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Reviews > Cook Gear > Stoves > Kelly Kettle Trekker - Aluminum > Test Report by Coy Ray Starnes
Trekker Kelly Kettle Aluminum
Test series by Coy Starnes
Initial Report: July 25, 2011
Field Report: November 15, 2011
Long Term Report: January 17, 2012
my initial trial run of the Trekker Kelly Kettle
Tester: Coy Starnes
Weight: 245 lb (111 kg)
Height: 6 ft (1.8 m)
Location: Grant Alabama
I live in Northeast Alabama. I enjoy biking, hunting, fishing, canoeing/kayaking and most other outdoor activities, but backpacking is my favorite pastime. I enjoy hiking with friends and family or solo. I hike throughout the year and actually hike less in the hot humid months of summer. My style is slow and steady and my gear is light. However, I will sacrifice weight for comfort and durability. A typical 3-season load for me is around 20 lb (9 kg) not counting food or water.
Manufacture: Kelly Kettle Company
Model: Trekker Kelly Kettle Aluminum
Year of manufacture: 2011
Listed Weight: 1.32 lb (0/6 kg)
Verified Weight : 1 lb 2 oz (0.51 kg)
Height: 10.6 in (27 cm)
Diameter: 5.5 in (14 cm)
Capacity: 20 oz (0.57 L)
MSRP: 35:95 UK pounds
The Trekker Kelly Kettle Aluminum is first and foremost, a wood burning stove, made expressly for boiling water. It is the smallest size in the Kelly Kettle family but it is made pretty much identical to the rest of the stoves. And wood burning is a bit of a misnomer because the stove is really more of a twig and forest duff stove. It is designed to boil water fast with a minimum amount of fuel.
The stove comes in two parts. The base is 2.5 inches (6.4 cm) tall and the same diameter as the upper part of the stove. The base is slightly bigger the last 1/2 (1.3 cm) inches at the top so that the Kettle can sit down on/in it securely. When tuned upside down the recessed area fits neatly into the bottom of the Kettle. The base has two holes on one side and each one is about the size of a US quarter. These are to let air into the stove and also possibly to add fuel to the stove if using the port support over the chimney (more on that later). However, the stove is designed to be fed from the top by placing fuel (small sticks etc) down through the chimney. Here is the view of burner base holes.
vent holes in fire base
Speaking of a chimney, this is basically what the top part of the stove is, only it is double walled to hold water. The beauty of the design it that by having the water container as part of the chimney, there is much more contact with the heat source than just the bottom of a normal cooking pot. Here is a photo looking down from the top through the chimney, note the fire is visible.
looking down chimney
The website gives a much more detailed overview of the history of Kelly Kettle's but I thought it pretty neat that the stove was originally designed by an Irish fisherman (Patric Kelly) in around 1890 as a way to quickly boil water while out and about. The design has remained pretty much the same through 4 generations of ownership within the family.
I'll be honest, this stove has been on my radar for several years, but for one reason or another, I never got around to getting one. It is not the lightest stove around and certainly not the most compact, but I grew up reading camping books by such old timers as Nessmuk and Kephart and especially Calvin Rustrum, and was always drawn to the simplicity of their gear and methods. Of course I soon caved in to ultra-light gear, but there has always been a little of the old school methods smoldering in my mind. Which brings me to my impressions on this stove.
I think Trekker Kelly Kettle is almost work of art, in the sense that I appreciate a good ax or Marble knife. It looks like it is made of spun aluminum. The chimney area is larger on the inside than I expected but this just means the jacket of water is not very wide and thus the stove can heat water faster.
