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Reviews > Cook Gear > Stoves > Kelly Kettle Trekker - Aluminum > Test Report by Kerri Larkin
I've been a car-camper and bushwalker for thirty years. Mostly I do day hikes as my passion is photography, which means I walk very slowly! I've returned to walking after some years away due to injuries and I'm learning to use Ultralight gear (and my new hammock!). I've traveled most of eastern Australia, walking in landscapes as diverse as tropical rainforest, snow fields, beaches and deserts. My fortieth birthday was spent trekking in Nepal which was a truly life changing experience.
PRODUCT INFORMATION & SPECIFICATIONS
Manufacturer: Kelly Kettle Company
The Kelly Kettle Company sure have their act together in terms of presentation. My Trekker kettle arrived in a beautifully presented box, with a smaller box for the stainless steel cook set and a cardboard envelope for the pot supports. It all arrived in perfect condition and felt like Christmas opening the packing box, then finding all the goodies nestled inside.
The Kelly Trekker looks almost identical to all the other kettles in the range, it's just smaller. Kelly promotes this version of their venerable kettle as being suited to backpackers, trekkers, hikers, bikers and kayakers. The original Kelly kettle has remained virtually unchanged since it first appeared four generations ago. It seems the Kelly clan has taken to heart the old adage, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Really, the only difference in any of the kettles is size.
On pulling the kettle out of the box I was struck with how cumbersome it seemed with a large handle and a cork attached to a long chain. I was initially puzzled by why a cork is needed at all since the instructions clearly say the kettle must not be used with the cork still in the stopper. On reflection I realised this is to allow water to be carried some distance in the kettle without it spilling. Again, the need for a chain leash to stop the cork being lost seemed a bit like overkill, but the chain is used to tilt the kettle to pour boiling water without having to touch the metal base, which has been sitting in the fire base getting very hot while the water boils.
Closer inspection revealed the quality of workmanship in this product; it really is beautifully finished and there's no trace of 'cottage industry' about the kettle. It seems very light yet sturdy. This feels like a piece of equipment that will last a lifetime, even if it is abused.
Pulling the firebase out of its storage position in the base of the kettle is easy. The base looks like a pot with two holes cut in the side. It reminds me of those hats the band 'Devo' used to wear (yes, I am that old!). Turned upside down, it looks like an extra for the movie 'Robots'. Either way, it's simple and robust. The holes are to allow airflow once the kettle is placed on top, and also to allow feeding the fire when using the pot stand and cook set on top of the kettle.
Once the firebase has been removed, it's easy to see the genius of the kettle's design: it's basically a large chimney to funnel the heat from the fire upwards. The kettle is made of two walls, the inner is heated by the fire and the outer holds the water in. As the fire heats the inner wall on its way up the chimney, the heat is transferred to the water. It's a remarkably simple process and incredibly efficient.
The cook set is somewhat of a novelty. The tiny stainless steel pot has a capacity of 450 ml (15.2 fl oz) but really can't be comfortably filled past 400 ml (13.5 fl oz). A picture on the side of the box shows the pot lid being used to cook a single egg, and I'm sure it would not be possible to get more than that in it! Still, a pot is a pot and what more could I want from it? The only potential downside I can see so far it that there is no way to take the lid off the pot when it's hot. A small flange or ring or knob would be very useful.
Also in the cook set box is the two piece grill. This is two half-circle metal pieces which can be placed in the firebase once the kettle has been lifted off. According to the instructions the cook pot can then be placed on the grill to allow heating from the fire, or alternatively, food can be cooked over the coals of the fire by placing it directly on the grill. I'll be interested to see if this works in practice. If so, this will be a truly versatile cooking system.
A small pot lifter or 'gripper' is included and seems a perfect size for backpacking. It's only about half the size of a standard lifter. It appears to work well for moving the cook pot, but also can be used to lift the firebase should it need to be moved for any reason.
The last package in my box contained the pot support system. This is two 'T' pieces of metal with a large slot in each. Inserting one slot into its mate on the other piece forms a cross. This is then placed into the top of the kettle chimney. Again, remarkably simple, remarkably effective. The pot support fits any size kettle. The pieces also have two steps which will allow support for different sized pots. The small stainless steel cook pot easily fits in the centre of the support, but doesn't feel very stable as it really is a little small for the support.
All in all, this is an incredibly simple system which appears very robust and versatile.
READING THE INSTRUCTIONS
Thank you Kelly Kettle Company! These are probably the most simple instructions I've read in years. Pretty much everything I needed to know was on the side of the box. A small, colour, instruction book was inside the box and again, everything I needed to know was contained in six simple steps. A single, sensible, warning is on the front page of the booklet: Don't boil water with the cork in place. Inside the book were the six steps repeated in three other languages. The opposite page contains a cross-section picture of the kettle and shows how the system works. Finally, the back page has the obligatory safety messages. For a change, they are actually useful and don't rant on about liability or user responsibilities. The Kelly instructions are like a breath of fresh air. Also included on a separate card is information on the Kelly Kettle two year warranty and how to obtain warranty service.
