Rocket Stove Plans for Camping

The name "rocket stove" refers to a stove where combustion takes place in a fairly short vertical section of pipe. While they are commonly used to make indoor cob benches, smaller portable versions make excellent camp stoves.

They have the advantage of totally free fuel (twigs collected from nearby) and are brilliant for large scale outdoor cooking. Personally I've built 3 of these stoves, and bought two others commercial ones and love them. You cook over them like a powerful gas burner - great for boiling water, cooking stews or frying a hearty breakfast.

A DIY rocket cook stove

Here is a simple stove you can knock together in about an hour and for less than $30. You will need:

  • A large metal can - the ones chip shops and kitchens use for cooking oil are excellent.
  • Approximately 60cm of stove pipe (off cuts are fine)
  • A 90 degree bend to fit you stove pipe
  • Tin snips
  • Tough gloves!
  • A bag of perlite from a garden centre
  • An old BBQ grill

Construction Steps

You are aiming for an L shaped section of pipe, supported within the can by the perlite. At the top, the pipe should sit around 1cm below the top of the can. On the side, the pipe should extend a few cm out of the side of the can, and leave a gap of approximately 10cm between the bottom rim of the can and the bottom of the pipe.

Measurements don't need to be precise so you can eyeball the stove pipe along side your can and mark any cuts etc... measurements will vary depending on your can anyway.

  1. Using your tin snips and wearing gloves cut the inside disc out of the top, leaving the rim intact. Fold or tap down any sharp or ragged edges
  2. Mark an approximate circle on the outside of the can for the lower pipe to enter.
  3. Trim this with tin snips (you may need a punch, drill etc... to get a hole started) but leave enough metal that you can fold back the edges into the can - this will help hold the stove pipe securely. Check the fit of the pipe by trying to push it through from the outside. If necessary adjust the hole a little more with the snips to make more room. The more snug a fit you can get the better.
  4. having pushed the stove pipe in from the front, lower the 90 degree fitting down and connect it, and the upright section so that the L is now assembled in the can, and supported where the pipe passed through the side.
  5. With the pipe section in it's final position mark where the sections will be cut. Disassemble and cut the pipe sections to length.
  6. If any metal has rough edges now is a good chance to file or smooth them off so they don't accidentally cut or scratch you when you are using it.
  7. Reassemble the stove, ensuring all the pipes are positioned as you want.
  8. Pour vermiculite around the pipe, packing it down tightly so that it doesn't settle later. The vermiculite will both lock everything into position and also insulate the pipe.
  9. Drop the grill on top of the stove and you are ready for your first burn

Firing up for the first time

Before you start cooking your bacon and eggs, you need to collect some fuel. You need a good bundle of twigs, around finger thickness, the length of your forearm and dry.

Even in bad conditions you can find dry twigs if you know where to look. Try to find twigs that have died naturally, blown out of the tree but got caught up some how off the ground. Alternatively, you can look for "dead, dry and standing" - branches on a tree that have died but not dropped yet.

For convenience I tend to use paraffin fire-lighters to get my stoves going (when you are cooking breakfast for 40 hungry school kids you need to be able to get it going FAST). Just light and drop it down the chimney. Feed a decent bundle of sticks in from the side, starting with your thinnest and driest. Once these catch you'll soon have a roaring rocket going, shooting flames up to the top.

Buy a StoveTec Rocket Stove

StoveTec have been making and selling high quality rocket stoves for the past few years. Their mission is to replace as many polluting and dangerous unimproved stoves in the third world as possible. Cooking fires are the cause of many health problems in countries which rely on wood for fuel - they rarely have chimneys, and often smoke collects indoors where women, young children and the elderly are exposed to it. Over long periods of time this smoke damages eyes and lungs and can even lead to blindness.

By selling their stoves to you and I, they get to fund their projects overseas.

I've bought two of these, when I decided to upgrade my homemade models to something a little sturdier, and have been delighted by them. The construction quality is everything promised on the website and they burn really well. They are a little heavier than one filled with perlite, but only marginally so, and if you are travelling by vehicle and setting up base camp then this isn't a problem. Prices come it at about $100, but you also get to support a good cause while buying a fantastic product.

Stovetec also make much larger models, for permanent installations - these have been installed in schools, orphanages and refugee camps around the world.

Biochar Production

These stoves burn woody material down fast, with hot flames, but leave a layer of unburned char behind. If you buy one of the more expensive stovetec models with two doors you can burn this away as well. Alternatively you add it to your soils as biochar.

Biochar can help improve soil fertility by raising soil carbon content and reducing nutrient loss due to leaching. It is particularly effective in sandy poor soils and tropical areas with high rainfall. Using a stove routinely and collecting the biochar can build up sizeable quantities over time.