Boiling a brew on our Kelly Kettle – Gear review
There is nothing better than sitting down with a cup of hot tea after a long day on the road, on the rock, or in the hills. However boiling water takes a lot of energy and uses up precious gas. On our overland trip from London to Cape Town we were keen to try a Kelly Kettle, which uses twigs, dung, cardboard or any other combustible material to boil water – for free!! On an overland trip, every bit of equipment has to be justified, but we had heard great things about Kelly Kettles from other overlanders’ blogs. When we were kids we always took a giant Thermette on camping holidays to boil large volumes of water for drinking, so knew how efficient they were. Mark from Lakeland Bushcraft very generously supplied us with a 1.7L (3 pint) Stainless Steel Kelly Kettle for our trip, and it has become an essential piece of kit that we use every day.
A Kelly kettle is basically a double walled chimney – you put the water in the cavity between the walls, and build a fire on a base plate in the central cavity. The chimney shape draws air through a small hole in the base plate, keeping the fire well oxygenated, and also protects the fire from wind and rain. The heat from the fire heats the water, and since there is a much higher surface area for heat transfer than a pot, it boils water very quickly and efficiently. You can feed twigs and other combustible materials down the chimney if needed to keep the fire going until the water boils, which usually only takes 3-5 minutes.
Kelly Kettles are commonly made from aluminium, however we opted for a stainless steel one, which although quite a bit heavier, is much more robust. Weight is not such an issue on a vehicle dependent overland trip, and we wanted one that we could throw in the back of the wagon without worrying about damaging it. Kelly Kettles come in a number of sizes from 500mL to 1.7L. The stainless steel version only comes in 1.7L, but the external dimensions are the same as the 1.5L aluminium kettle, which means you get more water for the same sized Kettle. The 1.7L size is perfect for us as it is enough water for two cups of tea, and if we don’t need the rest of the water straight away for cooking or washing, we put it in our 1L thermos for use later on. On an overland trip I would definitely recommend one of the bigger Kettles – you can never have too much hot water!
We tried the Kelly Kettle for the first time on a beach in Turkey near the ancient Roman city of Ephesus. Packed full of newspaper, twigs, cardboard, pine cones and other bits and pieces we had collected, it went off like a rocket, and within minutes was boiling away furiously. We were very impressed! The chimney effect really makes the fire burn well, and there were flames shooting dramatically out of the top of the kettle! It would be great for toasting marshmallows, and in fact you can get accessory cook sets which fit on top of the kettle to cook food, an even more efficient use of the heat generated. The kettle comes with a wooden swing handle and a cork bung on a chain. When you want to use some of the water you simply pick up the kettle by the wooden handle and use the cork on a chain to swing up the bottom to pour the water into your cup or pot. Once the water has boiled, or during storage you can put the cork in the spout to keep the water warm or prevent dust from getting in. Once cool, the base plate turns upside down and fits neatly inside the base of the kettle. We keep some newspaper, twigs and cardboard in there as well as a small jar with matches and a lighter in it so everything we need is contained within the one bag. The whole design is delightfully simple, and works really well.
Brett and I have turned into combustible material magpies, collecting everything we find to burn later on in the Kelly Kettle. One campsite in Croatia was littered with pinecones so we collected a big bag for fuel for the Kettle. Its fun to see what we can collect and burn it in the Kettle – everyone loves a fire!
The only disappointing aspect of the Kelly Kettle is the flimsy nylon bag it comes in. Ours has already ripped after only a few uses. It would be great if the kettle came in a robust canvas bag that would survive for decades, as we expect the kettle will. We will be on the lookout on our travels for a shop that can make us a canvas bag.
A Kelly Kettle is a very handy piece of equipment, and will be worth its weight in gold on our overland trip. It is pretty compact so doesn’t take up too much room in the truck. We’ve found it really quick and easy to boil water, and the best part is it’s totally free! Lakeland Bushcraft sells the 3 pint Stainless Steel Kelly Kettle for £48.95, and the smaller ones start at £35.50.
I’d like to extend a huge thank you to Mark at Lakeland Bushcraft for supplying us this fantastic piece of kit!