and well lit counter tops to boot. She saves stove fuel. She accommodates more people with her oblong shape. She lights your camp. And while she doesn’t drink Pina coladas and like long walks on the beach, she is still one hell of a functional, inviting camp companion. Thats why we call her the BIG HUG.
In closing… as with any camp and campfire scenario…
the golden rules are there for a tragic reason: When you leave take everything you brought and make sure your fire is DEAD out. Use the rest of your water if you are close to new supplies. Topple the stones back onto the coals. ( Another BIG HUG can be built in a jiffy ) Bring buckets of water from a river if you can. Whatever it takes… KILL the coals before you leave. All it takes to destroy acres and lives is one little change of wind direction or increased intensity after you depart. The wind oxygenates the coals, and blows them out of the fire ring into the woods like napalm. It happens all too often and the price is often epic tragedy rendering painful loss of habitat, national treasures, natural wonders, historic sites, homes and human life.
Don't miss our upcoming blog entries on dirt simple camping techniques. NEXT UP: HOW TO COLLECT FIREWOOD THAT ACTUALLY MAKES FIRE.