Along with the Trekker Kelly Kettle I will be testing the pot support and the cook set designed for this stove. Incidentally, the pot support only adds 2.3 oz (65 g) to the kit while the cook set adds 7.2 oz (204 g). The pot support is simply two flat pieces of metal that are slotted in such a way that they insert into the chimney and form a cooking surface above the Kettle. The website says it can be disassembled, flat-packed and inserted up the chimney of the kettle for transport. However, the Trekker Kelly Kettle is smaller than the other Kettles, and while it will fit inside the chimney, it pokes out the bottom, and then the base wont fit inside, which then means the whole shebang wont fit inside the stuff sack. However, I found that by placing the pot support in the packaging it came in, I can easily slide it inside the stuff sack along side the Kettle. Of course it would fit even easier without putting it in the packaging, but it has pretty sharp corners, and I would be afraid that over time it would damage the stuff sack. Here is the pot support in use.
pot support inserted into chimney with cooking pot on top
The cook set is very basic and consist of a pot that holds approximately 16 oz (45 ml). It is made of stainless steel and comes with a small lid, a pot holder and a two piece grate that fits over the base of the Kelly Kettle. However, it can be used with the pot support, so theoretically, I can be boiling water in the Kettle and cooking at the same time. When transporting, it fits conveniently in the base, which then fits up inside the Kelly Kettle, so in effect carrying this cook set does not increase the bulk of the kit. The grate and pot holder do need to be stored up in the chimney of the Kettle. Here is everything included in the cook kit.
the small cook set intended for use with the Trekker Kelly KettleA few words of caution
Any type of outdoor fire must be treated with utmost respect. Even in a stove such as the Kelly Kettle where the flame is pretty much contained there is always a chance of causing a wild fire. Use care in choosing where to place the stove including what it is sitting directly on. A flat rock would be ideal but bare ground will do. There are few basics which the website covers on how to safely use the Kelly Kettle, but the main thing to never use the stove unless it is full of water and the cork stopper is removed. When ready to remove the Kettle from the base do not lift it straight up. Grasp the handle on both sides at a 90 degree angle and lift. Once clear of the base it is safe to hold with one hand. To pour, hold by the handle with one hand and pull the bottom of the kettle with the cork stopper and chain arrangement. I was afraid the metal part of the handle might be too hot to hold in the manner prescribed, but after having a fire lit under the stove for around 16 minutes, it was not a problem.
Trying it out
I took the Trekker Kelly Kettle on one of my exercise hikes to the holler just to do a quick check to see how it would boil some water. The outside temperature was around 90 F but the water I was boiling was rather chilly since it came from a creek that is mostly spring fed. I carried the Trekker in my 1200 cu in (19.7 L) day pack and had room left over, but it does take up quite a bit of space in this pack. I arrived at the creek and set my gear down and cast about for some suitable fire building material. There was a dead pine tree laying across the rocks not 20 feet (6 m) from where I decided to set up but I also found a few other downed limbs close by and used a couple of those too. After just a few minutes I had what I hoped was enough and commenced to breaking it into short pieces and also whittle off a few shavings. None of the sticks I gathered were any bigger than thumb sized diameter. I sorted the wood according to size as can be seen in this photo.
my wood pile before starting (only used about half)
I then placed several shavings in the base (fire bowl) and lit it. It took three tries to finally get it lit but to be honest, my lighter was a mini-bic and the woods have been pretty damp lately. Anyways, I carefully added bigger and bigger sticks but the fire still did not act like it really wanted to burn. I kept blowing on it when it died down but as soon as I placed the Trekker Kettle on it it went to burning like nobody's business. I should also mention that in order to get Trekker firmly on the base I did have to remove two sticks which were slightly too long to fit down inside the base. Once I had the Kettle in place(water already added) I added a few more small twigs and then a few bigger one. In about one minute I had flames coming out the top of the chimney. I timed the boil and it took 5 minutes and 24 seconds. Not bad!
I did make one mistake by having the handle on the same side as the stopper opening but managed to lift the Kettle in the proper manner without getting splattered with boiling water. I then poured this water out and refilled the Kettle and placed it back on the base. As can be seen in the photo below, before placing the Kettle back on the base I again had to move a couple of the longer sticks I had placed down the chimney in order to get the Kettle seated properly.
