Dan's Outside

I go, I see, I do, I walk, I think, I like…

A new stove: Trangia mini

I had been a white gas stove guy from way back in the days of Svea stoves – yup, I just really dated myself! More recently I had used a series of fine little MSR stoves, but a few seasons back I was persuaded to try the little MSR canister stove. It is very small, light, quite simple, and it works very well for the most part. Since I usually can minimize the amount of time I need to run the stove – especially when I’m only cooking for myself – I’ve been able to complete fairly long trips with a single canister. Downsides are that it is still somewhat loud – which seems to be the price you pay for a hotter stove – and that the canisters are expensive, hard to manage (you can’t really know how much fuel is left after some use), and raise some concerning disposal issues.

A few years ago my ultra-light backpacking friends began showing up for trips with some stoves that I couldn’t have even imagined people using a decade ago. All of them were alcohol burning stoves and they ranged from simple, small burners from commercial sources to tiny, featherlight home-grown designs created out of soda cans. At first I was skeptical, having relied on more traditional equipment for some decades, but as I watched my friends use these stoves I began to see their value, particularly for the solo backpacker who mostly needs to simply boil a small amount of water.

I finally took the plunge last month and ordered the very inexpensive (about $20) Trangia mini stove. This consists of a small and simple aluminum wind-screen/stand and a small brass stove that is not much more than a fancy bowl into which you pour a bit of alcohol and then light the whole thing. (Yes, there are lighter stoves and lighter stand and windscreen options, but I didn’t want to begin by, for example, constructing my own stove – as some friends do!)

The “stove” fits neatly into the bottom of my tall Snow Peak solo pot and leaves plenty of room for my spoon, a lighter, a small square of cloth I use as “small towel and pot grabber,” and a tiny plastic bottle of soap. The wind screen is a bit more awkward, but I use the space efficiently by packing it with something else stuffed into it.

Fuel is simply alcohol that you can pick up at your local hardware store, though REI and probably other outdoor stores stock it as well. One can will probably last most people at least a full season. The fuel comes from agricultural sources rather than gas/oil wells, so while the actual effect on the world is small, it seems like a positive step. These stoves also save resources in one other important way. It would take many, many regular fuel canisters to power the stove for the same amount of time that one can of alcohol will last. So, one can of alcohol and one small bottle to carry what you need on the trail is all you’ll use.

The first time I tried it on the trail last week I found myself using more fuel than necessary – at first by a factor of two. Over the course of a four-day trip I got a better handle on how much fuel is needed to boil a particular amount of water, and once on the final morning I manged to bring the water for a cup of tea to a boil just as the fuel burned out. I carried 8 oz. of fuel for this trip and used about half of it – and didn’t use it all that efficiently. I think that it would be quite reasonable to use an ounce or less per day with some care. Unlike the home-brew stoves, the Trangia burner includes a screw-on lid that supposedly allows you to put out the stove before it finishes burning and then store it with the remaining alcohol available for the next use. I didn’t try this. It also includes a detachable top that has a rotating piece that lets you manually lower the flame to simmer. I would rarely have a need for this since I mostly just boil water on the trail.

The stove does take longer to bring a given amount of water to a boil – perhaps 50% or more additional time. If you travel solo (or travel with a group but cook individually) this isn’t a big issue since you’ll probably just add a few minutes to your cooking time. I quickly learned to get my water in the pot and start it boiling first and then to take care of other food preparation issues like getting out the dinner and so forth. Another advantage is that the longer cook time is essentially silent! You’d be surprised at what a difference this makes.

If you have ever had a stove “go bad” on the trail – yes, it happens – you may appreciate the retro simplicity of the alcohol stoves. There are no moving parts, no jets to clean – basically it just holds the alcohol and you light it.

My verdict after one use is that:

  • I’ll definitely use the stove for solo travel.
  • I did not find the slightly longer cooking times to be an issue.
  • I enjoyed the silent operation of the stove.
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September 13, 2009 - Posted by | Commentary, Equipment, Gear Reviews, Technique | , , , , , , , , , ,

8 Comments »

  1. On cold mornings, fill the burner with fuel, screw on the lid, and put in your pocket. This will warm up the stove and fuel for an easier ignition. Trangia is so well engineered, its really hard to improve upon the original design. My only gripe about the Mini is the lack of a better windscreen which can really make a difference in fuel consumption. I also have the 27 which has a much better windscreen and is much more stable. They are so fun to use, I gladly pay the weight penalty.

    Comment by Axel | September 24, 2009 | Reply

  2. Alex, great idea – thanks for sharing that. I'll be in a cold place during the next couple days and I may must give it a try.The original design is some simple and basic that, as you point out, there is little that could be done to improve the burner. The simplicity and lack of moving parts are a good part of what I find attractive about it. While there are lighter options, this isn't all that heavy and the slightly more solid construction seems worth the very small weight penalty.I think of the “windscreen” more as a “pot holder” – as you point out it doesn't really do much to stop wind. Fortunately the stove is virtually impossible to blow out once it gets started, so the main issue would be loss of heat. I found myself looking for small protected spots to place the stove and/or using a few rocks or some of my gear to make a better windbreak in windy conditions.Dan

    Comment by G Dan Mitchell | September 24, 2009 | Reply

  3. I returned from the Sierra just before the storm rolled in. (the dweebs were on vacation!) It was so cold that I slept with the burner in my sleeping bag so that the fuel would be warm in the morning. It started easily with sparks from the starter. This trip I took a stripped down version of the 25 series, Just the windscreen and a Trangia tea kettle. I made some cozies for my Squishy bowl and “freezer bagged” it ( I refuse to lose all civility and eat out of a bag! ). Three solid days out and used 8 oz of fuel.

    Comment by Axel | October 17, 2009 | Reply

  4. Axel. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your experience with the stove. I've heard more or less that suggestion – keep the filled stove in a warm place – from a few other folks, too – including but not limited to this thread. Sounds like a great idea and I'm going to give it a try soon!Dan

    Comment by G Dan Mitchell | October 17, 2009 | Reply

  5. I'm a fan of the trangia stove as well, I use mine mainly with cycle touring. It has few benefits as with flying to your destination you can have problems with petrol camping stoves on flights, but a throughly washed out trangia burner there has been no trouble yet with me. Like you said, the fuel is readily available in most places, one thing to be aware of is that different countries have different names for the fuels, in the UK, it tends to be cheaper to purchase methylated spirits from a pharmacy than a camping store, in US, I have heard people using heet de-icer. This link lists some of the international trangia fuel names and possible locations to purchase from. trangia fuel

    Comment by Mark | November 27, 2009 | Reply

  6. I'm a fan of the trangia stove as well, I use mine mainly with cycle touring. It has few benefits as with flying to your destination you can have problems with petrol camping stoves on flights, but a throughly washed out trangia burner there has been no trouble yet with me. Like you said, the fuel is readily available in most places, one thing to be aware of is that different countries have different names for the fuels, in the UK, it tends to be cheaper to purchase methylated spirits from a pharmacy than a camping store, in US, I have heard people using heet de-icer. This link lists some of the international trangia fuel names and possible locations to purchase from. trangia fuel

    Comment by Mark | November 27, 2009 | Reply

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