Teachable Moments with the Kelly Kettle

A friend of mine says guys who like to smoke pipes do so simply for the pleasure of lighting and maintaining a small fire in their hand. The irresistible appeal of fire is probably one of the reasons some people like camping too. What is it about fire that it draws people like moths to a flame?

Camping is a perfect opportunity to teach kids about fire—how to start one, how to contain one, and how to keep oneself from burning down the woods. A new piece of equipment on the camping market in the United States might be a good tool for passing on some of these lessons—lessons that are just as important at home as in the campground. As all who know a little woodcraft understand, big fires start from little ones. So knowing how to start and maintain a small fire is really the key to the whole enterprise. The Kelly Kettle thrives on the little fire, and it’s a great way to boil water in camp.

The kettle has been around in the UK for generations. Photos from a trip to South America show Prince William, himself, working up a batch of porridge for his team on a smoke-stained Kelly Kettle of unknown age. (It looks like it could be 50 years old, but maybe it was just a rough couple of months.)

The kettle works on a simple design that funnels the heat and smoke of a small fire in a metal bowl up through the middle of the kettle, thus heating not just the water on the bottom, but water throughout. More heat heating more water makes for a very fast boil. Add to this an optional grill stand, and you can be cooking on top of the vent while the water for coffee, pasta, or dishwater boils below.

For you die-hard campers, any fuel you can find will get the pot boiling—twigs, leaves, dried grass, dried dung. If it burns it heats.

My kids are too young to be handling matches quite yet, but we’ve tested the Kelly Kettle extensively, and it lives up to the hype. With a little tinder and some twigs, you can get the fire started with no trouble. It takes some doing to keep the fire going (it needs to be fed), but the learning curve isn’t steep. And for a family ever in search of teachable moments, it proved to be just the ticket for starting up the “fire talk.” We even got to talk a little about the five Ws of fire: Who gets to use fire? What does fire do? Where do we use fire everyday (furnace, water heater, campfires)? Why do we need fire? How do we handle a fire?

The Kelly Kettle retails from $59.99–94.99. It comes in stainless steel or aluminum, and you can get sizes from the packable 17-oz. Trekker to the larger 57.5-oz Base Camp model. Accessories are extra but worth it. We have the base camp, which is perfect for car camping.