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When you’re cold, wet, tired and in the elements, hot water for tea, coffee or cooking is good. But hot water quickly is much, much better. And there’s not much out there that boils water in the field more quickly or efficiently than the Kelly Kettle.
So what exactly is a Kelly Kettle? This clever little bit of camping/preparedness kit is an import from Ireland that was originally used to heat water for Irish boatmen and fishing guides.
It’s simply a double-walled kettle with a big hole in the middle of it. That’s it. You fill the kettle with water, place it on its base, place a few twigs (or anything, really) in the base, light it, feed it a few more twigs, and in just a few minutes you have boiling water.
It’s that simple.
The Kelly Kettle is what’s known in bushcraft/preparedness circles as a “volcano” kettle, which doesn’t mean it spews hot magma, rather the name come from the basic design of its center fire hole. Due to the kettle’s extremely large surface area, when a fire is lit in its center, the water heats up very quickly.
What’s more, the Kelly Kettle is very effective in windy conditions, as the fire is protected from the wind. In fact, the fire burns hotter as it gets windier because the kettle’s stand acts like a bellows that draws air into the fire chamber. The final effect, with flames shooting out from the top of the kettle’s chimney and hot steam piping into the air, is, well, volcano-like.
I first discovered the Kelly Kettle while researching alternatives to propane stoves. Like many outdoorsmen, when I’m on hunting or fishing trip I usually take a little one-burner propane stove for heating up water for tea, coffee, etc. It works well enough when the wind’s calm, but not so much when the wind blows.
Since I live in Oklahoma, where the wind blows pretty much non-stop, I had been looking for a wind-proof alternative to my propane stove, something I can take on a fishing or hunting trip and use to boil water quickly and easily right on the tailgate or ground.
But the Kelly Kettle is equally useful as an emergency/backup source of hot water for homeowners, campers, picnickers or anyone who needs hot water quickly, reliably, and with minimal fuel.
Thinking the Kelly Kettle might be the ticket, I ordered one. And on first use, I was, quite frankly, shocked at how quickly this thing boils water with such little fuel.
Soon after receiving mine, I decided to test it in a cold, wet and howling mid-winter wind. With just a little grass tinder and twigs scrounged from my yard and placed in the stainless steel base, it took less than four minutes from striking a ferro rod to the grass and feeding twigs into the fire, to boiling water ready for the French press.
The Kelly Kettle has since become a permanent and valued part of my camping/preparedness kit. It’s rugged, simple, efficient, and works well with virtually any combustible material you feed it.
With a price range from $59.95 for the aluminum “Trekker” model that holds 17 ounces of water all the way, to $84.99 for the stainless steel base camp model that holds 50 ounces of water, the Kelly Kettle is not inexpensive. But then, good gear rarely is.