Ghillie Kettles

Ghillie kettles, in fact any volcano type kettle inspires debate amongst overlanders as to whether the space taken up is really best used for a device that really only essentially does one thing, boils water.  I will try and answer this as we go through. Two of my customers (both friends) are at opposite ends of this debate with one never leaving home without his and the other thinking that they are really just a toy and not worth the space.

Ghillie kettles are a device which boils water from heat generated by a small fire, lit in the fire pit at the base and filled through the air hole in the pit or through the top of the kettle itself.  They are really very simple and have been around for years.  Ghillie kettles are usually made from aluminium (The cardboard ones proved unsuccessful) and available in various sizes up to a capacity of 1.5lts.  Late 2011 saw the introduction of Hard Anodised coating applied to the range of kettles taking away some concerns over the aluminium issues.

There are currently 3 models in the Ghillie Kettle range, Adventurer, Explorer and Maverick, these are available in bare aluminium or Hard Anodised coated finishes.  In the box you get the kettle, the fire pit and a carry bag, everything you need to boil water.  You can then add various accessories to this to make the kit more useful for your own needs and I will cover these later.

Fishermen, workmen, campers and outdoorsmen have for years found this means of boiling water to be very reliable, quick and easy.  All you need is combustible fuel to burn in the base and this can be anything from twigs and leaves to pine cones, lolly sticks, bits of broken pallet etc. Generally rummaging around locally will produce enough material. To get the fire going, I recommend a fire lighter, either a piece of a traditional fire lighter (like a Zip) or a Coghlans waterproof fire stick. With either of these you will not need a whole one unless your material is completely wet.

You will very quickly realise the benefit of taking a small supply of dry material, fire lighter’s and matches with you. I keep a small Tupperware type box with lighting kit and enough dried material in it for several boils.  This just makes life easier and this kit easily stores in the supplied Ghillie Kettle carry sack. You can easily pick up twigs and sticks almost anywhere.  I walk a dog everyday through the woods so never run out, take it home and if necessary dry it out inside (House, garage, greenhouse or shed) for a few days before breaking it up and packing it. This ensures an instant supply and I replenish as and when.

The main use for your kettle is boiling water. The unique feature of the Ghillie Kettle over the other brands out there is that the Ghillie has a ‘whistle’ cap rather than a cork bung.  There is nothing tricky about using it either, simply fill the kettle with as much water as you require or to about 3 -4 cm from the lip of the spout and place it onto the lit fire pit.  Generally speaking a full 1.5lt kettle will boil in around 3.5 to 5 minutes depending on how good your fire is.  If you have filled the kettle right to the spout, when it boils the water will bubble out and run down the kettle and put out the fire!

The fact that the fire is now working in a very enclosed but well ventilated area you will quickly see why the term ‘Volcano kettle’ was coined.  It is not uncommon (though not wholly necessary either!) to see flames leaping out of the top.  The key is to have a good initial burn when the kettle is placed on the pit, if you keep feeding the fire to maintain rocket proportions when it comes to lifting the kettle off the fire pit you will notice that the flames remove all the hair on your fingers and if you are not careful some layers of skin as well.

To pour the kettle you hold the handle and tilt the base using the chain that attaches the whistle.

To get more from your Ghillie Kettle there are various accessories available for it. Firstly (and I think) most useful is a wire Base Stand that will hold the kettle on three points and slightly off the ground.  This does two things; it will add stability and helps prevent scorching to the ground underneath caused by the fire pit. 

Next up is the Pot Support that sits on top of the kettle over the chimney and allows you to rest a cooking pot to cook food. This for me is the least useful bit of kit. To work well it needs to go on the kettle once the flame is going up the chimney, don’t underestimate this heat, it’s pretty intense once the fire pit is going strong but it always seems like a balancing act to far and is often in the way. (In my experience)

The Cook Kit is available in two sizes, the larger being suitable for the Explorer and Adventurer and the smaller for the compact Maverick kettle.  These cook kits comprise of a larger pot and a lid/fry pan/plate.  They also include a small grill, in two parts that will sit directly over the fire base enabling this to be used as a stove and finally a gripping handle device so you can move the pots around.  These pots are ideal for heating soup, beans, stews etc. I suggest a wooden or plastic spoon over a metal one that may damage the coating on the pans.

So going back to the original posed question about how useful a Ghillie kettle could be for overlanding lets recap.

  •  No moving parts to break – Requires no spares.
  •  Weighs very little – Every KG counts.
  • Absolute minimal fuel cost – A big saving.
  • Minimal fuel supply issues – No worries sourcing gas or liquid fuels.
  • Easy setup and use – Great for a quick brew.

Why would you not have one?

We have some additional info available on our YouTube channel, thanks for your time.


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