Rocket Stoves: How Do They Work?

Rocket stoves are old technology now becoming newly appreciated on the prepping scene. Homesteading, camping, hiking or SHTF survival situation, rocket stoves can handle it all.

functioning rocket stove
a functioning rocket stove

While surprisingly simple, these marvelous little stoves are efficient and burn hot, hot, hot! Chances are if you care anything at all about prepping you’ve probably heard of them, or even have a prepping buddy that won’t stop talking about them.

Big or small, homemade or store-bought, rocket stoves can get it done. If you didn’t know any better, you might say it sounded like snake oil. So how does a rocket stove work, really?

A rocket stove works by drawing in a massive volume of cold air over a small quantity of fuel. This mass of air allows more complete combustion, burning up the airborne particles in the smoke that would otherwise be wasted.

This does two things: it makes rocket stoves burn extremely hot and also makes them burn extremely cleanly.

Rocket stoves are available in sizes to suit any requirement. They can create tons of clean burning heat on very little fuel. This is a huge advantage for preppers in homesteading or survival situations afield.

There are rocket stoves large enough to heat an entire home, and ones small enough to fit in a backpack. Any application you might have there is already a rocket stove for it! Keep reading to get the straight dope on these potent wood burners.

Rocket Stoves Rock!

It sounds too good to be true, but I can assure you there is no catch with rocket stoves. They burn really hot, generating very, very little smoke and do it with wood that is typically of too small a diameter to be considered for traditional fires and stoves. At least as anything more than kindling…

  • Rocket stoves work great at a fixed site and also on the move: small models will boil a pot of water around a campsite in no time flat with mere twigs. Larger models can roast an entire meal or heat up a hot water tank at a home site with great rapidity.
  • Rocket stoves really are as efficient as they are made out to be. Wood that is too small to be used as primary fuel in a campfire, or a normal stove, will burn readily and longer than they would otherwise in a rocket stove, generating intense heat and very little smoke.
  • Rocket stoves get crazy hot, far hotter than a comparable stove of conventional design. Any task that requires intense heat sustained over a long period of time is the perfect application for a rocket stove.
  • You can easily build a rocket stove yourself. The design is shockingly simple, and can be made from commonly sourced materials. This makes them suitable for contingency planning as well as first-line gear choices.

But if rocket stoves are so great why have they not taken over the stove world entirely, at least for preppers? Honestly, I’m not quite sure myself.

They do make entirely too much sense. But perhaps if we will take the time to learn more about these wonderful little rigs, more people will use them!

Rocket Stove Design

Rocket stoves are super simple. In fact, they are so simple I’m almost embarrassed to tell you about them.

Embarrassed or not, you would do well to learn about them, since their simple design lends themselves to field improvisation in long-term sustainment survival situations. You definitely want to know how to put one of these together in a pinch.

Imagine, if you will, a pair of smoke stacks, one shorter and one taller. Connecting the two at their base is a horizontal pipe which allows air to flow from one to the other.

The shorter stack is very short with a wide open top. The shorter stack is the fuel chamber. The horizontal pipe connecting the two is the burn tunnel. The taller pipe is the chimney, or heat riser.

Fuel chamber, burn tunnel and chimney are all made of metal or some other extremely heat resistant material. Believe me, we’ll have to be to survive the temperatures we’re about to make.

Surrounding these essential components is some insulative material, typically dirt, but perhaps clay or some man-made material with similar heat resistant properties.

The internals are a simple enough arrangement and speak for themselves. The insulation is an important part since it allows us to achieve such high temperature on such little fuel and also reduce the smoke generated through the generation of those high temperatures.

using a portable rocket stove in the woods
using a portable rocket stove in the woods

Rocket Stove in Operation

Once assembled or built the operation of a rocket stove is dead simple. Fuel, typically wood, is placed in the fuel chamber. Once lit, it begins burning and as it burns the hot air generated is drawn into, up and out of the chimney.

This action creates an equal reaction she pulls even more cool air in through the wide-open fuel chamber enhancing combustion of the fuel, generating more heat and consuming the particles of wasted fuel that would normally be in the smoke.

As more and more heat is generated, the air is pushed faster and faster into and out of the chimney and ergo cool air is sucked in through the fuel chamber and over the fuel more rapidly.

This creates a sort of self-sustaining reaction and eventually reaches such a fever pitch that we discover the rocket stove’s name an operation: a loud whooshing or howling sound as the air moves through the stove, not unlike a rocket hurtling through the air.

At this point you’ll be pretty shocked at just how hot and efficiently this stove is running on very little fuel. The only real problem will be controlling the massive heat output generated by a rocket stove.

It generally takes a little tuning and a little playing with the amount of fuel you add into the fuel chamber to get it dialed in just right.

Being overzealous is one easy way to completely burn up whatever you were trying to cook or heat! It is not unusual for the metal components of a rocket stove to glow red hot in operation.

making scrambled egg on rocket stove
making scrambled egg on rocket stove

And as hard as it is to believe all of this will happen with virtually no smoke generated, since the particulates that normally make up smoke are consumed by the greedy flames and immense heat of the super-efficient rocket stove!


For such a simple design, rocket stoves burn amazingly hot and incredibly efficiently. The ability to use small-diameter fuel, and very little of it, makes them an ideal survival stove for field or home use.

Their viability for prepping is further enhanced by their easily field-improvised characteristics. Rocket stoves are truly one of the All-Stars of the prepper world!

rocket stoves functionality pinterest

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