Showing posts with label Tramping Skills. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Tramping Skills. Show all posts

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Tramping Equipment: What type of tramping stove?

Equipment for back-country cookery: Tramping/Hiking stoves

 There are a variety of ways to heat water and cook food while pursuing your outdoor adventures. The most obvious is the use of an open fire but due to the environmental impact this is now a discredited method. While open fires are not illegal they should only be used to cook food in an emergency.

Camp-fire old as humankind.
Instead there are a myriad variety of stoves specifically manufactured for back country use. I thought it might be useful to look at these various types and explain what I use and why.

  So many types of outdoor cooker...

To start let us look at the types of cookers available. Note that the terms stove and cooker are interchangeable, you call them stoves we call them cookers!

 Iso-butane or gas canister stoves

The most commonly used stoves are those using iso-butane canisters, these are often refereed to as 'gas stoves'.  A gas stove will consist of the gas 'bottle' and a screw on cooker unit which you attach to the bottle.  Please note that the older 'pierced' type of gas cannister is very difficult to find in New Zealand, we all use screw on cookers.

Kovea Titanium Tramping Stove

There are two main types of gas cooker, those that attach to the top of the bottle and those that are free standing. Above is a Kovea Titanium stove, this is typical of the top attached cooker. As you can see it has a perforated burner head, with a mechanism on the side to control the gas flow. There are fold out pot supports above the burner head. The button next to the Kovea branding is the piezo spark actuator.

Using my top fitting Kovea gas canister stove at Packhorse Hut, 2016

Below is the MSR Whisperlite, this is one of the free standing variety of outdoor cookers. These are much more stable as they usually have wider legs/pot supports arms and have a lower centre of gravity. The downside is the extra weight, these are normally 100-200 gms heavier than a top fixing stove.

MSR Windpro free standing gas stove for tramping

Here is a different version of a canister stove, the Jetboil. A Jetboil is an integrated cooking system with stand, cook pot, burner and canister all in one.  You use a Jetboil to heat cannot cook in these. These stoves are good for alpinists and mountaineers as they are fast (melting snow for water) and pack into quite a small package.

They are also expensive and heavy which is why more trampers, anglers and MTB riders don't use them.

The Jetboil outdoor 'cooking system'

Iso-butane gas canisters are pressurised so the canisters must be made of steel to contain the gas. This means the canisters are heavy. An empty 225ml canister weighs 145gms so that is a lot of wasted weight you have to lug around.

Disposing of empty canisters can be problematic. The empty canisters cannot be recycled in New Zealand unless they are punctured- they need a hole in them to allow residual gas to escape. If not completely empty they are liable to explode during the recycling process.

Various sizes of MSR iso-butane gas: 100gms, 225gms and 550gms canisters

Aside from the weight,  gas canisters can also be expensive- they currently cost from $15-$20 for a medium sized canister. They do not perform well in cold conditions, as the gas can freeze if it is very cold.  If using one in a cold alpine environment it needs to be kept warm in a sleeping bag overnight.

Pros:Easy to use, quick set up, fast heating ability, relatively cheap, moderate heat control, widely available, many different models/makes, three sizes of cannister available in New Zealand

Cons:Fuel canisters are heavy, quite expensive, disposal of empty canisters is problematic, top fixing versions are unstable, not good at high altitude or in cold conditions

Multi-fuel stoves

As the name implies a multi-fuel stove can use a variety of different fuels, this ranges from gas canisters, stove specific fuel, kerosene and even gasoline at a pinch. Some makes will only use liquid fuels while others are able to use both liquid fuel and gas.

The MSR Whisperlite multi fuel hiking stove: Both fuel bottle and gas canister shown
You fill the fuel bottle with your fuel of choice, then turn this into a pressurised gas by pumping the pressure handle. The stove is lit with match, lighter or piezo spark actuator.

Multi-fuel stoves are excellent for alpine conditions as the fuel is not affected by altitude or cold. Their ability to use a multitude of fuels also makes them practical: gasoline is available everywhere in the world while gas canisters are sometimes difficult to locate.

