Snow Coffin

i. This table can be used as a general guideline to determine which shelter to construct.






< 2 FEET




4-6 FEET




> 6 FEET












> 4 FEET




> 2 FEET

30 MIN


5. FIRES. Fires fall into two main categories: those built for cooking and those built for warmth and signaling. The basic steps are the same for both: preparing the fire lay, gathering fuel, building the fire, and properly extinguishing the fire.

a. Preparing the fire lay. There are two types of fire lays: fire pit and Dakota hole. Fire pits are probably the most common.

(1) Without a platform in the snow, the fire will sink. Create a platform as follows:

(a) Lay several green logs side by side for the size of your fire.

(b) Build your fire on top of the platform or,

(c) Dig down to the earth and start fire.

(d) Create a windbreak if possible.

(e) Avoid using wet rocks. Heat acting on the dampness in sandstone, shale, and stones from streams may cause them to explode.

(2) Dakota Hole. (WSV.02.05a) The Dakota Hole is a tactical fire lay. Although no fire is 100% tactical.

(a) Reduces the signature of the fire by placing it below ground.

(b) By creating a large air draft, the fire will burn with less smoke than the fire pit.

(c) It is easier to light in high winds.

Snow Coffin Shelter

b. Gather Fuel. Many Marines take shortcuts when gathering firewood. Taking a few extra minutes can mean the difference between ease and frustration when building a fire.

(1) Tinder. Tinder is the initial fuel. It should be fine and dry. Gather a double handful of tinder for the fire to be built and an extra double handful to be stored in a dry place for the following morning. Dew can moisten tinder enough to make lighting the fire difficult. Some examples of tinder are:

(a) Shredded cedar/juniper bark, pine needles.

(b) Slivers shaved from a dry stick.

(c) Natural fibers from equipment supplemented with pine pitch (i.e., cotton battle dressing).

(d) Cotton balls and petroleum jelly or Char-cloth.

(2) Kindling. This is the material that is ignited by the tinder that will burn long enough to ignite the fuel.

(a) Small sticks/twigs pencil-thick up to the thickness of the thumb. Ensure that they are dry.

(b) Due to a typically large resin content, evergreen limbs often make the best kindling. They burn hot and fast, but typically do not last long.

(3) Fuel Wood. Fuel Wood is used to keep the blaze going long enough to fulfill its purpose. Ideally, it should burn slow enough to conserve the woodpile, make plenty of heat, and leave an ample supply of long-lasting coals.

(a) Firewood broken from the dead limbs of standing trees or windfalls held off the ground will have absorbed less moisture and therefore should burn easily.

(b) Refrain from cutting down live, green trees.

(c) Softwoods (evergreens and conifers) will burn hot and fast with lots of smoke and spark, leaving little in the way of coals. Hardwoods (broad leaf trees) will burn slower with less smoke and leave a good bed of coals.

(d) Learn the woods indigenous to the area. Birch, dogwood, and maple are excellent fuels. Osage orange, ironwood, and manzanita, though difficult to break up, make terrific coals. Aspen and cottonwood burn clean but leave little coals.

(e) Stack your wood supply close enough to be handy, but far enough from the flames to be safe. Protect your supply from additional precipitation.

(f) If you happen to go down in an aircraft that has remained intact, a mixture of gas and oil may be used. Use caution when igniting this mixture.

c. Building the Fire. The type of fire built will be dependent upon its intended use, either cooking, heating, or signaling.

(1) Cooking Fires. Cooking fires are used to cook food and boil water.

(a) Teepee Fire. The teepee fire is used to produce a concentrated heat source, primarily for cooking. Once a good supply of coals can be seen, collapse the teepee and push embers into a compact bed.

(2) Heating Fires. Heating fires are used to dry clothing and provide a means of signaling.

(a) Pyramid Fire. Pyramid fires are used to produce large amounts of light and heat, to dry out wet wood, and provide coals for cooking.

Matchstick Pyramid Set Fire

d. Starting Fires. Lighting fires falls into two categories: modern methods and primitive methods.

(1) Modern Methods. Modern igniters use modern devices we normally think of to start a fire. Reliance upon these methods may result in failure during a survival situation. These items may fail when required to serve their purpose.

(a) Matches and Lighters. Ensure you waterproof these items.

(b) Convex Lens. Binocular, camera, telescopic sights, or magnifying lens are used on bright, sunny days to ignite tender.

(c) Flint and Steel. Some types of flint & steel designs will have a block of magnesium attached to the device, which can be shaved onto the tinder prior to igniting. Other designs may have magnesium mixed into the flint to produce a higher quality of spark.

(2) Primitive Methods. Primitive fire methods are those developed by early man. There are numerous techniques that fall into this category. The only method that will be taught at MCMWTC is the Bow & Drill.

