The Fourth Essential, by Bob B.

As any survivalist quickly learns, the “three basic essentials” to survival are air, water and shelter. However, I learned to realize that there is a fourth basic essential, that being a stove–which provides a way to reliably purify the water, cook the food and make the shelter more comfortable.

Of course, there are many types of water filters, solar ovens and warmer clothing for those needs but, somewhere along the line, the ongoing need for a practical, portable, concealable, quick and highly-efficient means of heating will be needed. SHTF heating that can purify your water, cook your food and warm your shelter.
Like many other survivalists who began their prep “journey”  in preparation for Y2K, my knowledge and supplies have since grown exponentially, expanding my supplies and knowledge with countless lists, articles and learning from invaluable web sites (such as, to prepare for the soon-to-come world upheavals to come.

Over that time, I’ve also concentrated on learning ancient & medieval survival techniques, as well as learning how people survive in today’s war-torn areas and third world countries. Such information has given me real insight into real-world situations, with the internet and books such as “Life in a Medieval Village” or the “FAMA Sarajevo Survival Guide” being invaluable resources.
My explorations began in ancient history, where cooking fires were open, basic and offered no protection from wind or rain. Perhaps ringed by stones and supporting some type of grill, this type of fire continues through U.S. campgrounds today, as well as many parts of the world. The biggest disadvantages to this type of fire are a tremendous inefficiency in cooking and fuel use, as well as the smoke-trail. Fuels then, as now, include anything that will burn, including animal dung. Also, smoke is composed of unburned particulates so, the denser the smoke, the less efficiently the fire is burning.
In addition to outside fires, native peoples began moving fires indoors with holes in the center of the shelter’s roof, for smoke to draft upward and escape. This was much more efficient, lowering problems with wind and rain, as well as heating the shelter interior. However, it was still largely inefficient and still had the very visible disadvantage of a smoke-trail.
The medieval world brought about the castle and the fireplaces large enough for a man to stand in. While used for cooking, another crucial purpose of these larger-than-life fireplaces was for the heating of the stone castle rooms, aided by large tapestries on the walls and covering both doorways and floors. With an addition of a canopied bed with side-curtains and thick blankets, one could stay cozy on a cold evening. But these also left a dense smoke-trail and were inefficient in fuel use.

South American adobe ovens brought about more efficiency by enclosing the fire and concentrating heat to an interior cooking space. The smoke escaped through the chimney and, although more efficient for cooking, the dense smoke-trail continued.

Victorian times brought  multi-story dwellings with a fireplace in every room and the Colonials continued that practice here in America.
The industrial age brought about the smelting of metals and the iron age. Fireplaces evolved into standalone stoves which would allow a home to be fairly airtight and still vent smoke outside with piping. However, once again, portability and efficiency was’t available.

Since then, standalone units have evolved to be highly efficient, but many are now dedicated to heating only, using pellets or some other renewable fuel source. This evolution will, no doubt, continue… That is, until the SHTF. Once this happens, and it gets closer every day, you will be forced to re-think your methods of purifying water, cooking food and warming your shelter.
That is why you must learn now the principles of making and using a Rocket Stove, as well as having one in your supply. The Rocket Stove concept was developed to aid third-world countries, where fuel-wood is scarce and resultant pollution is severe.  Over the past years, many experiments, tests & contests have been conducted worldwide to develop a highly-efficient method of heating, which also uses a minimum of fuel.

The recent leader in tests has been the Rocket Stove design, the principles of which were presented by Dr. Larry Winiarski from Aprovecho in 1982 and stoves based on this design won Ashden Awards in both 2005 and 2006. The Rocket Stove design has been shown to operate on ½ the fuel as a traditional open fire, using smaller wood.
The principle is simple in that it is based on an “L” shaped combustion chamber, which allows for maximum draft at the low end and heat/height enough vertically to fully burn any fuel particles, which we call “smoke.” Many Rocket Stove designs are also highly-insulated, to minimize heat loss and maximize efficiency.

The Rocket Stove excels by having excellent air flow and high-temperature burning of fuel, as well as allowing the user to carefully control the heat by addition or removal of fuel as needed. There are four main components to the Rocket Stove: Fuel Load Area, Burn Chamber, Chimney and the Cooking/Heating Vessel.
The Fuel Load Area is at the lowest area of the Rocket Stove and enters toward the center of the stove. The fuel is not merely thrown in, but is set upon a “pedestal” which is usually ½ way up in the opening and allows a excellent air flow beneath the fuel. The pedestal does not fully enter the Chimney, but extends to the forward edge of it and allows the fuel (i.e.: sticks/branches) to hang over into the center of the Chimney.

The Burn Chamber is the intersection of the Fuel Load Area and the Chimney. It is the area where the fuel is burned and, when in operation, the burning ends of the fuel wood are centered in the chimney area.

The Chimney is a round, vertical shaft, extending upward from the Burn Chamber and of such height to both provide enough  updraft to maintain the fire, as well as enough length to assure the complete burning of all fuel particles (smoke), resulting in a burn clean enough to allow little or no smoke to be seen.

The Cooking/Heating Vessel is whatever unit you are using your Rocket Stove for. My StoveTec Rocket Stove came with a “pot skirt” to retain heat closer to the pot sides and is very useful for that purpose.

There is an abundance of videos on YouTube on how to construct your own Rocket Stove, of which I have made several. There are even Rocket Stove designs which have gravity-feed fuel loading and many different designs, such as off-the-floor ideas which can allow fuel storage beneath and less danger of child burning.

My current Rocket Stove was purchased from StoveTec (, a leader in Rocket Stove research and manufacturing which also provides these to third-world countries.
Their Rocket Stoves come in several model designs and have the benefit of being totally portable, designed like a 2-gallon steel bucket with side handles. Their basic 1-door model (the one I own) is excellent for general cooking, while their 2-door model also allows slow-cooking and baking capabilities. With whichever model, fuel use is minimal, usually needing only small sticks or branches.
They also offer cooking accessories and a “water pasteurizer,” which I just purchased, which fits onto the Rocket Stove. It holds several quarts of water, has a hole through the center to allow heat up through the middle of the unit and, looking down through is, has somewhat of a “donut” design in that the water is housed in a “jacket” which surrounds a “chimney.” The water is also “pasteurized” for purification and a reusable “dipstick” lets you know when the water is safe for consumption.

In addition to a main convenience of transportability, the lack of smoke trail is an obvious benefit in a SHTF situation. When water or food becomes scarce, neighbors will be on the lookout for any type of activity denoting cooking

In addition to no smoke trail, another excellent reason for owning a Rocket Stove is the ease of concealing your firelight in night or dark situations. Although there will be obvious firelight coming from the top of the Rocket Stove, the addition of a potskirt and pot will minimize any upward or side-view shining of  light coming out of the top of the Rocket Stove. However, light will still shine out of the lower Fuel Load Area. To help conceal this light, the easiest way is to face the Fuel Load Area away from any prying eyes. In addition, I also recommend the construction of a “tunnel,” much like the entry to an Eskimo igloo, long enough to minimize light and, ideally, painted flat black or blackened with ash to minimize reflection along the tunnel. The only drawback to that being the need for longer branches/sticks to keep fueling the stove without the tunnel needing to be removed.

In summary, my Rocket Stove has all the features necessary to be that fourth Essential, which is easily transportable, highly efficient and leaves little or no smoke trail.