Unfortunately, these stoves tend to be heavy, 300-800 gms as opposed to a gas canister stove at 70-250 gms. They can also be a cast iron bitch to light as the burner unit is prone to soot blockages and fuel impurities. You must use good quality fuel and carry a cleaning kit and use both for optimum performance.

A MSR multi-fuel cooker service kit

I have to say though, there is nothing like the sound of a multi fuel stove blasting away on a cold a lot of us older trampers it is the sound of tramping itself.

Pros: Able to utilise many different fuels, much hotter flame, better flame/heat control, work well at altitude and in cold conditions, sound awesome when fired up

Cons: Much heavier, more difficult to operate, fuel must be pre warmed and pressurised before use, can be hard to light, more prone to stove blockages

  Methylated - Spirit stoves

  Methyl alcohol or 'spirit stoves' have been around for a long time but have recently been undergoing a resurgence in popularity. Prior to the 1940's this type of stove used jellied fuel and was utilised in the Great War trenches: Luigi, Ivan, Tommy, Mustafah and Fritz all had them.

Reproduction of a World War One "Tommy cooker'

Alcohol stoves can be commercially produced or home-made and have a burner unit with a series of holes in the top and sides. They normally have a stand to hold your pot above the flame and sometimes a wind-shield. Once lit the heating flame will come out of the holes providing the means to cook/ heat water.

A Trangia brand outdoor alcohol stove in action

As you can see in the photo below they are quite effective but the do have a number of limitations. The heat put out by methylated spirits is low, so cooking times are much longer. Once lit the flame cannot really be controlled so these stoves are not ideal for simmering.

They are also easily extinguished by wind, you really need a wind shield if using a spirit cooker.

Home-made outdoor alcohol stoves made from aluminium cans

These stoves will use both methylated spirits and de-natured alcohol, which is the American name for a similar product. "Meth's" comes in 1 litre bottles in New Zealand and cost from $6-$10 NZ dollars. Methylated spirits can be found in most service stations, hardware stores and supermarkets.

 De natured alcohol is usually only found in the larger outdoor equipment shops. It costs approximately $10-$20 NZ dollars per 1 litre bottle.

Just use meths' bro....

Methylated Spirits aka Denatured Alcohol
Pros: Fuel is cheap and widely available, stoves tend to be quite light, fuel can be used for starting a fire (carefully...don't throw meth's on an existing fire), fuel weight is lower as no heavy gas canister to carry

Cons: Highly inflammable...the vapour only needs a spark to ignite. Not safe for use in huts, easily extinguished by the wind, often need a wind shield and stand for use negating weight savings, care needed when refilling, fuel only comes in 1 litre volumes so there is potential fuel wastage.

Solid fuel tablets- Esbit Stoves

  Solid fuel stoves have been a mainstay of worldwide military forces for most of the later part of the 20th century. There are many firms producing both stoves and fuel including Sea to Summit, Coleman, MSR, Coghlans and cheap 'no brand' versions from China.

The most renown brand of solid fuel stoves are made by the German company Esbit, so in Europe these cookers are called 'Esbit stoves'.

Classic Esbit stove from Germany
 The solid fuel tablets for an Esbit type stove are generally made of a compound called hexamide. Hexamide is highly flammable and hence relatively easy to light. It is basically a solid form of hydro carbon covered in wax to stop it evaporating. One if its downsides are the fumes it exudes: these are both poisonous and foul smelling. 

Classic Esbit fuel cubes- one cube = 12 minutes of burn time

The beauty of solid fuel is that you need no stove...when I was in the military we just used a couple of rocks or sticks to prop our mess tins above the burning fuel cubes.

Oh my god... the smell of a 'hexie' tablet cooking some 'Spag and Snarlers' 'Corned Beef Hash' or 'Meat and Vegetables' is something every ex service person will remember fondly...morning time means hexie time!

Esbit stove, fuel tablets and cookpot, from Esbit website

An Esbit stove is bullet proof: it has no moving parts, requires no servicing and can be stored forever. That's why the military used them for so long.