(3) Bow & Drill. (WSV.02.05b) The technique of starting a fire with a bow & drill is a true field expedient fire starting method, which requires a piece of cord and knife from your survival kit to construct. The components of the bow & drill are bow, drill, socket, fire board, ember patch, and bird's nest.

(a) Bow. The bow is a resilient, green stick about 3/4 of an inch in diameter and 30-36 inches in length. The bowstring can be any type of cord, however, 550 cord works best. Tie the string from one end of the bow to the other, without any slack.

(b) Drill. The drill should be a straight, seasoned hardwood stick about 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch in diameter and 8 to 12 inches in length. The top end is tapered to a blunt point to reduce friction generated in the socket. The bottom end is slightly rounded to fit snugly into the depression on the fireboard.

(c) Socket. The socket is an easily grasped stone or piece of hardwood or bone with a slight depression on one side. Use it to hold the drill in place and to apply downward pressure.

(d) Fire board. The fireboard is a seasoned softwood which should be 3/4 of an inch thick. Cut a depression 3/4 of an inch from the edge on one side of the fireboard. Cut a V-shape notch from the edge of the fireboard into the center of the depression. This notch is designed to collect and form an ember, which will be used to ignite the tinder.

(e) Ember Patch. The ember patch is made from any type of suitable material (i.e., leather, aluminum foil, or bark). It is used to catch and transfer the ember from the fireboard to the bird's nest.

(f) Birds Nest. The bird's nest is a double handful of tinder, which will be made into the shape of a nest. Tinder must be dry and finely shredded material (i.e., outer bark from juniper/cedar/sage brush or inner bark from cottonwood/aspen or dry grass/moss). Lay your tinder out in two equal rows about 4 inches wide and 8-12 inches long. Loosely roll the first row into a ball and knead the tinder to further break down the fibers. Place this ball perpendicular onto the second row of tinder and wrap. Knead the tinder until all fibers of the ball are interwoven. Insert the drill half way into the ball to form a partial cylinder. This is where the ember will be placed.

(4) Producing a fire using the bow & drill.

(a) Place the ember patch under the V-shaped notch.

(b) Assume the kneeling position, with the left foot on the fireboard near the depression.

(c) Load the bow with the drill. Ensure the drill is between the wood of the bow and bow string. Place the drill into the depression on the fireboard. Place the socket on the tapered end of the drill.

(d) Use the left hand to hold the socket while applying downward pressure.

(e) Use the right hand to grasp the bow. With a smooth sawing motion, move the bow back and forth to twirl the drill.

(f) Once you have established a smooth motion, smoke will appear. Once smoke appears, apply more downward pressure and saw the bow faster.

(g) When a thick layer of smoke has accumulated around the depression, stop all movement. Remove the bow, drill, and socket from the fireboard, without moving the fireboard. Carefully remove your left foot off the fireboard.

(h) Gently tap the fireboard to ensure all of the ember has fallen out of the V-shaped notch and is lying on the ember patch. Remove the fireboard.

(i) Slowly fan the black powder to solidify it into a glowing ember. Grasping the ember patch, carefully drop the ember into the cylinder of the bird's nest.

(j) Grasp the bird's nest with the cylinder facing towards you and parallel to the ground. Gently blow air into the cylinder. As smoke from the nest becomes thicker, continue to blow air into the cylinder until fire appears.

(5) Trouble Shooting the Bow & Drill.

(a) The drill will not stay in depression- Apply more downward pressure and/or increase width/depth of depression.

(b) The drill will not twirl- Lessen the amount of downward pressure and/or tighten bowstring.

(c) Socket smoking- decrease the amount of downward pressure. Wood too soft when compared to hardness of drill. Add some lubrication: animal fat, oil, or grease.

(d) No smoke- Wood may not be seasoned. Check drill to ensure that it is straight. Keep left hand locked against left shin while sawing.

(e) Smoke but no ember- V-shaped notch not cut into center of the depression or not enough heat generated.

(f) Bowstring runs up and down drill- Use a locked right arm when sawing. Check drill to ensure that it is straight. Ensure bowstring runs over the top of the left boot.

(g) Birds nest will not ignite- Tinder not dry. Nest woven too tight. Tinder not kneaded enough. Blowing too hard (ember will fracture).

e. Extinguishing the Fire. The fire must be properly extinguished. This is accomplished by using the drown, stir, and feel method.

(1) Drown the fire by pouring at water in the fire lay.

(2) Stir the ember bed to ensure that the fire is completely out.

(3) Check the bed of your fire by feeling for any hot spots.

(4) If any hot spots are found, start the process all over again.


2. Chris Janowski, A Manual that could save you life, 1996.

3. John Wiseman, SAS Survival Guide, 1993.

4. AFP 36-2246, Aircrew Survival, 1996.


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