On a recent winter camp outing we had the opportunity to test three different types of “rocket stoves” under winter cold and wet conditions. Rocket stoves offer big advantages over campfires and traditional camping stoves in many ways. While some of these stoves are a bit more bulky and heavy than the compact camping stoves they do not require one to carry fuel cylinder or liquid fuels. They use twigs, grass, and other natural debris as fuel. They burn such fuels with such efficiency that a few handfuls of twigs is sufficient to boil water or cook a small meal. While they do not generate the same heat as a campfire they do not require one to use energy-gathering wood. Hot food and drink inside is much more effective than a fire outside. In a home survival scenario they can be used to cook outside once to other fuels are exhausted. In this instance we tested the old Swiss rocket stove, the most modern “ BioLite ™ and the hybrid Kelly Kettle ™ on a subfreezing morning in the woods. We used mainly available twigs and small branches as fuel.
The Swiss Army stove is basically a glorified “tin can” stove. An aluminum cylinder with a small port to put fuel in and vents to facilitate combustion. It comes with a cup that fits on top. It is light wait and since it acts as an outer cover for a canteen it takes up very little room. In the test it burned the twigs effectively but was very smoky and sooty. The cup got too hot to grab by the handles. So, while you could use this with natural fuel, it really is intended for use with “fuel tabs”. Candles and other clean fuels. You can still get these at surplus outlets for about $12.00.
The BioLite ™ packs into a compact 6” x 4” bag the stove is a bit bulky at 33 oz for a survival pack, but is quite practical for long survival treks where fuel weight and availability are an issue. You can cook a meal with a few handfuls of wood without a big fire with its smoke and light. It is unique in that the heat from the stove actually recharges the fan battery and produces excess electrical energy for charging cell-phones, flashlights and other devices. You can also charge the battery from the plug adapter provided. To operate you simply drop in twigs, sticks, fuel stick and other dry fuel, light it and turn on the fan. In the test the cold battery would not start the fan until the fire in the stove had warmed it up a bit. Once the fan started, a fairly clean and intense flame was generated. A small kettle of water was boiling in about 4-minutes from three hands full of twigs. BioLite ™ stove cost about $125.00 at Bass Pro Shop.
The Kelly Kettle ™. Is a kettle built around a rocket stove. Its rather bulky and heavy for packing and will not charge your batteries, but it will boil water almost as fast as a microwave. In the test it fired up quickly and got 3-cups of water boiling in about 4-minutes. Since boiling water is about 90% of all winter cooking tasks and you need it in a hurry with the least fuel the Kelly Kettle ™ is not a bad option at $75.00 from Cabela’s
For speed of heating and perpetual fuel availability, rocket stoves are essential for long-term outdoor survival. Choice depends on the weight you can carry and your budget. Since we burned pine scraps all three stoves were coated with black carbon and were hard to clean up. This also coated the teakettle and Swiss cup we used. The Kelly Kettle did not require another pot. In previous tests using straw, grass and hardwood twigs the stoves were relatively clean.
The rather smoky Swiss stove in on the left that just started to warm he water. The Bio Lite ™ stove (center) is putting out a clean flame under the camp kettle while the Kelly Kettle (far right) has a full head of steam