Esbit type stove in use, from Australian Hiker

Pros:No parts to break, can be stored till the end of time, need no cooker, slow steady heat, relatively light, can be lit when wet, fuel makes excellent fire starter so dual purpose, cheap (a stove and fuel is usually less that $10 NZ dollars.

Cons: Low heat output, noxious fumes, cannot be used indoors, not readily available except in outdoor stores, easily extinguished by wind

Portable wood stoves

One of the newer forms of stove in use are those that use wood as their fuel...much as our ancestors have done for the last 40 000 years. These are commonly aluminium or titanium and burn paper, sticks, leaves and small wood chips. 

There are many commercial versions but these can also be made by the outdoor hobbyist at home.
 These are most often used by survivalists, long trail hikers and in areas where other stove types are banned. I see very few people using them in New Zealand- it is wet here so little dry wood and there are often fire bans in place over summer.

Typical lightweight outdoor wood stove in action

 The beauty of these stoves is that fuel for them is all around you, all the time. They can burn paper, card, wood, coal, dry grasses, dry leaves....basically anything that burns and is dry.

Pros: No need to carry fuel, relatively lightweight, inexpensive if home-made, can be used in most outdoor situations, fold down versions take up little space, environmental impact slight

Cons: They require dry wood,  can get very sooty on the outside, fire risk- cannot be used if there is a fire ban, cannot be used in huts, bulky unless fold down design, commercial versions are expensive

Flameless Ration Heaters or FRH's

Flameless Ration Heaters (or FRH's) are a by-product of military style Meals Ready To Eat (MRE's). MRE's first came into use with the US Army in the late 1980's to replace heavy canned rations. 

US military FRH from a Meals Ready to Eat (MRE)

An MRE (jokingly called, with usual soldierly humour: Meals Rarely Eaten) is a thermo stabilised retort pouch of food, with the addition of various drink powders, snacks, side dishes and accessories.

Flameless Ration Heater: the chemical heater pad in a FRH

 They are a one meal item i.e. you would need to eat three a day to get your recommended calories. The FRH they contain uses a thermo-chemical reaction to warm the main meals and any hot drinks. Most of the military forces of the world are now using these.

A US military MRE: Beef Pasta with Tomato Sauce

FRH's were specific to military circles until about 10 years ago when a number of outdoor companies started to produce them for hikers and campers. Back Country Cuisine are the only indigenous manufacturer of FRH's. You have to be careful with an FRH, these can get really hot to the touch- don't leave them on an unprotected tent floor!


A Back Country Cuisine Flameless Ration Heater

In New Zealand the commercial food ranges these FRH's can be used with are Kaweka Meals (also used by the NZ Defence Forces), Sun Rice meals and the MTR range of Indian meals. All of these come in thermo stabilised pouches. Freeze dried meals can also be heated if the contents are rehydrated with cold water first. 

Pros: Very lightweight (less than 20gms each), easy to use, you require no stove/fuel or pot if not heating water, can be used in a well ventilated tent, not affected by cold/wet/windy conditions

Cons:Horrible environmental impact, very slow heating, expensive, limited uses- only good with thermo stabilised retort pouches, hard to source in New Zealand, need salt and a cup of clean water to work

 No heat/no cook tramping 

One way to deal with cooking while tramping is to simply go without. I have meet a number of people practising no cook (or stoveless) tramping. Instead of your traditional hot meal they only utilise cold foods that require no cooking.

Typical 'no cook' foods might include: cold meats, canned fish, cheese, jerky, wraps/tortillas/bread/crackers, various spreads, energy bars, cereals, dried fruit or it could be dehydrated meals reconstituted with cold water.

Basically the sort of stuff you eat for lunch!

Some no-cook menu items: cereals, scroggin, energy bars, tuna, salami, drink powders, dried fruit etc.
I've tried this on an multi night tramp and decided it is not for me.  I like a hot drink in the morning with breakfast and soup and a hot meal at night. In extremis I would go stove-less but not out of choice. That's just my personal opinion by the need to decide what works for you.

I meet a guy on the St James a couple of years ago who had scroggin, whiskey and 24 peanut butter sandwiches for food- he had six sarnies per day- two per meal. would keep you going, but....

Do you fancy this at every meal for four days....

