Rick Windham: Rocket stoves great to have for camping or emergencies | Lifestyles


Summer is coming to an end and that means the fall camping season is just around the corner. I enjoy spring, fall and winter camping far more than summer camping because it is simply more comfortable for me.

Regardless of what season you camp in, your camp needs a way to prepare food. You can cook over a campfire, but that means you need to gather wood and build the fire and if it rains you may be out of luck.

Camp stoves are a good alternative, but a new stove can be costly — $50 to $100 for a good propane stove, a liquid fuel stove will run better than $200.

If you don’t need that much stove or if you don’t camp often enough to justify the cost, a rocket stove may be the answer you’ve been looking for.

If you are looking for an inexpensive and easy way to cook a meal in camp, read through this column and ponder what is being said before you run out and buy a camp stove.

Rocket stoves are something relatively new in the outdoor world. They are a big thing in the world of survival preppers.

You can find rockets stoves on lots of websites related to wilderness camping or YouTube videos on bushcraft.

The stove is basically made up of a chimney with a combustion chamber at the base, an air intake vent on the side and an opening through which you can feed in fuel.

The fuel is one of the most intriguing things about this kind of stove. It is fired with easily attainable sticks, twigs, pine needles, pine cones, dried grasses — anything small and burnable. They are a very efficient means of making enough heat for cooking!

There is no chopping/sawing of wood, packing wood back to camp, no need to buy charcoal, just pick up what is handy around camp and burn it.

The top of the unit (chimney outlet) is the cooking surface. In most cases it is a one burner stove, but that is the case with a lot of camp stoves. You can get two burners if you spend a bit more money.

Most of the Do-It-Yourself rocket stoves I’ve seen on the internet or YouTube are made from concrete, cinder blocks, fire bricks or heavy wall square tubing.

One cinder block unit that I really like has two cook surfaces. You feed your fuel in through two opening into two separate combustion chambers. I plan to build one like this near my fire pit in the backyard to experiment with camp cooking recipes, but that’s another story.

None of the DIY units I’ve researched have been very portable. The commercial units I’ve found that can break down into light weight portable units are definitely ingenious pieces of engineering, but they will cost you $100 to $125.

I wanted to design a rocket stove that had all the basic features of this type of stove, but be small, light-weight, inexpensive and easy to use in car camping scenarios — a very minimalist approach to the concept. I also wanted my design to be backpackable and something you might include with your “Bug Out” gear.

A light-weight metal construction seemed to be the obvious choice to work with so I made mine out of 6-inch heating and ventilation duct materials. Total weight is maybe two pounds.

You can disassemble the unit and string everything together with a bungee cord and hang it on your backpack.

I built my initial unit for about $15.

I refined my design a couple of times to get it to the fewest number of pieces and easiest method of assembly. My refined design has four components.

It consists of a 6-inch duct connector piece about 8-inches long, a 6-inch “T” fitting, a 6-inch round to square duct transition piece and a heavy piece of metal screen that fits over the 6-inch-by-6-inch opening at the top of the chimney and acts as the cooking surface. The screen covers the opening so you have a place to set pots or pans while cooking.

The 6-inch duct connector piece is the first piece you use. It is pushed into the ground an inch or so to give you a sturdy base for everything else. The “T” is placed on the connector piece and the round to square transition piece is fitted to the “T” at the top.

Whatever you use for a screen sits on top of the chimney. It is that quick and that easy.

I found a heater outlet guard for a RV that fit perfectly. The total cost of my refined version was just over $20 — still very affordable.

If you need two-burner capability in your camp, build two and you are still way ahead of the cost of even a propane stove.

I can boil up a pot of coffee in 3 to 4 minutes. A pan of eggs and bacon takes a couple minutes to cook. I think you would be impressed at the efficiency of this stove.

I was talking with a regular hunting/shooting/fishing buddy of mine, Russ Derickson, about my design and mentioned that I needed to get a picture of someone next to it for this article. It turned out that Derickson’s grandson was visiting and wanted to see the rocket stove. We met at Lake Maloney.

Evan Storer is from rural Arthur. He is 11 and will be going into the fifth grade with school starting Monday. I think that was why he was here visiting. “I like it,” Sorer said when he saw it.

We sat it up and put some sticks, leaves and grass in the stove and lit it. Soon it had a healthy fire going.

“I may have to make one of these,” Sorer said with a grin.

While we were talking, another camper had been watching and came over to ask what this contraption was. Amie Ponce of North Platte was visiting the lake.

“I had to come see what this thing was. I thought it was really neat. The fact that you called it a rocket stove intrigued me,” Ponce said. “I saw that it was fast to light. I think your creation is amazing. It seems very environmentally friendly, I mean it uses no gas; no liquid fuels no big pieces of wood. It looks very convenient and easy to use and carry.”

Well, Ponce was right. She grasped the concept of the design quite readily.

Now here is something else to think about: How would you cook a meal for your family if you lost power at your home?

We live in Nebraska and we have things like blizzards, tornadoes and other severe weather events that can tear down power lines. Are you really prepared? Something like an inexpensive rocket stove would be a good addition to your home emergency kit. It is just a good bit of insurance against being helpless — and I refuse to be helpless.

The ductwork pipe I used is single wall so it will eventually rust and burn out, but I bet a weekend camper could get 10 or more years out of a unit like I made. It is a pretty cost-efficient way to cook in camp.

If you are looking for an easy cooking stove to use for a two- to four-person camp, or to feed your family in an emergency, give this DIY rocket stove unit a try.


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