base with long sticks in the way after a burn
I next gently placed the pot support in the neck of the Kettle, then quickly filled my cook pot with some water and sat it on the pot support and started timing it again. This time the water in the kettle boiled even faster. It was splattering out in 4 minutes and 47 seconds. It did take awhile to get the water in the cook pot hot though, and I never achieved a rolling boil. It was forming bubbles on the bottom of the pan at 8 minutes and steam was coming off it pretty good at just over 10 minutes. Part of the problem was that I had to briefly remove the pot from over the chimney several times just long enough to add a few more twigs. Apparently the pine I was using was burning down fast, but I still only used a little over half the wood I had gathered. I may try only hardwood next time but overall I was satisfied with the results. Pine also creates more residue (creosote) on the inside of the Kettle, pot support and bottom of the cooking pot.
testing the cook set for boil time
Cleanup went OK but I did not bring a rag or even a paper towel. I just wiped everything down with my hands in the creek. I even sat the kettle and base down in some of the fast moving water a few minutes to facilitate the cleaning process. At one point the Kettle tried to take off downstream but I was standing right there to grab it. A good thing too because I was standing just a few feet above a small waterfall. Here is a photo of my lazy cleaning method.
lazy man cleanup method...
Setup using paper (cat-food sack) as fuel (also notice lid inside fire base)
Test Locations and Conditions
The weather was hot the first several weeks (basically the last of July and all of August) after getting the Trekker Kelly Kettle, and other than a quick initial trial run I was not in the mood for hot drinks on any of my hikes or rides. By September it started to gradually cool down and I used it several times in some of the most beautiful fall conditions imaginable. We also had over 11 inches (28 cm) of rain over a two day period the first week of September which effected my use of the Kelly Kettle the following day. I took the Kelly Kettle on an overnight hike in mid October and used it for cooking breakfast. The temperature while using it during this trip was around 60 F (16 C). After the overnight hike I failed to use the Kelly Kettle for several weeks due to being very busy and was also sick a few days. My last use was on November 15, after an all day rain so the woods were very wet. It was pretty warm for this late in the year at 72 F (22 C).
Field Test Results
Now that I have used the Terkker Kelly Kettle several times I have grown to like it but I will admit that the first few times I used it had me wondering just how practical it would be. Let me explain. I discovered that for one boil it works great. This proved to be plenty to make me a cup of chocolate cocoa. However, the stove does not hold a fire very long and requires almost constant feeding. Also, every time I tried to boil a second filling I had trouble with wood getting in the way of setting the kettle back on the fire base and the fire would tend to go out. I also discovered that the cook set really was not a very practical way to heat additional water while heating water in the kettle. The water would boil in the kettle in just a few minutes while the water in the cook pot over the chimney would just be getting warm. And since the water starts boiling out of the kettle, I could not just let it continue to boil while the water in the cook pot got hot enough. As a matter of fact, by the time I managed to carry it on an overnight hike I had already decided to just use the Kelly Kettle for heating my breakfast drink and carried a small canister stove took cook my oatmeal. I actually could have done without the stove by just doing two separate boils but this seemed easier.
My fire building skill is not the greatest, but with plenty of time I could usually manage to pull the Kelly Kettle out of my back and have a fire going in less than 20 minutes and have hot water shortly thereafter. I took the Kelly Kettle on several walks ranging from 2 to 4 miles (3 to 6 km) and I would begin to look for fire making material along the trail shortly before a planned stop. And by shortly, I mean just a few hundred yards (meters) before stopping, which was good, because I certainly don't like going for walks if I'm going to spend all my time looking for fire building material and then bending over to grab it and then having to tote it very far. I could usually have enough twigs gathered by the time I stopped and I then only had to shave a few slivers off and maybe gather a few leaves for getting the fire going.
Of course the above was always when the woods were reasonably dry. We had an 11 inch (28 cm) rain over a two day period in early October, and to say that the woods were soaked would be an understatement. The wood on the ground was soggy. I could pick up a handful of leaves and wring water out of them. Even the twigs which were hung up in the air were pretty wet for several days after the rain. Anyways, the day after the rain moved out I carried the Kelly Kettle on an exercise walk. I carried a few sheets of paper with me since I expected it to be hard to get a fire lit, and I was right. This was the first time I failed to get a fire going in the Kelly Kettle. In hindsight, I could probably have gotten my water pretty hot if I had just used the paper instead of using it trying to light the fire. It was no big deal because it was around 85 F (20 C) at the time, I was just curious to see if I could use the Kelly Kettle after a soaking rain. If I had taken more time and shaved off some dry wood from some bigger branches I'm sure I could have managed a fire that time but I was just using small twigs and leaves I found along the trail.