Pros: Lightweight (no stove/pot/fuel/cutlery), cheaper option as not buying fuel, stove or cook-pot, easy to sustain yourself for short periods this way

Cons: 24 peanut butter sandwiches......who wants to eat that for 4 days in a row! Will not sustain you properly for more than a couple of weeks, could be unsafe if tramping in adverse weather conditions (hot drinks save hypo-thermic trampers as they used to say...), packaging...there would be a lot of it!


My personal choice of tramping stove

I've used all of these various cooker types before but my primary cook stove is a Kovea Backpacker gas cannister stove. I have been using this stove since 1993 with great success and it is still going strong.

The Kovea Backpacker stove...this is the 2016 version

I usually couple this stove with a medium size MSR gas cannister, this combination allows me to boil water for both breakfast and dinner for 4-6 days. This stove cools fast and has a larger diameter burner head which I find advantageous when heating speed is of the essence.

My Kovea Backpacker stove in use at Nina Hut in 2016

 Why gas....? I just find it more convenient to use a cannister stove. You can have it out and going in less than 1 minute. A good breakfast is a fast breakfast if you know what I mean...! Any other type of cooker involves too much buggering around to get it operational.

Fixing dinner with my Kovea tramping stove at Mid Robinson Hut, 2015

If you are going to be using a cannister stove you need a Crunchit. A Crunchit is basically a big can opener which allows you to safely puncture cannisters to vent residual gas. The 'empties' can then be recycled. I leave mine at home and take to my empties after the trip.

The Jetboil Crunchit recycling tool
I also carry two Esbit cubes with me on every trip as an emergency backup. As I said earlier these can be used without a stove and because they only weigh 5 gms each are a useful survival tool. It is not without precedent to run out of gas for your cooker on the last day of a longer trip, so...two meals worth of hot water.

My Esbit cubes: firestarter and emergency cook tool

I have not had cause to use them for about 2 years now.

A gallery of other tramping stoves I own...

I have an Esbit methylated spirits cooker which I will be using when I do some of my longer Te Araroa Trail sections because it is ideal for that kind of tramping. The fuel is cheaper and more readily available in out of the way places.

My Esbit cooker looks like this...

 I inherited a Kovea Hiker stove from one of my brothers who moved to the US, it is an older design but still works well. She is a bit hefty for tramping but folds up into a nifty hard plastic container.I would use this stove if car camping or as a base camp stove.

Kovea Hiker stove, mine does not have a piezo
I also have an Outer Limits Huntsman stove, which I brought when I got back into tramping in 2010. I really like this stove but I just have a sentimental attachment to my Kovea Backpacker so this one doesn't get used very often. 

An Outer Limits Huntsman stand alone stove

I hope that gives you some ideas to consider when choosing a new tramping stove.

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

The Mountain Safety Council and their online resources

The Mountain Safety Council (MSC) online

I was recently looking for some tramping information and see that the MSC website has had a major overhaul.

The re developed MSC website, June 2017

  What is the MSC?

The Mountain Safety Council or MSC is the organisation tasked with coordinating outdoor education in New Zealand. They used to run specific safety courses for example Introductory Bushcraft, Firearms Safety or Outdoor First Aid but have now moved out of training provision.These type of courses are now undertaken by various clubs and private providers.

The MSC now concentrations on informing the public about outdoors matters. They provide a lot of informative on-line and paper pamphlets, articles, videos and webinars about safety in the outdoors. All are written with specific New Zealand conditions in mind.

Information provided by the Mountain Safety Council

The MSC provide both on-line and paper resources aimed at the new tramper/climber, international visitor and casual outdoor enthusiast. 

The MSC resource page on their website

As you can see there is a wealth of useful information on their website, including some in different languages. Most of the MSC guides are freely available in DOC visitor centres and the various i-Sites around the country. I have also seen them left in DOC huts and in accommodation providers in the main outdoor tourism hotspots.

Pages from the MSC Outdoor Activity Guide: Day Walking

If you are a newbie tramper, international visitor or just need a refresher I recommend you study these guides as they will assist with planning successful trips to the New Zealand mountains and bush.

