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


Peter Wang said...

That is effing ingenious! Thanks for that. BTW, was passing through your area a few weeks ago. I am putting together schemes in my head how I'm going to push together enough pennies to retire to Washington State. It was 109 degrees F yesterday in Texas, climate change is just killing this place. It's inhuman. And it's bike unfriendly.

Don Meredith said...

Ken, if you like that you really should check out Devin's UL version. You can see all of the details at:

I got to play with it some and really liked it. Here are my thoughts:


Janice in GA said...

I've seen these in the Lehman's catalog and wondered about them. It's good to hear real-life experiences with one.

Susan Tomlinson said...

That's pretty cool. May have to get one for my canoe trips.

amoeba said...

I have the K-K Trekker. It's great to be able to boil water quickly anywhere. There's loads of free fuel all over the place. My only criticism of the Trekker, is that it boils a little too suddenly. The larger versions are probably better in this respect.
Don't forget to remove the bung before lighting the fire! The bung is only for transporting water.

Probably any of these devices are good. Kelly are just one manufacturer Others are: Eydon/Storm, Unbeaten Tracks, Thermette, Aussie Bush Kettle.

I try and collect pine-cones as a secondary fire-starter. But newspaper is good.

I find the fire-box gets too hot and can char the soil beneath. In the spirit of no-trace camping and cooking plus preventing inadvertent and extremely destructive fires, I definitely recommend keeping the fire-box off the ground. I have made a support ring out of steel square mesh that holds the fire-box about 1" above the ground, simultaneously preventing unsightly scorch-marks and considerably increasing stability. Tools required, tape measure, general purpose pliers and cutting pliers.
[Note: if the mesh is galvanized, it doesn't get hot enough to produce nasty Zinc vapour].
I also carry a small Plumbers' soldering mat [fire-blanket] to protect the ground from hot ashes.

Handy hint: By using two rows of squares and cutting off the lower wire, the remaining 'fingers' can be pushed into soil and provide much increased stability.

Anonymous said...

mKettle is also good (bought one and sold my KK) holds 500ml and works with solid fuel tablets or a meths burner, as well.
Unfortunately, it appears to be a knock off copy of the Devlin device and is heavier but cheaper.

Anonymous said...

MKettle is now a trusted workhorse for us. We use ours daily. Make sure to find dry twigs. Bought mine through :) Erik S.

Carry said...

I'm intrigued...Have you seen the Boilerwerks Backcountry Boiler? Looks similar but much lighter.

Unknown said...

I really want one of these now, even more than a biolite stove. If I do get one, I'll be sure to order thru your amazon affiliate site.