For anyone that has traveled extensively in the developing world, they are all too familiar with the fact over a billion people on this planet still prepare their meals over an open fire. Most of these fires are inefficient, waste precious wood, release large amounts of Carbon Dioxide and smoke, and can be hazardous to health when used indoors. To address these problems, many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and aid organizations such as the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) have sponsored development of cheap, highly efficient, and brutally simple means of making cooking fires. The result has been an explosion of what we popularly know as “rocket stoves.”
Rocket stoves are of particular interest to any outdoor enthusiast and survivor for the same reasons they appeal to many across the world. For starters, they can be built cheaply from everyday materials widely available such as soda or soup cans, sand, and nails. Further, they are highly efficient and when properly constructed, can boil water in less time than a typical backpacking stove with just a handful of readily available twigs and branches. The fact just a few scraps of cardboard and a few sticks can be used to fuel the stove and cook a full dinner makes them infinitely more sustainable for use in a grid down situation when liquid fuel for camp stoves or propane may be unavailable or too expensive. They also can be extremely light weight making them great for travel. Even better is the fact that modern commercial versions take advantage of the heat generated to produce electricity. This heat converted to electricity is then used to power small fans to improve burn efficiency and chargers for cell phones and laptops. Finally, they emit very little smoke making their use very low signature for times when a large smoky fire may draw unwanted attention.
Rocket stoves work better than conventional three stone cooking fires or wood cooking stoves by taking advantage of a super-heated combustion chamber that draws more and more pre-heated air from below as the fire gets hotter and hotter. This principle is the same in modern, highly efficient, high-dollar, sealed wood and pellet stoves. It is also why they seem to be able to burn much longer on far less wood. When maximum efficiency is reached, the fire will be so hot that it burns the fuel nearly completely leaving little smoke. Respective of the smoke, it is drawn through the hot flame and effectively re-burned so that minimal emissions are released by the stove. Many enjoy experimenting with various designs to try and get the optimum efficiency. A simple Google search for “rocket stoves” will yield thousands of examples, pictures, plans, and videos. Mastering the construction of improvised rocket stoves will yield both an excellent skill for your survival portfolio and a useful camp stove on the cheap.
See below images for examples of improvised and commercial rocket stoves.
By Guiles Hendrik