The 'Get Outdoors' video series

The MSC in partnership with DOC have made a series of short informative videos about different aspects of the New Zealand outdoors. They call these the 'Get Outdoors Series'

The MSC page on YouTube

The videos can be found on YouTube as well as on the main MSC website. You should check them out for a short refresher before going on a tramping, hunting or fishing trip. 

Monday, 24 April 2017

Tramping Skills: Building a fire

Holy blazes.... fire starting, a vital outdoor skill!

The ability to build and light a fire when required is still a vital piece of tramping knowledge. Although the use of the fire as a cooking method has waned, fires built for heating, drying and survival purposes still have a place in the outdoors. 

Blazing fire in Lakehead Hut on a cold rainy day

I have no pretensions as an expert on the subject, what follows are just a few tips I have picked up along the way.

Do I REALLY need a fire?

 The very first question you need to ask yourself is 'Do I really need to light a fire'?

Most people will say yes, but actually for much of the year a fire is total overkill. Rather than lighting a fire why don't you put some more clothes on?

 If you are sitting in a hut and it is 30 degrees outside it would be madness to start a fire. You may laugh but this has happened to me a couple of times. One blistering hot summer afternoon I arrived at Boyle Flat Hut where two Swiss hikers had the fire going. The hut was 45 degrees hot! They had all the windows open because it was too damn hot in the hut to sit inside.

Blazing hot 30 degree day on the St James- not a good day for a fire!

I suggested politely but firmly that possibly that wasn't an awesome took 6 hours for the hut to cool down!

Again if you are camping and it is raining it would also be mad to start a fire. You are going to find it hard to find dry wood, the rain will dampen your fire and you would be sitting outside getting warm on your front and wet everywhere else.

Cooking over fire in the rain...not my idea of fun.

You need to pick if and when you are going to light a fire carefully.

When is a fire appropriate?

Good question. Here are some things to consider when deciding if a fire is suitable:

A more appropriate way to heat water at lunch- a gas canister stove!
  • How long is your stop? In the old days trampers made a fire every time they stopped for a brew, you can still do this but is it necessary.
  • Wood supply: is there any wood available? Often the answer will be no, especially around the well used non serviced huts and above the bush-line.
  • Temperature: Do you REALLY need a fire if it is 30 degrees Celsius?
  • Is there a fire ban in place? This is a lot more common now with climate change.
  • Is a small fire more appropriate than a large one? You may only need a small fire to heat the newer 'insulated to death' DOC huts. Don't go overboard and try to melt the window glass...

  Wood selection for fire making

  So, you have decided a fire is needed and now you are going to build one. You will need wood, so what kind works best and how much do you need. 

Driftwood makes excellent fuel for a fire...if dry!

The quick answer is any wood that is dry- unfortunately this is often hard to locate. Look for standing dry wood, or wood which has been kept dry in a wood shed (at most DOC huts), under a large bush or over hang. Driftwood along shorelines and riverbanks is also good provided it is dry.

Do not bother with rotten wood, it will never burn even if it is bone dry. Bark/cones are also difficult to light- keep them for when the fire is really blazing.

Wet, rotten wood will not burn...
Wood types that burn well are soft like pine, beech, manuka/kanuka etc. Native hardwood's such as Rimu, Totara and Matai are hard to light but will burn for a long time, keep them for when the fire is roaring.

You need three types of fuel for a fire:

Tinder: Tinder provides the fire-starter for your blaze- it might be paper, dry grass, dry pine needles, frayed twine, steel wool, birds nests or dry papery tree bark. I like native Fuschia bark, it is a light paper like bark that will take a flame well.

A tinder bundle made of dried grass
Kindling: Think finger sized or smaller;  sticks, branches or slices cut from a larger log. I usually use a mixture of sticks and slices. If the sticks have thick bark try to slice them in half so they catch fire better as bark is notoriously difficult to light.

Cutting logs into kindling, Lakehead Hut

Logs/splits: These will range in size from arm thick to thigh thick depending on the type of fire. All logs work better if they are split i.e. cut into several slices. Wood with edges burns better than full round logs due to the bark. If the fire is in a hut make sure the splits are short enough to fit into the wood burner or fireplace.