When I used it on my overnight hike I only used it for breakfast the next morning. I had already played with the cook set a couple of times and decided it was not really worth the trouble and did not pack it for the trip. Which makes me wonder what I did when I got home. I was camping at a dry campsite so I did not wash up the Kelly Kettle until I got home. I must have then put the lid to the cook set (which I did not even take on the trip) down in the fire base.
This brings me to my last use several weeks later. It rained overnight and up until noon the next day. At around 3 PM I decided to go for a short hike and try my luck with just some paper. I did not have any newspapers handy and decided on an empty 7 lb (3 kg) cat-food sack. I took the plastic liner out before leaving the house and rolled it up into a pretty small bundle. I did not weigh it but it was much less than a small gas canister and probably less then a few ounces of denatured alcohol inside a small container. Before I left the house I dug out the Kelly Kettle to put a small coffee cup inside the chimney. I saw the lid for the cook set sitting inside the fire base and decided to pull it out and leave it at home. I pulled on it with my fingers and could not get it out. I then went out on the porch and tapped it against a wooden post but no dice. I then tapped it pretty hard on the concrete floor but it still showed no sign of budging. Hmm, my next step was a little more drastic. I dug out a set of needle nose pliers and commenced to pulling on the exposed lip where it comes up about halfway on the vent holes. All I manged to do was bend the lip of the lid and even dented the sides of the fire bowl a little. Here is a photo I took before giving up.
lid from cook set stuck inside fire base
Anyways, by now it was 4 PM and with the new time it would be dark in just over an hour. Suffice it to say, I gave up and headed off to see what would happen with the cat-food bag. The bag is actually made of two layers of paper so I had quite a bit of material on hand. I tore off a small section and wadded it up, lit it with my lighter, placed it in the fire bowl (with the cook pot lid still inside) and let it get going pretty good. I then placed the kettle over the burning paper. I watched it burn and when I thought it was about to go out I put another section of rolled up paper down in the chimney. This piece was much longer then the first piece which I had wadded into a ball and it was not long until flames were shooting out the top of the chimney. I did this four more times and used about half the paper I had on hand before the water was boiling. I did not time the boil but I know it was not long, maybe four minutes. The fact that the lid was covering quite a bit of the two vent holes did not seem to effect the stoves ability to burn but I was not using twigs and leaves like I had always used before. I was really pleased with the results. Now I know I can use the stove in wet conditions by just taking along some paper for fuel. Of course now I will need to train my cat to eat his food faster...or see if I can bum some newspaper from my dad. Here are a few photos of my results. In the first photo you can see the cook set lid blocking the vent holes in the fire base. The next photo shows my cup of hot cocoa. The last photo shows that yes, it was hot, you can see the steam coming off the cup. It was nearly dark by now and by the time I finished drinking it I had to walk home by headlamp. However, this is a good thing because it takes the kettle and fire base several minutes to cool down after heating water.
fire in fire base with lid still stuck inside (blocks about half the vent holes)
and my reward...
and yes, it is hot...
After getting home I decided to give the lid one more try. I soaped it up really good with some dish detergent and pulled on it with my needle nose pliers again. At first I thought it was not going to work but after worrying with it a few minutes it finally turned loose. I will not be making that mistake again.
Summary Thus Far
The Kelly Kettle is fast. I know it only holds 20 oz (0.57 L) of water but I was able to boil that amount in less the 5 minutes on a consistent basis. None of my canister stoves are this fast. The stove is not picky about fuel as long as it is small and dry. I had good luck with twigs, leaves, small pine cones etc., basically anything I found on the floor of the woods that was burnable. I usually used short sticks but they really did not need to be short unless I planned to do a second boil. I learned I need to work on my fire building skills in wet conditions, but in the meantime, I have an easy work around. And last but not least, I learned to never put the cook set lid down inside the fire base for storage.