TRYING IT OUT
I've been using wood burning stoves for some time now and have found there is a real art to lighting a small fire. The Kelly Kettle trekker proved to be no exception. It's hard to get a good fire going in a small pot. This probably wasn't helped by damp wood and high humidity. After struggling for some time and getting only smoke as a result, curiosity got the better of me. I wanted to see just how the kettle worked so I resorted to throwing a capful of denatured alcohol on my pile of damp wood. This achieved the desired result - a good fire.
I placed the kettle on the firebase and settled back in my chair expecting a leisurely ten minutes to arrange myself. A little over three minutes later a gush of boiling water sprayed out the kettle. I have to say, I'm amazed by that! Even my wood gas stove usually takes a good eight minutes to boil 400 ml (13.5 fl oz) of water, yet here, the Trekker had managed 500 ml (17 fl oz) in just three minutes! I emptied the kettle (Kelly recommends discarding water from the first boil as it may contain residual sealant), refilled it and placed it back on top of the firebase. After adding more (damp) wood I put the pot support into position and placed my pot on top. I struggled to keep the fire hot but the kettle boiled again in just four minutes. Having boiling water spattering out the filler hole made me lift the kettle off the firebase. That's when I learned my first lesson about using this system. In my haste to stop the boiling water splattering everywhere, I forgot to remove the small pot and support. Of course, it overbalanced spilling the entire contents of the pot. After recovering my composure, I tried to stoke the fire up again and filled the kettle only two-thirds this time. I put the small pot back on top and waited. The water in the kettle boiled in under four minutes again, and continued to boil for the duration of this test.
Unfortunately, due to the lousy damp wood I couldn't get the fire hot enough to boil the water in my small pot. It did start to form bubbles so I'm sure it would have been hot enough for tea, but it never achieved a rolling boil. I'm pretty certain this is more an operator problem than a design problem so I'll be keen to test this out when I next use the Trekker.
Clean up after use was fairly simple - the chimney of the kettle came clean using detergent and a scouring pad but the firebase remained somewhat stained by the fire. The stainless steel pot cleaned easily but the pot supports are also stained. No doubt I could scour them clean if I really put my elbow in to it, but I kind of think, "What's the point?" I'm only going to take it out and set fire to it again. As long as the worst of the soot is removed so it doesn't stain my hands or soil my other gear, that's all I need.
One thing that was obvious during this test was the need for small wood. It appears that the way to get maximum heat is to use small twigs, and plenty of them, rather than trying to use larger pieces which would burn to give coals. Although the website suggests the kettle will burn almost any organic matter, including dried dung, I feel this stove would work best with shavings or small wood chips. One of the real positives of that is that so often just the right sized material is left around old fire sites. Most people are looking for large wood for large fires and their axe chippings or kindling twigs are left laying around. That's all I'll need to run this stove.
A disappointing aspect is that the advertising suggests the individual components can be stored inside the kettle (in the chimney section) for transport. That may work on the larger kettles, but with the trekker it does not. The grill pieces fit inside the chimney and the cook pot fits inside the firebase, but the pot gripper and support don't. I'm a bit concerned about storing the pot supports in the nylon stuff sack as they seem quite pointy and sharp. I feel it wouldn't take much to have them tear the sack. For now, I'll store them in their original packing.
I've only used the Kelly Kettle Trekker once so far but I have been very impressed with what I've seen. This appears to be a quality piece of kit which will need a minimal amount of care to make it last for years. The boil time is outstanding and the simplicity of the system means there's very little that could go wrong with it.
FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS
Over the last two months I've tried to use the Kelly Kettle Trekker as much as possible. That's meant it's been tossed in the back of the car and I've used it a number of times on long distance drives, it's been camping with me a couple of times, and I've even played with it in the backyard. Conditions have ranged from hot and dry to cold and wet. My camps were two two night hammock hangs in local forests, so a total of four nights.
PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD
Hmm, this is a tricky one as the Kelly Kettle is exceptional in many ways but, to me, flawed in some other areas.
My second mishap quite took me by surprise: I was stoking the fire through the chimney and noticed smoke coming from the side of the Kettle. When I checked I found the cork (which is attached to a keeper chain) had landed in front of one of the air holes in the fire base and caught fire. I now have a cork which is more than a little seared on one side! Apart from helping to pour out the contents of the Kettle, I'm not sure what real function the cork serves. The Kelly instructions clearly state that the Kettle should not be used for transporting water and I find I can quite adequately carry the full Kettle from a tap to the fire.
The third mishap is something that probably won't happen to many people, but is something that needs to be said as a precautionary note. On one trip I was babysitting a three year-old who was fascinated by the Kettle. Now this is a very stubborn young man who won't be fobbed off when he puts his mind to something. When he saw me feeding sticks in through the chimney, he insisted on having a go. Stupidly, I let him. Because his aim and motor skills are still developing, he received a minor heat burn (again from the heat coming out of the chimney) on his fingers. Although it could have been a lot worse, it made me appreciate just how easily accidents can happen.