Some log splits for the wood box in John Tait Hut, Nelso Lakes NP

Tools of the trade

Once you have your wood sorted you need some tools to break it into manageable pieces.

Your first tool is yourself, break small branches in your hand, over the knee or around a tree. Slightly larger versions can be leaned against a rock and broken in half with your feet. Breaking wood this way is as old as humanity, we have used this method for the last 100 thousand years.

Firewood: this level of commitment is not required...

Other tools you will use are axes, saws and knives. If you are in a DOC hut there will probably be either an axe or a saw for firewood preparation. It is easier to saw any wood into manageable logs and then split them with the axe- chopping through a log is an exercise in frustration!

Tools of the trade: Axe and saw
If you are camping you will need to make due with what you can find, break by hand or use whatever knife you carry. If you are a machete, parang or kukri carrier you are set...they are all basically small axes.  If like me you only carry a Swiss army knife then hand broken wood is your only option.

The Kukri I carried in the Army- awesome knife but bloody heavy!

If you have a suitable knife, grab a piece of hard wood and use it as a hammer to drive your knife through thinner pieces of wood.

Using a knife and a log to split wood, photo Paul Kirtley
Regardless of the tool always be safety concious- take care using any sharp blade, don't let minors cut wood, wear boots when chopping and try to get home without losing a finger, hand or limb....

Types of fires

 There are many different formations you can use when you first start a fire, the most common are the teepee, log cabin and upside down pyramid. All of these use the same basic premise; a structure is built around and above the tinder. Once the blaze is going well the larger splits will collapse forming a good bed of coals for large pieces of wood.
Some different types of fire formation

Another type is the star fire. The star fire formation is a good choice for a slow burning fire in areas with little wood or where only larger logs are available.

Classic star pattern fire set up

Once the fire is burning the various logs are slowly feed into the centre maintaining the flame.

Building an outdoor fire

The skills used building a fire indoors or outdoors are very similar, you use the same process in both cases.

A scratch camping spot with fire circle near Mt Richardson, Canterbury

When building an outdoor fire you need to follow these steps;

  • Locate a site for your fire. When using 'leave no trace' methods this should be in an existing fire circle, or on a hard impermeable surface such as rock, compacted sand or compacted soil
  • Gather your wood: you need tinder, kindling and fuel wood. Make sure you have more than enough wood to maintain the fire until it is going well
  • Place a bunch of tinder in the middle of your camp-fire site, if the ground is damp construct a wood platform for the tinder to rest on using larger kindling
  • Form an initial teepee of small kindling around your tinder regardless of the form of fire you are building
  • Add kindling to the pile, working up to pencil sized pieces
  • Create a larger teepee/log cabin/upside down pyramid around and above your kindling teepee using fuel wood,
  • Light your fire. If you have some type of fire starter (rubber tube/candle stub/soaked cotton waste) this is when you should use it.

Different types of firewood ready for use

Lighting a classic 'pyramid' fire outdoors...note the hard rocky ground

A small campfire at the Ryde Falls camp-site, November 2012

Make sure that you:

  • Conserve wood- only use what you need, when you need it- don't waste wood just because it is there. Leave some for the people coming after you.
  • Keep fires small, they use less fuel and usually do the job perfectly adequately.
  • Don't use smooth river stones in a fire circle- they may explode as they heat up and expand.
  • Don't light a fire on humus (the dry, crumbly soil you find on a forest floor) as it can smoulder and eventually catch fire long after you are gone. 
  • Watch your fire, never leave it unattended in case it gets out of control and starts a larger fire. 
  • Make sure it is fully out before departing: use the douse, crush and mix method. Put the fire out with water/soil/sand then crush the embers with your feet. Mix it around with a stick to make sure all embers are out. Repeat until fully doused.

Building a fire in a hut

Almost all DOC huts will have a heat source of some sort, generally these will be open fires, pot belly stoves or wood burners. A few of the Great Walk huts have gas heaters, usually only during the Summer season.

