Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Kelly Kettle

On some of my fast & light bike trips, I forgo the comforts of hot food at the campsite and I live off cold snacks in camp and I get my hot food and coffee at mini-marts when I pass through town. But one of the great pleasures in life is having a hot beverage early on a cold morning or a hot meal at the end of a damp day, so more often than not I bring two pieces of somewhat more than minimal gear with me on my journeys: a Kelly Kettle and a 16-ounce Thermos. I've mentioned these items in passing in some of my tour posts over the years, but I often get asked about the kettle so I figure it deserves a post of its own.

Long before anyone invented the Jetboil, Irish fishermen were using a handful of twigs and a Kelly Kettle to quickly boil water. A detailed explanation of how the kettle works can be found here, but a diagram doesn't quite convey the wonder of this device in action. It only takes about five minutes for water to go from icy cold to a full boil in the kettle. Air gets sucked through the bottom vents and the conical shape creates a vortex which makes the fuel (twigs, paper, pinecones or whatever) burn very efficiently. The kettle gets a rumbling roar going and a jet of flame shoots out the top.

On a trip a few years ago, my friend Mark inadvertently brought the wrong kind of alcohol for his soda can stove, but he was able to cook his dinner thanks to the vortex action of my Kelly Kettle.

The Kelly Kettle is not really a stove, it's a device for boiling water but hot water is really all you need for many back country meals. On a typical trip I'll boil up one batch of water and use that to reconstitute a freeze-dried meal, pouring the boiling water into the food pouch which is wrapped in something insulating, like a sleeping bag or my wife's wool hat. While the food is soaking up the warm water, I run a second batch of water through the kettle and when it's boiling, the water gets poured into the thermos. The thermos water gets used to make instant coffee, cocoa, tea or whatever and water stays hot in the thermos for hours.

While the Kelly Kettle is bulkier than some stoves, I don't have to worry about packing or running out of fuel. I do tend to carry some dry paper, twigs and a small candle in the empty space of the kettle in case I wind up camping in a complete downpour and can't find any dry fuel, but I've always been able to find enough dry fuel to get the kettle going. A stiff wind, which tends to decrease the efficiency of most stoves, has the opposite effect on the Kelly Kettle. Wind blowing into the lower vents and across the top of the chimney amplifies the vortex effect.

The Kelly Kettle is one of those wonderful old things that works well and is very satisfying to use. My kettle's storage bag is a bit battered and the inside of the chimney is blackened with soot but I've used the kettle for years now and it'll probably still being going strong decades from now.

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA

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