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the Kelly Kettle


The Half Ass Expeditions Guide to Winter Hiking Equipment
by Timur Novasch, your cybah-spaced backwoods gear tester.

    HAE depends on a good amount of heated liquids when in the cold winter woods. Its considered good survival to consume as much hot drink and chow as you can to keep that core temperature and camp morale up. A regular chore around camp is boiling water for hot toddys and coffee. HAE has explored many stove options as well as the dependable but sooty campfire. The gas powered jetstoves of today certainly provide the survival power needed to keep the hot toddys flowing. However, when introduced to a product that promises to improve happy hour performance, we're on it like yellow snow around an HAE campsite.

the Kelly Kettle

What is the Kelly Kettle?

     The Kelly Kettle is an ingenious water boiler that has been around for more than a century. An Irish invention, the Kelly Kettle has changed very little since its creation in the 1890's. One look at the straight forward, no nonsense design of the Kelly Kettle or Volcano as it is sometimes called, and you'll understand why it has withstood this test of time.

How the Kelly Kettle works.    The Kelly Kettle couldn't be simpler. The illustration on the left (borrowed from the Kelly Kettle website) tells the whole story. Essentially a small woodstove and a kettle built together, a fire is built within the Kettle itself heating the water inside the double walled water chamber. The chimney effect draws air through the Kettle and creates a blast of flame. The result is an enclosed fire that quickly brings the water inside to a boil. The firebox is filled from the top with sticks and twigs found lying about. As the fire burns down and the water comes to a boil, ashes and embers fall into the firepan (they call it the "fire base") that detaches from the bottom of the kettle. The large wire bail handle and cork on a chain make it easy to pour out the boiling water.

     HAE gave the Kelly Kettle a workout in Maine. We brought the Kettle with us on our annual winter snowshoe expedition. With nearly 4 feet of snow on the ground and temperatures dipping just below zero, The Kelly Kettle had a BIG job to do; keeping three guys full of hot toddys and coffee for 5 days.

    Our Kelly Kettle is the large 1.5 liter size. Perfect for a round of hot drinks for the HAE team. Before we left, the Kettle was tested on my ice covered driveway. After a sweep of my yard for burnables: twigs, sticks, bark and a McD bag from my car, I stuffed the burn chamber from the bottom, placed the firepan underneath and lit the insides from the hole in the firepan. After a short period of dense smoke, the Kettle became a blast furnance. I was awe struck by the Kelly Kettle's quick start and roaring volcano of a flame. Within 9 minutes the water was RAPIDLY boiling.

    During our five day snowshoe trip in Maine, our Kelly Kettle was the star of happy hour. Fuel was everywhere and we discovered birch bark was the quickest and most effective tinder. We were amazed with the effectiveness of such a low tech piece of camp gear. After a short learning curve (i.e. How much fuel? How do you pour?) we had the Kelly Kettle humming. It wasn't long before we were in command of the Kelly Kettle as skillfully as the Irish fisherman of the Kettle's birthplace.

    The Kelly Kettle has its flaws. We had anticipated the need for the Kettle to be on a stable platform and we used a small piece of plywood to place on the packed snow. The firepan became so hot, it burned the board within minutes. I had also brought along a light weight hard fiberglass insulation disc I've used for under my alcohol stoves. The Kelly Kettle burned that as well creating a stink that had the team hacking. We felt this a small and solvable issue leaving me to design the solution for next year's trip. Of course, the ideal base would be a flat rock or bare ground when available.

    The size of the Kelly Kettle can be an issue for backpackers. Its fairly bulky for serious lightweight backpacking although there are smaller Kettles available. I strapped my Kettle on our gear sleds and inadvertantly dented it when I took a ride down a steep hill so you might want to keep the Kettle from getting banged around much. The Kelly Kettle can also be kinda dirty. It is a tiny wood stove, you know.

     Overall, HAE rates the Kelly Kettle very high. It performed during our snow camping without too much fuss. With a few mods, HAE will make the Kelly Kettle even better next trip. If you winter camp and want a dependable water boiler, you should check out the very reasonably priced Kelly Kettle. Remember, don't leave that cork in when you're using your Kelly Kettle.

     You can get the Kelly Kettle in a couple of sizes and there are some accessories that are worth looking into. The Kettle I bought from an eBay seller came with a nylon stuff sack. A quick search on the web will yield many other places to purchase your own Kelly Kettle. The official Kelly Kettle website, www.kellykettle.com, is the best place to learn all about this little marvel and you can buy one there as well.

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Copyright 2009 Timur Novasch and Half Ass Expeditions