The classic 'corker cooker' wood burner, Magdalen Hut

In general terms you need the same resources for a hut fire as a camp fire: tinder, kindling and wood. If you are lucky (for instance I was at the hut before you) you will arrive to find a supply of all three ready and waiting. If you are unlucky you will need to gather your own.

Fire prep done and wood laid in for when needed

Your first port of call should be the hut woodshed; most serviced and standard huts will have one, wither there is any wood in them is a different matter. If there is no wood shed or it is empty start foraging in the bush for your wood.

Partially full wood shed at Nina Hut

Look at that beauty: a full wood shed at John Tait Hut

Construct your wood burner fire as you would for a camp fire. Use either a tee pee, pyramid or log cabin. The tinder goes in the centre with small kindling stacked around and over it.  Have a supply of larger pieces of wood on hand for when the fire takes. Once you have a base of coals in the fire box you can start to add these larger logs as they need intense heat to ignite.

Basic framework for your fire- log cabin type

Ready to go: tinder and kindling added...note the air regulator

There is an airflow control on most DOC wood burners...pushing it to the right increases the air flow while pushing it to the left decreases it. I normally start at the middle position and adjust it once the wood is well aflame. I find leaving the door open about 1 cm helps when initially starting the fire. 

Shut the door once the fire is burning well...don't burn down the hut.

It need not be slightly shambolic still worked!

Supply of wood ready for when fire requires it...
Some huts will also supply coal for the hut fireplace. I'm constantly surprised by the number of people who have never used coal before, when I was young everyone used it on their open fires so everyone knew how to use it. 

A bag of coal in fire wood shed, Lake Daniels Hut

To use coal, first build a fire as described with wood. Once you have a nice bed of hot embers evenly spread a small shovel full of coal over the top. Take it easy with that shovel though, too much and you will smother your fire.Watch the coal dust as it can be explosive in the right conditions.

Coal being used in an open fireplace

I know there are environmental issues with using coal, but it is much more efficient that burning wood. Coal will give you a long, slow and even burn and it puts out a lot more heat than wood so if it is available use it. 

What to do once the fight is burning

 So, what do you do once the fire is actually burning. You add more wood to it but do so SLOWLY!

Larger splits being added to a well blazing fire...

Jamming 14 logs into a fire box just because you can see some flames is a recipe for killing any fire. Add progressively bigger splits of wood until you have a hot bed of embers, this is when you can add those larger chunks of wood to the flames. This applies to hut fires and open fires. 

If the fire goes out...start again from scratch. Even I have had to restart fires a couple of times. Unfortunately, the fire god 'Burnslikehellum' likes to play jolly japes on you...dont fret just kick him where it hurts.

 Practice makes perfect

It is really important to practice your fire construction skills, even if you don't actually light the fire. Take the opportunity when you go for a tramp to locate and prepare fire making materials. Chop wood at huts, and split some for kindling- you are practising your skills and making someone else's visit easier.

In the firebox and ready to go, Mid Robinson Hut

 Keep an eye out for good tinder, I collect Fuschia bark every time I see one of these trees as they make excellent tinder. I have a couple of kilos of it at home drying out for future use.I always carry a handful of it in a tied off plastic bag as an emergency back up.

Paper like bark of the native Fuschia Tree...great tinder!

Final thoughts on fire making

When I am tramping in the summer months (when fires are less of a necessity) I always take the opportunity to cut & gather wood when I get to a hut. Cut some kindling and gather dry branches, put these in the woodshed, under the veranda or under the hut if possible so they can dry.

Best way to stack ready use wood- cross hatch stack- it dries faster

 I wont need it but I'm providing for leaner times when dry wood is not so easy to locate. If you pass a likely looking log close to a hut by all means carry it with you, chop it up and put it in the wood shed. Obviously don't carry it for 5 kilometres just in case...that would be mad.

One other point- all of these skills are covered in a basic bushcraft course run by climbing/tramping clubs and safety organisations. If you want to get some fire making skills sign up for one of these courses and learn how to do it from an expert.

Be safety conscious- don't leave a fire un-attended and for pity's sake don't touch a wood burner once it is going. Those bastids get hot!