Test Locations and Conditions
I have been carrying the Trekker Kelly Kettle on more dayhikes and fewer bike rides, mainly due to the wet conditions. And by wet, I mean the trails I normally ride were too soft to ride without doing damage to the trails. It has also been much cooler and I managed a few hikes in below freezing conditions. All hikes were on local trails near home, but fortunately, I have several to choose from without having to drive far and even several that I can hike right out my door.
Long Term Test Results
I alluded to trying some newspaper for fuel in my Field Report, and due to wet conditions, I had plenty of chances to do just that. I asked my dad to save me a few news papers and also saved the Bargainer which I get myself. It is a scaled down version of the already small local paper. I did not realize it at the time, but I actually didn't need many of his newspapers to be able to use the stove several times because I could get a good boil by just using one Bargainer which is just two sheets. I could tear each sheet in half at the fold and this gave me four pretty decent wads of paper. As a matter of fact, after seeing just how little paper it took to do a boil I am surprised Kelly Kettle does not advertize this because most folks have access to paper in the form of news papers and junk mail.
I simplified my packing process by just carrying my disposable coffee cup (used for cocoa) inside the chimney and the fire base placed over the base turned so that it nested inside the lower part of the chimney. Since I always keep a lighter in my day pack I only needed to grab a few sheets of newspaper (especially if the woods were wet) and my water before heading out for a hike. When conditions were dryer I used twigs and leaves.
I don't have any new revelations as far as using the stove. There is nothing to break or get clogged up on this stove and no fuel to spill nor canister to hook up. In other words, using the Kelly Kettle is pretty much idiot proof.
Durability and such
One thing I was concerned about was that since the Trekker Kelly Kettle is aluminum instead of steel it would get dented easily. I estimate using the Kelly Kettle about 15 times, not enough to really say much about the stoves durability, however, it looks good so far and other than dinging the cook set pot lid and a few scratches on the outside of the Kettle I have not noted any signs of wear. Cleanup is pretty straightforward too. After each use I generally rinsed it out in the nearest stream and then gave it a quick soapy bath once home. However, after the initial soapy bath including the inside where the water is boiled I have not washed the inside again. After each washing I generally let it sit out until dry and then put it away in the stuff sack until my next chance to use it. I carried it at least 10 times in one day pack and several more times in a another one and I can not smell any smoke inside either one. I can smell smoke inside the stuff sack it stays in inside my pack and in between trips.
I could summarize my testing with just a few words but wanted to delve a little deeper into why I have grown to enjoy using the Kelly Kettle. On my dayhikes I normally carry some cold water and maybe a Gatorade to drink. This is great in the summer, but when the temperatures head south, something hot is a lot more satisfying. Plus, I just enjoyed the short breaks that I might not have taken otherwise. Also, when I used newspapers for my fuel I could have a hot drink in literally minutes. When I used twigs for fuel it took longer but was also satisfying because I enjoy the smell of burning wood. Not as much as the hot drink I got from the process but a good smell none-the-less. In my opinion, the Kelly Kettle Trekker is certainly a good alternative to a stove for a solo hiker. It won't cook food that requires a long cook time but provides boiling water in which instant oatmeal etc can be heated. I did not try cooking any dehydrated meals but with a pot cozy I think I could manage. Personally, I would look for a larger size if I were going to be making drinks or heating water for more than myself on a regular basis, but this size would work for two hikers if they don't mind having their drinks come off the stove at intervals.
On last point in closing. I like the fact that the Kelly Kettle is environmentally friendly. It eliminates using fossil fuels and all the hassles of carrying fuel. I don't fly but hear this can be a nightmare with most stove fuels. But perhaps even more important (at least for me) is the cost of using this stove. I have been called cheap before and with good reason. But with the Kelly Kettle I don't worry about cost. As a matter of fact, I've tested several canister stoves over the years and would very seldom carry them on a dayhike just so I could enjoy a hot drink during a rest break.
This concludes my testing of the Kelly Kettle Trekker. I would like to thank the Kelly Kettle Company and BackpackGearTest.org for the opportunity to test this fine water heating device!
Read more reviews of Kelly Kettle gear
Read more gear reviews by Coy Ray Starnes
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