I've mentioned that it can be difficult to get the fire to light but it can also be difficult to keep the fire going to boil more water. As soon as the Kettle is lifted off the base, it's like turning the forge fan off - the flames just die. If there is insufficient wood stacked on the fire at that point, it can pretty much die down to a smolder. Sometimes, putting the Kettle back on quickly will bring the fire back to life, but I've found that by the time I've poured the boiling water into mugs and refilled the Kettle, it can take a bit of coaxing to get the fire going again. I think it's important that I stress here, this is not just a problem with the Kelly system, it would be a problem with any small wood-fuelled fire.
Because the Trekker is so fast, I've not had a problem with ash filling the fire base and choking the fire. I have found, though, that it pays to use really small twigs at all times: there's a temptation to put larger sticks in through the chimney once the Kettle is in place but this can cause problems if there is a need to move the Kettle or refill it. Until I got this message I often found it difficult to get the Kettle back on the base as sticks would fall from the chimney into the rim of the base. This stops the Kettle from sitting down properly and is unsafe. For a single boil, this is not a problem. Once or twice, I tried feeding the fire through the holes in the fire base and found this tends to disrupt the fire sufficiently to make it die: small fires are fragile creatures. Adding wood via the chimney does not seem to cause this problem.
Which brings me to the Kelly Kettle Cook Set. As detailed in my Initial Report, this comprises a small stainless steel mug with a lid which can double as a micro-frying pan. Unfortunately, I've not had a whole lot of success with these optional extras. The idea is that the mug can be rested on the pot supports and heated via the chimney while the kettle boils. In theory, it sounds like a great way to harness all that surplus heat but in practice I've not found it to work well. By the time I've got the fire going, added some extra wood and placed the small mug on the pot supports, the Kettle is boiling. That leaves a choice: remove the small mug with water that's warm, but not boiling, so I can get the Kettle off the fire, or leave the small pot on the stand and cope with boiling water spouting out the Kettle. The former provides water that's hot enough for washing up but not for tea making, the later provides a half filled Kettle and a wet floor. The small mug will heat better with the lid on, but this makes it a bit cumbersome for getting it off quickly once the Kettle is boiling.
I confess, I haven't used the small lid as a frying pan as I've never made a fire which had sufficient coals to heat the pan. I've also not used the grilling rack for the same reason. I'm more than a little disappointed that I haven't been able to get this to work as it seems like such a nifty idea.
I've found the Kelly Kettle cleans very easily; soot in the chimney just comes straight off with a scouring pad and some detergent. The fire base is a different story though. Mine looks quite stained and discoloured now although this does not affect performance. When I make a quick stop on the side of the road, I simply bundle the whole kit back into the stuff sack and clean it properly when I get home. I have found that although the cook set is designed to be stored in the base for transport, it gets quite dirty once the stove is used. When traveling solo, I tend to leave the cook set at home, which resolves the issue.
As for packing in a backpack, this is the smallest Kettle Kelly makes but it's still big by modern standards. Even with the fire base and accessories tucked up inside, it takes as more room in my pack than my hammock does. I probably wouldn't mind if the Kettle was more versatile. It's not like a wood stove where I can sit around it and get warm - the heat goes up the chimney, and there must always be water in the Kettle - and I can't see myself filling the kettle with soup or noodles. So, although this is promoted as a backpacking kettle, its weight and size preclude it from lightweight or ultralight backpacking. If I'm hiking in to a base camp I'd definitely carry it as it is faster to boil than my electric kettle at home!
While the Kelly Kettle Trekker is exceptional at boiling water, it's kept me on my toes. I've found this to be a steeper learning curve than I expected, and every time I think I've got things under control it teaches me a new lesson. Although I find the Kelly Kettle Trekker too bulky to carry backpacking I believe it is an excellent solution for car-based camping or base camping. Part of the reason I don't recommend the Kettle for backpacking is that I've not found it capable of doing anything other than boiling water. That said, it boils water brilliantly. For rehydrating pouch meals or making tea and coffee, it can't be beat. If there's a need to heat food directly (by pan or by pot) this is not where the Trekker shines.
LONG-TERM TEST LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS
I've used the Kelly Kettle Trekker on four more trips since my field report. Three have been car-based, and on was an overnight hike.
PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD
How did the Trekker perform? Exactly as advertised. It continues to provide a very rapid , reliable boil. If it's windy, I simply pick the fire bowl up and shelter it with my body until it lights. As soon as the Kettle is placed on top the fire roars into life and, if anything, the wind seems to intensify the burn. I love being able to pick up the fire bowl to start a fire. It's so much easier than laying on the ground to try blowing air into such a small fire. I find the bowl remains cool long enough for me to get it back on the ground safely after it lights.
So, in summary, the Kelly Kettle Trekker is simply brilliant at boiling water. My opinion on that hasn't changed since the first time I used it. It allows me to boil water almost anywhere, without the need to carry fuel, using nothing more than twigs. It's super fast and, once it's idiosyncrasies have been learned, remarkably easy to use.
I think the Kelly Kettle Trekker has already earned a place in my travel kit - not so much for backpacking, but for car use. I'll continue to keep the Trekker in my car and use it for tea breaks during long drives (of which I do plenty!) It doesn't take up much space in the car, doesn't require fuel to be carried, and is pretty darned reliable.
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